I smell forgiveness and candy.

I don’t know wither this is awesome or sad. Jimmy Kimmel challenged his viewers who are parents to record themselves telling their children that they ate all their Halloween candy, these are the results.

First the awesome. It’s funny to watch the over the top reactions of the kids. Candy is of course trivial, and a luxury and its funny to watch the kids act like this is a matter of vital importance. The other awesome part is the imaginary story I build around these sorts of things. I’m sure I’m not the only one who invents stories to go around snapshots like these. In this case its the story that these are households where pranks and jokes abound, the kind of situation where love and laughter go hand in hand. The kind of households where lives are filled with wacky 80’s sitcom activities and where each day ends with a freeze frame and theme music.

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(I like to imagine that even though the Breakfast Club was just a movie somewhere this guy is still freeze framed on this football field)

Then there is the sad. In a way this whole thing seems a bit mean spirited. I hope these kids aren’t learning to tease and bully others. I hope they aren’t leaning that it is OK to upset others as long as people think it’s funny. But what makes me think it’s sad even more is how seriously these kids take their candy. These kids yell at their parents and get noticeably mean towards them, shouting, telling them to leave and so on. It makes me want to go tell the kids “Its only candy, you can get more” and then remind the kids how much their families do for them. Candy is a luxury and sure it tastes good but it still is a bonus, a perk, a frivolous thing to add some color to life, it does not define life. But these kids act like their life is at stake, that the loss of their candy is a threat to their existence.

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(We have their demands, they want 4 tootsie rolls and a pack of hubba-bubba)

As I think about it more it may not be accurate to make this issue about candy alone. The kids plan for Halloween, prepare for it. Then they put on special clothes and carry out a task they would not do without some form of compensation. Then that preparation and effort pays off at the end of the day when the kids get to enjoy what they’ve earned through their labors. In other words trick or treating is in many ways work. Kids go out do labor in return for payment. It may seem odd from an adult’s perspective but the same work in exchange for pay dynamic is at play here.

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(Although everyone dressing in costume can really spice up a business meeting)

With that in mind it changes the dynamic of the whole thing. Were you to take an adult and tell them that you spent their whole paycheck their response would be just as strong as the responses of those kids. The only real change would be that it is far less endearing when an adult throws a temper tantrum.

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(And yet Adam Sandler has made tons of movies where the only plot is “Adult throws tantrums”)

But with all that being said I finally come to the reason I have decided this video is awesome. Forgiveness. There are a handful of kids who forgive the fictitious mistake of their parent. Some forgive right away with a smile on their face and my favorite moment is a boy who pauses seems like he may explode with rage and then walks towards his Mom says its ok and gives her a hug. These kids have learned to forgive, they have learned that the relationships in life that matter are more important that the fruit of their labor. They probably learned this by watching the adults in their life be role models of this kind of forgiveness.

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I think we could all stand to learn to forgive better than we do. We all have those things that make us angry that in the grand scheme of things aren’t all that important. Maybe we could all stand to pause for a moment and think if what we are so angry about is really not all that important, are we throwing a tantrum over candy. For me the next time I feel myself getting upset about something I’m going to remember that boy hugging his Mom and be reminded that nurturing relationships is far more important than stuff, people matter sugary treats not so much.

Peace
Jamie

Christians, Jews and Muslims a family tree where no one is the Stephen Baldwin

Often times it seems like famous families have at least one member who has a normal life. For instance the manning family has Peyton and Eli but there is also their older brother Cooper. I wonder what it’s like when his brothers start comparing the designs on their Super Bowl rings, I bet it make his funny story about the office picnic he went to seem a bit anticlimactic. Or worse yet what about famous siblings where one has far more success than the other. It must be an awkward moment at the Baldwin house when Alec talks about the big role he just landed and all Stephen has to talk about is how luck he was when he bought some runts and the whole package was banana.

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(Seriously why do those other flavors even exist)

Or when Sylvester and Frank Stallone get together and after Sylvester talks about his big summer blockbuster does Frank spend the next several hours seeing if anyone remembers that he was in Staying Alive the 1983 to Saturday Night Fever?

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(I remember Frank, I remember!)

It seems that a forgotten sibling is not that uncommon. It does seem a bit unfair that they become the punchline of jokes just because their brother or sister is a celebrity but that seems to be the way things work out sometimes. This paradigm even pops up in the Bible too.

