Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

Ashes, Ashes…

February 17, 2021

Another Ash Wednesday, and Christians around the world will participate in an ancient rite linking us to our mortality and to the promise of God that in Christ, our death is not the end. Growing up in a particular culture and religious tradition I presume a certain uniformity to rites such as the Imposition of Ashes. But that would be mistaken. Things are done in different ways and different places, something that shouldn’t be surprising but a good reminder of our unity in the midst of variation.

Digital Dangers of Association

January 17, 2021

I received a call this morning, about an hour and a half before our worship service. The young woman identified herself as a reporter for the local newspaper, and I sat up. This could be interesting.

Contrary to some colleagues or parishioners, I view the relationship of the press to the Church with a healthy dose of skepticism and caution. Part of this is objective, watching how the Church as a whole is often portrayed in the American press. Part of this is subjective. I’ve dealt with the press to a limited extent in my pastoral career, and the results have never been satisfying. Not through deliberate malice on their part, but just because of the challenge of trying to articulate a message to someone who will then rearrange that message to suit the various needs of their individual reporting style, length limitations, and other unknown criteria.

The reporter indicated our congregation’s name was listed on the web site for a local Martin Luther King committee dedicated to fostering a greater understanding and appreciation of Dr. King and his legacy. That was news to me. I quickly found the web site and sure enough, under the list of faith organizations honoring Dr. King was our congregation’s name (misspelled) and address, as well as our two daughter congregations in the area. I know I never asked to have our name put on that list, nor have I had any contact whatsoever with this organization. While I respect Dr. King’s contributions so our country, I don’t believe in actively associating my congregation with any particular outside organization. Such relationships are complicated to say the least and problematic at worst.

I assume the reporter was interested in attending our service to see how we honored Dr. King, as apparently this local committee had designated today as the day for churches to do so. And it was a good reminder of how easy it is to be linked digitally to an idea or cause or group these days. Without any knowledge on your part, and without any cost or responsibility to whomever it was that put our name on that list. A good reminder of how impossibly complex and convoluted digital rabbit holes can be. This was (I presume) an innocuous request and no harm was intended either by putting our name on that list or by the press contacting us. But it could just as easily have been much less innocuous, and the ramifications far more difficult to clarify.

Continuing the Squeeze

January 16, 2021

Political pressure to redefine what freedom of religion and the First Amendment mean in our country continues. Those who feel this can be easily defined and resisted in terms of political parties would do well to be more observant.

In North Dakota this week a bi-partisan bill was introduced which would eliminate protection for clergy regarding Confession, ostensibly, though the wording of the bill itself is disturbingly less specific. Senate Bill No. 2180 removes a clause exempting members of the clergy from mandatory reporter requirements regarding suspected child abuse or endangerment.

Traditionally our country as part of freedom of religion has respected particularly those sacramental aspects of religious practice. A long-standing aspect of Roman Catholicism as well as several other mainline Protestant denominations centers on the confession of sins and the declaration of absolution by a duly installed minister or priest, with or without penitential requirements. Those who are baptized followers of Jesus Christ are either required or encouraged to confess their sins privately and specifically to a priest or pastor, who may require the confessor to perform a penitential act, such as recitation of prayers or the rosary, as part of absolution – the wiping away of in the eyes of God of sin(s). Confession is Biblical (James 5:16, John 20:19-23), and the Church has long stood by the practice that whatever is shared in confession is private, exempt from reporting or other recriminations beyond the penance potentially imposed by the priest. The idea being that the forgiveness of God is separate from (and superior to) whatever other forms of justice we may rely on here. The Church should not be seen as part of a temporal system of power or justice but rather unique, an outpost of the Kingdom of Christ. A priest might encourage a parishioner to present themselves to the authorities, but the priest should not do so themselves, either of their own volition or under the compulsion of the law, else people refrain from being open and honest in their confession.

