Tag Archives: life

True Olympic Competition: Freedom Versus Control

By Eugene C. Scott

The first competitive event of the 2012 Olympic Games in London was the Opening Ceremony. London versus Beijing. It was no contest. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Opening Ceremony stomped the 2012 London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

2008 Beijing

The Beijing ceremony, directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, cost over $100 million using 22,000 performers, including 2,008 precision drummers, 1,800 marshall arts specialists, 900 men under boxes to simulate keys of movable type, and countless children. China also used technology to prevent rainfall on their 43,000 piece computer enhanced fireworks show.

“With all the technical complexities involved, the opening ceremony was 100 times more difficult than making a movie, he [Yimou] said, adding that such a performance was unprecedented in the world,” wrote Zhu Yin for the news agency Xinhua.

Most people agree with Yimou, saying the 2008 opening was the most spectacular ever, and maybe, ever to be. Even Danny Boyle, the director of the 2012 ceremony said he would not try to compete with them.

2012 London

This year the Opening Ceremony cost only $42 million using 15,000 performers including 12 horses, a village cricket team, some sheep dogs roaming around, 70 sheep, 10 chickens, 2 goats, 3 cows, and 10 ducks. Oh yeah, they used real clouds above the stadium and Mr. Bean was there. The show looked disorganized and scattered, on purpose. One blog reported, “So disappointingly for anyone looking for rows, there haven’t been any.”

Perfection versus Imperfection

China wanted to prove something to the world. Uniformity and technology were the Beijing watchwords. China achieved this precision and uniformity by having performers practice their movements for up to 15 hours a day wearing diapers because they were not allowed to take breaks. Even the children practiced for that long. The final rehearsal was 51 hours long with few breaks and only two meals and no shelter from the rain.

In 2008 perfection came at the cost of freedom and with a great deal of coercion and manipulation. After the 2008 games, Yimou told the press that no other country, except possibly communist North Korea, could do a better opening ceremony.

Why? Because they could. In the West, Yimou said, no one would put up with how China treated its performers.

In Britain, however, the opening ceremony told stories, stories by and about imperfect people. Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, James Bond, Queen Elizabeth, even Mr. Bean.

Kid’s wiggled, people missed cues, the whole thing played out slow and uneven. We were “trying to make you feel like you’re watching a live film being made,” said Boyle.

And the Winner Is

For me the London Opening Ceremony was the better. But the competition was not between Opening Ceremonies but rather between two opposite philosophies. Freedom versus control, machine versus human, uniformity versus individuality. I took a course in drama and theater in college. The professor assigned us to go and view both a movie and a live theater play. He asked us then to evaluate and discuss them in class. He pointed out that in a movie every shot, every word, every move was directed and choreographed. Movies, though well-done and exciting, are farther away from reality than a live show. The excitement, tension, and drama in the live play came, in part, from the possibility of someone missing a line or ad-libbing. The play was more real in its imperfection.

Living Spiritually Demands Freedom

Still I delude myself in my desire for predictability, order, and control in my life. I yell, “Why?” at God when things beyond explanation befall me. I want God to do away with disease and discomfort. And if God won’t, then I hope technology or government will.

The comparison between these two ceremonies reminded me of how we so often look for formulas and systems to help us get our lives under control. To help our lives make sense, have order. But by definition life cannot be controlled and still be life. It becomes something else, an automaton.

Spiritual life more so. No matter what any pastor (me included) or book has told you, there are not seven steps, five keys, or ten secrets to a fulfilling spiritual life.

Living spiritually is living in the freedom of loving God and being loved by God. It is leaning into the mystery of what the next breath of life holds. It is embracing the imperfection of human life while pursuing a perfectly loving God. In short, it is “watching a live film being made.”

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Just Another Easter

The Gallups in pastels for Easter

So that was fun.

I’m sure many of your found the courage to wear pastel colors that normally lie dormant in you closet the rest of the year yesterday. Perhaps you got together with family members you would never spend time with unless you had to. You may have eaten a few too many peeps than the recommended serving size. But even if you did none of these, chances are you went to church. Even if yesterday was the only day of the year that you do.

