February 8, 2016
I finally got to see the movie Risen and it’s like no other movie that revolves around The Greatest Story Ever Told. I have to start with a story of my watching The Passion of the Christ with a Jewish friend and we both saw two different movies while viewing the same story. I saw the story of my people. He saw a movie where the Jews were the bad guys. The same kind of thing could be said of Risen where the believer and the non-believer will likely come away with different takes of the same movie.
This is me being selfish, because as a Christian this movie is for me. I can’t imagine non-Christians finding nothing to like in Risen, because it’s a fine movie, but I know I’m loading up a lifetime of Christian experience when I see scenes like Jesus touching an untouchable leper and watching a healing. I don’t need more evidence, and I don’t need a huge expansion of that moment because the full weight of that scene is well informed by what I already know of both Jesus and lepers. I’M that leper, and I don’t know if a non-Christian would come away with what immediately struck me as a profound visual shorthand for how I see my faith.
That said, I watched Risen with my wife and 14 year old daughter and we were riveted throughout. While the time period is “sandals and robes” the framework of the story is more like a whodunit where a Roman centurion has the unfortunate mission of having to find a certain body that appears to have gone missing. This makes Risen perhaps the most unique of Bible films. The lead is Clavius, a fictional character played by Joseph Fiennes (Young Shakespeare in Love) who goes from just following orders to being obsessed with the truth. All of our disbelief is well represented by Clavius, and the story doesn’t offer easy answers. The miraculous is underplayed while the humanity is placed front and center. I loved the unique addition of the Roman guard’s plight because it’s one of the few Bible-based movies where I couldn’t guess the ending.
Back to my daughter, she picked out Tom Felton who plays Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series as one of the other Roman guards. The kid has grown up into a capable actor. That makes for a weird 6 degrees of separation because Felton has now shared a set with Joseph Fiennes in this movie and his brother Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort.
Anyways, this is a great movie worth checking out, particularly for people of faith.
December 24, 2015
If you’re going to tell a story, better go for broke. I’m a professional story-teller (which usually means I spend my time unemployed) but God does it for free. The universe is a story written by God and by “story” I mean that it has a beginning, a middle, and we can assume it has an end. I know a good story when I read one; the stars in the sky are great visuals, Earth is a wonderful setting and we are the characters that God fearfully and wonderfully crafted.
While this epic has many beats, the Christmas story is the most amazing plot twist ever told. God could have written a shabby thing, a hack job, but he didn’t. He made a mind-blowing masterpiece by which all other stories are compared.
Most stories begin with a conflict, at least that’s what they told me in writing class. It goes like this; conflict, crisis, then resolution. It begins with a conflict because something emblematic ought to start a story. The Christmas story starts with man’s fallen state. We’re in trouble, a fallen race of murderous, largely incapable beings with nothing but death to look forward to. What a great start! You’ve got these pagan magicians following a star in the sky looking for a legendary Messiah.
Jesus is born. He isn’t just born to anyone, but he’s born to a virgin in case you missed that there’s magic in the air. God takes on a human body and comes as a baby. It’s the details of this story that are so packed with meaning that it has mesmerized the minds of men for thousands of years. The tip top being that ever existed didn’t come to the world as a thunderous God, he came as one of us. He came as a helpless baby, probably covered in blood, born in a food trough in a filth-soaked cave. That’s God Himself who comes as the low, because his majesty isn’t threatened by people seeing him low. He knows who He is. This God made himself vulnerable, I suspect, because the rest of the story depicts him as going after the low people. This mud baby-God would be raised like the rest of us. He spends much of his life as a carpenter, associated with unschooled fisherman, hookers and tax cheats. He sought no respect from seats of power because he owned the ultimate seat of power. Why should the creator of earthly kings have need of an earthly king’s respect?