California attempted a similar measure last year ago that failed. The impetus in both situations was the alleged protection of children, the idea being that priests who might have been guilty of pedophilia and child abuse might have confessed their sins and received absolution, and had those confessions been subject to mandatory reporting laws (a relatively recent legal innovation) the abusers might have been stopped earlier. It sounds like a reasonable rationale, although I’m not aware of evidence indicating mandatory reporting would have been of much use – meaning nobody has proven that abusers were confessing their abuse.

As I noted a year ago, confession is a core element of historic Christian practice. A priest/pastor and parishioner might engage in any number of different conversations, any of which could lead to a guilty party turning themselves into authorities. Eliminating the protection of confidentiality from the practice of confession and absolution is a stark intrusion into the practice of the Christian religion. Under the assumed benefit of protecting children, Christian life and practice is severely disrupted. The fact that such a disruption would likely go unnoticed by the vast majority of confessing Christians is not the issue. Rather the basic issue is whether freedom of religion is maintained, or whether continuing political pressure to modify it and make it more compatible with contemporary (and transient) cultural preferences is advanced.

Tragically, I assume it will only be a matter of time before the protections of the confessional are stripped away. This will not be to the benefit of our society or culture as a whole, but rather another step (and hardly the last) in the denigration and eventual dismantling of religious freedom in our country.

Book Review: The Freedom of a Christian

January 11, 2021

The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther, translated and edited by Adam Francisco

I was sent this copy of Luther’s work as an end of the year thank you from 1517.org, as I’ve purchased some of their materials and attended some of their conferences in the past.

This is a short read – Luther’s actual piece is only 36 pages. There’s a short introduction and then another short essay by the Executive Director of 1517 and another short essay by Adam Francisco. Luther’s piece is beautiful and very illustrative of the difference between what makes us holy (the blood of Christ) and what makes us better (doing things for those around us out of love and gratitude for what God has given us in Christ). Are Christians commanded to do good works? Of course. But that command is intended to make us better, not to save us. The command is there to reinforce good decisions and actions in our lives that directly benefit those around us rather than as some form of repayment to God for his gift of forgiveness.

Luther’s language (and this translation) is very easy to understand and he provides some good, practical examples of how and why this understanding of good works and the Law is correct. He is not as vitriolic as he is in some of his other writings. Then again, this was authored in 1520, at the beginning of Luther’s career, just a scant three years after his (in)famous public posting of his 95 Theses. This is a good read for every Christian – whether you’re a Lutheran or not. It answers fundamental questions about the Christian life in simple language.

The additional essays are superfluous, basically repeating Luther’s main points. But they fill the book out a little bit and better justify the purchase. A great work, a great translation, and good devotional material throughout a Christian’s life!

If the Lord Wills

December 14, 2020

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. James 4:13-16

I was talking with a friend the other day who cited something I’ve heard floating around a bit the latter part of this year. I’m not going to go see my parents this year for the holidays so that I can see them next year for the holidays. The idea being that because of the risk of COVID and the higher danger to older people more likely to have co-morbidities or weaker immune systems, the responsible thing to do is stay away from them (and have them stay away from everyone else) and then next year we’ll all be healthy and COVID will be gone and we’ll celebrate together then.

I understand the rationale. I don’t fault people for saying it. I know they mean well. And as I’ve maintained since all this started back in March each person has to figure out how to navigate the COVID landscape for themselves within the larger guidelines suggested or mandated to us by various government or health officials.

That being said, I always want to remind Christians to weigh this in the balance with James’ words above. There are no guarantees as to what the future holds, other than that our Lord is returning at some point! We make our decisions with the best available information and as we feel led or compelled to by the information at hand, but that doesn’t mean it will play out the way we hope it will. That’s not in our control. This means two things.

First, it doesn’t mean we switch our brains off and pay no attention to planning or available information or reasonable levels of prudence and wisdom. To say we are not in control is not to say we have no control. It’s just that our control is limited – a fact we dislike and often seek actively to avoid completely in our considerations. Christians who refuse to use the minds God gave them and the knowledge available around us are not being faithful, and those who are not Christian and wish to maliciously characterize a life of faith in Christ as one devoid of intelligence or thougthfulness are being disingenuous, to say the least.

