Monthly Archives: September 2013

Heroes and Villains – Marva Munson

Prof. G.H. Dorr:  “Yes, I must confess. I often find myself more at home in these ancient volumes than I do in the hustle-bustle of the modern world. To me, paradoxically, the literature of the so-called “dead tongues” holds more currency than this morning’s newspaper. In these books, in these volumes, there is the accumulated wisdom of mankind, which succors me when the day is hard and the night lonely and long.”

Marva Munson:  “Mm. The wisdom of mankind, huh? What about the wisdom of the Lord?”

MMunson

At first glance, there is nothing particular about Mrs. Marva Munson that catches the eye.  In the 2004 film, The Ladykillers, she is a widow living alone with her cat Pickles and acts as landlord to the nefarious Professor G.H. Dorr who has rented out a room in order to use her house as a base for his scheme.  All appearances suggest that she is a typical little old lady, but her outward appearances belie a tenacity for doing what is right that puts many she encounters back on their heels.  The great battle she fights doesn’t take place in a distant location or epic landscape, nor does it contain the action we expect from such showdowns.  On the contrary, it takes place in her own living room, accompanied by a cup of tea.  When she discovers the Professor’s crime and sees through his attempts to mask it, the Professor attempts to mingle lies with smooth words in order to convince Ms. Munson to go along with their crime.  He even goes so far as to attempt to give her a cut by claiming that they are going to donate a full share of the loot to her favorite cause.  He also claims they actually caused little damage to anyone (only a penny from their pocketbooks), and suggesting that their robbery will lead to so much more good.  In the face of the Professor’s lies, she has a choice to make:  go along with the crime so that a “greater good” can be done, or turn them in, leaving all that good undone.  After much struggling and deliberation within herself, Mrs. Munson renders her answer:  stealing is just plain wrong, even if they had good intentions.  She then issues an ultimatum:  the Professor and his co-conspirators can either give back the money and accompany her to church tomorrow, or they can deal with the police.  This of course does not sit well with the robbers and sets off a series of events that unfolds throughout the remainder of the film.

The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the church in Corinth:  “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words or human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)  What Paul writes here may strike us as remarkable.  He says that he came to the Corinthians “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” and that his speech was “not with persuasive words or human wisdom”.  This seems like the exact opposite of what we think witnessing should look like.  Why would Paul’s witness be of any effect if he didn’t base it off of persuasive words and human wisdom?  Paul states that his work among the Corinthians was based on Christ alone, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.  This is not to say that reason has no place in religion, but rather that it has a proper place as a help and a handmaid to queen faith.  It is by reason that we recognize and appreciate the divine wisdom of God manifest in Creation.  It is at the limits of our reason that we come realize the transcendent majesty of God which excels our ability to know.  We do well to recognize that many of the apostles were uneducated, such as Peter the fisherman, but we do better to also recognize that there were apostles such as Paul who were well-educated; thus forming a spectrum of backgrounds upon one foundation. (1 Corinthians 3:11)

Paul’s aim in placing his witness on Christ alone was that the Corinthians’ faith wouldn’t be based upon the wisdom of men but on the power of God.  This is the difference between mere intellectual assent and a living, growing faith.  If our faith is purely intellectual, it amounts to little more than agreeing to an argument.  We agree to the proposition that God wants to be in relationship with us, to fill us with the life that is in him, and to conform us to the image of Christ.  However, this is merely an argument:  an ordered collection of ideas.  It has no life in it.  What’s more, it has its foundation in our minds through reason rather than in Christ through faith.  Trusting in the mind is the same as trusting in the flesh and is subject to the same weaknesses.  Just as our bodies are buffeted by passions and desires, so our minds are buffeted by the subtle deceptions of the devil and the World.  We come face to face with the Professor in many ways, shapes, and forms with the same goal of persuading us to bend to sin.  Thus, it is important that we be bound to Christ as a lifeline while we explore and cultivate the vast expanse of the mind.

