Archive for the ‘godliness’ Tag

ANDY AT THE MOVIES

REVOLUTIONARY ROADI watch a lot of films. In fact my wife and I pay a monthly membership fee at the local cinema, meaning we can go as often as we want.  For her it’s pretty essential, given that she works within the film industry. This, of course, raises issues pertaining to what aids our godliness and what might act to impede it. It’s an area I have touched upon before but one that I am yet to really get my head around.

I would hate to place myself in a ‘Christian box’, watching only the God Channel and listening only to Premier Radio. I would hate to be restricted in the cinema to seeing only Amazing Grace or The Passion of the Christ! I sometimes fear that is the only ‘safe’ response to the guidance of William Lane Craig (thanks for the link Phil) and other godly leaders; they are of course quite right to cite Philippians 4:8 (‘whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable… think about these things) but I’m not sure whether I agree with the application. What’s more, I honestly believe the cinema, even when less than pure in its message, can be a valuable resource. We must engage with the worldview of our culture, face the issues of those around us and know the hearts of others in order to respond. Films often present real and/or intriguing snap-shots of our society’s concerns, framed in thought-provoking 90-minute packages. But it all, of course, depends on how we watch them…

 

I have come to believe that it’s not enough to turn our brains off and consider everything ‘entertainment’. To do so is often to swallow whole and unquestioningly the values and worldview placed before us. That isn’t good for us – to accept something as reasonable is often to be influenced by it, even sub-consciously. There is a world of difference between seeing sin and laughing approvingly at it, or us seeing sin, recognising it as sin, considering and discussing WHY it is sin and questioning how we should respond to, or guard against, that sin as Christians. Much of this approach is pilfered straight from Gavin McGrath, our former Assistant Pastor, who gave a list of questions to ask when watching a film: What is the message of this film? What are the consequences of the sinful acts depicted? What would the Bible say about these actions? (My notes are lost in the mist of time so I very much paraphrase!). It DOESN’T have to stop us enjoying the movies we watch – I get a lot more out of cinema, and find myself far more involved, when I am really engaging with the motivations and choices of each character, considering the full weight of their implications.

 

One further point, before a couple of small movie reviews. We will only have our godly specs on if we have already been looking in His direction. It is an absolute fact that, if I’m not reading the Bible, involved in the church community or dwelling on the things of God (ie ‘whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing’ etc), then I will stop seeing this world for what it is, and will instead begin buying into the culture wholesale – it’s a process of osmosis; spiritually, we are what we eat! However, if we are wearing our armour of God: if we are equipped with righteousness, with a sound understanding of truth, with the sword of the Spirit that is the Bible… then we will see things for what they are, and we are a lot safer engaging with the culture. Most interestingly, when watched through a Christian lens, I honestly believe that most film arcs can be summarised as the following:

 

·        Person is dissatisfied in life due to God-shaped hole.

·        Person tries to fill that God-shaped hole with something that isn’t God.

·        Film thus ends with further dissatisfaction OR, more commonly, gives a false resolution in which a short-term option is presented as ‘happily ever after’.

 

So then, a couple of movie reviews written from a slightly different perspective than those of Jonathan Ross (spoiler alerts!)…

 

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD:

This is a film about a married couple, dealing with the issues of marital dissatisfaction, infidelity and abortion. The husband is weak in his leadership and easily caves to temptation elsewhere. The wife, as a consequence, lacks respect for her husband. She in turn is deeply immature, pursuing dreams of escaping responsibility and convention in favour of an unattainable fantasy life in Paris. For this dream she would readily dispense of the baby within her.

I have seldom seen a film where the characters so palpably live out the frustration of fallen humanity. The false idols of pleasure, stability, wealth and status have all failed to deliver. The response to this emptiness is for them to look for ever more sinful and futile replacements – excitement and sexual gratification – and both are harshly judged and punished by the end of the story. I felt the film was brave in not letting anyone off the hook or providing false resolution. It could almost be used as an advert for the need we have to find purpose and salvation. The filmmakers just lacked the knowledge to show us where to find it.

 

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA:

I would well understand you questioning my attendance of this film, seeing as it’s being marketed as erotica. You may be right. For what it’s worth, however, despite the highly cynical marketing, I was aware before seeing it that this is actually a 12-rated Woody Allen film devoid of nudity or graphic sex! It is still sexy, granted, but it also raises fascinating questions regarding commitment, responsibility and the pursuit of pleasure.

