Monday, March 12, 2007


"Put your sword back in your sheath, for all who live by the sword shall die by the sword." Matt. 26:52

After seeing 300 a few days ago, I am still wrestling with reconciling its glorification of war, brutality, and violence with the fact that it was a really captivating, exciting, adreneline-rushing movie.

This film follows Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and three hundred Spartan warriors as they take a stand against an invading Persian army and hundreds of thousands of their fiercest troops at Thermopylae in 480 b.c.e. Regardless of being excessively outnumbered, Leonidas and his men fight to the death to keep these invaders from overrunning his homeland.

300 shows us that heroes take a stand no matter what the odds are, never letting size or numbers frighten them into submission or surrender. As the Psalmist sings, "Countless dogs surround me, fierce bulls encircle me... but the Lord is never far away." (Psalm 22:13, 20)

The legend of these three hundred Spartans is an example of active resistance to those that would put us down. Leonidas put the dignity of his people ahead of his own life; he knew his soldiers were outnumbered, but he knew that the people of Sparta would be enslaved, victimized, and terrorized if he did not take an active stance.

One could argue that this gives amunition to the agrument for war; if Sparta could wage a pre-emptive strike against the Persians, why can't the United States do the same to Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, or North Korea?

Why not? Simply put: we've evolved as a human race since 480 b.c.e.

In 2007, we have the priviledge of reading the non-violent teachings of Christ in our Bibles and of witnessing the examples of non-violent heroes of the past 100 years such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. But Christ and these great warriors of social justice were doing the same thing King Leonidas did, taking a stand when all hope was lost and when death and sacrifice seemed inevitable.

In the New Testement, before Jesus was taken away by the violent Temple guard and the Roman military garrison, the disciples asked if this would be the one exception to Jesus' command of nonviolence. If ever there was a worthy cause to take up arms, wouldn't it be to defend God in human form? But even then, Jesus said, "Put your sword back in your sheath, for all who live by the sword shall die by the sword." (Matt. 26:52)

In 2007, two millenia after these words of non-violence, are we finally capable of being a more intelligent, more compassionate, more peaceful human race? In 2007, do we still have to resort to violence, aggression, and war to take a stand or make a point?

The movie 300 gave us a flurry of excitement and adreneline, but perhaps it wasn't because decapitations and slow-motion swordfights are fun to watch on screen.

Perhaps the flurry of excitement and adreniline that has entralled audiences is so riviting because we, too, crave to take a stand against those who take away human dignity. Perhaps it can give us strength and courage to take that stand, even if we stand alone.

And now that we are a human race that can solve its problems without war and violence, just imagine what we can do when we attain the courage that once permeated the battlefield at Thermopylae in 480 b.c.e. and that God now graces us with today.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Prestige

"Do not obsess about your life." Matt. 6:25

Competition feeds our society. Whether it's sports, politics, academics, or daily work, we are driven to compete against our peers and succeed no matter the cost.

The Prestige follows two illusionists Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) in their life's journey to outwit each other. The setting of the film is that Borden is accused of killing Angier in a magic trick gone wrong, and we follow their memories to see what has led to this disastrous end to two illusionists' lives.

What we see is that an obsession has overwhelmed both men. Stemming from jealosy and a refusal to forgive, the two illusionists carve out their careers in order to one-up the other. In caring more about their art than their lives, they push away and lose those who love and care for them. They destroy all things of value so that they can achieve their final success.

In today's society, this desire to outwit others and an obsession to win can kill us as it killed Angier and Borden. I am not saying that all competition is bad, but when we care more about winning than playing the game, we destroy ourselves.

In The Prestige, Angier's motivation was pleasing the crowd; he wanted to look good and get the applause. Borden's motivation was to do so well that no one could ever figure out how he did it; he lived a life of total secrecy from everyone.

What is our motivation to do our best work or to win the game? Is it because we want to prove something to others? Is it because we are so proud of our talents?

Competition for competition's sake is misguided. When we compete, let's pray not to become obsessed with winning. Let's not sacrifice our very lives for our jobs, our education, or the game itself. In the film, both men challenge each other to "get your hands dirty."

But at what cost?

Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie) advises Angier, "Go home. Forget this thing. I can recognize an obsession and no good will come of it." When Angier challenges Tesla because his own life was built on obsessing over his work, he responds, "I followed by obsessions too long. I'm their slave, and one day they'll choose to destroy me."

In the gospels, Jesus warns his disciples against their anxiety of succeeding; he told them, "Do not obsess about your life. Do not worry about what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you wear, what you look like. Is not life more than food and your body worth more than how you look?" (Matt. 6:25).

Jesus added, no one ever added a moment to their lives because of their obsessions. Psychologists today tells us the opposite is actually true: by being so anxious about these little things, we might end up living a shorter life.