 

Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

So Abraham has a son named Issac who has a son Jacob who has a son named Joseph (who starred in that technicolor dream coat musical). This family and their descendants would become the people of Israel, the Jewish people. So Issac son of Abraham and his wife Sarah would become the forefather of a tribe that would become a nation. The Jewish people who have survived the worst that history has to offer can all trace their beginnings back to Issac, not a bad legacy to have. On top of that the Bible talks about the Jews as God’s chosen people. The whole old testament is pretty much focused on telling the story of these chosen people and the involvement of God in their life. The problem is Abraham has two sons.

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(And when I say problem I mean someone is probably not going to live)

Ishmael is Abraham’s son with his slave Hagar. He was in effect plan b, his wife Sarah was unable to get pregnant and he needed an heir. When Sara gave birth Ishmael was no longer needed and he and his mom were sent away into the wilderness. If ever there was a slighted sibling story this is it. Issac gets to inherit his father’s everything (including some big promises made by God) and Ishmael gets sent of into the wilderness where death was more or less expected. What makes this really harsh is that other slighted siblings get talked about more than Ishmael we hear some of their stories, Ishmael on the other hand is little more than a footnote that many people are unaware is even in the Bible. But something strange happens in the wilderness.

At he moment that Hagar is ready to throw in the towel God steps in and saves her and Ishmael. On top of that God makes a big promise to Ishmael that he will become the father of a nation to just like his baby brother. By the way that nation is also still around today. Muhammad the founder of the Muslim faith is a part of that nation which Ishmael founded. So just as the Jewish people, and by extension Christians, identify Issac as a forefather Muslims identify Ishmael as a forefather. Turns out Ishmael isn’t a slighted sibling after all.

The Bible despite being a huge tome essentially tells one story. The old testament is the story of the Jews, God’s chosen people and the New Testament is the story of how Jesus’s life death and resurrection brought God’s grace into the story in a New and all encompassing way. What this Ishmael story reminds us is that when we focus our attention on one area or person we can miss the significant contributions of the other.

What makes this truly note worthy is when the passage says that God was with Ishmael. It doesn’t say it in a way that means just at that moment but that God was with him forever, just like God was with Issac. People of one faith or another often times make the mistake of thinking God is only with them. This is particularly true when it comes to Christians and Muslims since we both are talking about the same God. Sure we have differences is how we understand God’s involvement with us has transpired. They would say Jesus is a prophet not a messiah but at the end of the day we are all talking about the same God. A God who was with and continues to be with both sides of this family tree since way back in the Book of Genesis.

Perhaps we should stop thinking that God is closer to one person than another. We tend to want to make distinctions that separate people. God doesn’t seem to make those distinctions. God doesn’t care if you are famous or not or is you can throw a football well or not I don’t even think God is too concerned if you spend your Sundays in a Church or a Mosque God wants you to Love him and to love one another. So lets focus on love rather than our divisions in understanding.

Peace

Jamie

Wrestling with Revelation.

Let’s say the world’s population disappeared tomorrow.

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(Yes lets say that mwah ha ha ha)

Then let’s say in a few thousand years alien’s come to earth and decide to investigate what kind of people it was than once inhabited this planet. I’m sure a few things would confuse them .

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(Like this Picture!)

In my estimation nothing would be more confusing to them than trying to figure out the wonderful world of pro wrestling. First to get the necessary out of the way, I love pro wrestling more than I should. I’ve watched it more or less for the past 20 years. I’ve seen the good the bad and everything in between. It is through being a fan that I can say no form of entertainment is harder to explain to friends than pro wrestling. The questions that flow forth from a first time viewer are seemingly unending. “You know it’s fake right?”, “who’s that guy?”, “why are they fighting?”, “why are they dressed so silly?” , “Does that really hurt?” “what in the world is happening?”, and the questions go on. In short it is a confusing mess for those uninitiated in it’s strange world. I’ll try to explain the wonderful world of sports entertainment (that’s what pro wrestling likes to be called) as best I can. It is scripted, the outcomes are predetermined, and the wrestlers try not to hurt each other while making what happens look as convincing as possible. At the same time there is some level of realism, people do get hurt, some of the stories are based on real events and tragedies in the performers lives, some performers don’t like each other and this is often worked into story lines in hopes that their real animosity will make their fake feud more realistic.

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(Fake or not this is about to hurt.)

