Friday, April 14, 2017

The Divine Carpenter

When God destroyed His Temple,
To punish ritual lies,
He promised through His prophet
Another would arise.

A carpenter from Heaven,
With linen string and rod,
Recorded the dimensions
Of the new house of God.

God then said to His Prophet
—The Carpenter as well —
Forever, in this temple,

With Israel, He’d dwell.
Hands made that home, then razed it,
One made without saw birth,
That Carpenter’s Raised temple
Still lives, and fills the earth.


Even after two millennia of study, there are details included in the Bible that leave us mystified. For instance, in the book of Ezekiel, starting with chapter 40 to the end, that prophet is shown a vision of a new temple that could be built in Jerusalem, if the people of the promise would repent. He is then shown around the structure by a man with a measuring tape and a measuring stick, and takes down its sizes and dimensions. Whether this visionary temple ever reached actual existence is uncertain, though I understand Herod the Great's builders may have used the description when planning their renovation. If the vision was meant to be metaphorical -- and some of it clearly is -- how much of the description of the temple was figurative, and what it was supposed to signify still gives scholars interpretative muscle cramps.

And then there's the man. When biblical prophets have visions, generally an angel escorts them through the scenes. That Ezekiel should be accompanied by someone plainly described as a man is unusual. And what's more, he is a working man: although he is not labeled a carpenter, or building contractor (which, I understand, was one of the functions of a carpenter in the ancient world), or architect, he is carrying the tools those professionals would use to make sure their work was up to specifications.

The oddest part of the section, though, is in chapter 43, when Ezekiel sees God enter this temple. While Ezekiel and "the man" stand and listen, God indicates "Son of man, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever …" (Ezekiel 43:7). It sounds like God is referring to the visionary temple as his dwelling place, yet, if that temple was built, it has since been destroyed. If the temple has yet to be built, why should it be necessary? According to Christian doctrine, and practical observation, God has been dwelling with men since the days of Jesus Christ.

And that's when it hit me. What if God wasn't referring to the building when He talked about where He would dwell with Israel? What if he was referring to "the man?" One of the foundations of Christian faith is that Jesus Christ was God on earth; another being that, after He was executed for claiming to be God on earth (John 5:18), He rose from the dead. Another charge made against Him was that He claimed He would destroy the Temple, and rebuild it. What He had, in fact, said was "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," referring to His body (John 2:19-21). So, if God on Earth referred to His body as a temple, perhaps God in Ezekiel's vision was doing the same.

And He was a carpenter, too.

I've never seen any commentators make these points, but, whether my exposition is right or wrong, it is something to think about. Either way, we can be eternally grateful for the peace with God we can now enjoy forever, through that Divine Carpenter.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Christ's Henchmen

They asked to flank Him when He claimed His crown.
The reignless Sons of Thunder were denied.
Those right- and left-hand honors, and renown,
Were not positions to be sought for pride.
The Son of God would take a brigand’s blame.
His henchmen would be at His left and right.
God’s victory soon glorified by shame;
God’s triumph by a noonday dark as night.
No thug or chum, what may their temper be,
Would get demanded liberty or rest.
The thief who only asked, "Remember me,"
All-Knowing Mercy granted his request.
The man who, to the last, was slave to vice,
Humility made first in Paradise!

Explaining a poem may take away part of its charm, but clarity has its own attractions.

"Sons of Thunder" was Jesus's nickname for the disciples James and John (Mark 3:17). Matthew 20:20-23 relates what happened when they asked Jesus, initially through their mother, to sit at His right and left hand when His kingdom came.

Now, none of the descriptions of Jesus's crucifixion identify the two thieves crucified with Him as Barabbas's lieutenants (Barabbas being the robber and insurrectionist whom Pilate had actually wanted to eliminate). However, I have seen commentators speculate that, because they were to have been executed in a group, it is possible the two thieves were associated with Barabbas's crimes.

In John 13:23-24, Jesus identified His glorification with His coming crucifixion; and most of the Gospels mention the darkness at the sixth hour (noon) on the day of the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44).

Most of the Gospels also describe the mockery Jesus endured, including that from the criminals with whom He was executed. Luke 23:39-43, however, includes the penitent reaction of one of the thieves, and Jesus's words of assurance that, after two thousand years, are still a comfort:
"Surely I say to you, today you shall be with Me in paradise."