The question that remains is what to make of Paul’s statement that his witness was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power rather than persuasive words or human wisdom.  To answer this we ought to ask ourselves, what is the demonstration of the Spirit in my life?  Or, put more simply, how am I more Christ-like now than I was?  Our arguments, no matter how finely-crafted, lack the ability to show God to others.  Christ did not show us the Father by laying out a series of well-reasoned lectures.  Instead, He showed the Father through who He was. (John 14:7-11)  If we are to follow His example, we must be conformed to His image and let God be reflected in our lives and who we are.

It is in Christ that our witness truly stands and it is in Christ that we must be anchored.  It is this unyielding faith in God that is a common thread running through all the heroes of the Bible:  Abraham, Moses, Rahab, David, Elijah, Mary, and Peter are only a few of the great cloud of witnesses which surround us and urge us onward in the race of faith.  Similarly, this is the remarkable thing that we see in Mrs. Munson:  a determination to follow God despite the sundry goods and arguments laid out in all their earthly splendor before her.  Perhaps that is the thing that all heroes call us to:  to do what is right despite challenge and temptation.  Pursuing this means giving God our all and submitting to His Lordship in our lives.  This means letting God be the most important thing and guiding principle for us.

Heroes, as well as villains, come in many shapes and sizes but what doesn’t change is the choice their characters bring before us:  to pursue what is right or to give in to what is wrong.  Villains remind us of the shadows lurking in our own psyches while heroes remind us that good is still within our reach if we will but strive for it.  It is within reach of us all because it is God who calls us and equips us.  “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till all come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Food for Thought:

  1. Is Christ the foundation on which my faith is built, or is it something else?
  2. In what way do I feel threatened by relying on Christ alone?
  3. Consider the awesome greatness of God that He is our all in all and all-sufficient for us.
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Heroes and Villains – Professor G. H. Dorr

“You, madam, are addressing a man, who is in fact quiet… and yet, not quiet, if I may offer you a riddle.”

– The Professor to Mrs. Munson

GHDorr2

Some villains stand out because of the threat they pose through sheer power or destructive capabilities.  Professor G.H. Dorr, on the other hand, is of a different sort.  Cutting the figure of a Southern gentleman, he seems to possess a devilish charm rather than devilish intent.  As a matter of fact, his skills seem limited to a great capacity for thought, having been “trained in the art of cogitation”, and an aptitude for speaking.  However, these tools are more than sufficient for him to manipulate others into helping him to achieve his goals.  In the 2004 film, The Ladykillers, the Professor is the mastermind behind a seemingly perfect riverboat casino heist.  Having gathered to himself the necessary personnel and skill sets, the motley crew executes his plan without a hitch, that is until the owner of the house they’ve been using as a base finds out.  The Professor then must convince the owner, one Mrs. Marva Munson not to call the police and turn them in.  When he finds that straight up lying about their actions will not work, he turns to convincing her that what they did isn’t really so bad.  He explains to her that the casino is itself little more than a den of thieves and inequity.  Not only that, but it has an insurance policy to cover such losses as being robbed and, he claims, after doing the math, their little venture will not cost anyone more than a penny.  Furthermore, he lies to Mrs. Munson, each of his accomplices and himself are going to donate a portion of their shares of the loot to charitable causes and they were going to donate a whole share to a cause particularly near and dear to her heart.  The Professor rests his case by pointing out the good that can be done the money they donate at the cost of a single cent to all those adversely affected.  When backed into a corner, Professor plays his most insidious card, trying to convince Ms. Munson that their crime is not such a bad thing and getting her to go along with it.

In the book of Jeremiah, God says that He will stretch out his hand against the Israelites “…Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely.  They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace.  Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?  No!  They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush.  Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down,’ says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 6:13-15)  God calls out the prophets and priests at this time, who were supposed to lead the people back to God and to speak His word to them, for being as corrupt as the rest of the people.  Not only that, but they are unashamed of having become so.  However what is perhaps most striking is that they have healed His people slightly.  The word that gets translated as slightly carries with it the connotations of trifling or of little account.  Arguably, the prophets and priests had made little of their job to direct the people to God and therefore done little to that end.  On the contrary, they have comforted and further secured the people in their predicament by telling them that all is well when it is clearly not the case.  The prophets and priests should have been telling the people to repent and change their ways.  However, because they were also participants in the backsliding, they whitewashed the situation and lied to the people about the true state of things.