Secondly, it means that Christians should temper our plans for the future with the understanding things are not fully in our control. And this is the important aspect to keep in mind with the adage above about keeping distant now to ensure opportunities to be together when the pandemic has passed. Although a great deal of hope is being foisted onto the shoulders of various vaccines available in various degrees, we don’t know how that will play out.

We can certainly hope that vaccines roll out as scheduled (or faster) function as intended and with similar rates of protection to what has been seen in human trials. But even if this is the case, the likelihood of COVID fears dissipating fairly soon is unlikely. Even if rates drop, the vaccines don’t seem to offer long-term protection from COVID, meaning that additional doses will be necessary to ensure the virus loses access to a large enough spectrum of the population long enough to begin dying out of circulation. That’s likely to take at least another year. It could take longer – we just don’t know. After all, it was just two months ago the media was laughing at our president for claiming vaccines would be available before the end of the year. Now that the election is over, what a shock to find out he had been right. Hmmmm.

Anyways.

That’s all COVID stuff. Ministering to older adults, many of whom have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren they miss dearly and look forward to seeing any chance they get, I know how hard the social isolation has been on them. I also know a fair number of these older adults are taking directions from their kids, and being more careful than they themselves might be left to their own devices. And I also know that things can change quickly as people get into their 70’s and 80’s – more quickly than they or anyone else expect, and sometimes with less advanced warning.

All of which is to say that not seeing your family is no guarantee you’ll get to see them next year, even if none of you contract COVID or have any complications from it. As James reminds us, life is fleeting. All too brief as well as unpredictable. And this at least needs to be discussed as plans (or no plans) are being made for Christmas time.

Again, it isn’t as simple as saying go see your aging parents or grandparents because you may not get another chance to. But it is worth reminding people that life is fleeting, like a mist. Talk about it together. Pray about it together. Make decisions together. Grant a great deal of grace and forgiveness in the midst of all the stress and craziness of this past year. And also take seriously the sovereignty of God in all things, even pandemics. Life is a beautiful gift we don’t have absolute control over but receive day by day as it is given to us without any assurances of the next minute let alone the next year.

You may reach the same conclusions you were inclined to before, but you’ll all be better for the discussion and the prayer and the deliberate inclusion of the faith you proclaim in the process.

Control

December 2, 2020

Thanks to Steve for his response to a previous post. I’m going to respond to his comment in this post out of convenience from a text-editing standpoint, and because the point he raises has been voiced by various people in different but related contexts. Steve wrote:

Would you really gather inside for worship wearing a mask and sitting 6 feet apart if the state allowed it? You would be devastated if a parishioner became ill after attending such a service. From a practical perspective it’s just not safe and too risky. Let’s be honest, this rant is about the separation of church & state.

This is about my sixth take on a response (I deleted the first five!), and I’ve probably written a few thousand words before deciding to opt for the less-is-more approach. I take Steve’s questions in good faith and pray these responses will be received the same way.

Yes, I would really gather inside for worship if it was not expressly forbidden by the State. We did so for over 100 years prior to COVID. We did so in June and July and again in October and most of November when we were allowed. This is a Church, I’m her pastor, and it’s my job to provide the Word and Sacraments of God to the people of God. I’ve been blessed to do this for the last 13 years or so without having to explicitly question the means by which we did so under the rubric of whether it was safe or not. Of course it was safe enough – it’s what we’d always done! The only thing that called our traditional ways of doing things into question was COVID and subsequent restrictions on houses of worship.

We are blessed to reside in a county with some of the lowest infection rates of any county in the nation. We’ve adhered to CDC and state stipulations and guidelines, even as those have flexed and changed and changed again over the past nine months. None of our members has had COVID, thankfully. I could say this is because of the precautions we’ve been instructed to take but I’ll never know that for sure this side of eternity. The precautions as a whole seem reasonable and so we abide by them. What is unreasonable is when exemptions are made for some businesses with far closer exposure and fewer precautions while houses of worship are by and large arbitrarily restricted. I’ve heard of two outbreaks allegedly linked to houses of worship in the last nine months. I’d encourage anyone to research those further and judge for themselves if they are good enough grounds upon which to base a large policy restricting a Constitutionally guaranteed right. In San Diego strip clubs are allowed to operate while churches are restricted. I pray that recent Supreme Court decisions will begin to help state leadership re-evaluate their mandates. Not every church can, should, or will allow people back inside for worship during the pandemic. But that is a decision the congregation should make, not some official with no direct knowledge of the particulars.