Wishing you a Hopeful Good Friday, and a Joyful Resurrection Sunday!

Monday, December 14, 2015

1984, G. K. Chesterton, and Star Wars Patriotism

Years ago, I remember hearing Joseph Stowell III, then president of Moody Bible Institute, talk about how one can read a passage of the Bible a hundred times, and not get anything out of it; then, during some life experience, it blazes with meaning. He described that experience as being situationally relevant. About a month ago, I had that experience with an old novel. As some of you know, I have low vision, so I have come to depend on audiobooks. Thanks to that wonderful (free!) service, I’ve fostered a fascination with the works of Gilbert Keith Chesterton: journalist, social commentator, philosopher, luminous storyteller; and an inspirer of C.S. Lewis. I had enjoyed listening to this novel a couple of times, when, of a sudden, it hit me that the situation it described was eerily familiar, and, since 1977, has been currently relevant!

The novel was The Napoleon of Notting Hill, published in 1904. Opening in the year 1984 (believe it or not), it tells the story of a fantastic London , in which the general public had grown as complaisant as sheep (Chesterton describes it as having lost all faith in revolution), and the ruling class equally contented with the comfortable futility of their lives. Now, I often precede suggestions for social improvement by saying, "When you get to be king…" In this London, that possibility was not unthinkable. The king was selected much like a jury member, when the need arose. The action of the story commences when the newly-selected king (who we infer is not contented with futility, and rebels against social convention with a torrent of mocking humor) the king decides to make all the boroughs of London behave like medieval city-states. He enjoys the spectacle of self-conscious politicians decked out like escapees from a comic opera or pantomime.

However, something happens that he never counted on. The provost of one borough doesn’t see the joke of sober civic leaders dressed in plumes, capes, and swords. He likes it. What’s more, he, unlike the others, is actually fond of his borough, Notting Hill, and, in repudiating an attempted eminent domain confiscation of part of it, declares war on the rest of London.

Even he recognizes the lunacy of his extreme loyalty. But, as this provost, Adam Wayne, explains, "If, as your rich friends say, there are no gods, and the skies are dark above us, what should a man fight for, but the place where he had the Eden of childhood and the short heaven of first love? If no temples and no scriptures are sacred, what is sacred if a man's own youth is not sacred?" This crazy young man is so loyal to Notting Hill, that he convinces it citizens to defend their territory with several days of urban warfare. To everyone’s amazement, they are the victors. In the process, the passion of the Notting Hill-ers inspires a similar loyalty among the citizens of the other boroughs. By the last chapters of the novel, all of London has embraced the romantic trappings and attitudes that sanctified what had begun as a royal practical joke.

The first, second, and third times through the book, I didn’t see it. But on the fourth time, instead of hearing the reader say "Notting Hill",I found myself hearing "Star Wars." Star Wars (now Star Wars: A New Hope) is that low-budget adventure-comedy, that joke of a film that held out every promise of being little better than a minor camp cult movie, yet became the joke that conquered the world. From Austria to Zimbabwe, from Moscow to Tunisia, everyone recognizes Darth Vader and Artoo-Detoo, everyone alludes to characters and situations from the films, and they do these things even if they have never seen, or don’t like, the films. To see a live stormtrooper on the street, ore at the hospital, is hardly startling any more. Star Wars was a joke that resonated with essential truth, and gave the audience an excuse for heroic living. After all, what is heroic living but acting fearlessly on one’s principles, because one recognizes that those principles are worth living for? Star Wars has the added benefit of being a treasured emblem of youth. How many current fans first saw the films with beloved family members who have since left this world? How many still reminisce of playing Star Wars with friends who, though now separated by time and space, are still linked by those memories? How many have vigorously defended the saga against even valid criticism, because of their loyalty to those fond associations? They all do! Star Wars Patriotism is a loyalty to that part of our lives that laid the foundation for our destiny: the Eden of Childhood.

The story of the Empire of Notting Hill, as Chesterton tells it, was glorious, but, sadly, it was also short. Within the twenty years that followed its conquest of London, Notting Hill influenced the outward tastes and loyalties of every other borough of the city, but it failed to protect its own heart. In a way, the Notting Hill-ers mistook their early success and their heroic trappings for the heroic spirit: that of respect for adversaries, mercy for the defeated, obedience to the dictates of rightness. Within a generation, the Notting Hill-ers had become arrogant and autocratic. As a consequence, in the last great battle of the city, the are utterly crushed. And the Empire of Notting Hill became only a memory.

