Saturday, July 28, 2012

Just wanted to take a moment to update the blog this week because I won't be updating next week. I leave with the youth group tomorrow right after church for a six day mission trip to Reading, Pa. We're working as part of the JUNE Project doing minor maintenance in the Reading and Pottsville area during the day all week long. Please keep us in prayer as we strive to serve as Jesus served.

Will be updating again in the following week after we get back. And if you're keeping up with my current series, Spiderman tomorrow, Daredevil/Batman next week.

Grace and Peace!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Comic Books, Television and Movies... OH MY!

This Sunday (July 29th) I will begin a preaching series that looks at comic book super heroes and how their stories help us to understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ and living as better Christians in this world. I'm calling the series "Holy Heroes, Batman!" In the wake of the incident last week in Aurora, Colorado this title feel a little crass, but it's what I've been working with and promoting since before that incident, so I'm going to stick with it. Anyway, this week's blog is sort of a precursor to the series as there are some things I want to get out there before we delve into the comic book stories. We live in an increasingly violent culture. Last week proved that to us all once again in a terrible way. And unfortunately, many of our movies, television shows and other forms of entertainment glorify that violence. We gotten to a plae even in comic books that the bad guys don't just have to be caught and imprisoned, they have to be hunted down and killed. Theologian and Bible Scholar Walter Wink calls this The Myth of Redemptive Violence. He says, "[This] is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today." Sadly, I think that many of us know this all too well just this week. I don't care to think of the numbers of people I've heard say that they'd like to see James Holmes dead. Why? What would that solve?

Our problem in this society is that we've come to a place where we too often see good and evil as competing forces struggling for control of the universe. Theologians have given this worldview a name - Manichaeism. It's based on the teachings of the Persian prophet Manes in the third century C.E. and for all Christian intents and purposes, it is heresy. As Christians we believe that God is in control and that no evil force is God's equal. Ethically, this line of thinking causes Christians issues because we can see ourselves as fighting on the side of good (and therefore God) and all those who disagree with us are allies of evil.

So what does this all have to do with my next sermon series? Well, I think we need to be clear that these stories, the fictional stories of comic book heroes, are commercial products designed and written primarily for entertainment purposes and company profitablility. So from a perspective of faith they are a mixed bag. Some parts of these stories offer positive values and insights, and some parts appeal to our baser nature. So my intention in this series, rather thn embracing the comic book heroes and their stories as sacred texts, or rather than rejecting them outright as having no redeeming value at all, let us reflect on them a bit. Let's engage these bulked up soap operas in a thoughtful dialogue about the helpful and the harmful message that they're sending us.

Week one - Spider Man!

Grace and Peace!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Walking Dead - Did God survive the Zombie Apocalypse?


Well, I said that I was going to post every week, and here I am! This week, since I didn't go see a new movie, I thought I'd talk about one of the two television series that I've set my DVD to record so that I don't miss an episode. I've really become a big fan of AMC's "The Walking Dead." The Walking Dead is now filming its third season which is due to begin in October and has been building the hype for that season with a marathon weekend last week, a special airing of the pilot episode in black and white, and an hour-long talk show special called "Talking Dead." The series comes from the mind of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard and began its life as a black and white comic book series from Image Comics. It is the story of a group of people who have survived the zombie apocalypse and how they band together and are changed by the stress of just trying to survive in a world of monsters trying to eat them. Two years ago, in a leap of faith, AMC television began the show with a six episode first season. It was so well received that fans have demanded more and AMC has delivered. While the show has roughly followed the storyline of the comic book (and yes, I have been reading the comic as well), the producers have taken artistic license to change and tweak things for television production value. A WARNING - this show and the related comic book is not for children! I cannot stress this enough. There is an abundance of language that our kids do not need to hear and an over abundance of violence that they do not need to see! I do not recommend this show for anyone under the age of 17 and even then I would suggest that it be viewed with a parent or guardian. This show has been known to cause nightmares in adults so be forewarned.

Now you might be thinking, "Pastor, if this show is so violent and foul, why would you blog about it?" Good question - but if you can take this show for its artistic value and its excellent storytelling, The Walking Dead is amazing. The writers truly understand human nature and how people not only act, but react and are changed by stressful situations of a long period of time. While a passing glance at the show will make one think that the title refers to the zombies, it is actually a commentary on how the survivors become emotionally desensitized by the severity of their situation. In fact, in the comic book storyline the main character, Rick finally says as much to the rest of the survivors. "Don't you get it? We're the walking dead!"

Now I like to try to find a spiritual connection in any pop culture phenomenon and there are certainly some in The Walking Dead. There are copious overt references to God, faith and the church throughout the series. Two prominent examples come to mind: Hershel is a major character, a farmer and a main of faith. He often speaks about his faith and how it informs him about how to live. Also, early in season Rick sits down in an abandoned church and has a conversation with God asking for a sign that he's leading the group the right way. Shortly thereafter he encounters a deer in the woods and has a peaceful moment. Of course, the fallen nature of humanity intrudes on this sign when an unknown hunter shoots the deer and Rick's son Carl with one through and through shot, shattering the moment.

But there's a deeper bit of Christian understanding here and it actually relates to all zombie movies. In chapter 16 of the book of Job, Job speaks about how God has treated him by allowing the devil to afflict his life. He has torn me in his wrath, and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me; my adversary sharpens his eyes against me. (Job 16:9) The word used here for "sharpens" has a connotation that expresses the meaning "to look intently" as an animal looks for prey. So, the verse describes God’s relentless pursuit of Job. Francis Thomas expressed this idea in his famous poem entitled "The Hound of Heaven." God pursues us intently, seeking a relationship with us out of his love and mercy for us. In much the same way, zombies always seem to be portrayed in this relentless pursuit. Now I know that this sounds a little contrived, but I'm going to bet that after reading this you'll never look at a zombie movie in the same way again. God is the hound of heaven. God pursues you and wants all of you.

Grace and Peace - see you next week!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Someday I'll get the hang of this blogging thing. Been away from it for a while and in that time we've moved, changed churches and I'm trying to familiarize myself with a new town, new people and a new ministry setting. So for those of you who may be reading my ramblings for the first time - Welcome! I'm pastor Don Stevens serving the Central United Methodist Church of Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey and this is my blog. I like I love movies. And because I enjoy movies as much as I do and I'm also a pastor, I like to try to find those connections between what's on the screen and what we as Christians know about out faith. You can browse some of my previous posts to see how I've been doing it. Sometimes I hit the mark and sometimes I don't, but that is the reality of faith. And I don't just write about movies - television, books, computer games, in fact anything that's popular in th world today is fair game for analysis. We live in this world until we come face to face with God, why not understand it a little better through the lens of faith? I'm making it my new commitment to blog something connecting Christianity and popular culture every week from here on out and I hope that you my readers will keep me accountable to that. Also, if you're in the area, I'll be starting a new sermon series on July 29th that looks at how comic book superheroes help us understand ourselves, our relationships with God and one another and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm calling the series "Holy Heroes Batman!" Maybe I'll even post some of my sermons on this blog. Keep an eye out!