It is very tempting for us to do the same.  We try to convince ourselves and others that there is no problem or even a need to change our course when we find our way into sin.  We are all too eager to justify ourselves rather than repent and let God be our justifier.  There are many reasons why we are inclined to do this:  we shy away from admitting that we were in the wrong, or we enjoy our sin too much to let it go are just a couple of examples.  At the core, however, we find ourselves playing the role of the Professor and trying to make our vices out to be virtues.

We have readily available to us the written Word of God which is able to reveal what is in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).  When our sinful deeds are brought to light, we are faced with the choice either to continue in the way we are going or to turn back to God.  Unfortunately, we often opt to continue on our merry way down the path of sin.  The only problem is that it requires that we become hypocrites, claiming to be in the right while doing the very things that we know from God’s Word to be wrong.  Being a hypocrite is not something that sits very well with us and so we try to rationalize the sin in our lives so that, in our minds, we aren’t doing anything wrong.  We come up with excuses about how it is a greater good than harm or how others deserve whatever harm we may be causing them (even if it is just murdering them in our hearts), or how it really isn’t that big of a deal, seeing how in the grand scheme of things it only amounts to a drop the bucket…or a single penny.

The thing that makes these lies we tell ourselves (and others for that matter) so dangerous is that they lull us right into death.  Like the prophets and priests from Jeremiah, we proclaim our peace and wellbeing when our souls are grievously wounded and rapidly bleeding out.  There are few greater harms that we can do ourselves or others than to say that we are spiritually well when we teeter on the very lip of hell.  It amounts to blinding ourselves to our real state and stopping our ears against God’s pleas to turn back while there is still time.  These lies need not be our own inventions either.  Paul writes to his protégé Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)  It is not only ourselves, but many others as well who wish to paint what is noble as wicked and what is wicked as noble.  This means that there is a large market for such lies and there are those who are all too eager to supply that market.  Thus, we cannot rely on the world at large to be our guide and teacher in matters of the soul.  Rather, our ability to stay on the straight and narrow path is a matter between God and ourselves, aided by those trustworthy souls that God brings alongside us in our pilgrimage.

What makes the Professor such an awful rogue is that he embodies that voice which gently and quietly leads us to the wrong on a daily basis.  It often comes well-dressed and expresses itself with the greatest articulation.  It is charming and seems harmless enough.  As a matter of fact, it seems to have our best interests at heart.  Nonetheless, behind the charming façade is a path that leads straight to hell.

Food for Thought:

  1. Is there a sin in my life that I have colored to be a virtue?
  2. In what ways am I tempted by the world’s lies about what is or isn’t right?
  3. Consider what a great gift it is that God has provided us with the Scriptures to be a guide and an anchor for us.

Heroes and Villains – Touko and Shigeru Fujiwara

“As I had encountered kindness, I wanted to be kind myself. I wanted to be able to do something, just like others had done for me.”

-Takashi Natsume

Shigeru_&_Touko

The Natusme Yuujinchou (Natsume’s Book of Friends) series follows a boy named Takashi Natsume who has the ability to see youkai (spirits that feature prominently in Japanese folklore).  However, those around him find his behavior disturbing as he often appears to be frightened by or talking to no one (since most people cannot see youkai).  As a result, he is considered to be a bizarre or “freaky” child.  His parents died when he was young so Takashi spent his childhood being passed from home to home.  However, this changed when he was taken in by the Fujiwaras.  Touko and Shigeru are never really involved in the youkai antics which make up the bulk of the storyline.  As a matter of fact, they very much appear to be your average middle-age couple.  What makes them exceptional is the love and kindness they show Takashi by making him a part of their family, a fact they constantly remind and assure him of.  The Fujiwara’s provide a loving base and foundation that Takashi has never known before and which helped him to, in turn, show kindness to others.