A sequel to the Original Trilogy is the fulfillment of one of their fondest hopes of Star Wars Fans, and I wish them joy. As Adam Wayne observes, "Whatever makes men feel young is great--a great war or a love-story." At the same time, I have fears that Star Wars’ new management will repeat the tragic flaw of The Empire of Notting Hill: that it will impose its vision of Star Wars on fans, rather than letting them enjoy it according to their own tastes. Already, great portions of the saga’s "history" have been dismissed, presumably because they were inconvenient to the story its new maters want to tell. Must the contributions of Biggs Darklighter, Porkins, Miss Ackmena, Saun Dann, and Mungo Baobab, all of whom may be considered mere legends, be forgotten? More importantly, will the characters of the future inspire heroic living, or merely inspire clever merchandise? The idea of a Star Wars teemed park is eagerly anticipated, but it will be someone else’s vision of that galaxy far, far away. It can never be -- or surpass -- the world that lives in fans’ imaginations. What made Star Wars thrilling was the amount of their own souls fans contributed to the characters. On the screen, and in the playsets, fans did not merely watch the caharacters’ adventures, they helped them live them. If Star Wars’ current management replaces too much of the fans’ vision with its own, the fans will revolt. Happily, that revolution will be more of the Mayan than the Notting Hill variety: the fans will abandon the franchise. And the Empire of Star Wars, like that of Notting Hill, will end.

But it will not "be no more." Like good friends, happy moments, and worthy aspirations, Star Wars will always warm the hearts of its patriots. After all, in spite of its fantastic trappings, The Empire of Star Wars isn’t "space ships and monsters," it is the good friends, happy moments, and worthy aspirations. Whatever Star Wars’ official future may be, its patriots will treasure the joy that was rooted in that practical joke they laughed with, not at.

--------------------------- has links to both and audio version of The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and an online text version, vial Project Gutenberg:

Saturday, December 5, 2015

How I Was Banished from Star Wars Fandom — and Why

I have the questionable distinction of being the only person I‘ve ever heard of who has been publicly banned from Star Wars fandom. It happened early in 2010. A couple of weeks earlier, a noted film director had delivered a passionate indictment on the ForceCast Podcast of so-called Star Wars fans who do nothing but criticize the films, their creator, and people who do not share their resentment. He concluded by declaring something to the effect that those who don’t approve of the whole of the Star Wars canon shouldn’t call themselves Star Wars fans. His point piqued my curiosity, because, with few exceptions, I hadn’t approved of anything coming out of the Galaxy Far, Far Away since Star Wars (now Star Wars: A New Hope). What my objections are I will take up later. Being a curious old antagonist, I contacted the podcast hosts to get some official pronouncement as to what to call somebody who only liked Star Wars. The hosts took up the challenge, asking their listeners for suggestions for (repeatable) options.

The question led to some thoughtful reactions, and some hostile retorts. The indignant director himself summarized my attitude by saying "I give Star Wars an ‘F’," because only 1/6 of the films had made the grade with me. However, the most appropriate name for someone with my opinions was "Star Wars Sympathizer:" a title I came up with myself. The ire of that director who had started the discussion was directed at "haters," and, although I didn’t like the other films, I didn’t belittle people who did. But, thanks to the director’s quip, I was considered excluded from Star Wars fandom.

I don’t mind my banishment. He is probably right, and I shouldn’t call myself a fan. And I don’t. Sometimes I wonder why I hang around fandom at all, when I don’t particularly like the topic. After much consideration, I have realized that it has been my objections to the logic of the films that has kept me involved. As irrational as it sounds -- even to me -- it has been my hope to set right the wrong things in the story that has inspired my sympathy. With the new film coming out, and the direction the Star Wars story has taken over the past ten years, I have no more hope of seeing the flaws rectified.

For that reason, I might as well explain what I objected to in the Original Trilogy. I will not speak of the prequels, because they are the product of those troubling inconsistencies. I do not deny any cinematographic excellencies in the films, and I can’t impugn the soundtracks, but, logically, the climaxes of the films were, well, wrong.