I’m normally a rather sentimental fellow. I cried when I watched Charlotte’s Web; and when I say cried, I mean I sobbed and snot poured out of ny nose and I didn’t care because I was so enraptured in the beauty of the moment. Yeh, I’m one of those. So usually every year around the beginning of Spring, I find myself knee-deep in snot and tears as I become overwhelmed by sheer beauty of the Easter story.

The whole thing is beautiful even if it isn’t personal, but it is. In no way am I worthy of such beauty, such grace, such love, such life. Yet the story of Easter is just about that, the meeting of our complete unworthiness with God’s complete welcome. When the weight of my folly intersects with the glory of God’s love, tears are paltry offerings to express the beauty of redemption.

But this year my eyes stayed dry. I wore my pastel pants, ate candy, went to church, sang about joy, and went to lunch like nothing different happened. I had to ask myself why.

Maybe because like our linen pants and pink ties, we rummage through the closet to find this thing called to Resurrection and pull it out for one day to show it off only to have it stored away till next year. The Resurrection is the climax of the gospel, the story of Jesus. Without it, we have no hope, we have no faith, we have no life. It completes the work of the cross and ushers in a New Creation that is bursting forth light where darkness once reigned. It is at the very center of our faith as Christians, yet for many of us it has already become an afterthought today.

The reality of the Resurrection is that it is not just an event that happened but it is always happening, especially right now. Our hope is that we too participate in the Resurrection through our faith and obedience in Christ. The intersection of our depravity and God’s love is our daily reality. Yet when we think that one day a year is good enough, we are in effect denying the Resurrection.

When we regulate the power of God to some children’s story that only matters peripherally at best, we deny that the tomb is empty. We deny that Jesus truly reigns in our hearts and in our world. This year I saw a spectacle of false joy. I was immersed in a group of people who had traded the truth of Easter for a lie. Because really nothing changed. We put on fake smile to match our shoes and tread upon the gravity of this story.

I may seem a little heavy-handed but I felt the weight of our hypocrisy most clearly yesterday. Instead of shedding tears of joy, I shed tears of sorrow. As my brothers and sisters gave lip service to “He is risen indeed” I wanted to shake them and plead, “do you really believe this?” Because if we did…..I’m not really sure what would happen if we really did.

But here is the power of Easter. The sins of our ignorance, the depravity of our hypocrisy is not met with God’s scorn but with his grace.

If the Resurrection is real then I can hope and rejoice that the life that seemed so distant in the very hearts it was professed to belong to, can (and I believe will) find its home there once again, perhaps even for the first time. The implication of Easter is that we can again cry tears of joy in the face of our hypocrisy because Jesus laid death in its grave.

I did not cry yesterday because I was also part of the denying crowd.

Because my vision was filled solely with our collective hypocrisy, I missed the intersection of grace altogether. I saw our depravity as victorious and that is the very lie the Resurrection destroys. Jesus overcame the grave so that Love can truly win.

Do I really believe this? Because if I did…..

Michael is the Pastor of the Church at Argenta. 

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Surprised by Joy: Some Glad Morning

by Michael Gallup

Perhaps the hardest question have I asked God in all of this is “when?” Sure, I have suffered some and God has began to speak healing into those situations, but it has never felt even partially complete. With every victory I have encountered, the moments of joy were merely fleeting. If joy was a product of suffering, then why am I still depressed, why do those in far worst situations than me find themselves still burdened by troubles? If we are to find joy in the victory over our struggles, when is that day coming?

Of course, Jesus has something to say about all this. As he too is preparing to face his great moment of suffering but also victory in the cross, he begins to instruct and inspire his followers. He tells them a story about a woman giving birth. He tells of her great pain because the sufferings of her pregnancy have come to a head. But the pain is not only relieved in the birth of a child, it is erased because of the joy of a new life. Jesus then looks at his friends and declares, “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Jesus makes two promises here, that we WILL suffer in this life, but also that a new age is coming in which Jesus himself will hand us his pure, unfiltered joy and it will NEVER be taken away. This is a passage that we can hope in. Our moments of joy now are fleeting because the ultimate victory is not complete. Our labor has not reached its final climax and so we struggle and suffer but we also wait and hope because the day is coming and coming soon. The labor pains may be increasing but so is the expectancy that new life is coming too.