The Apostle John writes the following:  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His soon to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)  John makes the bold statement that if we do not love, we do not know God.  Why?  Because God is love.  John goes on to further flesh out this idea by explaining how we have seen the love of God in action, namely:  that He sent His only begotten Son to pay the price for our sins that we might be reconciled to Him.  Paul puts it this way:  “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)  The love which God shows us is profound in that He loves us for ourselves, not because of ourselves.  By this I mean that God’s love is not dependent upon us.  God’s love does not come to us because of anything we are, say, or do, but because of who He is.  Love is an integral part of God’s character and we cannot know God without knowing His love.  To put it in more human terms, returning to the Fujiwaras, love and kindness is so much a part of their characters that we as observers behind the fourth wall, as well as Takashi, don’t know them without knowing that love and kindness.

After making his statement about the love of God, John goes on to say that we ought to love one another.  Why?  Because God loves us.  If God has showered so great a love on us despite our being in rebellion against Him, what excuse are we to give for not loving others, be they our siblings in Christ or not?  The same God who speaks to us through John telling us to love one another also tells us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48)  Where can such a love come from?  John provides us with an answer when he proceeds to write:  “No one has seen God at any time.  If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected (made complete) in us.  By this we know that we abide in Him , and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.  God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:12-16)  It is through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that we are able to not only partake in this great love, but also share this love with others.  Love is one of the spiritual fruits which the Holy Spirit bears in our lives by virtue of His presence. (Galatians 5:22-23)  It is also the Spirit who enables us to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. (1 Corinthians 12:3)  When the Spirit abides in us and does His work upon our hearts, we cannot help but to love others because love is the fruit of His labors.

John is not the only one who exhorts us to love one another, Christ, when He is eating the last supper with His disciples speaks thusly:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  Now here is a remarkable thing:  Jesus says that the love we are to have for one another will be a distinguishing mark that we are His disciples.  This is because we are not to love as the world loves, but as Jesus loves, as God loves.  This unconditional and unwarranted love is an outward sign of the Holy Spirit’s work within us and if we love as Christ loves it shows that we are truly His disciples because it is apparent that we know Him.  And if we know Jesus, then we know God because Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus. (John 14:7-11)  However, we mustn’t go thinking that this love is something that we can wear as a mask and pretend to be Christians.  For if we pursue such a venture it will soon become apparent that our love is just as hollow as a mask as well.  We can only fool others for so long and we can never fool God.  The love of God is not something that can be replicated or faked which is another reason why it is a distinguishing mark of Christians.  While he was still being passed from relative to relative, it was not unusual for Takashi to stumble upon a hushed conversation between his foster family as to how to get rid of him to someone else.  This is not the case with the Fujiwaras.  There are no whisperings of disapproval or planning behind closed doors as to how to rid themselves of him.  As far as they are concerned, he is and will always be part of their family.

Looking at the Fujiwaras’ relationship with Takashi shows us a number of things.  First, it serves as a metaphor for the way that God welcomes us with open arms into His family.  The effect that their love and kindness has on Takashi, encouraging him to do likewise, serves as a reminder of the way that God’s love kindles and nourishes a flame of love within us.  This flame can be used by God, if we allow Him, to light and feed the same flame in others.  The Fujiwaras remind us that one being a hero sometimes means choosing to love and to love unconditionally on a daily basis.  As Christians, we know that when we do something as seemingly mundane as loving as God loves on a daily basis, it is showing God to others on a daily basis; for God is love.

Food for Thought:

  1. In what ways is God calling me to love as He loves?
  2. How might I better cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit on my heart?
  3. Consider how marvelous it is that God loves us so much as to cause His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and fill us with His love to the point that it overflows from within us.

Heroes and Villains – Relius Clover

“Yes… that dark, inorganic mass.  I’m sure you saw it during the course of repairing Ada.  That object… THAT is a person’s true form.  Strip away the veneer… and people are nothing more than things.”