Not only have we met when legally allowed to do so, my people have wanted to meet. I haven’t forced them. We have some who won’t or shouldn’t attend and I understand that completely. I’m supportive of those who don’t feel able to worship to stay home. Nearly all of my members want to meet, but not all of them can. If the majority of my members desire to worship and consider the risk one they are willing to take, it is not my job as pastor to tell them they can’t, that I refuse to provide them Word and Sacrament because it’s not safe to do so. Safe is a slippery word.

I would definitely feel bad if a member got sick. Would I take personal responsibility if they did? No. I am not the one who ensures their health and safety. We come to give worship and praise to the God we claim is in control of all things, including COVID. I don’t presume this means we can hug and kiss and sneeze into each others’ faces with impunity, but at least my witness of faith needs to be that God is the only one who keeps us safe. Therefore if my members are willing to gather, I will feed them the Word and the Sacraments. We’ll use the brains God gave us to try and do so reasonably given the circumstances, but I will not deny them the option. I also will use the brains God gave me to listen critically to what my elected and appointed leaders tell me. History shows them to be far less reliable than God!

This may sound callous at first, but let’s play it out a bit. I had a member (recently deceased) who went through a bad period of falls whenever she would come to church. She wore high heel shoes well into her 90’s, and as her balance and vision betrayed her she would regularly fall. Outside on the patio. Inside on the carpeting. Should we not have met because she was getting hurt and refused to wear more sensible shoes? Should I have turned her away in the parking lot for her own protection?

I can’t keep people safe. I can do what seems good and right and salutary by any number of different standards Biblical and otherwise as an effort to love my neighbor. But I can’t keep them safe. That’s not my job. I have to leave that in my Lord’s hands. Again, I don’t say this lightly or flippantly, but faithfully. I have to trust God to keep me safe every time I make a hospital call. I’ve been around people in all manner of infectious states (pre-COVID) and trusted ultimately in my God to keep me healthy and safe. I still put on the gowns and masks and gloves when told to do so, but my trust goes deeper than those things. As Christians, we are called to this level of trust, to remember we are not the ones in control of our lives.

In regards to not safe and risky, I believe that’s a decision each group of believers has to make for themselves based on their circumstances and their understanding of God’s Word. Christians met illegally and under threat of death for 300 years in the Roman Empire and for decades in Communist China and the former Soviet Union. They are still persecuted and executed around the world for their faith. And yet in all these places and times Christians have prioritized worship. They took precautions, I have no doubt. But they often made the decision that despite the risks and despite a definite lack of safety they would gather together to receive the gifts of God in his Word and Sacraments. This meant many of them were arrested, tortured, disfigured, and executed. This did not discourage other Christians but oftentimes emboldened them. We hold up and honor those Christians who were willing to take risks and suffer the consequences rather than renounce their faith or opt for a safe alternative. How can we be critical when Christians continue to seek God’s Word and Sacrament today?

Perhaps the issue is not whether Church is a safe place (it’s not – spiritually and otherwise!), but whether Americans value worship as much in an age where the Word and worship is a click away – a television station or a radio station or a YouTube channel away. Maybe the deeper question is how technology has impacted our valuation of human contact and community, leading us to believe that technology can fill these needs in our lives. That in an age when everything else is self-serve and an Amazon delivery away, worship ought somehow to be the same – on our terms and for our short term comfort. Perhaps a deeper question is how our avoidance of death through a cult of youth and beauty and exercise has left us vulnerable to the rawness of a world we do not control.