Finally, it’s the God part of Jesus’ identity that is the big taco. If he was merely a good teacher, or a humanitarian who inspired us to give good to the poor, he wouldn’t draw so much mockery. The big threat is that this is God, the creator of everything, walking around in the form of a regular Joe. His perfection as God is absolute and it allowed him to be the only sinless human to exist. Like I said, if you’re going to tell a story, better go for broke and nothing goes for broke more than asking you to suspend your disbelief that the creator of men came as a man to die for murderers. The spectacle of the Christmas story alone makes me slack jawed at every hearing. It’s still the greatest story I’ve ever heard and we’re not even at the end yet.
December 14, 2015
In response to the radical Islamic terrorist attack on San Bernardino, politicians, including our President, offered prayers of sympathy and comfort to the victims and families of that attack. The New York Daily News ran a headline the next day reading, “God Won’t Fix This.”
While I imagine the New York Daily News does think that gun control will fix this (we all appeal to our gods in time of crisis, after all) they have no standing to know what God did or did not do in that attack. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what prayer is about.
People pray every day and we have a God who says in the Bible that he hears our prayers. We are commanded to “pray without ceasing” and we see many prayers documented, yet few results are ever documented. The Bible isn’t nearly as concerned with God being manipulated by the prayers of his people than it is to simply state that we should pray.
We serve a God who is beyond time and space. Time has physical properties and God is not a physical being for he created all that is physical, including time. So our prayers are made in time but they appeal to a timeless God. It is possible for God to operate in the past, present or future based on our prayers though God doesn’t appear to be the kind of being to confirm when He is doing what He is doing in our lives. He’s not threatened by not getting credit. I assume this is because our doubts that he exists or our doubts that question if he is doing anything at all still doesn’t threaten him and doesn’t make him answer us.
But for all we know God already did “fix this.” For all we know (and certainly for all the New York Daily News knows) the body count would have been twice as high without the prayers offered by people in the past, present and future regarding Santa Barbara. For a leftist rag to claim to know the plans of God, the future, or the expanse of his plans, is hubris, though not an uncommon hubris in contemporary culture.
But back to praying for tragedy; a mistake is made by this bird-cage liner in assuming God marches to the order of our prayers. Our prayers surely have moved God, but far more prayers are simple cries for help, lamentations over the dead or a time for the believer to realign with God no matter what His will may be. We pray “Thy will be done” not “my will be done.” and this is yet another place where I part ways with my culture because we have different views of God’s sovereignty.
Am I better than God because I want him to cure a child of cancer and He chooses not to do it? Does that warrant my disbelief? I have a big imagination, and it’s not hard for me to believe in a good God who still allows the Paris terrorist attacks to happen. All of these arguments end up going back to the Epicurean “problem of evil” or “how can a good God allow evil to exist?” It’s a thin view of God to not allow him to have any plans beyond what I demand he do today to justify my belief in him. There is a lack of humility there that I assume is latent in all men.
A couple at our church lost their two-year-old child to a choking accident this week. Perhaps only God could have saved him. We can safely assume that it would be a good thing for this child to have been saved and that the parents gave the most heartfelt, fervent, trusting prayers to God begging Him to save this child because only God could have. Nothing. But is a dead child evidence of God’s absence, or even a lack of faith in the parents, or the presence of sin in the world? I assume that even before the fall of man that if Adam and Eve had a two-year-old who choked on a rock that he could die. That’s not the problem of The Fall, it’s a problem of physics.
I still pray that God will bring comfort to the families who have suffered from having children who die and of decent people who were shot up by terrorists. I don’t know if God will fix this, or if he already has fixed it as much as he wants to right now, but I do know that the answer to anything being truly fixed is ultimately in His hands. I pray to God not to manipulate him into giving me what I want, but to acknowledge that I’m on board with his ultimate will. I pray, “God you don’t have to fix this for me to know that you’re there, active and that you love me.”