-Relius to his son

Relius1

At first glance, Relius Clover may remind you of the phantom of the opera.  However, what lies hidden behind his mask is far more dreadful than the phantom’s disfigurements.  Relius is considered to be one of the most brilliant minds in the world of the Blazblue videogames.  During a catastrophic lab accident, he was thrown into another dimension which spat him out 80 years in the future.  During that transport, he saw what he believed to be a person’s true form:  a ball of bluish light.  Since then, the mind behind his mask regards people as mere things, impersonal objects that are either of use or a hindrance to his research and goal of creating the perfect human being.  While pursuing this research, he has conducted experiments that have turned his wife, Ignis, and daughter, Ada, into weaponized puppets.  When his son, Carl, demands an explanation why he would do such a thing to his own daughter, Relius responds, “I was searching for something.  Ada was of use to me during the process, that’s all, like any other tool.”  Relius’ ruthless ambition and ghastly creations have earned him the moniker:  “The Mad Puppeteer”.

Relius’ villainy brings to light our own tendency to dehumanize others and reduce them to various means to our ends.  Judas Iscariot’s response to Mary (the sister of Martha) anointing Jesus serves to illustrate one way in which we do this:  “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:4-6)  On the surface, Judas’ concern seems practical, perhaps even admirable.  Would it not be better to sell the oil and donate the proceeds to the poor rather than “wasting” it?  John, however, writes of Judas’ true motives:  to get more money into the money box which he plans to take for himself.  Judas is concerned about himself uses the poor as a means.  Many times we pull a similar maneuver when we may engage in service with a wrong heart.  We are doing it so that we can help ourselves to the honor we ought to give fully to God.  Like Judas, we are using the people we claim to serve as a means to an end.

In contrast to the impersonal and dehumanizing view embodied by Relius, God has demonstrated time and time again that He is a deeply personal God.  We read that God spoke with Moses in the tabernacle of meeting “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)  This isn’t to say that Moses literally saw God’s face because that is not something that anyone can do in this world (see later in that chapter:  Exodus 33:18-23).  However, the language conveys the intimacy of the conversation between God and Moses.  God wasn’t speaking to Moses in a removed or distant way, but as a “man speaks to his friend.”  Later, in the book of 1 Kings, when Elijah is in the depths of despair, God speaks to him in a cave in the wilderness with instruction and encouragement. (1 Kings 19:1-18)

God even went so far as to be incarnated as a human in the person of Christ Jesus:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  “Inasmuch as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.  And release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.  For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)  Christ is God coming in flesh and blood to come alongside us in our sufferings and infirmities, identifying with our humanity.  Furthermore, when Christ ascends to prepare a place for us, He does not leave us alone:  “If you love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:15-18)  Even now, God dwells within us in the form of the Holy Spirit.  God does not deal with us in a distant fashion, but closely as His beloved children.

If we are being conformed to Christ’s likeness, it means that we are learning to interact with people as just that:  people.  One of the most poignant instances where we see Christ’s heart for humanity comes from Matthew 9:35-38, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the His harvest.’”  Christ does not regard the weary, confused multitudes with disdain or detachment.  His heart is moved because they are each important to Him and He seeks each of them as a shepherd seeks a lost sheep.

It is tempting for us to become jaded and detached from others.  The news stream seems to show us nothing but the worst of humanity:  selfishness, corruption, murder, etc.  It often reaches the point that we come view such events as impersonal news stories when they are, in fact, human events which bring about human suffering.  In the midst of our increasingly busy schedules, we may come to view people as aids or obstacles to us.  We see them as being of use or hindrances to our goals, just as Relius does.

We should not deceive ourselves, thinking that we are so different from Relius.  Although we may not undergo the same trans-dimensional experience he did, each time we choose to treat others as means rather than as people, each time we choose to view others as less than human, we are teaching ourselves to think like him.  We are practicing viewing the world through Relius’ mask rather than through the eyes of Christ.

Food for Thought:

  1. Under what circumstances do I tend to treat people as things rather than human beings?
  2. How is Christ calling me to view others as He does?
  3. Consider the love which God has for us that, though He is Creator and we are created, He treats us as His beloved children.