Barring the return of our Lord first, all of us are going to die. The Church is here to teach people how to live as well as how to face death. To give hope and assurance that COVID or cancer or substance abuse or abusive parents or any number of other tragic events do not have the last word on us even if they kill us. If we’re going to glorify doctors and nurses and grocery store workers and other front line workers, we should no less glorify the God of Church for sustaining his people to proclaim the Word of God and provide the gifts of God to the people of God. The Church does no one any good by acting as though a few more days or months or years of life is more important than eternity. There is no other organization that bears witness to this truth! And just as I want doctors and nurses and teachers to stand by their posts and do their jobs despite the risks, those of them who are Christian need to be sustained by the Church to do so, to know that what they do has meaning and value and their lives – if sacrificed in love of neighbor – are not lost or wasted but eternally anchored in the Son of God who overcame COVID and death. Their non-Christian colleagues need this same support and truth, they just don’t realize it yet.

So yes, I will meet inside again as soon as my people are ready to. The cold and damp weather is just as dangerous to them as COVID. So is the isolation and distance that has plagued our country and world for the last nine months. I’m in no hurry to die, and I’m in no hurry for my people to die. But if they face death – and we each do every day – they should be prepared to counter that fear and anxiety with hope not grounded in the fiat of a government official but in the resurrected Son of God, Jesus the Christ. To the best of my ability I will model that courage, and give my brothers and sisters in the faith the opportunity to model it as well, even as we use our best judgment to love and care for each other.

Other COVID Effects

December 1, 2020

Just a reminder – COVID and related restrictions have other costs associated with them than just who gets sick and who doesn’t.

A fascinating article here about Japan, where suicide deaths in October alone exceeded COVID deaths for all of 2020. The mental health effects of COVID and associated isolation and lockdowns is being seen in real time in some countries.

Other effects of COVID and related restrictions include deepening levels of social awkwardness as people deal with their own fears of others and reciprocal fears. Traditional understandings of how to engage socially – shaking hands, smiling – are all being deconstructed when our faces are hidden behind masks and human touch as become a social faux pas.

Long term impacts on school-aged children during COVID will be gradually revealing themselves for another decade or more. At risk students has a whole new dimension to it in the age of COVID. I developed and taught online curriculum for over a decade when it was a brand new field of technology and Internet possibility. I witnessed firsthand that online education is not for everyone, and that means both teachers and students. For those with learning styles requiring more or different than what is possible through synchronous or asynchronous online learning platforms, the risk of falling through the cracks is even more prevalent now.

And of course the working world is changing. For the first time the reality of a large percentage of employees working remotely permanently seems to make sense. But of course, not all jobs have that option. Many jobs – particularly ones with lower salaries – require people to show up in order to bag groceries and cook food and harvest crops and any number of very tangible, real-time duties. How does our society deal with this shifting away from the idea that everyone goes to work? Is working from home a benefit to the employee, and as such should the employee be taxed for that benefit in order to provide additional funds to those who have no such option? Or should employers be taxed for this option, since it will inevitably enable them to save money through smaller office space needs and other very tangible, bottom line benefits?

A vaccine is not going to make any of these issues disappear. Damage has already been done, and changes in approaches to work and personal life will continue even if a vaccine is ready or herd immunity is reached or the virus simply quits infecting at the rates it has been. COVID is going to be with us a lot longer than the actual Coronavirus might.

Book Review – Common Lectionary: The Lectionary Proposed by the Consultation on Common Texts

November 28, 2020

Common Lectionary: The Lectionary Proposed by the Consultation on Common Texts

I use the Revised Common Lectionary nearly every Sunday as the basis not only for the readings in worship but the sermon. This has been my habit since entering the ministry. I rationalize that it keeps me honest to some degree, rather than focusing on texts that I like. It forces not just my parishioners but me to come into a wider range of Scripture than I might opt for left to my own devices, though at other times I realize it probably limits my range of Scripture choices. But it also is a point of unity within the larger body of Christ, and it’s always good when someone else says they had the same readings at their church or the church they were visiting.

All that being said, my knowledge of how these particular readings were selected is not all that deep. Sometimes it’s frustrating where they start or stop the readings. It’s like stumbling into a conversation without knowing what came before. So I keep my eye out for explanations on this process and how we ended up with the readings we have, so when I found this booklet online I ordered it ASAP.