Jesus later personalizes what this day will be like. He gives his friend John a vision of that day of birth, of new life. Jesus’ vision of victory is not just of a conquering king but also of a compassionate one. John sees something that we can hardly imagine, he says that in that day God himself wipes away every tear from our eyes. I really believe this is no metaphor but a reality. God will kneel down beside us and not only wipe away the tears we shed on our darkest days but will wipe away his own tears he shed on those days. And when we peer deeply into his infinite eyes we will know a healing that is complete and a joy that is complete and a love that is perfectly complete.

There may be little hope for this kind of joy, healing, or even love right now. But we do get tastes from time to time, foreshadowing the joy that is coming. Last week I wrote how sports champions experience such highs because they suffered so much to achieve their great victory. I believe that the greater the suffering the greater the joy. And that has given me the most hope. As I see those that have suffered more than I can ever imagine and my heart aches for them, I have a hope that one day, in the victory of new life, my greatest joy we be to see them truly alive. To see the cripple leap for joy and the starved filled to the brim with the greatest meal ever. And all I will want to do is watch and in that simple act my joy we be complete.

I still have little clue how all this works but I am gaining faith that is DOES work. The day is coming when my faith will no longer be needed because I will see and know and on that day Jesus will give me his joy and nothing will ever take it away.

Michael is a recovering addict of various shades. He awaits the glad morning while studying to be a pastor at Denver Seminary. You can read his blog, A Sprig of Hope, by clicking here.

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Surprised by Joy: The Joyous Defeat

by Michael Gallup

There are few things harder than to preach the funeral of a convicted murder who committed suicide. Not just that he was a criminal but that he was a father of an eight-year-old boy I befriended. This young boy with his father in prison latched on to me at camp and I began to find myself filling some of the hole left by an absent dad. I saw the boy come to follow Jesus. He was so full of life despite his difficult circumstances.

But then I received a phone call I will never forget. It was his mom telling me the horrible news and asking me to preach the funeral of a man I never met. There have been few times in my life when I have cried harder than that evening. Not so much over the loss of the man’s life, although tragic, but for the intense suffering my young friend was now in the midst of. I began to become angry and angry at the only one who could handle such rage, God. Hadn’t the boy had enough? Why does he have to suffer so much? Why does one so young have to face such harsh realities? Why, God, why?

While I will never pretend to know the full answer of those questions, God has shown me a part of the why. For joy. It seems ludicrous to insist that joy could possibly come out of such pain, but I am coming to believe that it may be ludicrous to think that joy could come out of anything but pain. One of the most perplexing pieces of scripture is James1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds.” We are to somehow find joy in our suffering? Because it leads to perseverance? Yes, God says.

As I have asked God hard questions, He has kindly revealed to me some answers. Last week I described how He showed me what joy wasn’t: happiness. And I am beginning to see why. Happiness is the product of pleasure. When something happens to us that is pleasant we become happy. But now I am seeing that joy is the product of pain. And rightfully so, the process from pain to joy is much longer and arduous than the one from pleasure to happiness.

One of the biblical authors compares the life of a Christ-follower with that of an athlete, suffering the agony of preparing to run the race. This metaphor still rings true when we watch the Super Bowl winners crying tears of joy at the victory they achieved. And that joy is not birthed in the winning but in the months and years of hard work that led them to this moment, that made it even possible. In that passage in James, the reason to consider it joy to suffer is because our suffering is not the end of us and our stories but a catalyst for change. Our suffering refines us, pushing us forward in the race of redemption in the story of our ultimate victory.

This picture is most clearly seen in the death and thus victory of Jesus Christ. It was only through his defeat that the world could know victory. The biblical book Hebrews says that he was able to endure the sufferings of his murder because of the joy set before him. He knew his death, which at the moment it occurred seemed like the biggest train-wreck in history, was not the end of his story. He knew what only he could know, that his pain was giving birth to the joy of the world. That his defeat brought true victory.

Ultimately, it is a defeat we must each embrace because it is the only path to victory, the only path to joy. Our very lives are found in the death of ourselves.

