Super Texts and Super Films

Time is one of those precious commodities that is easy to take for granted. Perhaps this is one of the great faults of our generation: the false notion that we have all the time in the world. We soon learn the ignorance of that statement. Indeed, the clock ticks life away.

Since time is limited and valuable, it goes without saying that how we spend our time is important. This even applies to the books and movies we give our time to. Steve Sample, former president of USC and author of The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, wrote in detail about the time we give to the books we read in a chapter entitled You Are What You Read. In the chapter he argues a rather obvious point: there are certain old books that will always be better than new books. This might be a shocking statement for a culture and generation that is fixated on the latest and greatest. The latest is certainly not always the greatest, especially in the realm of literature. Winston Churchill was once said, “There is a good saying to the effect that when a new book appears, one should read an old one.” Sample agrees with Churchill and brought up what he believes are the classics or super texts that have stood the test of time. These include The Bible, The Iliad, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Plato’s Republic, and Dante’s Divine Comedy to name a few. Sample argued that these texts have stood the test of time and have thus defined life as we know it. Reading them is essential to our own personal development.

Another interesting concept that Sample brought up was that anytime we choose to read one book, we are also choosing to not read another. This can apply to newspapers, magazines and comic books. Time spent reading these forms of entertainment, is time not spent reading a super text. Sometimes choosing to “not read” a book or magazine is important especially if that means we free up our time to focus on something greater.

This applies aptly to movies as well. Now, I’ve seen my fair share of pointless, dumb movies. Sometimes you just need to kill two hours with something mind numbingly stupid. It feels good. But there is something to be said of the kind of movies we spend a majority of our time watching. Similarly, as with the super texts, there are also super films–those that have stood the test of time to become classics.

I’ve been experimenting for the past few summers by choosing a theme or genre of film that I will focus on watching. And thanks to Netflix, this has become extremely convienient. So far my list includes classic horror movies (that I started with my roommate in college), romantic comedies (I am married remember), best picture award winners, and most recently this summer, classic movies, especially ones starring Audrey Hepburn. As with the super texts that are unmatched in sheer greatness and originality, there are also timeless movies, super films that most modern day movies are based on. Call me old fashioned, but I love the simplicity of black and white movies, and how special effects don’t get in the way of good acting. If you don’t believe me, watch the emotion in Humphrey Bogart’s eyes when he looks at the camera in Casablanca, or try and find a actress as timeless and elegant as Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You begin to see how these types of films are immortalized and will never lose relevance. They are the inspiration of present day directors, actors and screen writers.

Choosing to watch a particular movie or read a book means we are choosing to not read or watch another. We make these little choices every day. I challenged one of my students recently in this area. I told her that with every new movie she watches, to balance it out by watching an older film next. We can do the same with the books we read. Even in Christendom we can choose some of our own super texts to balance with new books. Try complementing your regular reading list with the works of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Luther, Wesley and others.

Sample is onto something here. I’m trying to use my time wisely. I hope to do so by choosing to spend more time with the super texts and super films this year. I guess I’m saying, to find inspiration, I’m going to be looking backwards, not forwards. I challenge you to do the same.

Are we Business Minded or Kingdom Minded?

A couple of weeks back I had a conversation with a pastor friend of mine. He asked me about my future plans in ministry. I gave sort of a run of the mill answer and said I wanted to do some teaching, write a book, get hired at a mega church, have my own Christian broadcasting network in Orange County, become a politician, take over the world, and make my own brand of soda. He thought that was ambitious and wondered if I really had what it takes to make my own brand of soda. I told him probably not.

Often times when we (when I) talk about ministry there is a temptation to have a purely Business Mindset attached to it. We become very factual–caring a great deal about numbers, prices, and sizes. We evaluate ministry effectiveness based on our return from the investment. The line of thinking goes that an event or service is only successful based on how many attended, how much money was raised or how many people made decisions. When we speak about ministry this way I imagine God in heaven, making tally marks on a large piece of paper like he’s keeping score. God sits down at his heavenly desk and says, “Time for my tally marks. Let’s see. Billy Graham, four for you Billy Graham, you go Billy Graham! And none for Gretchen Weiners” (What can I say, I love the movie Mean Girls).