One character is looking for excitement and prides herself in being ‘brave’ enough to grasp it when offered. One character is seeking stability in marriage but, in doing so, has chosen a ‘safe’ man she doesn’t truly love. They are both attracted to a man who deems life short, meaningless and best spent indulging sensual pleasures (although he’s actually in love with his tempestuous ex-wife).

Ultimately, the first is shown to be foolish for her failure to be satisfied by anything (even by sharing a man with his ex-wife!), and for not knowing what she really wants; the second is shown as weak, or perhaps tragically noble, for persisting in her unhappy marriage, rather than leaving it for enhanced short-term sexual gratification elsewhere. The man is, thankfully, eventually shown as somewhat ridiculous, fated never to be happy in his bohemian ways.

The overall message of the film, I think, was that we should have the courage to embrace those relationships that ‘feel right’, wherever they may occur, and not be bound by convention.

My response to that would be to point out that sex is a good gift from God, used to bond a loving couple for life within marriage. All characters have been hurt by their misuse of sex and their charms would be better employed in working at and preserving a God-centred marriage, through hard times and good. Application-wise, the first girl needed to grow up and get a job, the second picked the wrong husband because her idol was security, but now needs to make the marriage work. Oh, and they should both have steered well clear of the slimy Spanish loser! For myself, I noted, never let my wife spend two aimless summer months in Spain without me!

 

Feel free to offer your own reviews!

THE BLOG BECOMES THE ISSUE!

2089649326_25dfa9fa9eIt’s been a few days since I posted and it’s really been a ‘cold turkey’ kind of scenario!! You see, I’m addicted to this blog at present. Really am. The fact shouldn’t surprise me – I am obsessive and faddish in the extreme. Things I have previously become obsessed with, to the detriment of my other pursuits, have included, at some time or another; downloading music, online chess, the Football365 chat forum, the computer game ‘Championship Manager’, watching The Sopranos on DVD, going to the gym (didn’t last long!), composing and recording music, uploading photos to facebook, writing a book about the British Empire, playing the computer game ‘Football Manager’ (in effect, the exact same game as ‘Championship Manager’ but under different ownership),  learning the drums, arguing with atheists, reading books by Haruki Murakami, watching The Wire on DVD, MSN Messenger, writing a book about travelling to Australia, eating chorizo, compiling ‘Best of’ playlists, playing online pool… the list could go on indefinitely.

 

However, in the case of the blog, there are issues. This I realised as I posted my Monday offering and then sat, watching the blog stats (rather than doing any work), feverishly pressing F5 to refresh the information. I did this for quite a long time. I felt elated when the number of hits went up by one. I felt distraught when it didn’t. What did I actually want during this painfully pathetic episode in my life? Did I want people to have read my post so they may be encouraged or given food for thought in their walk for Christ? Did I want people to have read my post so that my use of the previous three quarters of an hour would be in some way affirmed and justified?? Scarier, did I sit there craving human recognition, my famous competitive streak rudely shoving the godlier aspects of my personality aside???!

 

If so I do have a problem. I set out to do this so that I may be accountable to others in my Christian life, and so that others, predominantly among my church community, may be encouraged or challenged along the way. I did not do it so I could prove myself clever, or so I could self-seekingly attempt to grow an audience. The problem is WordPress is too good! It gives so much for the sinful nature to latch upon. With my old blog host I was shouting in the dark, with little idea of who, if anyone, was reading until they mentioned it at church. Here I can tell you, since last Tuesday when I launched, exactly how many hits I’ve had, and from whence they have come – be it readers, links, comments I’ve left on other sites or specific search engine terms. There are graphs and charts! For a stats geek like me it is almost too much to bear!

 

I write in flippant terms, but it is ABSOLUTELY a trap. I want to write when I have something to say, not in order to ‘keep the figures up’, to beat the previous week or to send myself up the search engine pecking order. Why? Because we are taught to seek the approval of God, not man. The world’s praise will only turn our head, inflate sinful pride and focus attention upon us rather than upon the Spirit that makes us useful. There is much biblical precedent here: For example, in Galatians 1:10 Paul asks ‘Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men I would not be a servant of Christ’. In John 12 he speaks of Pharisees who ‘loved the praise of men more than the praise of God’. More practically, if it is recognition I seek then a stats slump will quickly dishearten me and stop me writing – to the possible detriment of one among those fickle stats (and it probably is only about that number!) who would actually benefit from my efforts…