Even though everyone knows it’s fake the performers remain in character to some extent in their public appearances and activities. On top of all that is the fact that it is always changing. Performers leave or change characters (sometimes we are supposed to notice it’s the same guy sometimes we aren’t) , story-lines disappear and reappear, some stories develop while some are dropped and the overall presentation of the shows change too. In the 80’s it was very kid oriented, with superheros like Hulk Hogan. In the 90’s it became raunchy and decidedly not child friendly and now over the last 10 years or so it has tried to become family friendly again but not as cartoon-ish as the 80’s. Sports entertainment is a blend of soap operas, stage productions, reality TV all stretched over the frame of (fake) athletic competition. OK now back to the aliens.

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(We thought you forgot about us.)

There is no way these aliens would figure sports entertainment out. They may think it was a real sport and be very confused. They may think it was a stage production, but wonder why they stayed in character when shows weren’t going on. They may think it a TV show but then why is it filmed live in stadiums and arenas. I would love to see the anthropologists findings and conclusions about our culture based on their study of the WWE, I am 100% positive they would be wrong. The problem is that wrestling is a unique genre of entertainment and in order to understand any entertainment you need to first understand genre. This goes beyond entertainment to literature, art, and so much more including the Bible.

 

Revelation 10:1-11

The Message (MSG)

10 1-4 I saw another powerful Angel coming down out of Heaven wrapped in a cloud. There was a rainbow over his head, his face was sun-radiant, his legs pillars of fire. He had a small book open in his hand. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left foot on land, then called out thunderously, a lion roar. When he called out, the Seven Thunders called back. When the Seven Thunders spoke, I started to write it all down, but a voice out of Heaven stopped me, saying, “Seal with silence the Seven Thunders; don’t write a word.”

5-7 Then the Angel I saw astride sea and land lifted his right hand to Heaven and swore by the One Living Forever and Ever, who created Heaven and everything in it, earth and everything in it, sea and everything in it, that time was up—that when the seventh Angel blew his trumpet, which he was about to do, the Mystery of God, all the plans he had revealed to his servants, the prophets, would be completed.

8-11 The voice out of Heaven spoke to me again: “Go, take the book held open in the hand of the Angel astride sea and earth.” I went up to the Angel and said, “Give me the little book.” He said, “Take it, then eat it. It will taste sweet like honey, but turn sour in your stomach.” I took the little book from the Angel’s hand and it was sweet honey in my mouth, but when I swallowed, my stomach curdled. Then I was told, “You must go back and prophesy again over many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

 

Isn’t the book of Revelation fun. It is the last book of the bible and is written in this odd confusing style with vivid and unusual imagery. The thumbnail version of the book is that it is a prophecy from a guy named John. It tells the story of the destruction of the world and the rebirth of the world in the form of God’s kingdom. That is a way oversimplified version but gives you the gist of it. Along the way it vividly tells of the end of the world, with boiling seas, a massive death toll, lots of suffering and so much more. If you’ve ever seen Bible inspired end of the world imagery it came from Revelation, from the antichrist to 666 to the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse to the battle of Armageddon it all came from here.

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(Not to be confused with wrestling’s much cooler 4 horsemen)

The mistake that I think many people make is not identifying the proper genre that this book is written in. Many see it as a book of prophecy. For them it is the Biblical equivalent of those people who have read ahead in the Game of Thrones books and tell you what is going to happen before it airs.

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(Spoiler: He says Hodor.)

They feel that John was given that opportunity to “read ahead” and is telling us what the destruction of the world would look like. I think people who understand Revelation in these terms picked the wrong genre. If I assumed pro wrestling were a real sport I would make all kinds of wrong and inaccurate conclusions about what was going on and people do the same with Revelation. It’s not a fortune telling prophecy it is actually written in a Genre (appropriately) known as apocalyptic literature.

 

Apocalyptic literature is very different from prophecy. It is a genre that is no longer familiar to people. It is most often written by and for people who are being oppressed. The cryptic imagery and language serves to hide the true intention of the book from those oppressors who may read it, a hidden code in a way. Revelation was written by and for those oppressed by the Roman empire. The goal of the writer is to help the reader understand that there is reason for hope. That though the Romans are powerful their power is nothing compared to God’s power that their empire can fall but God’s will remain. The end of the world death and suffering imagery through out the book serves to show the reader how the oppressors are vulnerable to things such as economic collapse, disease, death, foreign invaders, political instability, and subversion. On the other hand God is not vulnerable to any of those things. For those who are truly oppressed it can be hard to imagine that a power beyond the oppressor exists apocalyptic writing served to remind people that the oppressor is never truly almighty. So the book of Revelation is in many ways an illustration of all that could go wrong with Rome, all the ways it can fall and how none of those things will cause God to fall. Apocalyptic literature is in other words hope for the oppressed, their oppressors will not have the last word.