It’s basically the notes behind the Common Lectionary, a first effort at harmonizing the reading selections of various Protestant denominations, each based off the Roman Catholic Church’s Ordo Lectionum Missae of 1969. Though the Catholics got the ball rolling, various Protestant groups modified the original 3-year reading cycle to fit various theological emphases or doctrinal matters. So an effort was made to provide a single lectionary option acceptable to a diverse range of Christian denominations. The Common Lectionary would result in the early 80’s, and it would be further adapted into the Revised Common Lectionary that my denomination uses today.

This booklet clocks in at just over 100 pages, but provides background information as to the three major considerations that went into the formation of the Roman Catholic lectionary – Calendar (having to do with the liturgical church year and the relation of each Sunday and other special days to the overall calendar and to one another); Cult (having to do with understandings of worship, such as the historic understanding that worship centers around the proclamation of Jesus Christ in the Word and the receiving of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist); and finally Canon (having to do with which sources to choose from, which includes not just the issue of utilizing the Apocryphal writings or not, but also which Old Testament readings to include and how they are used both in their own context as well as in service to the Gospel reading for the day).

It then provides the full listing of recommended texts for each of the three years of readings, and indicates whether the agreement on those particular texts was a real, virtual, or near consensus. There are then explanatory notes for every single set of readings across all three years, indicating very briefly why these verses were seen as appropriate in light of the liturgical season as well as in relation to one another. Fantastic! A great reference for me each Sunday of each year of the lectionary cycle, particularly if I’m having trouble seeing the links for myself. I’ll probably start incorporating tidbits of this into the Ramblings I post here each Sunday as well.

Definitely a great resource if you’re interested in the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. It’s not an exhaustive resource, more like the quick notes somebody would have taken during various meetings and discussions, and then organized.

It’s Faith, Stupid

October 31, 2020

As violence continues to spiral in France, the news media seems ridiculously ill-equipped to report on it. There was the decapitation of a teacher two weeks ago that started this recent bout of violence, and interesting enough it was the only non-religious target. Subsequent targets have been Christians in churches, whether the three worshipers killed in Nice earlier this week, or the Orthodox priest shot in the stomach with a sawed off shotgun tonight. And while this latest attack hasn’t been linked to Islamic fanaticism (yet?), at the very least it’s another assault specifically on Christians, and a reminder that the secular society media is so fond of touting is not necessarily the most enlightened environment.

Headlines like this one miss the point entirely. It’s incredible that only a few decades after World War II and the utter failure of a program to appease the increasingly aggressive demands of a despot, the press still thinks the problem is an offensive cartoon. Allow me to help fill in the clueless secular or anti-religious media – this isn’t about a cartoon, it’s about religion. It’s not about secularism, it’s about faith.

The idea that succumbing to demands to not say or draw anything offensive about the prophet Mohammed will somehow restore peace and eliminate tensions with Muslim nations is ridiculous. Give in to this demand and there will be another demand. Resist that demand and there will be violence again and threats of violence. This isn’t a cycle that ends in a restoration of a peaceful secular country (if France could accurately be called that). It’s a cycle that ends with the destruction of secular France – and the rest of non-Muslim nations – under the growing intimidation of radical Muslims.

These radicals aren’t afraid of France’s secularism – they’ve exploited it by immigrating there in large numbers. They know very well secularism can’t withstand the growing pressure of a radicalized Islam. Progressive ideologies have weakened much of Western civilization to the point they are unwilling to defend themselves and will capitulate everything soas not to risk offending a class of people who insist they are offended.

The radicals don’t need to be afraid of secularism so you’ll notice their attacks are not against civil targets but rather religious ones. Christian ones. And more specifically, active Christians. Christians at worship or priests at churches. Because unlike secularists, Biblical Christians who know the Bible as well as Christian history have an actual set of beliefs they are not willing to compromise on. Islam can and will conquer secularism, but it has had quite a bit of trouble dealing with Christians through the centuries. And while modern, secular authorities seem to ignore or forget history, it seems clear that radical Muslims have not.

