Post about Religious topics. My spiritual journey is a subtopic of this.

Grant Ward Gets Touched by An Angel on Inauguration Day: A Meta-analysis of Gavin Stone

It is late Thursday evening, just over twelve hours until the forty-fifth President of the United States is sworn in. I am sitting in a movie complex in a shopping mall in New England with my fifteen year old daughter. I can’t remember what the last movie was that I saw in a movie theatre. Most of the great old art houses showing Kurasawa, Truffaut, Tarkovsky, and Wenders are gone. There is too much gratuitous violence and too little depth for me in most of the movies today.

Earlier this evening, I read a few of my poems at The Ghostlight Project event at a community television station studio, expressing hope that theatre, the arts, could remain a light, a beacon for diversity, in these troubled times.

I am in my late fifties, still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life. For the past few years, I’ve been exploring becoming an Episcopal priest. I believe it is what I am supposed to do, but the committee that accepts people into the ordination process don’t seem to think so.

My daughter is bright but struggles with her health. She is politically active and especially concerned for women’s rights and gay rights. She loves Brett Dalton and has been talking about this film since it was announced, and so here we are, at one of the first showings.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone was exactly what I expected. It is formulaic, cliché-filled, predictable, and probably a really important film to see right about now. It is the sort of film that your aunt, who always tells you she is praying for you hopes you will go to. Her comments about praying for you has always made you feel a bit uncomfortable. God isn’t really something you talk about in the twenty-first century, but you know she is kind. She loves you and that she will sit through hours of binge watching Touched by an Angel, or Hallmark Holiday Specials with you as you eat ice cream and try to mend a broken heart.

Not only is the movie formulaic, cliché-filled, and predictable, but it seems like the backstory is as well; some Christian writers and producers getting together to make a movie, hoping to win a few converts to Christ. It hits all the right notes for the conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical crowd. A washed-up Hollywood elite coming to know God through having to do community service. A pastor who is kind, caring, and fixes the hot water heater in the church, not one of these celebrity preachers. The pastor’s daughter, who learns a little bit about grace and forgiveness herself after having been hurt by yet another person in the entertainment industry, and the hero’s reconciliation with the father, but his own father, as well as our Heavenly Father.

The cast is as diverse as nineteen-fifties middle America. There is a black person somewhere in the crowd, and perhaps some Asians or Latinos. If there is a gay person, they are so far in the closet you cannot see them. The references to sexuality are minimal. The stars don’t have sex. The only direct reference is recounting the scene of the woman caught in adultery.

Likewise, the only violence is in the re-enactment of the Crucifixion.

So why should you go see this movie now? Don’t go, to criticize it. Don’t take a friend to try and convert them. Don’t go for the narrative. Go for the meta-narrative, for the movie’s place in the twenty-first century. Take a friend who is seeking Christian Reconstructionism and another who is seeking Moral Revival. Take a friend who has been reading Foucault and Judith Butler.
Gavin Stone tells the folks at the church that a key to acting is listening. It is a message that we all need to listen to. The pastor’s daughter tells Gavin about the importance of humility. That is another message all of us, especially our newly elected leaders, need to listen to.

I am writing this on inauguration day. A lot of people are concerned about what is in store for America over the coming four years. I am actually feeling somewhat optimistic. Actors are speaking up at theatres. Women are marching. The rebellion against political correctness is now being seen for what it is, a lame excuse for self-centered rudeness.

Find someone different from yourself to listen to. You can start by going to see The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.

Destigmatize Loneliness

I started writing a post about friending and unfriending people on Facebook, and took a pause to read what some of my friends were posting on Facebook. One friend posted a link to an article in the New York Times, How Social Isolation Is Killing Us.

The final paragraph starts, “A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart”. Yet this seems to overlook the fact that we’ve been drifting apart longer than we’ve been digitally hyper-connected. In 2000, Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” came out, in which Putnam explored the trend of social isolation starting back in the 1950s.

The Times article explores the negative impact of social isolation, the way we interpret ambiguous social cues, and the stigma of loneliness. It suggests different ways of addressing this.

Religious older people should be encouraged to continue regular attendance at services and may benefit from a sense of spirituality and community, as well as the watchful eye of fellow churchgoers.

A few things came to mind as I read this. First, going to church isn’t just for older people. I often talk about the importance of multiculturalism. The same applies to multigenerationalism. We need to cross not only boundaries of race and ethnicity, but also boundaries of age and value people of every age.

The catechism of the Episcopal Church in America describes the mission of the church saying,

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

To put it another way, a key part of the church is to fight social isolationism.

Another article I stumbled across this weekend illustrates this very well. The Portland Press Herald recently ran this article: When you’re the only one who shows up to church

As we talked, I thought about the timeliness of this little scene. In an age when many Americans have abandoned the institutions they once turned to for solace and truth, there we were, a priest and a journalist huddled together in an empty church. With the light fading and our voices low, it felt almost subversive, as if even kindness were a political act.

I shared this post, urging people to be subversive, practice kindness, and wonder about what their Epiphany will be this year. After reading the Times article, I’d add help destigmatize loneliness and fight social isolation.

Merry Complicated, Vulnerable Christmas

It is early Christmas morning, and I should be sleeping, but I’ve been woken up by our canine alarm system. Most of the time, I am not pleased about being woken up this way. It is often false alarms caused by deer or other wildlife crossing our property. However, there have been a couple occasions were our large dog has alerted us of something wrong, of something that needed attention.