 

So, this much I vow in conclusion:

a)      I will only post when I genuinely have something I consider useful to say – not for fear of losing stats if I don’t!

b)      I will retain an honest approach, even when, as in this post, it makes me look stupid. That should keep my pride in check! This is a lot harder to do now that much of my traffic is from strangers!

c)      I will continue to post when barely anyone is reading!

d)      I will pray that this little blog be for God’s service and repent for anything outside of that.

e)      I will stop including the question ‘have you read my blog?’ in every single church conversation.

f)        Any time I take myself too seriously, I will remember that my most popular post is ‘Sex on the Brain’, purely because people searched for the word ‘Sex’ on WordPress. I am sure that every one of these fled in horror without reading more than a sentence. Stats can be highly misleading, after all…

 

TEMPTATION IS NOT SIN

Jesus was tempted. Jesus did not sin. We know it, sure, but do we always see the distinction in our own lives? Maybe it’s just me, but I have always had trouble separating the temptation from the sin. It matters because, if you already feel guilty and defeated as a result of having been tempted, then you are far less likely to stand resilient in the face of the sin itself. In fact, I have come to think there is more credit in having resisted temptation than in never having been tempted at all…

 

I give an example (and no I’m not going to wheel out the oft-used analogy of the second look at a girl being the sinful one – much as it’s a good’un): Person 1 hates the taste of alcohol, can think of nothing worse than drinking it in significant amounts, perhaps hangs out with other tee-totallers, and, would you believe it, has not recently succumbed to drunkenness! Person 2, on the other hand, loves a beer, is surrounded by drinkers, but has managed to limit him/herself to a couple of pints – an amount at which he/she knows by experience is safe in terms of conduct implications. In this case, I think we’d agree, Person 2 has showed rather more resolve; rather more evidence of godly decision-making. Person 1 hasn’t done anything wrong, of course, but he/she will have other battles to fight – this one was a breeze! Yet I suspect our gut reaction may be to see Person 1 as the ‘better Christian’ – as the godly stand-out more worthy of praise.

 

Anyway, enough intro – time to apply this to myself. I very nearly fell right into this trap. A month ago, I began my much-blogged spiritual retox and, you know what, I was bang up for it! I was ready for it, enthusiastic, motivated… there was nothing I wanted to do more at that point than to fix my eyes on God. I had little else on my mind… It was easy, to be frank. And, on some level, I’m sure I congratulated myself for the standards I set. Fast forward to last week, and some of the steam had run out of my drive for godly endeavours. My brain was not fixing upon the things I wanted it to fix, I was not half as keen on getting up to read the Bible, there seemed better ways to spend my time than reading about or discussing Christ. It has been a struggle, even a chore upon occasion. Following the loss of routine with Monday and Tuesday’s snow days, I had to drag myself kicking and screaming back into where I should be for the rest of the week in mind, motive and deed. It’s been a right old struggle, to be fair. And I felt as if I had failed. I felt as if I was a bad person!

 

On occasion I may have been right. I am a sinner, and I have been a sinner this week, just as every other week. BUT my issue was with the temptation as much as with the sin. I was far more comfortable, like the non-drinker above, doing the right thing when that was the easy thing to do, than when it went against my every sinful instinct. That’s why I write to remind myself this Christian life is not MEANT to be easy! If it was, why would James write ‘blessed is the man who resists temptation’? (James 1:12). Jesus didn’t brush off temptation with a nonchalant shrug – I’m sure it pained him as it pains us. There are many biblical ‘40’s to choose from in comparing his 40-day stint in the desert. The one that springs to mind however is the 40 days spent by Israel in the Valley of Elah, facing Goliath, the fearsome enemy of God. Sin is meant to be imposing, intimidating and is meant to take courage to face down. There is an inevitable tension in the Christian life. Even Paul cried out ‘What a wretched man I am!’ as he struggled to walk the Christian walk. If I give up defeated every time the wrong thing feels like the appealing thing to do, I’ll never get anywhere beyond short-lived bursts of enthusiasm.

 

The Christian life is meant to be toil, a race demanding stamina, and is characterised by the joy that tells us it’s worthwhile because Jesus died for our sins – not joy because it’s easy. I will be tempted this week, in any number of directions, but I will, God willing, whilst picking up a couple of sprained ankles along the way, keep on running this race of ours…