Captured by Beauty

One summer my family went to Spain. My dad won a tour of Spain for our entire family through his business. I am not sure I really wanted to go. I was, after all, in high school, way too cool to be riding a tour bus around Spain with my family.

But I was only 15, and I had to go.

One afternoon we toured one of the great museums of mankind. I was walking from one old painting to another when I stopped, frozen by the painting in front of me.

There on the wall in front of me was the painting of a man whose body was severely distorted by an agony words couldn’t describe. I leaned forward to see the title of the painting. The words, “The Tears of St. Peter by El Greco” were engraved on the plate under the large canvas. As I leaned back, I felt my legs stiffen. I could not move. As I stared into the tortured face of the Apostle Peter—the painting is set right after his denial of Christ—I was mesmerized by something I could not explain. If you watched the face of Peter, the tears seemed to roll down his face and drip off of his chin. It looked like Peter had been crying for centuries, ever since that awful moment when he betrayed Jesus.

And in that moment I understood the pain of sin and the remorse of guilt. I felt Peter’s panic, realizing that he could not undo what he had done. When I turned and faced the main wall, I saw, in another painting, El Greco portraying himself as the arresting soldier. I know what he was trying to say: We are the reason Jesus died. We are the ones responsible.

I can only wish I would one day preach a sermon that would impact people the way that painting has affected me—and is still affecting me. To this day, I have been captured by beauty.

I understand those who want to produce a logical and coherent presentation of the gospel. But sometimes we forget that one of the most impressive arguments for God is the presence of beauty. God, who Himself is a creator, delights in breath-taking, eye-dazzling beauty.

Our God cannot be described. Our God is beyond our comprehension. Sometimes the glory of our God is best described in sighs of wonder and beauty so stunning it makes your throat hurt.

Seth Worley: Deus Ex Machina

Do you remember the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes? Do you remember the little kid who shouted out the King is naked? That kid was Seth Worley. All of us who have watched Seth grow up, knew he would have a unique place in our world. He is smart, insightful and in some ways, he is wise beyond his years. I am glad the little boy who I met as a friend of my own sons, has now become my friend. He asks hard questions. He isn’t satisfied with pat answers. He keeps me honest. I like having him around…most of the time.

Deus Ex Machina:
How bad storytelling stunts our spiritual growth

About a year ago, a group of my friends started getting together once a week to watch the first five seasons of LOST, scheduled strategically to lead straight into the final season. A lot of people hated this past season, specifically the finale, and Jesus loves those people just as much as he loves the rest of us. But if you were at Neil and Shannon Hoppe’s house that final Sunday night, you witnessed the entire range of human emotion on sickening display. Grown men weeping. Things no one should ever have to see.

I am still recovering from that finale. I’m serious. The entire thing worked for me on every narrative level. My mind immediately goes to the unbearably epic cliff fight that begins with Jack and Locke charging toward each other at full raging speed (one word: jumppunch), culminating with Locke standing over Jack with a knife to his throat, threatening him with something worse than death:

“I want you to know, Jack, that you died for nothing.”

It’s a bloody, primal, emotionally and thematically saturated moment.

LOST has always been a blatantly spiritual show. It’s the closest thing to a live-action Bible story I personally have ever seen, in a world full of terrible live-action Bible story videos. It’s got plenty of trendy philosophical and spiritual elements and references, but the ultimate theme of the show — the concept that emerged and wrestled in every episode — was the dilemma of rationality versus faith.

But that’s not why we watched it.

We watched it because it was viciously good storytelling. We saw ourselves in these characters, and we went on this huge and epic journey with them. And in the process, we grew with them as they did.

There are two common approaches to writing a story, be it a novel, screenplay, or one-act: writing from theme, and writing from character. Every book and professor and starving screenwriter will tell you that a story’s movement must be determined by character. Every twist and turn should be generated by the character’s motivations and desires.

But what I currently do for a living (make “Christian” movies/videos) requires me to write from theme. I’m given a Bible study with a theme, motif, and corresponding Bible verses, and I have to craft a story that’s movement is determined by those themes. The danger in writing from theme is that it’s very easy to contrive completely unrealistic characters that make completely unrealistic decisions in order to meet the given thematic requirements. And when characters are unrealistic, they’re unrelatable, and your story is the deadest dead thing ever dead.