If I thought the films had anything wrong in them, you may wonder, what, then, did I want to see in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? Essentially, I wanted to see what everybody else thought they saw in those films: I wanted Luke Skywalker to redeem Darth Vader and the Jedi, and Han and Leia to live happily ever after. Fans will go through astonishing logical contortions to convince themselves that the events of the films depicted these outcomes. The fact that they do it proves that those outcomes were the right ones, and are what should have been there. However, all we did see was a young man sacrifice his own future to a presumed ancestry; and clumsy desire substituted for mutual regard.

I’ll show you what I mean. Let’s start with Luke. The Luke of Star Wars was a young man lacking in life experience, idealistic, innocently reckless, essentially kind, who had found his fulfillment with the Rebellion. After all, what is one’s fulfillment but the purpose for which one is willing to die? When Luke went with the squadron on the mission, which Han Solo rightly called "Suicide," to destroy the Death Star, he proved he had found the purpose he would live and die for. The Luke of The Empire Strikes Back, on the other hand, had evidently gained life experience, but the idealism and kindness had been replaced with sullen vanity, and an unaccountable obsession with avenging his father. His insolence to Yoda in their first meeting was out of character with the Luke of Star Wars. That regression in itself was not fatal to the character, but, because his (new) character never grew past that pettiness, his climatic encounter with Darth Vader did doom him.

The event that separates childhood from adulthood is the moment when we realize that we don’t need our parents any more. I certainly don’t refer to a rejection of those who invested their lives in forming our own, of course; but we must reach a point where we recognize that our lives are not extensions of our parents’ lives, that we have our own destinies to fulfill, and that our parents are mere fallible mortals like ourselves, who may merit our respect, our pity, and, hopefully, our friendship, but have no authority over us that we have not given them. Luke had found his destiny in Star Wars. When Vader told him he was his father, Luke should have laughed: not at Vader, but at himself for having obsessed about what had become a meaningless relationship. This should have been the point when Luke did finally "grow up:" when he recognized that he didn’t need a father, either to avenge or obey. He was his own man, who had, through his own choices, found his fulfillment fighting for liberty, and any kinship the Emperor’s most notorious henchman might have claimed to him was irrelevant. But he did not.

At that point, the adult Luke might have recognized a few things about Vader: most significantly, that he’s the biggest chump in the galaxy. In Star Wars, Vader was subordinate to Grand Moff Tarkin. By The Empire Strikes Back, he had graduated to being subordinate to the Emperor, who, we discover, he would like to supplant. Vader wants to rule the galaxy, but he is slavishly obedient to those with more authority that he has. He can’t even rule himself, little less the galaxy. Vader is governed by his own passions and his own fears, and is therefore able to be manipulated. And, to digress briefly, what benefit does the Emperor himself gain from his position? He dwells in a dark cell, dressed like a mendicant monk: a medieval hermit takes more pleasure in life than he does. He evidently exercises his power by using the Force to extort servile behavior from subordinates, not in any actual governing. The Emperor’s rule is a fantasy, just as Vader’s desire for that non-existent authority is a fantasy. Luke’s life experience could have told him Vader was a slave chasing moonbeams, and, at that key juncture, he should have told Vader so. But he did not.

The Luke of Star Wars had found his fulfillment; he would have seen Vader for the lackey he was -- and he would have had the human sympathy to offer him a way of escape. In Star Wars, the Rebellion/Alliance was working to restore the Republic, and, therefore, the presumptive personal liberty that it protected. The Luke of Star Wars would have urged this pitiful old patsy to give up his humiliating allegiance to the Emperor: to join the Rebellion and be free to rule himself. The Vader of The Empire Strikes Back would have rejected that generous offer, but Luke would have pitied him for the slave he was. Again, the opportunity was lost. As it is, a frustrated, disappointed Luke fled his seducer through an apparent act of self-destruction.