But what about my young friend? That funeral was not the end of his story. Just as Jesus’ and our funerals are not the end of our stories. God began to redeem that situation that was never his will in the first place and in that redemption I saw that boy’s life changed. He learned to let go, if only a little, of his father and to find acceptance in a new father who was there, not in jail but with him, in a man who also knew defeat but also knew life in Jesus.

Our suffering is not the end of our stories but in some ways the beginning.

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. This is part three of a four part series.

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Extreme Encounters

By Eugene C. Scott

Sitting on a rooftop, years ago, a fellow carpenter and I marveled at the wild Colorado sky. Gray, purple, white, and silver clouds mingled on the blue horizon. Distant bolts of lightning spiked out of the clouds grabbing the plains and pulling the storm down out of the Rockies. Pikes Peak shouldered gray storm clouds bravely. The summer storm rolled unchecked out of the mountains quickly swallowing the miles of empty plains separating the housing subdivision we worked in and the coming storm. We sat dumbstruck, our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches half eaten in our laps. Closer and closer the storm crawled on its legs of lightning. Thunder clapped; the mountains disappeared. Black shadows of rain streaked the sky below the clouds. It was an extreme encounter with God’s creation while sitting in the teeth of a lightning storm.

I looked over at my friend to say something profound. My words never found voice. In the still air his red hair stood, dancing like snakes to the rhythm of the thunder. He looked at me and pointed. My hair too stood straight out from my head. The storm had drawn so close the very air surrounding us was charged with electricity and about to turn us into human lightning rods. We wisely waited out the storm and finished lunch in the safety of the basement.

History records a host of people, a cloud of witnesses, scripture calls them, who have encountered Christ. Rich, poor, men, women, children, those seeking, those not. Jesus always knew their need, even when they themselves did not. Peter needed purpose, a blind man sight, Mary Magdalene forgiveness, children compassion, and Martha a spiritual perspective. He never left them unchallenged, though they sometimes left the challenge unanswered.

Having encountered Christ are we also not answering? Surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses do we sit dumbstruck staring at God’s power? Do we run and hide in the basement? Encountering God is risky. Everyone who encountered Christ took a chance. Yet, in a culture dominated by extreme experiences and risky behavior, we insulate ourselves from God. In acts of pseudo risk-taking we bungy jump, watch scary movies, drive fast, or wear edgy clothes. But, for us, taking real risks like trusting God, or reaching out to the homeless, or teaching Sunday school, or sharing Christ at work, or forgiving a friend or family member are far too real an adventure.

Though naive and dangerous, I encountered something in that electrical storm no television weather report could match–extreme reality. I’ll never forget the smell of the air, the pull of the electricity on my skin and hair, the eerie light, the quiet. So too we can read about how others encountered God or we can experience Him.

God fills the very air that surrounds us. Take a risk; stand up, face the storm, and allow God’s grace to strike your soul. Become a lightning rod. The beauty, the clarity of that moment with God will be stunning for now and forever more.

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Harry Potter and the Kingdom of God

By Eugene C. Scott

Poor Harry. His parents were mysteriously murdered; now he lives in a nondescript time and place in England with the Dursleys, his dreary, selfish, muggle (non-magic) aunt and uncle and piggish cousin; he is confined–most of the time–to his bedroom, the closet under the stairs; and he doesn’t know who he really is, that he can do magic or that he is the most anticipated, celebrated wizard in all of wizarding history. Such is Harry Potter’s small life and world. In literary terms this is the setting, the mileu where certain things can and cannot happen, for Harry’s story.

Worse Harry has no notion such a wonderful place as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, such a powerful, compassionate man as Albus Dumbledore even exist. Harry’s never played Quidditch; never flown on a broom and never met Hermione or Ron. He has no idea who he is.

But then Harry boards a train bound for Hogwarts and his world expands, both his problems and potential deepen.

Poor us. Though the settings for our stories may be less novel and romantic, more realistic than Harry’s, they are often no less tragic. We live in a mysteriously broken world within the confines of our own broom closets. Our jobs appear dreary; our marriages, families, and friendships imperfect. Just like Harry cannot practice magic much less grow into who he was born to be living at Number 4, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, UK, we seem unable to grow into who we were born to be in our earth-bound addresses. We too seem to not realize who we really are–the delight of God’s heart, created in his image–or that a wonderful place called heaven on earth or that a powerful, compassionate God even exist. This we believe to be the setting for our stories.