So these Muslims try to strike fear into the hearts of Christians. Maybe by doing so they hope to cause weaker Christians to demand their secular government side with the extremists and give in to their demands. Demand their government continue to abdicate what little moral authority it still holds from the Christian faith for the sake of tolerance or kindness or some grossly misinterpreted interpretation of the Christian command to love your enemy.

Macron’s desire to defend secular society will ultimately fail – if not in his term than down the road a few years. It will fail because it has no real inherent beliefs, and will therefore cede authority to whomever can most convincingly portray themselves as the weak or marginalized or disenfranchised. Or Muslims will simply continue to out-reproduce their materialist, secular neighbors until they can vote for a Muslim government and sharia law and all the other things the Quran commands Muslims to accomplish.

But the Christian faith is grounded in beliefs anchored in human history and geography, an empty tomb and eye-witnesses of a man who claimed to be nothing less than the Son of God and insisted his resurrection from the dead would vindicate this claim.

That faith won’t abdicate to Islam. It might be conquered by Islam geographically or politically. It might be executed by Islam, as Christians around the world continue to suffer and die simply for insisting on believing the Word of God, oftentimes at the hands of Islamic extremists. But it won’t simply give up and go away.

That’s the real threat radical Islamists rightly perceive and seek to weaken or destroy. That’s why as the attacks in France continue, the targets are worshiping Christians, priests, and others visibly living out their faith. I pray that Christians around the world will rally in solidarity of their French brothers and sisters in Christ who are currently under attack.

Movie Review: Signs

October 27, 2020

I enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense when it came out, but it never created a burning desire in me to see all of his films. And so I didn’t. This is no doubt not a reflection on his work but rather my somewhat tepid response to movies in general. So the wife and I sat down to watch a movie the other night and opted for Signs.

The movie is 18 years old now, but I don’t intend any spoilers regardless. The film is essentially a discussion of faith. Not a specific faith, though a thin veneer of Christianity is displayed but not articulated as anything more than the most gossamer of realities. It’s a typical Hollywood understanding of faith and, frankly, a typical Hollywood understanding or caricature of Biblical Christian faith.

A faith that can drive a man into ministry, (in this case, presumably the Episcopal Church since the main character was a priest but was also married and has children while people still refer to him as Father). But a faith that can be rejected and tossed aside by tragedy. A faith that can turn to bitter dust when suffering comes and steals what we value. Frankly, perhaps it is an accurate description of many people’s faith, which is sad and frightening.

Regardless, the main character when we meet him is no longer a priest, a backstory gradually brought out through the length of the film. His lack of faith – or perhaps his desire to push God away and keep him at arm’s length – runs through the entire film, surfacing occasionally in more explicit moments. He is angry with God.

Despite this very Christian context, the film is devoid of Biblical Christian faith. God is apparently here to ensure our personal happiness, and if He does not do so in the way we would like him to, He deserves our anger and rejection. Only if God redeems himself by making it up to us – and also by getting through out thick skulls and blindness so we actually see what He’s doing – does He become worthy of our love and service again.

All of this wouldn’t be so irritating if it weren’t really the fundamental story of the entire movie. The movie is an interesting character study, and it’s primarily a character study, not unlike many stories by my favorite author, Ray Bradbury, or the television series The Twilight Zone. However in a two-hour movie I hope for something a bit deeper than what a short story or a 20-minute television show can provide, and I feel Signs falls short on delivery.

Let’s talk about the life of faith and the challenges of life which can lead a Christian to despair or to anger with God. But let’s do so with more nuance and depth than a missing crucifix on a wall or a worn or unworn clerical. A bit more Job, actually. There’s a real discussion of what faith looks like and how it struggles amidst the suffering in this world. That would make the payoff of movies like this even more powerful, and more than just popcorn fare.

It’s not a bad movie, and much more qualified cinema experts agree. Perhaps that’s what drove Mel Gibson to switch sides of the camera to direct a film showing a far greater Biblical depth. Certainly in light of Gibson’s much chronicled personal demons, it’s something he’s well-qualified to enact, and a more powerful reminder of how great the love of God in Jesus Christ is.