I would go so far as to believe that Luke’s character in Return of the Jedi was set up to turn to the Sith. Years ago, I heard Jimmy Mac, then co-host of the Star Wars podcast The Forcecast, make two key points about the Sith: 1.) All Sith kill their masters, and 2.) The thing the Sith fear most is death. What do we see during Luke’s confrontation with Vader and the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi? A Sith kills his master, when Vader kills the Emperor; and a man clings to life when his mission required sacrifice. I know viewers for over thirty years have thrilled to the thought that Luke redeemed Vader, but I sure don't see it. Vader appears to have killed the Emperor in order to save Luke, yet he expresses no regret, remorse, or repentance for his past wicked conduct as he breathes his last. He has certainly had no logical reason suddenly to express any paternal affection. To say that Vader's statement that there was still good in him showed repentance overlooks the fact that the very Yin-Yang symbol, which aptly represents the innate Taoistt philosophy of the Jedi, expresses the same idea. The light portion of the symbol has a spot of the dark, and the dark side has a circle of light. Vader's comment should come as no surprise, being nothing but a recitation of shared philosophy. Clearly, in neither Vader nor the yin, the presence of good never overcame the darkness.

As for Luke, his conduct can be rationalized a number of ways, but the fact still remains that he couldn't die for what he believed in, even if it would insure the Rebellion’s success in destroying the Empire’s central power. He fought the Emperor to keep his life, and asked for help when he felt he was losing it. Fans like to overlook this point, but Luke did fear death like a Sith. (You'll also notice he preferred a basic black wardrobe, as the other Sith in that scene do.)

The Luke of Star Wars had grown to live for what he would die for. The Luke of Return of the Jedi should have been willing to die for what he lived for. The man who knows his good purpose, and lives to fulfill it, need fear neither life nor death. He is the man who is truly free; and the man who so rules himself, rules his universe. Luke should have rejected the Emperor’s offer of power with a laugh on the obvious point that the Emperor had nothing that Luke (or Leia) wanted. After all, their allegiance to the Alliance was proof of their rejection of the ways of the Empire. Luke’s further fearlessness in facing death at the Emperor’s hand, in order to distract him from the attack on Death Star II, should have impressed Vader. In Luke’s freedom was the absence of fear he had sought. Vader would then have thwarted the Emperor to save the freedom he longs for.

Does this description sound far-fetched? It shouldn’t. It is no secret that George Lucas had been inspired by the film The Hidden Fortress when writing Star Wars. What I just described is the motivation and outcome of its climactic scene when the opposing general rescues the heroes. It was the right outcome.

In expressing these objections to the films’ plot, I realize that one source of these incongruities is in the philosophy of the Force. Between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, it changed. By Empire, the Force had become a form of magic. In Star Wars, it was "an energy field, created by all living things." Its light and dark side were designations of its appropriate, and inappropriate, use; just as the "dark side" of sex, or any other powerful force, is its misuse. Clearly, a transcendent morality guiding its use must be taken for granted, since the Force itself is amoral.

As I said, in Star Wars, the Force is described as present in all living things. Jedi training presumably consisted of learning the ways of the Force: which presumably (again), meant learning how to manipulate it. Evidently, any willing person could learn that manipulation, as the casual use of the benediction "May the Force be with you" suggested. By The Empire Strikes Back, and most strongly in the prequels, only certain people could use the Force, and only certain people were permitted to learn its ways. Now, the mythic quality of the Star Wars saga is undeniable. However, the myths upon which Star Wars was based were not those of the pantheons or the ballads, but of the truthful myths: the fairy tales. In the truest of those stories, the hero is the least likely of the potential champions, and he rescues the princess or the kingdom because he is, in varying degrees, kind, brave, courteous, and clever. He was as often as not an inconsequential younger son, who nobody thought would amount to anything. He often owes his success to the odd assortment of friends he makes on the way to meet his ordeal. What do we have in Star Wars but a kid off the farm, who collects a rag-tag band of associates, that help him rescue the princess and destroy the mobile castle of the evil ogres?

The main appeal of that fairy tale hero is that he could have been anybody: even the listener could be a hero in his own fairy adventure, if he was brave enough to accept the challenge. In all the other films of the Star Wars saga, victory became a matter of the right lineage and the right training. Common people were no longer offered any hope of achieving the amazing. Such a change may have been based on hoary myths, but only Star Wars was rooted in those truest myths that are fairy tales.