 

So often however when it is understood as a glimpse ahead at the end of the world when people chose to understand the Genre to be prophecy Revelation takes on a different tone. In the book some are taken to heaven before the destruction begins. The implication of this is that some will be saved (the faithful) and the rest will suffer horribly. This then becomes an ultimatum to believe or else, this word of hope becomes a threat. If you believe you will be saved and if you don’t then you’ve turned your back on God and will suffer more than anyone has suffered before. I don’t think this interpretation paints a picture of a loving and caring God. No it paints a picture of a God who allows his children to burn because they weren’t obedient enough.

 

I think it’s a shame that a book written to be a word of hope a reminder of where power truly lies(with God) and what kingdom truly has power (God’s) has turned into something so negative. To go back to my analogy at the top we have become the aliens examining something thousands of years old. An odd little something and we don’t quite understand what it is. We have two choices we could endeavor to find out exactly what we are looking at then make conclusions or we could make assumptions about what it is based on our own culture and understandings and make false conclusions. I fear too many people have chosen the latter option. Revelation is as much about telling the future as pro wrestling is about actual athletic competition.

 

(Pictured here; the opposite of athletic competition)

 

Peace

Jamie

 

 

We have nothing to fear, except vending machines

Roller coasters are one of those things that seem to split people in to two camps people who love them and people who will never go on them. The split seems to be a result of the basic premise of a roller coaster, its scary. People ride on them to enjoy the thrill of being scarred, they should call them thrill rides! Although people do get hurt on roller coasters, like that time a bird flew into Fabio’s face, they are designed to be safe while presenting the illusion of danger. I know many of you failed to finish that last sentence because you were picturing a bird flying into Fabio’s flowing hair.

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( I can understand the bird’s confusion It took me hours to realize he didn’t have a bird’s nest on his head.)

The truth is you are more likely to be harmed driving to the amusement park than riding a roller coaster. But for those who love them the illusion of danger is quite a thrill. Our brains take in information and come to conclusions. They register a huge fall twists spins and high speed turns and start a fight or flight response because all of that sure seems dangerous. And while theme parks take advantage of that to provide a fun ride other things we are afraid of lead us to make poor decisions. We think something is a threat and spend time and money addressing the perceived threat, or avoid it or we simply live in fear of it. There are lots of things that we are afraid of sharks, spiders, flying, strangers and so much more. The odd thing is that most of those things are far safer than things we encounter without fear or things we actively chose to do.

 

Deer kill more people annually that bears (130 vs 5)

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(You can see it in their eyes, they have evil intentions!)

More people die from choking on a pen cap they were chewing than from lightning (about 100 vs 40-50)

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(The pens consider it justice for all the abuse they’ve suffered.)

Vending machines kill more people than roller coasters (13 vs 4)

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(Shown here: The earliest prototype of a terminator.)

More people from die falling out of bed than from tornadoes (450 vs 60)

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(It’s worth the risk to sleep in this piece of awesomeness.)

and more people die from texting and driving in the us than from all air travel in the world (6000 vs 1200)

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(Can I still play my Xbox while driving?)

In fact driving in general is the most dangerous thing we do in a day and yet most of us think of driving as a casual activity or pastime. I believe the entire country music industry would fall apart if there were no more songs about how cool it was to drive cars.

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(Country music may be out of luck but we sing about driving and surfing.)

The point of all this is that sometimes the most dangerous part about something is how the fear of it negatively impacts our lives. I started thinking of this after reading today’s scripture.

 

Colossians 1:15-23

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;16for in* him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in* him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled* in his fleshly body* through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—23provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

 

Lots of people read this and think the message is that if you shift away from the faith in the gospel then you are no longer holy and blameless. This leads to a bunch of other questions about how do I stay faithful to the gospel, is there a right way and a wrong way to do it, do I have to be faithful my whole life or just at the end, people have different understandings of which way to be faithful is right so how do I pick the right one, what about kids who are to young to understand matters of faith, what exactly is the punishment for not being faithful, is there a point in time where I run out of chances to be faithful, and many more questions. The sum total of all these questions is self doubt and if you believe you are outside of God’s grace, perhaps irredeemably so, in short it creates fear. In other words this becomes a verse that instills fear in people, fear of a God who’s grace is not for them. I think this is the exact opposite of what Paul is trying to tell us.