This evening, there was a strange vehicle in our driveway. No, it was not a sleigh. It was dark outside, so I couldn’t get the make and model but it appeared to be a large pickup truck. When I turned on the lights, the truck pulled out of our driveway and into a neighbor’s driveway. There have been a bunch of burglaries in our town so I called the local police department which sent out a patrol.

Things have settled down now. The canine alarm system has returned to its normal detect mode, laying quietly on the couch next to me. The holiday lights are on. Everyone else seems to be snoring, but I cannot get back to sleep.

Instead, I will write about Christmas Eve. I go to Grace and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Hamden, CT. It is a wonderful church and the Christmas Eve service was as special as always. The homily particularly struck home for me. It started off exploring the idea of God saving the word through sending an infant. If this had been suggested to a committee, the priest said, it would probably have been rejected, but God works in wonderful, unexpected ways.

As I thought about the sermon, a different verse from the Christian scriptures came to me. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. This is the behavior that Jesus modelled for us.

Another verse also came to mind. In 1 John 3:2 we find, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Usually, when I think of this verse, I think of the adult Jesus, speaking in parables, performing miracles, crucified and resurrected. I don’t think about the infant Jesus, vulnerable, needing to be fed, held, and changed.

2016 was a rough year for many of my friends. Many are very concerned about the incoming administration and how it will affect the poor, minorities, women, and other people that are supposed to be included in “Liberty and Justice FOR ALL”. They are talking about resisting, marching, and doing whatever they can. I hear that as a strong calling, but somehow it doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t sound like it will break the cycle of partisan hatred.

God came into this world vulnerable. Jesus conquered death by submitting to it. What if we were to become more vulnerable, instead of less vulnerable in this coming year? What if we were to admit our need to be fed, held, and changed? What if we allowed others to feed, hold, and help change us, the way we want to feed, hold, and help change others? What if, by seeking to imitate Christ, we sought to imitate the whole Christ, not only the risen Christ, but also the infant Christ? What if we found the light of Christ in our hopes and dreams, even as a small flickering light, and sought to grow that light within us into something new and unexpected?

Such an idea sounds like something that most of us would reject, especially many of my political activist friends, but it could also be one of those wonderful, unexpected ways that God could work through us in this broken world around us.

Merry Christmas.

Praying for Milton

Yesterday, a friend posted on Facebook about a review of a church his wife works at that starts off, “These people are Zigeuner trash. These Gypsies should be all be rounded up and exterminated”. He said he had reported the post to Facebook, but they were not taking down the post.

I’ve shared my friend’s post a few different places suggesting others request the review be taken down or that the review gets drowned out by positive reviews. I am not a big fan of removing content, or of trying to silence other people’s speech, even if it is hateful or promotes violence. I’ve had to do it for work, and I often wonder if it is the best approach.

Who is Milton? What has happened in his life that fills him with such hate and hurt? What has gone on in his life that makes him think it is okay to post stuff like this. I set these thoughts aside, and got on with my day.

Throughout the day, as I read articles about the anniversary of Sandy Hook, the conviction of Dylan Roof, and the latest news about President-Elect Donald Trump, my mind went back to Milton.

I believe it is a sin to refer to any person as ‘trash’ and I wondered about the word “Zigeuner”. Wikipedia says this is a racist term most likely from a Greek word meaning “untouchable” used to describe Romanians and Gypsies, especially by those, like the Nazi’s, intent on genocide. My sense of Milton as a broken person, a sinner in desperate need of God’s love became clearer.

I did a little searching online. Milton’s Facebook page talked about going to various elite schools, but the times didn’t make a lot of sense. He posted a very positive review of a church in New York.

He posted on the page of a Bar “I hope you die.” about a week ago.

All of this made me think of Evan. What are we supposed to do when we see someone posting about death, hatred, and genocide? My first reaction is to pray for Milton. To this, I’ve posted a comment on many of his posts that I am praying for him.

I am sharing this post as a question to all of us about how we respond online.

Pierre-Felix Guattari, Henri Nouwen, and Santa

In a few hours, I will greet children at the Community Health Center’s holiday party in Middletown, CT. I have been doing this for a few years now and Santa journey has slowly become clearer.

On the way to work today, I had a discussion with my eldest daughter who is working on a master’s degree in gender studies in Japan. Her classmates have all seen pictures of me as Santa as well has have heard about my interest in postmodern theory. I hope to post a picture later today in my Santa outfit reading a little Pierre-Felix Guattari. Currently, I’m thinking about the title: Performing Santa Claus: Reimagining the dominant cultures concept of Santa Claus in a Postmodern Society.

A friend posted a reflection on Facebook today by Henri Nouwen about The Freedom to Refuse Love:

Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward. But this concept easily leads us to think about God as either a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake and send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claus, who counts up all our good deeds and puts a reward in our stocking at the end of the year.

God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision God gives us the freedom to move away from God's love even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God's choice. It is ours.

Before taking up my role as Santa, I like to watch a short video called “Validation”. I think of this as I smile at the children waiting to see Santa, as I wave at them, beckon them, and tell them I have been waiting for them and how glad I am that they came. I’ll think of all of this as I try to share even just a little bit of God’s love for them as a postmodern Santa.

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