May 22, 2015
God wanted to show his great love for the church and He could have described His commitment using any word, but I find it telling that He chose the word “marriage”. The church is considered the bride of Christ. When we were kids, if a kid said they loved something another kid might tease, “If you love ______ so much, why don’t you marry it?” When I met this gal named Angie a long while ago I was inspired to commit my life to her and we were married in 1990.
If you love something you lean into it. If you commit your life to it, you marry it. This is how I think of art in my life. I am married to the arts… and I don’t believe in divorce. I was a child bride, so someone must have put a red dot on my forehead, or perhaps it was an arranged marriage by my Heavenly Father, but I can’t separate myself from art.
I thought about being married to the arts when I realized I had a life long commitment, it goes far beyond today. I know I’ll be an artist on my deathbed. Even if I can’t paint I’ll be an artist. That’s how I think of my spouse, it goes beyond today and hopefully forever.
An important thing to consider about marriage is that it continues even after the feelings for the spouse leave. In our 25 years of marriage the Beloved Mrs. TenNapel and I lost feelings for each other from time to time. We still knew we loved each other, but infatuation is exhausting and isn’t generally sustained forever. So with your thing. Your thing could be art, making video games, managing people, digging ditches and just because you lose feelings for it doesn’t mean it’s time for a divorce. Maybe it’s time for a break, maybe get some counseling or go on a retreat, but your commitment level is still there.
I have had a long marriage to the arts and it’s not going anywhere. We have been in love for a long time, perhaps even before I was born. We’ve had our fights, we’ve threatened divorce, but now the arts and I are an old couple and we fit each other like a glove. If I gave up on her in my 20s when it was much more difficult, we would never have known how sweet it is to be an artist today.
April 5, 2015
Death is a serious problem, mostly for me, but probably for everyone. The sun will collapse and the universe will fade, probably not today, but at some point it will. The resurrection of Christ is the great happy ending to what is wrong with the universe.
There are alternate claims to what’s wrong with the universe and alternate solutions. One could say that there is no problem, that nothing is wrong. One could say that there are many solutions more culturally desirable than a resurrecting God-man. But none could say there was a more creative, bizarre, thorough, world-changing story than the resurrection of Christ.
I’ve devoted my life to story, and you could also say that I have also devoted my life to The Greatest Story Every Told. I can give you one hundred reasons why I believe that story from the philosophical need for it to be true to the eye-witness accounts of scripture to the implausibility of the contrary, but these days I am compelled by the story merits of Jesus’ resurrection.
Story doesn’t have to be much more than a sequence of events artfully given to another. I love the prequel that is the Old Testament. I love the fall of man. I love God coming to Earth as one of us, and not just as one of us but as a baby. I love the parables, the drama, mankind putting God on a false trial and accusing Him of claiming to be God. I love the brutal death of a savior tormented by those He came to save. I love the silence of His dead body in the grave where the universe awaits something… anything. And I love today. Glorious Easter!
If you believe you are dead and you want to live then look no further than Jesus Christ. I find nothing better to do today than to consider Him as my savior. It’s not just true, it’s the best story.
If the resurrection is true, then it demands a response. Unbelief isn’t a problem. We’re talking about a God who conquered death so He can also conquer unbelief.
In Mark 9:24 a man asks Jesus to heal his demon-posessed son and the man gives a curious response, but it’s one I can completely relate to, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus’ response is not to condemn the man or mock him. Jesus doesn’t give him a rational argument. Jesus heals his son even while the man struggles with unbelief.
Even in your unbelief, you should consider Him.
March 16, 2014
One of the reasons why I am a Christian is that this religion got what’s wrong with the world right. In my wanderings through philosophy and reason I went looking for any religion that would best demonstrate man’s great problem. All philosophies (including no philosophy) exist to address what’s wrong with the world. I found something wrong with the world, and I intuitively knew this from a very young age.
When I was four I remember both receiving cruelty from my peers as well as dealing it out to them. Doing bad was an act of religion, bad religion, that all of us participated in. We weren’t convinced we should do bad by a world view or philosophy, and though most of us were never taught to do wrong, that is what we all chose to do at some point.