There is a different mindset, however, that takes the focus off of us and our limited way of understanding ministry. This is a Kingdom Mindset. A Kingdom Mindset is able to see with a different perspective. It understands that God is at work in ways that we don’t always understand. Perhaps God is not as concerned with our culture’s view of success, but instead desires that his people be faithful to Him and trust that he will produce the results that matter.

Additionally, when we operate with a purely business mindset there is also the temptation to turn our church into a “brand name.” We can become so overly concerned with our individual church that this obsession overshadows what God is doing in the world-wide Jesus movement. Don’t get me wrong, I love my church, but we can become so inwardly focused on selling our brand of Jesus that we miss what God is doing elsewhere.

During the school year I do a Bible study at one of our local Middle Schools. It’s a great gig because a number of youth pastors in the city come and do ministry at this school. Often times we bring flyers and promote our events. I love the ministry because deep down we all care for these kids regardless of what church they go to or which all-nighter they end up inviting their friends to. We’re happy to work together for the greater good.

This brings me back to my conversation about ministry plans with my friend. He had been at his church for a couple of years and was wondering if he should take a job a another church. He wondered if an opportunity like this would ever come up again and was afraid if he didn’t take the job, it would be a missed opportunity. I told him I thought he should stay at his current church. I also told him more opportunities would come and using the phrase “missed opportunities” sounds more like something you say during a football game. It sounded like something John Madden would say, not Jesus.

I guess all this started to make sense to me because I realized a while ago that God didn’t call me to be the CEO of a fortune 500 company. Moreover, he didn’t he call me to view my job as a pastor as a way to move up the corporate church ladder.

I remember a wise person once telling me that we shouldn’t view our churches as a way to get “there.” Because maybe the “there” we so desperately want is here. Maybe God is so much greater at orchestrating things than we could’ve ever imagined. What if we began to trust him not only with our lives but also with our careers? Perhaps that would influence our understanding of ministry and the mindset needed to endure. Perhaps we could put that in a book and sell a few million copies. Maybe we could get a book advancement and begin making progress towards creating our own brand of soda. That would be fun.