Speaking of fairy tales, and fairy tale romance, the relationship developing between Han and Leia promised to be far from idyllic. Its original inspiration appears to have been that of John and Carol in American Graffiti: the cocksure, if occasionally hapless, adventure-seeker, and the spunky young girl, who spend a night exchanging wisecracks, and end up respecting and enjoying each others’ company. Star Wars set a foundation for such an outcome. By The Empire Strikes Back, though, Leia had lost her self-respect so much as to let Han proposition her, and Han had lost enough respect for her (and himself) to do it. Their exchanges of juvenile insults may be intended to indicate sexual tension, but, those who have been in committed relationships know that sexual tension makes a poor foundation for long-term contentment. Needling insults are a sure way of shattering it. The audience sees no development of friendly feelings, or shared expectations. When their animosity culminates in the sober admissions "I love you./I know," the only feeling they appear to share is passion. Now, I admit that we do see some bonding between them in Return of the Jedi, but watching that respect and affection grow in Empire would have been a lot more satisfying -- and a lot funnier, as the romance’s predecessor was in American Graffiti.

Perhaps th greatest appeal of the Star Wars films is their special effects. For many of us, Star Wars was the first film in which we paid any attention to the special effects; and they have improved with time. However, the effects in the other films generally appeared to be there primarily to dazzle the audience. In Star Wars, the effects were simply an illustration of life in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. They were impressive, but not intrusive. The Spaceships and Monsters, and angst and "hokey religion" of the later films did not impress me as much as the familiar characters -- for, even though we meet them for the first time in Star Wars, we’ve known characters like them all our lives -- in a fresh setting.

Judging from its trailers, the new Star Wars film will present a lot of Spaceships and Monsters, and its very title evokes the hokey religion (The Force) and mortal angst (Awakens). Years ago, when George Lucas first announced he would not be making any Star Wars sequels, he said that he wasn't interested in the future of the stories. That was the wrong answer. The better answer would have been, "The Future belongs to you." We really don't need the Sequels, because the futures we have made up for these characters is so much more satisfying to us than anything someone else could concoct. Well, that future has been concocted, out of the hash Luke, Han and Leia were making out of their lives. Someone had posted to social media recently a comment to the effect that, if most of the literature about the Star Wars galaxy has been declared non-canon, let’s just sit back and enjoy the story that unfolds. Well, as I have tried to explain, while I loved the story’s bud, I couldn’t abide its blossom. I don’t enjoy the unfolded story, so my exile from fandom has finally become an emigration.

Have you ever read Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels? They’re thrilling!


If you would like to hear my disgrace, here is the evidence: Weekly ForceCast: February 26, 2010 : The "Star Wars Sympathizer," about 1:35:10 into the broadcast [Web Page].  Incidently, what is read as "four-covered" appeared as "IV-Covered’ (Ivy-covered).

At this writing, hosts Jason Swank and Jimmy Mac currently appear on the RebelForceRadio podcast :

While composing a blogpost about Star Wars and the novel /The Napoleon of Notting Hill/, I finally realized why I only liked Star Wars. Among the trappings of exotic settings, unbelievable creatures, gleaming weapons, and thrilling space ships, the characters lived heroically in that film. They were true to themselves, and to a good purpose greater than themselves. But, although the other films highlighted, and improved on, those trappings, the “spaceships and monsters,” as it were, the characters themselves ceased to be heroic. In a transitional film or two, that failing needn’t be fatal: often heroes lose their way and need to be restored to their better selves. In Star wars, they never did regain their idealism, or their heroic souls.  They had grown old, and, as G.K. Chesterton says, through his novel's hero, " Whatever makes men feel old is mean--an empire or a skin-flint shop. Whatever makes men feel young is great--a great war or a love-story."  But the audience is still able to feel young, and that will always be what was great about Star Wars.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Emptiest of Days

“We have not king but Caesar!”
It was an empty boast:
Thus heretics wrung empty justice
From their Roman host.
And empty-hearted followers
Grieved empty prophesy:
An empty throne.  The empty king
Instead had filled a tree.

But empty exposition,
Assumed in empty pride,
Keep them from recognizing
The Peacemaker who died:
The Emptied God who overcame
The Self-willed’s empty doom.
And peace with God is now restored.
The proof?  The Empty Tomb.