If our lives are caught up in our work, our education, our competitions, our obsessions, then we will have wasted the life God gave us. Instead, we are called to let go of these obessions, and then we will have a clear focus on our interpersonal relationships, our family and friends, and we will have time to make this world a better place to live.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Wild Hogs

God will always find you.

In the movie Wild Hogs, four middle aged men (John Travolta, Tim Allen, William H. Macy, and Martin Lawrence) are in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Each of them is wondering where their younger selves have gone. They've gotten slower, more cautious, more timid, and much more frustrated with the way their lives have taken them.

So they plan to escape their suburban existance for a week on their motorcycles and take a road trip cross country. They reunite their old biker gang, the "Wild Hogs," and head west.

But while they can escape the daily grind, in a small highway town called Madrid, New Mexico, they find they cannot escape their destiny. Because of a run-in with an aggressive biker gang near the town, they must confront this nasty group of angry bikers or else this quiet town will be terrorized and destroyed.

And even though these four men aren't dangerous and strong-armed by nature, they find within themselves the call to stand up for what is right, and defend the peaceful townspeople.

This movie reminded me of the Old Testament prophet Jonah. In this recognizable tale, God calls the middle aged Jonah to action, but he tries to escape the Lord's request. He sails out west into the open sea, but God still finds Jonah and brings him back (through the help of a large fish). God wanted Jonah to preach to the ancient culture of the Ninevites for some special reason; perhaps Jonah was a skilled preacher or teacher, but whatever the cause, God saw in Jonah what he didn't see in himself. And because Jonah finally stood up for the Lord, a city was saved.

When God needs us, he will find us. And when he finds us, he calls us for a reason. And when we answer that call, great things can happen.

Like Jonah, God sees something deep inside ourselves that even we don't often recognize or acknowledge. God knows we are called to something greater, like the four suburban "Wild Hogs" were called to be brave and compassionate for the defenseless. God knew they had something deeper inside themselves: a strength that no one else could see.

And in the far west town of Madrid, they were able to prove God right.

The William H. Macy character especially embodied this spirit. He wasn't the most suave or the strongest of the group, but because he felt called to protect the townspeople (and in a special way, the local diner owner and his newfound love interest, played by Marisa Tomei), he stepped up to the plate and stood up against the rival biker gang.

So what is it that God is calling you and me to do?

Yes, life can be hard, and we are tempted to escape the pressures of work, home, and relationships and run away like the "Wild Hogs" did. But we cannot escape God, because he will always find us.

And when he finds us, what is it that you and I are called to do? Who are we called to protect? And where and when are you and I called to stand for justice? Wild Hogs teaches us that there is no better time to understand this message than right now.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Heroes on NBC

"There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit..." 1 Cor. 12:4

I have not yet blogged about television shows, but I feel compelled to write about one that has emerged as a great kernel of spiritual popcorn. Heroes, which airs Monday nights on NBC, is a show that captures the essence of what it means to be gifted.

On the show, as in many superhero stories, various characters possess special abilities (i.e. flying, becoming invisible, super-hearing, reading minds, etc.). But unlike most comic book plotlines, these characters are just plain, ordinary people. They are police officers, computer programmers, auto repair workers, high school students, hospice care workers, artists, and lawyers. The show follows each of them as they deal with their powers.

What a series like this reminds us of is that we, as ordinary people, possess our own special gifts.

We may not be able to melt steel with our eyes, but each of us can do something that no one else can do as well as we can. I'm not saying these abilities make us better than anyone else, but what is there something that we are proud of doing really well?

Often times, we ignore or waste these gifts instead of using them to better the world. We get lazy and we let our abilities get lost in our very busy and overpressured lives.

In Heroes, some of the characters are doing just that with their abilities. In a recent episode, a woman who can hear sounds from miles away decides to drown out her powers with music instead of finding ways to use this strength to help others. In another episode, however, a Japanese cubicle worker decides that because he can stop time and transport himself elsewhere, he should do more than just use this ability for fun and entertainment; instead, he feels a deep call to use this power to save the world from a nuclear threat.

We can learn a valuable lesson about our own "special abilities" from a television series like this. Spiritually, what power or powers do we have, and are we using them to better the world?

Are we using our gifts to make money or make life easier for ourselves? Even worse, are we ignoring our gifts altogether out of fear or because of life's many distractions?

In the apostle Paul's letters, he mentions giftedness several times and in several letters. He tells his audiences that each of them has a unique gift given by God to move the world towards the Reign of God. He wonders, though, are we using these gifts or wasting them away? He asks if we are up to the challenge of becoming the body of Christ in the world; in other words, will we each play our part in transforming society through the one or the several things we can do well?

Heroes asks us the same questions as Paul did twenty centuries ago. What will our answer be this time?