Your dream stinks

There is a great musical number in the movie Tangled where a bunch of scary misfits confess their dreams in a tavern. It’s comical because the scene is full of tough, ruffian Viking characters—who are large and in charge, brandishing massive weapons—all singing about wanting to be concert pianists and die hard romantics. The song simply says over and over again, “I’ve got a dream…”
At the end of the musical number there is a funny one liner. Rapunzel is leaving the tavern and one of the Viking’s says to her, “Go. Live your dream.” Flynn Ryder, Rapunzel’s costar/romantic interest, answers back, “Thanks. I will.” The Viking turns to him and says, “ Your dream stinks. I was talking to her.” My wife has watched this movie at least a dozen times since we bought it and I still laugh every time I hear that line.
Your dream stinks.
Perhaps we haven’t heard someone tell us outright that they think our dreams stink, but maybe we’ve felt the sting of our dreams not working out. We really thought we could play professional basketball one day and only grew to be 5’2. We were certain that the music gig would have turned into a record deal, and it only landed us playing at birthday parties and church coffee houses. And of course, the silver screen was going to be our destiny until we realized we weren’t Disney Channel “material.”
Undoubtedly, we’ve all cringed when watching a show like American Idol, witnessing the candidacy of the judges, shattering the dreams of hopeful pop stars. We’ve thought: How can they be so cruel? Most of the time when we’re criticized, especially when it’s directed at something we’ve grown passionate about, it translates in our minds as a critique of our personhood and character. Someone tells us we’re not good at something and we think that means we’re not good. If our dream stinks, then, well, we as person must stink too.
I wonder, though, if there is another way to look at it. Perhaps at times our dreams do stink, but not because of anything we’ve done. Our dreams stink, rather, because we’ve been sold a lie about dreams. And so a lot of us have been pursuing dreams that aren’t giving us life or producing goodness in the world. Our dreams stink because they are motivated by selfishness.
One of these dreams in particular is the dream for fame and wealth. Naturally, we seek recognition, status and prominence. Our world has told us that to be of value we have to be of a certain caliber. This means we need the looks, the job, the money and the swagger (yes, we might even need to hire a swagger coach). A combination of wealth, fame and talent give us great worth. Furthermore, it is only when these things are recognized by others (and by others I mean lots of others) that we truly have worth.
No wonder Youtube is full of people singing, acting and pursuing their dreams. They long to be discovered. We are taught that only in discovery can our dreams be reached. We are advertised a version of success and asked to consider how we might reach that too. The problem, however, is that not everyone in the world can be famous. There has to be a chasm between the rich and poor, the un-famous and the superstar, the unknown and the “it guy or girl.” There needs to be those who can support the famous. And this is what we dream about—making the move from unknown to known. The world has influenced us so heavily that at the core of our dreams, we are really searching for someone to tell us we’re valuable.
We should pause for a second. Every one of us probably in some way shape or form desires a little fame and fortune. Who wouldn’t? It’s not necessarily a bad thing to want to be known for your contribution to the world. But if that is all our dream is— a chance to be famous and rich—it really does stink.
A glance through the Scriptures reveals that God is a perpetual dreamer. He is involved in creating and recreating life in the world. He pursues relationships and surprises us with mercy and grace. He coordinates miraculous signs and wonders to take place. He waits patiently for his people to respond. The Zohar (a book of Jewish mysticism) states, “God creates new worlds constantly.” He is a creative, dream pursuing visionary. Then we reach Jesus in the New Testament. He is a dreamer too. He challenges the status quo and invites his follower to pursue a different existence; he invites them to dream radical and life-altering dreams and does this all under the title of “His Kingdom.”
God’s kingdom—his reign, rule and place of authority—is an invitation to dream. It’s a place where actors act, artists create, leaders lead, and authors write. God’s kingdom is a realm where dreamers don’t stop pursuing their wishes, but there is a change of focus.
Back to Tangled.
Flynn Ryder’s dream was about making lots of money. That was it. It’s not hard to see why that dream stinks. I often wonder what God thinks of some of our dreams. If we want riches, God might say: “I’m not impressed with the size of your bank account or your accumulation of stuff—it’s meaningless.” Or for those who desire fame, He might add: “Why do you so desperately need to be known? I know you and that is all that matters.”
We need a different foundation for our dreams. Instead of following a pattern of dreams that only a few people can ever reach, we start thinking in terms of God’s Kingdom. Is the focus of our dreams utterly selfish, or is it self-less? When we join God’s Kingdom, we begin to dream the type of dreams that bring healing, life, love and forgiveness to the world. We pursue a different way to live and desire to tell good stories with our lives. Our attitude changes to become like that of Christ (Philippians 2:5). Moreover, instead of weighing our lives down with impure expectations and motives, we embrace God’s dreams and find ourselves lost in a cause so deep and wide that anyone can join in. There is room for every dreamer out there to have a different kind of dream.
So, how do we know if our dream doesn’t stink? Does your dream involve others? Fame and fortune are fleeting. No matter how big your hearse is, you still can’t take it all with you. That leads us to wonder if a dream, inspired by God, is something that lasts in a different way. Rather than building our dream upon a foundation based on what the world says is success, we build our dreams upon the very things that God believes in: love, justice, acceptance and redemption. Dreams with an altruistic foundation outlive our lives and find fruition in the people we’ve helped along the way.
Perhaps, then, there are times when we need to reevaluate our dreams. We ask probing questions of our dreams and see if they line up with God’s dream in Scripture. In this way, we pursue something beautiful and lasting. Our dreams, fused with God’s purposes, are light in a dark place. They have the potential to bring healing and real change in our world. Rather than accumulate awards and riches, we practice the wonderful act of surrender in order to receive from God.
What do you think? Does your dream stink? 

Love Wins

It seems like everyone and their mom has been blogging about books lately, especially Love Wins. I thought I should blog about it as well: it was awesome.

Here is another awesome book about the power of love–perhaps even God’s love. Maybe you remember reading this book when you were younger or receiving it as a gift and thinking: “Thanks, a book.” Compared to Nintendo Games and Ninja Turtle action figures, it did little to impress me in childhood. The ironic thing, though, about most “children’s” books is that they are about something more. Exploring the “more” later on usually results in gratitude.

Check out this short reading of the book by Brennan Manning:

“‘And that, Shel Silverstein said, is my understanding of Jesus Christ.'” Have you reflected lately on the unstoppable, passionate love of Christ for you? It’s a love that knows no bounds.

“If God is for us, who can be against us” Romans 8:31