Now look around the world and ask why we do wrong. Why is it that few people have the goal of doing what is bad and yet we somehow always manage to do something wrong? It became obvious to me that not only was there something wrong with the world, but that it was largely beyond our choice or upbringing, for I did what was wrong even to my own moral code and upbringing.
I had a reoccurring dream from those early years, I believe I was four or five years old, but I was walking through hot mud under a scorching sun and staggering between dead trees. I was lifted up in the air by the sun and it’s beams of light pierced through me, they knew me, and I was found wanting. It obliterated me. Now I don’t know if that dream was any kind of a sign, I don’t look to personal experience to exegete what God did or didn’t do. But regardless, it was clear in word pictures in my mind from early on that I believed something was deeply wrong with the world, my culture, and myself. So I’ve always been on a hunt to find a world view or life philosophy that embraced this fact, that there was something wrong with me. Most world philosophies actually tell me the opposite. They tell me there is something right with me. Those world view stories get an automatic rejection from me. You’ll have to come up with something better than “nothing is inherently wrong with you.”
In fact, when atheists criticize my religion the first thing I do is hang on the edge of my seat asking for their best shot against my religion. Many think I’m joking about wanting so badly to find a better argument or explanation than what I’ve got, but I’m serious. I so long to hear a decent, philosophically coherent explanation for the world’s problems. I get nothing of the sort. The only thing more ridiculous than Christianity’s explanation for sin and death is any alternative I’ve heard so far. Still, I’m always open to a good shot at that explanation. It makes for better conversation around a drink than what most people talk about.
My other problem with everything was that there was not only sin or imperfection in the world, but that there was physical death. When I was four years old, I considered that my time would one day end, and I wanted some kind of meaning or explanation for why. As a four year old I knew that people died and I wanted anyone else to admit that it was a problem. If someone couldn’t find that death was a problem then I had no interest in that world view. My own dad had some residual nihilist philosophy passed around from the 60s and seemed to have a hard time articulating death having any meaning. As a kid we used to sing meaningless songs about death:
“The worms crawl in
The worms crawl out
The worms play Pinochle
on your snout.”
My second criteria for finding a legit religion had to embrace our physical death as real. There is something worse than mankind being sick or wrong, but that he experiences death and that death is a deeper evidence that something is out of order. This eliminates most Eastern religions that either embrace it as a recycling project, fertilizer project or deny death altogether.
I wasn’t raised in Sunday school, but I knew the scriptures well enough to know the shortest scripture in the Bible which is John 11:23:
Why is Jesus weeping? The context of the verse is that Jesus just learned that his old friend Lazarus has died. In just a few more verses, Jesus is going to raise him from the dead, and yet there are still tears to be had. Death is bad, and even when Jesus is going to resurrect Lazarus physical death is still a bad thing.
But I was aware of more than just dying, for I knew that I was guilty before a good God of some kind. I wasn’t merely guilty of sin, physically dying here on earth, but I was eternally dead. How could a four year old know he was supernaturally dead? I don’t know. I can’t explain how I know because back then I hadn’t been exposed to any formal religion and got glimpses of philosophy from the neighbor kids or perhaps my Pentecostal grandmother. Nothing explains why my view was so developed so early on, and yet, when I found the Bible some years later, I found a philosophy that made perfect sense:
Ephesians 2:2 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient… 4 But because of his great love for us,God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6″
Dead in my transgressions? Where do I sign up?! There are many reasons to believe in Christianity, and perhaps a few lingering details that give me doubt or trouble… but I’ve always been in love with how it got my spiritual death right. I am a walking dead man, both physically and spiritually. The story begins with something being completely wrong and this is where other world views, myths and stories often get things wrong.
One day I’ll have to get at the rest of the story, but for now I’ll say that one reason why I’m a Christian is that it gets what’s wrong with the world right.