John 19:15 ❦ Luke 24:17-27 ❦ Luke 7:19-23
Hebrews 1:1-2 ❦ Psalm 22 ❦ Philippians 2:5-11
John 3:16 ❦ Romans 5:1-2

One of the things that impresses me most about the story of Jesus is the prophetic aspect.  According to Christian understanding, Jesus fulfilled all the prophesies associated with the snake-stamping deliverer first promised in Genesis 3, yet even his own disciples couldn’t see the connection until He explained it (Luke 24:17-27).  The main reason they didn’t recognize the fulfillment was because, over the previous four hundred years of prophetic silence, the commentators had figured out exactly what their Messiah would be like and what He would do.  They were certain of their interpretation’s correctness – after all, they had scripture on their side!  But, when the Messiah actually did turn up, He was everything prophesy had predicted, and not at all what they had expected.  The commentators had put more faith in their interpretation of scripture than they had in the scriptures themselves.  (That’s one reason I don’t get too excited about eschatology: so many interpreters were positive that their exposition of Revelations was the right one, and lived to be disappointed.  When the time does come, it’ll be exactly what was predicted, and, as with Jesus, not necessarily what we expect.)  In the coming year, I hope we all can hear God speak through the Bible: that we can see what it says, and not be misled by what we think it says!

He is Risen Indeed!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Modern Easter Carol

"Spring bursts today!
For Christ is Risen and all the earth’s at play,"

Christina signed.
Yet brutal men strive as if their god had died.

There is no fun
Where Eden once bloomed, but bomb and blood and gun.

The peace on earth
Longfellow’s bells rang is not where Christ saw birth.

Yet the One Light
That played in Eden there rises just as bright.

He will suffice,
Who, through His eclipse, has assured Paradise.

That Christmas chime
Still reminds the faint the Live God acts in Time:

For Easter said
There is no god but God, Whose Son rose from the dead.

Referenced Hymns:

An Easter Carol (Before 1896) Christina Rossetti  :

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (1863) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  :

Morning Has Broken (Circa 1931) Eleanor Farjeon  :

For years, our church had a banner that read: "Spring bursts today! For Christ is Risen and all the earth’s at play." And I thought it was as sappy a sentiment as I had ever seen. Years later, I looked through a book of Christina Rossetti’s poems, and was stunned to discover that saccharine observation was the opening of one of her Easter Carols. That banner rose considerably in my estimation, but not for the reason you may think. I was not moved by the poem, and still thought that stanza sounded silly, but it stands a an reassuring reminder that even great poets have off days.

Longfellow wrote his Christmas poem during the fiercest days of the American Civil War. He understood that, at such times, the sweeter sentiments of holiday celebrations are more likely to nauseate the heartsick, instead of encouraging them. But the bells’ essential song – "God is not dead, nor does He sleep" – remains truer than any pretty word pictures.

Morning Has Broken is another pretty song that, in my circles anyway, is considered too sentimental to be used in a worship service. Such dogmatic thinking deprives a congregation of the inspiration of a genuinely beautiful melody, and the artfully expressed doctrine and praise it supports. As with that funny old banner (which I wheedled away from the banner ladies when they were going to throw it out), what appears to be threadbare frivolity in grim times, can be, in fact, eternal Joy dressed in lace.

Wishing you undisguised joy this Easter! He is Risen, Indeed!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Heaven at Disneyland

It always amazes me what interesting things can happen when you’re expecting something else. A couple of years ago, while waiting for a podcast to post a particular interview, I accidentally discovered just how well Walt Disney understood human nature.

At that time, I had learned that a podcast* that specializes in theme park analysis was planning a program of interviews with some of the artists responsible for the relaunch of the Disney attraction Star Tours. Although amusement parks and themed entertainment don’t hold much attraction for me, I had heard a little about the redevelopment process and wanted to know more, so I kept an eye on their program list. Now, these podcasters were clever! The first announcement about those interviews was made in March. The actual program was not released until May! During those two months of waiting, I gained a new respect for the breadth of subjects that affect the planning and management of themed entertainment. It’s a whole lot more than popcorn and roller coasters! Issues range from engineering, to personnel management, to logistics, to history; but, most of all, the business is about real people, whether they are customers, managers, or designers. The anecdotes related during those two months of waiting were as inspiring at that promised podcast was likely to be.

One of those intervening episodes managed to combine history, logistics, people, and philosophy. It described Walt Disney’s hopes for building a model city in Florida, which was to have been called "Progress City." This reminder of the extent of Disney’s imagination was, in itself, interesting. But, while relating the history of the project, the guest included an unexpected anecdote about the time Walt Disney escorted the evangelist Billy Graham through Disneyland.