I think Paul is telling us that we don’t need to be afraid of what God has in store for us. There isn’t some divine check list on which we need to rack up enough gold stars to pass.

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We have, by God’s grace been saved. The result of this is we no longer need to be afraid. I think Paul stating that we need to remain faithful and not lose sight of hope is a warning to not backslide into a life of fear. Just like we are afraid of many things that we don’t need to be, we don’t need to be afraid that God’s grace isn’t for us, because it is for us. The faith and hope help us to be reminded of this and live accordingly, to live as people free from this ultimate fear.

Being afraid of things which we shouldn’t be afraid of leads to irrational choices and mistakes. So being afraid that we are outside of God’s grace leads us to avoid God, who we feel has already made a judgment against us. In fact the most dangerous part of God is the fear that leads us to avoid God, a danger we create in our own minds.

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(So your saying it’s safe to come out?)

Live knowing God’s grace is for you and that you don’t need to be afraid.

Peace

Jamie

 

Author’s note: In case vending machines have taken over the world by the time I post this, I for one welcome our new robotic over lords… oh and you owe me like 330$ for all those times you failed to dispense the food I paid for.

Superhero

I’m a big superhero fan. I’ve always loved the tales of over coming huge odds to save the day. It turns out though that the hardest battle the superheroes ever faced happened off the page.

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(A battle even bigger than this.  But still take a moment to fully appreciate this cover, if museams had pictures like the I would be there everyday)

In the 1950’s folks started to feel that comic books were contributing to “delinquency”. Just like every generation has found something that “causes” kids to be bad the folks of the 50’s picked comic books. It was decided that they were too graphic and too violent and that they needed to be censored. I find it a bit humorous that this happened right after WWII and during the Korean war, both of which were fought by plenty of 18 year old kids and were, its safe to say, more violent and graphic than comic books. The comic book industry, faced with government censorship decided to self police and started a group called the Comics code authority and agreed that no book would be published without it’s seal of approval. This meant that Superheroes had to undergo some changes, they could no longer be vigilantes and instead had to work closely with the police. They moved away from fighting crime because that could become too violent. They all had to have steady girlfriends and boyfriends so they wouldn’t look promiscuous. The CCA even removed all slang from comic books so kids would learn to speak proper, or is it properly, so kids would speak good, (that has to be grammatically correct right?) Comics became more kid friendly and superheroes became more one dimensional. Superheroes ended up in much stranger situations during this time…

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(The flash faces Glandular problems)

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(Head Fat is always the hardest to get rid of)

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(Who knew Orville Redenbacher was Superman’s Dad)

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(Batman faces off against umm…ahh.. the debt ceiling?)

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(OK why did the writers hate auctions so much?  Did they get an advanced screening of Storage Wars?)

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(I guess Batman’s auction was just clearing room in his closet for these fancy new duds!)

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(OK Now I’m just confused, and sad, and a little curious, but mostly confused)

In the 1960 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided they would take a new approach they would give their characters more realistic problems, like self doubt, struggle with identity and not being accepted in society. It worked and these ale hallmarks of superheroes to this day. In many ways the most compelling part of the story isn’t their powers its how they struggle with the realities of the world they live in. It is through these struggles that they become truly heroic not because they are without flaw but because they are trying to be heroic in spite of them. They are struggling to be the best version of themselves that they can be. It connects with us so well because that is a version of heroism which we can all strive towards.

Psalm 119:105-112

 Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
    to observe your righteous ordinances.
 I am severely afflicted;
    give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
 Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
    and teach me your ordinances.
 I hold my life in my hand continually,
    but I do not forget your law.
 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
    but I do not stray from your precepts.
 Your decrees are my heritage forever;
    they are the joy of my heart.
 I incline my heart to perform your statutes
    forever, to the end.

The writer of this Psalm could be writing an inner monologue for a superhero. He knows that he is surrounded by challenges and that the road ahead won’t be easy. Yet in the midst of his reality he is looking to God. His promise is to work towards knowing God better to follow in God’s ways as well as possible to be a better version of himself. The truth is it sounds very heroic. It’s heroic not because he is going to face everything alone like an action hero but because he is looking for help he is looking for God.