That’s arguably why so many Christian movies are unfortunately mediocre.

We’re Christians. And we LOVE theme. Theme is the meaning, the moral of the story. And our primary goals revolve around telling every boy and every girl the biggest greatest moral of THE story. But without the actual story — the movement of characters from one state to another — all we have is the moral. And that’s fine. Sort of.

But the people who wrote the Bible, people who literally sailed through the same storms as Jesus Himself, weren’t lazy storytellers. Aside from the letters and songs, a large portion of the Bible is narrative, which consists of people and the choices they make and the repercussions of those choices (movement produced by character). And it’s within the movements of these characters that we see the personal involvement of God, His constant work to redeem these choices we make into something that means something (movement produced by theme). The people that wrote the Bible went out of their way to tell us what happened and why it happened, but our instinct is to skim the what in our quest for the why. And that’s why for the longest time I was confident I knew every theme and lesson in the Bible, while I didn’t have a clue who half the people in it were.

There was a moment a few years ago when I suddenly realized that Job was a person. Someone somewhere had somehow figured out a way to get me to sit still for longer than 30 seconds and actually read the Bible. Much to my surprise, these verses, when read in sequential order, formed paragraphs and chapters. And so I read some of them.

My favorite part about Job? God was angrier at Job’s friends than anyone else. The whole time, you think his friends are actually making some valid points to Job. You kind of wonder if Job really is being a bit of a whiner.

But God unleashes a lecture on Job’s friends, and reading it, I realized something significant and pivotal about relationships: presence. When someone we love falls into a hole and can’t get out, our instinctive reaction is to try to get them out. When that fails, our next approach is to try and figure out how or why they fell into the hole. What caused it? But what God seems to teach Job’s friends is that it’s likely our only responsibility is to jump down in there and maybe potentially crawl out together, or more likely just sit and wait together.

I’d say that this is a good example of how I need to be reading the Bible. Rather than standing on the edge, looking for the reasons and why, I need to be down in the pit with these characters and these stories, relating to them, and growing with them, like I did with the characters in LOST. This is why good storytelling is so important! Bad storytelling can stunt our growth. We stand apart from the story and are untouched.

I just told you the theme that I got from the story of Job. You may find something else in it. Or you may find proof that I have no clue what I’m talking about and have no place typing meandering paragraphs on Mike Glenn’s blog. But the conversation you and I could have after reading Job has a great chance of resulting in the discovery of a handful of other themes, not to mention what we might discover about the character of God.

I watched the first 5 seasons of LOST, for the most part, by myself. And before that I regularly wrestled with the spiritual themes that are part of the show’s fabric (like I assume every other pretentious and arrogant kid in his 20’s does). But nothing compares to the experience our group has had over the past year, experiencing the show from start to finish, together.

Think how cool it is that we have a Bible full of stories even more compelling that we can experience that same way. From start to finish, together. What would happen if we did?

Seth Worley blogs regularly at SethWorley.com and Jumppunched.com. He is a filmmaker whose work includes the independent feature film “The Time Closet.”

Seth is the Visual Media Producer for LifeWay Training and Events including Fuge Camps, Centrikid Camps, Living Proof<Live (Beth Moore), Going Beyond (Priscilla Shirer), Deeper Still, Festival Of Marriage, and the LifeWay National Youth Workers Conference. He is the creator of many successful video series produced for LifeWay Fuge Camps, like “Duncan and Mike,” “Milo’s Garage,” “Pulaski High Blanks,” “The Kitchen Bink,” and the “Adventure Now” trilogy

 

The 900-Pound Gorilla

I know I am not a family therapist or a psychologist, but I do know this—until you make peace with your dad, you’re stuck.

You will have trouble dealing with authority.
You will have trouble with issues of self worth and confidence.
And you will constantly wonder if you are good enough to be loved by anyone, not to mention the incipient damage the unfocused anger can do in your life.

Let me begin by saying most dads, for all of their failures, did the best they could.  Sometimes we forget that our dads had dads; they were once little boys too, and sometimes, they were wounded too.

