If My Life Were a Movie…

GOML2Before college, my movie tastes were limited to action and adventure (Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, James Bond) with the occasional family-friendly series (That’s So Raven, The Waltons, The Cosbys). I don’t remember seeing (m)any romantic figurehead films.

However, in college, things changed. In a conservative dorm of 50+ females whose gut reaction was horror when someone asked –

“Have you seen Pride and Prejudice?”

-and my response was, “No,” I was soon indoctrinated in all the best clean romance movies because the conversation which followed went something like:

“OMG! WHY NOT?!”

“I just … haven’t ever wan…”

“Well, you must! It’s a classic. What are you doing Saturday night?”

Circle a calendar date, figure out who buys popcorn, call dibs on the dorm Blu-Ray player. GOML1

I sat down preemptively cynical, but I was surprised when I found myself liking a particular genre of romance; romantic comedy.

The improbably circumstances made me laugh, and I liked laughing. I discovered that I’d never laughed as much as I could’ve as a child.

Romantic comedy plots are all the same; two people somehow manage to do everything they can to mess up their potential relationship, the world is against them and they are against themselves (their best friend even fails them), yet they defy the odds, fall in love, and choose each other at the end anyway.

In a way, I appreciate these movies more than solely romantic dramas; comedies are full of awkward impressions, embarrassing moments, and fights – basically the stuff of real life. They never portray love as easy or smooth, even though their characters do get the happily ever after as the credits roll.

I just finished reading a book titled Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature. It was written by an ex-English professor from Concordia University, WI named Veith. In his analysis of comedy-centric plots, Veith writes;

GOML4“The assurance of a happy ending frees us to laugh at the pain that [a person] does experience at the moment.”

While umbrelled by the romantic comedy genre, we know we can laugh as the characters stumble through life because they are reaching toward each other. We know they will reach each other, no matter what comes between; that’s the genre assurance. As Veith aptly notes;

“The difference is the ending … both comedy and tragedy deal with the extremes of human experience and both put suffering and joy in relationship to each other. In comedy, the pain is transformed by the ultimate joy.”

The comic genre delights the viewers throughout the movie because they watch the characters suffer in hope of the joy that waits for them at the end. Joy is predestined in comedy. Pain is temporary. The quantity of pain is light and insignificant, although still poignant, compared to the happiness. The ultimate message declares, “All the suffering was worth it!”

Do you see where I’m going here?

In his words to the Romans, the apostle Paul says, “What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” (8:18 NLT) Similarly, James reminds his readers, “Your life is like a morning fog; it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (4:14 NLT).

In our temporary lives on earth, we are free to, in a sense, laugh at the pain of our moment. Not because it’s not painful, but because we have the assurance of a happy ending.

We are destined for joy.

Think of any romantic comedy. The characters don’t know the ending. Their struggles and setbacks are extremely real and hurtful to them, just like our lives are for us. The difference is we know the ending.

In the prophetic book of Jeremiah, God tells His people, “I know the thoughts that I think concerning you … thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you the end that you wait for.” (29:11 JUB)

The end that you wait for…

We are destined for joy.

GOML5The epic poet Dante defines tragedy as a story which starts with joy, but ends in pain, and conversely defines comedy as a story which finds its beginning in pain and its ending in joy. By that definition, the Bible is the centuries long divine romantic comedy of the world. Our sin painfully corrupts the world, but yet through Christ’s forgiveness, we head toward perfection and ultimate joy. Everything to thwart God’s romance toward us fits somewhere in between.

Here I am doing everything I can (it seems) to mess up my relationship with God, the world is against God and I, and I can be against God. My friends even sometimes fail me. Yet God defies the odds, falls in love sacrificially, and chooses me anyway.

I need to learn to appreciate the romantic comedy genre of my life – awkward impressions, embarrassing moments, and fights – basically everyday situations. These situations never portray love or life with God as easy or smooth or flawless, but when the credits roll, I’ll have the end that I waited for: Joy Himself.

GOML3

 

What About Offense?

Orlando Shooting WAO1
“Post Orlando Shooting”

I see a lot of defense in the church today.