Often People think of Christians like those silver age comics above. A bit goofy, a bit odd and a lot naive. That we walk around like everything is fine and OK like God is a blinder for us. I don’t think that is how we are called to act. God call us to see the brokenness around us and within us and to aim for better. God calls us to be heroes not the kind who do everything alone, not the kind of hero Baby Batman was (seriously that was a thing?) but the kind who recognizes that aiming for better despite the struggle is where true heroism lies. Be a Hero

Peace

Jamie

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(Told you it was a thing)

Set up to Fail

My neighbor growing up owned the hardware store in town. To this day he has stayed open despite all the big box hardware stores moving into town. His father had opened the store years before, and it would seem my neighbor grew up learning to operate a businessmen because he seems to have done a good job of doing so.

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(Alot better than when I opened a lemonade stand)

I remember when I was about ten or so he had an addition built on the back of his house and after he was done there was a lot of dirt that needed to be filled back in around the new foundation. I was hanging out with his son and a few other friends and he told us that if we could move half of the remaining dirt pile to where it needed to be, around the foundation, he would give us 100$ to split. 100$ was a huge reward, even if it had to be split four or five ways so we were in. The pile didn’t seem so big and my neighbor even gave us tips on how to shovel more efficiently. He gave us a few hours to complete the task and we were on our way. It went poorly. The pile was way bigger than it seemed and we were terribly inefficient with our shovels.

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(Even this guy is better with a shovel than I was)

My neighbor got back, chuckled and sent us on our way with empty pockets and sore hands. Maybe he was trying to teach us a lesson about not taking jobs too big to finish. Maybe he wanted us to learn the value of a dollar.

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(Maybe he wanted me to look more like a Dickensian street urchin) 

Whatever his purpose I remember walking away discouraged. There was know way were going to meet the standards necessary to earn the rewards, a lesson we learned after it was too late. In other words we were set up to fail, an experience which feel pretty bad. I think some people believe God has set us up to fail.

1 Peter 3:8-12

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Those standards are pretty high aren’t they. Always be humble, unified, sympathetic,, love everyone, and bless those who do evil to you or abuse you. In other words be perfect. This reading also makes it seem that the fruit of all that labor is God’s blessing and failure to meet those standards means God turns away from you. Many go on to interpret this to mean be perfect and go to heaven or else. Which to summarize means we are set up to fail because there is no way we can live up to those standards. Almost always when people believe this is God’s message for us they get discouraged and turn away from God, and the truth is I don’t blame them. I wished I had walked away from that shovel and dirt pile in my neighbors yard, I with I had done something more productive or fun with my time. Being set up to fail is discouraging, disheartening and something to be avoided.

 

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(No one wants to be Sisyphus) 

There is good news, that isn’t how God works. Were everyone to live the way that Bible reading was laid out the world would be a better place. I don’t think there is even an argument to make a world where everyone is kind to everyone else is a good world, one I wish I lived in. That obviously isn’t the world we live in though. We live in a broken world with animosity, hatred and abuse. Living the way 1 Peter describes above is a goal, one which we will always work for and never attain. We don’t do it so God will love us or bless us we do it because he already has. Jesus lived and died for all of us, God loves us, we will be OK. And so we work towards a goal not so God will let us into heaven we do it because it will make the world a better place, and a perfect world is another unattainable goal worth working towards. We aren’t set up to fail, because of Jesus we have already succeeded.

Peace

Jamie

Gifted

One of my favorite jokes that revolve around the holidays is misunderstanding what the purpose of a gift is. I think Seinfeld did the joke best. Jerry gives his dad a Wizard pocket organizer. His dad is unaware off all the things the organizer can do and instead only uses it to calculate the proper tip at restaurants. Jerry spends the whole episode trying to convince his dad that he can do other things with the device to no avail. Pee Wee Herman (never thought I’d get to write about him) does the gag as well with an iPad.

http://youtu.be/BiDHUNiurqY

I’ve never tried using my iPad as a drink tray but I know there are much better uses. By the way this video came out about 20 years after Pee Wee’s show was canceled which really makes me wonder if the set was just waiting around collecting dust for this video. The point is we often seem to not realize the full potential of things especially when they are new and impressive.

 

Isaiah starts by reminding the reader that compared to God we are insignificant. He goes so far as to call Jacob a worm and Israel an insect. That piece of the reading is very small and Isaiah spends more time telling us about the amazing things God is doing. Filling us with his power and hope, caring for the poor and answering us when we call. God is doing amazing things for us and through us. Whats more is that we understand this action of God being spoken of as the life and ministry of Jesus. Isaiah is letting us know all about the coming messiah all about Jesus. The amazing thing about this is that we know these actions are for us as a gift of love and grace. This is the sort of thing that should fill us with vigor to go and do God’s work with our hands. Sadly it seems that too often people never get past the first few lines.