It’s important to realize, some of us, that although our dads may not have given us what we think we might have needed or wanted, most likely they loved us the best way they knew how.  And if you can know that, it’s okay.

But you others, you who had fathers who were either absent, addicted or just mean.  What do you do?

First, you want to forgive.  Remember, forgiveness is releasing the other person from the expectation they can fix what they did.  Once the pain is inflicted, it is ours to deal with. Healing can only come from Christ.

Second, you accept.  Accept doesn’t mean that you “like,” but that you understand the reality of your dad and your relationship with him.

Now, reconciliation isn’t always possible.  Remember Paul said, “As much as it is up to us, live in peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18) Sometimes, it’s not up to us.  That’s okay, but it’s important just to note that to yourself.

Once you have done that, you can begin to move on.

It may not be easy, but it will be possible.

Until you deal with this 900-pound gorilla in the room, you will be constantly stuck in trying to straighten out what you think went wrong in the past.  You can’t change the past, but you can create a new future.

The hope of the resurrection gives us the power to do new things from the worst situations.

Dangerous Word

Amy-Jo Girardier is one of our student ministers at Brentwood. She is one of my favorite people in the world. She is a formidable champion of young women and their development into mature believers. She is constantly challenging the norms set by our culture about beauty, self-worth and success. She is sincere in her own faith as well. Here is a story of a recent trip where she encountered the power of God’s Word to do its work despite the barriers we might build to hinder the Truth.

Dangerous Word:
On a journey with God in illegal territory

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to go on a sabbatical. More than anything, I wanted to know what it would be like to be in a place where it was illegal to read the Bible and proclaim Christianity. I decided to take my mother, who had never been out of the country, and a mentor who had known me since I was 8 years old.

Our destination was switched at the last minute because our connecting flight was being blocked due to over 4,000 people who had machetes and were camped out at the airport. So we were routed to another country. As we landed in this Pacific Rim region, my mother and I were told a list of words we were not allowed to use in country. Among those words were Jesus, God, pastor, church, Bible, Christian and missionary. We were given substitute words so we could communicate without calling attention to the fact that we were Christians. We were then taken to our hotel. A recent team had discovered our hotel was bugged, so we were instructed not to speak openly about our faith even in our hotel room. We were to lock up our Bibles and not take them with us when we left the hotel.

I had never had this experience before. It was a wake-up call; suddenly I was truly aware that there was a government who was scared of the power of God’s word on their people.

My mother and I would have our quiet times together. We would pick the same passage and then write questions to each other about what we had learned. We met with different groups of missionaries in different places and learned to pray with our eyes opened. We learned to read the body language of waiters to determine if it was safe to talk around them or if they were able to understand English. It was refreshing to me to know how much my conversation was hindered by not being able to talk about what God was teaching me; but it also was a challenge to lose my “Christianese” habits and find new ways of communicating what God and His Word are doing in my life.

Our mission on this adventure was to take an 8-hour train ride to the edge of this country to meet with a local tour guide who had just accepted Christ on a big red suspension bridge in a particular village. We were to disciple her and help her to know the importance of finding an underground church. The challenge was that we could not say we were Christians; we had to wait for her to bring it up in conversation.

The first day was definitely fruitless. I would point to a Christmas tree and ask about what she knew about Christmas, to which she would respond, “Not safe”. The second day we were assigned a different tour guide, so we just prayed for opportunities to talk with our supposed Christian tour guide.

The third day, my mother and mentor chose to simply hang back and pray continuously for me while I walked with our tour guide. Just when I was about to give up, I noticed a big red suspension bridge.

“I think I heard that you made the most important decision of your life on this bridge,” I said.

Her response was (of course),“Unsafe.”

I knew I couldn’t say anything more about her decision.

Then I saw this hut built on stilts and rocks looking out over a river. I told her that I thought that hut was beautiful, how it was built on rock. She took my arm and said, “It reminds me of a story I once heard in the Good Book.”

To read more from Amy-Jo Girardier, go to amyjogirardier.com and girlsminister.com.

To find out more about the Student Ministry at Brentwood Baptist Church, click here.