We are more or less ready to react to what happens with a solid Tweet, a passionate message, a Facebook comment. We are willing to lend a helping hand, food, and clothes to those in need because of tragic circumstances. I see good things come out of our reactions – questions and conversations that may not have happened if we hadn’t found ourselves in the midst of the tragic situations faced by our culture. I see God find people in their aimless wanderings around our sinkhole culture; I see God draw people closer as they attempt to understand where the world is going; I see people walk away from God – even run away – as they fail to grasp the supernatural big picture behind the universe. Things happen that they will say made them leave God, the same things that others claim led them to God. I see more heads in trembling hands. I see more brows furrowed with confusion. I see more tears.

I hear more silence.

This year in the world, I hear a lot of praying for those who have lost people in every language. I hear a lot more crying and singing in our churches. I hear more stirring messages from pastors personally and professionally affected. I hear more requests for peace, more preached love, more anger at stereotypes and judgments, more pleading. I hear ignorance lacing the conversations of those who won’t stay on top of history and skepticism woven into the comments of those who’ve read everything there is to read on the subject and still don’t know what to believe.  I hear more silence.

I don’t see a lot of offense in the church today.

I don’t see many people standing up and declaring that they aren’t going to sit by and react; they want to be proactive. I don’t see many people who want to talk about their relationship with God before someone asks them why they are different. I don’t see many people who will vote.  I don’t see many people who are ready to say, “That’s why the world needs God” on all days, not just the bad days. I don’t see many Christians who want to stay on top of the culture, who want to be politicians, fashion designers, actors, business associates, executives, but I see a lot of Christians who don’t read the news, who complain about the presidential choices, the immodesty of clothing lines, the content of movies,

Fashion Designer WAO
Anja Gockel Fashion Show

and the corruption in big business. I don’t see many volunteering to pay for wells for those who need clean water. I don’t see many raising money for school metal detectors. I don’t see many take in prostitutes.

The Bible says that the gates of hell won’t win against the church, and that’s a wonderful fact. But does that imply that we’ve gone to the gates of hell and are pounding them in combat? Or does it imply that the gates of hell have slowly advanced forward on the church, and we are holding out against them frantically defending ourselves from frontal attacks? Knowing that we won’t ultimately be defeated shouldn’t be satisfactory for us.

In today’s culture, I see the latter. I see the latter and it makes me sad and angry with us and with myself.

It makes me disgusted when my mind says, “I’ll wait for him to ask about what I believe about God – I won’t offer it.” It makes me angry when I walk by the charity asking for donations, and I won’t give my change. It makes me sad when I hear Christians say that God’s judgment was poured out on Orlando, the same Christians who wept at the school shootings across the nation this year. It makes me upset when I hear “pastor” and “missionary” and “mother” being touted as the highest career callings for young Christians when young men and women want to be police officers, musicians, CEOs, reporters, designers, Marines. When I look at my own heart and find that I don’t even know how to fully defend myself from the attacks of the world, much less find an offense, I weep because God has given me everything I need to form strategies for both, and I don’t.

Knowing that we won’t ultimately be defeated shouldn’t be satisfactory for us.

Jesus didn’t separate faith and culture. It was just as important to Him to show His apostles to pay taxes as it was to show them He was a miracle worker when He supernaturally led them to catch the fish with the coin. It was just as important to Him that tax collectors would meet Him as it was for priests. Holding the children was just as

Jesus Heals Lepers WAO3
Jesus Heals Lepers

important as preaching to the adults. Healing the lepers was just as important as showing them who He was. Feeding the people was as important as having their listening ears. Giving someone a coat was just as important as praying for them.

We are the ones who separate faith and culture, fretting that meeting physical needs or being socially active is a violation of leading others into a relationship with God, thinking that there are full-time ministry careers and … secular careers. Faith and culture shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Jesus blended the two together inseparably. We’ve divided them time and time again.

We’re in a war bigger than ourselves, yet often we live in a farce, building our weapon stores with study, prayer, and fellowship, constructing our walls of protection around our friends and family, never taking the fight to the gates of hell, but waiting for hell to knock loud and clear on our doors.

I do see some good defense in the church today, and I hear a lot of good defense. We’ve spent centuries learning and honing our defensive game plan, but it’s time for us to get back on the offense.