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(Ok so sometimes not getting past the first few lines is a good thing)

It can be easy to become hung up on our own insignificance when compared to God. And certainly God does not want us losing perspective and equating ourselves or anything else with him, that whole false idols commandment and all. But God does not want our humility to be an anchor that weight us down. We are called to enter into the world and with God bring glimpses of his kingdom to life. We have been given an amazing gift, the freedom and support to do God’s will may we use that gift to its fullest.

Doors

My earliest Christmas memory is from 1984, I was 3. After opening all the presents there was one remaining, the infamous “to the family” present. These were always a mixed bag as a kid usually it was a bigger present but at the same time it usually involved sharing. As the youngest of 3 brothers sharing wasn’t something that always went so well for me.

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(We’ll let you know when it’s your turn little brother)

What we opened was an Atari, I loved it and spent a lot of time during my childhood playing video games. I was pretty good at figuring out what I needed to do next. I would usually be able to get to the end of games and found it to be rewarding. Of course there are always hiccups along the way. Every person who ever played a video game knows that moment when you fall in a pit or the turtle monster eats you and you look at your controller and say “you it’s your fault”. Yes every one know the frustration that erupts when you can’t quite make a jump and your convinced that the fault lies in that small rectangular piece of plastic. The other pinnacle of frustration is the dead end. When you have no early idea what you are supposed to do next. This is where my greatest enemy in all of video gamedom comes in… the door. Yes the mighty door . When I would get to a door, certain that my next task was behind it, there were few words more terrifying than “Key is required”. Nothing was more heartbreaking than those moments where you need a key and have no clue where it is and you know the only option is to backtrack endlessly until you find it. It was so confusing to me, I could be a giant mountain of a man able to break rocks in two but a flimsy wooden door which I could kick down in my sleep blocked my path like a great colossus. There was no easy way past that mighty door. Luke had Darth Vader, Sherlock had Moriarty, and I have a simple flimsy wooden door.

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(This barbarian turn away from the camera, so you would’t see he was crying)

The Church seems to be in the midst of a similar feud with doors.

 

Matthew 28:16-20

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Jesus gave an order to his followers. They were to spread his message and to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They listened well, spreading this community of people following Christ across the globe. From these humble beginnings Christianity was born and Billions of people followed Jesus. At some point this following became so big that the followers didn’t even have to go anywhere to find people to share this message with, people came to them looking to be a part of God’s activity in the world. Buildings were built as centers of worship and for centuries they were filled. Beautiful buildings, an emblem of the beauty of God standing high above the skyline as a symbol to the community of the power of God. The buildings of course had strong, sturdy doors

 

Things changed, it seemed sudden, many people stopped coming to those Churches. For a bunch of reasons this model of a huge building to draw people in like a lighthouse stopped working. The solution seems simple, go out and engage people again like the first followers did all those years ago. But there is a problem, those doors. It can be so hard to take what we’ve known and carry it outside those doors. On the other side of those Church doors, in the community, in the world there are people who need to hear the message of hope in Christ. They may think they know who Jesus is and what Jesus stands for but so often the picture they see is distorted, or missing pieces, the world need the message we have to share, they need the whole picture.

 

Back in those game the only solution was to backtrack hoping to find what I had missed the first time through. We as followers of Christ need to look back at our early Church leaders see how they engaged with those around them and continue living the mission that Jesus laid out for us.

 

Peace

Jamie

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(Doors are known to operate in both an open and closed position)

Catchphrase

Catchphrases are awesome. Little memorable quips repeatedly thrown out by a character that tells you all you need to know about the character. For instance in Happy Days the Fonz has his iconic AYYYYY, Rerun in Whats Happening had Dy-no-mite and Arnold Schwarzenegger had I’ll be back long before his catchphrase became an odd mispronunciation of the state he governed.

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(Mr. Governor it’s pronounced California not Cullifornaya)

Those catchphrases tell you all yo need to know about the characters, The Fonz was cool, Rerun was a happy goofball and Arnold would, no matter the odds, kick butt and come back to defeat the bad guy. I always thought it was funny to imagine if characters had a different catchphrase. I thought it was funny to think of how that would change the character. For instance replace Arnold’s I’ll be back with a diminutive “I give up” and all of a sudden you have a much different ending to all his movies.

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“Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”

“Sorry Henry lets try another catchphrase”

 

I’ve often wondered what the catchphrase of the Church is, or at least what should it be. It seems that all to often people outside of the Church think about today’s reading when they think about the message that Christianity is sending to them.