The story goes that, while Rev. Graham admired the park, he commented to Disney that it was a nice fantasy. This statement irritated Disney, and he turned to Graham with some heat, saying, "This is reality in the park. The fantasy is out there, People are real when they come to the park. They’re friendly, they talk with each other, they help each other. They’re clean here, they work with each other when they’re inside the park. That’s where people are real. Outside of the park is where the fantasy is: where they have to put up facades, and act like they’re something that they’re not to get ahead."

When I heard Disney’s response, I smiled indulgently. "How optimistically naive he is," I had thought, "to think that people, at heart, are naturally good." After all, just looking at the world, the evidence of Original Sin is unavoidable. Didn’t Jeremiah observe that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), and Paul remind the Romans that "No on is righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10)? No, I thought, people are basically evil, and poor Mr. Disney was the victim of a wishful delusion.

But then, something apologist Ravi Zacharias had said suddenly made sense, and I realized that I was wrong. Walt Disney did understand the human heart; even better than Rev. Graham, and his description of Disneyland was the reality!

Ravi Zacharias had defined evil as that which is contrary to purpose***. Something that behaves contrary to its nature is behaving in an evil way. We don’t criticize a dog when it barks, digs holes, chews up things, and, well, acts like a dog. We expect a dog to act like a dog. We do criticize a man who acts like a dog, because he isn’t a dog. Behaving like a dog is contrary to a man’s purpose, and is therefore evil. Man’s heart has been described as evil. In order to be evil, it must be acting contrary to purpose. But the only way it could be acting contrary to purpose is if it were made to be good! Admittedly, the Apostle Paul (and Rev. Graham) would point out that, when given the choice, people will choose evil over good (as Paul says, "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Romans 7:19)), but such statements only go to prove that their natures are evil: that their natures may not be good, but they were supposed to have been that way.

Going back to Disney’s statement, the world beyond the park was a place where people, for whatever reasons, were compelled to be someone they weren’t. In short, to be evil. His dream for Disneyland, in contrast, was for a place where people could be themselves: where they could act according to their purpose. He insulated the park with kind, helpful staff, considerate construction, and facility maintenance that was excellent enough to reinforce guest self-respect. In a way, he tried to make Heaven on Earth. After all, if we are free from the influence of evil when we’re in the eternal presence of God, would we not act the way Disney described his guests as acting? In Heaven, we will act according to our purpose, not contrary to it. Before God, we can be who we really are. With his artificial park, Walt Disney tried to help his guests experience that same reality.

After recovering from my initial amazement, I was struck with how simple it would be to transform this dismal fantasyland we call "real life" into a heavenly place. If, rather than being sullen and uncooperative, we act in friendly kindness; if, rather than pressing a selfish advantage, we give the other guy a break…it would be that easy! Bu then I remembered one more thing about Disneyland: people go there by choice. The guests are attracted to a place governed by kindness. People who enjoy being what they aren’t, and prefer to rebel against their purpose will select lawless venues, and the two groups need not mix. In the Real World, however, they must mix. Without the protection of shared friendly expectations and modeled cooperation, that godlike reality that Disney honored does tend to be the target of the evil phonies. No, Heaven itself cannot be achieved on earth, because too many people prefer their dark fantasies†. But we should be grateful to Walt Disney, and idealistic realists like him, who remind us that the "nice fantasy" is, in fact, the ultimate reality.
*The Season Pass Podcast #199, posted May 12, 2012: "Chad Emerson takes over for another episode of Emerson’s Disney Files! This episode dives into the book "Walt and the Promise of Progress City" with the author Sam Gennawey" Available at:

The anecdote is told at about 26:00 min. When I checked the source**, it admitted the story was possibly apocryphal, but it was described as being in keeping with Walt Disney's philosophy.

**The story was mentioned in
Findlay, John M. Magic Lands : Western Cityscapes and American Culture after 1940. (Berkeley, Calif. : University of California Press, 1992) p. 70.

*** Ravi Zacharias uses that definition regularly, and, most recently, alludes to it at the end of his Let My People Think broadcast for March 8, 2014, "Life’s Inescapable Questions", Pt. 1 (of 2). As of this writing, available at

† "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19)