This dusty enslaving setting is just the one Jesus first strode into.  Bruce Cockburn wrote a song about what that day could have been like.

“The only sign you gave of who you were

When you first came walking down the road,

Was the way the dust motes danced around

Your feet in a cloud of gold

But everything you see’s not the way it seems —

Tears can sing and joy shed tears.

You can take the wisdom of this world

And give it to the ones who think it all ends here.”

“Change your lives. The kingdom of God is here,” Jesus said.

It’s as if he said, Get aboard the Hogwarts Express. There is more to this world than you can see or know. I am here to show you you are loved beyond your wildest imaginations.

You can live by faith not fear.

Live as if heaven is here and now, not just a place to go after you die.

Wholeness and healing too can begin here.

Forgiveness, purpose, truth, and life are in My hand. Take them. Live them.

In My world–My kingdom–your problems and pain will serve a purpose–My transformation of this drear world.  Your potential is as deep and wide and long as My love.

Cockburn calls this kind of life “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws.”

Yet we sit in our room beneath the stairs and wish.

The thing we love about Harry Potter is he is immature, unsure of himself, a boy of little faith, so to speak. Again, like us. This does not stop him, however, from reaching out and recklessly grasping for the richer life that is offered him. No matter how impossible it seems. It need not stop us either.

The difference is that what Jesus offers is not magic or a sweet piece of fiction. It is the way the truth and the life. The setting for our stories is more, better than we think. It is a vivid life lived with God beginning here and now.

“Change your lives. The kingdom of God is here.”

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A Tree Called Home

By Michael Gallup

I’m not sure why everytime I think of home, I feel compelled to describe the Spanish Moss-draped oak trees. I feel the need to become rather verbose and compare the moss to trapped spirits of the men and women damned to never leave the lowcountry (I could think of worse fates). But simply put, nothing speaks of the area like the oaks. These ancient giants with their gnarly knotted elbows meandering to and fro are the epitome of the grandeur and history that so defines the lowcountry of South Carolina. They belong to a rare group of items like the mountains of Colorado and the sea, that no matter how many times you see them they still inspire awe.

As a kid they held a certain mystery for me, that if they could talk, God himself would pull up a seat to listen. Yet they also had a laziness about them. The oaks have the appearance of the rivers they surround, a fluidty that can be rather mesmerizing. When they have reached the grandfather stage of life, their limbs will rest on the ground much like a cane. But most of all, I must speak of them because they are home, as much as mom is even.

Yet, I have been cut off from that land, somewhat by choice and somewhat by force. And this saddens me because my blood has a brown tint to it thanks to those muddy rivers that these oaks line. I know worthless tidbits of history about the plantations that inhabited the land before me, but it is not my home anymore and I wonder if it ever truly was.

Even though I was born on the banks of the black river in Georgetown much like my father before me, I always felt a stranger. My great-granddad wasn’t a rebel and I’d lie straight through my teeth about the fact the my Grandfather was from Pennslyvania. If anyone ever discovered that fact, I’d quickly remind them my mom was from Arkansas. Yet I lived in a place where my friends last names matched those of the plantations and even though this heritage wasn’t always flaunted, I was always on the outside looking in.

Home is a funny place. The cliché is that it is where the heart is, but that is too vague for my sensibilities. I need a place to call home and I think that I am not alone in this quest, that one way to describe our existence is that it is a search for place, for home. The religious thing to say is that God or heaven is our homes and that is not far from the truth as I can see it.

When I think of home, I think of mom and our gardens and a tree. Is it fair to guess that those things stick out because deep in all of us is a longing for a Father, a garden and a tree; a longing for a place that though we may stare into it for eternity it will never cease to inspire awe?

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary who’s greatest accomplishment in life was marrying way up to his beautiful wife Michala, the Director of Children’s Ministry at The Neighborhood Church. Michael has a blog called a A Sprig of Hope where he shares devotional thoughts on life, short stories, poetry, prayers, and anything that grabs his short attention span. 

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