 

Romans 1:18-25 (NRSV)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. 

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 

Not the rosiest of pictures is it. God’s existence is so clear that everyone can see it. Anyone who doesn’t believe in God must be actively avoiding him, and now the wrath of God is coming for all those who don’t believe in him. Yikes. The truth is a lot of people, outside the Church, hear this sort of message and feel strong armed and condemned. They feel like they are being told that their lack of belief, or lack of church association mean that they are bad people who idle away their time on trivial, Godless pursuits. Whats more they feel they are being told that God’s wrath is all that awaits them unless they make a change ASAP. In other words the catchphrase they are hearing is “Follow us, or else”. What a sad state of affairs, there are lots of messages that the Church has to spread, we call those messages the Good News or Gospel but to be clear the Gospel is not a threat.

 

Through out Roman’s Paul, who wrote it as a letter about 2000 years ago, spins a persuasive web luring readers into the inescapable conclusion that we all need God’s grace. He starts by indicting those who follow pagan worship, which would make those who believe in the God of Israel nod their head in Judgmental approval. Paul then turns that argument around in such a way that those who are nodding their heads in judgmental approval would realize they too fall short and should aim that judgment at themselves too. The clincher is that Paul drops Gods grace into the middle of those failings, into the middle of that judgment and shows us that Gods grace is for everyone. The point is that we all fall short and screw up but we are made right by God, who forgives all those failings not by what we have or haven’t done but because of his gracious love. We all need God’s grace and fortunately it’s there for us all. Or else makes a terrible and in accurate statement of the church, there has got to be a grace centered catchphrase to be found somewhere, I’m sure someone more clever than I could find it.

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“Graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace!”

“Still pretty bad Henry”

Peace

Jamie

 

Mr Comeuppance

For my money the best character in any disaster, horror, or survival movie is a guy named Mr. Comeuppance. That’s the guy who ignores, the big disaster that’s on its way, acts like he has all the answers when he actually has none and mocks the hero along the way. I first met this man in a movie called Daylight staring Sylvester Stallone. Its a bad movie, awesomely bad. Viggo Mortensen plays a CEO who is arrogant and sure he has all the answers. When he and the other characters get caught in the Lincoln tunnel he is sure he is the man to save the day. His plan is to rock climb out of the tunnel. When the other characters tell him he can’t because it’s to unstable it goes like this..

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(I have all the answers I’ll ignore any and all advic… )

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(Guess we were right about the cave in)

Mr Comeuppance comes in many forms, the guy who says the aliens are our friends just before they get him, the Guy who says the weather is not a problem, then gets caught in a twister and of course the cocky Lawyer who gets eaten in Jurassic park.

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(Surprisingly this doesn’t end well for the Lawyer)

 

The basic idea is that wee seem to like characters who get what’s coming to them, characters whose arrogance is their undoing. We want to see the hero be a hero and the arrogant jerk face get what he has coming to him. The story of Daniel in the Bible has a Mr. Comeuppance too.

 

Daniel 5


King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. 

Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. 

Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners; and the king said to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever can read this writing and tell me its interpretation shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around his neck, and rank third in the kingdom.” Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar became greatly terrified and his face turned pale, and his lords were perplexed. 

The queen, when she heard the discussion of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall. The queen said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts terrify you or your face grow pale. There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.” 

 

Here is what these words mean:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

 

That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain.

 

So Belshazzar is arrogant, disrespectful and blasphemous and ends up dead that same night, a Mr. Comeuppance if ever I’ve seen one. The question this raises though is a more troubling one, did God do it. Clearly God was the one sending the message so was God also responsible for his demise? Quite often you here people talk about God’s plan, and God being behind events that seem unfathomable. Indeed many see this death of Belshazzar as God’s punishing him for his actions. I’ve always had trouble with this idea. I know it can be comforting to some but to me it seems like this sort of belief is unfair to God. In this case it would make God part of the assassination of Belshazzar, sure he may have deserved it (comeuppance guy and all) but is that how God works? I think that Daniel’s involvement in this paints a different picture. Daniel is a prophet, a person whose job it is to point out where your current actions are leading you. Like when your mom said stop hanging out with your friends they are leading you down the wrong path. Belshazzar is being told that this fate is the sum total of the way he behaved. The lesson is simple treat people well and you can expect better returns than if you teat people poorly. God is always there to help show us a better way to be in community with one another.

Peace

Jamie

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(This guy was on to something)