Tag Archives: movies

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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How the Movie The Return of the King Calls Us to Worship

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is one of my all-time favorite movies. Not only because it is one of few movies adapted from an even better book that didn’t slaughter the story (Nerd alert! I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy a dozen times). And I’m not alone in my assessment. It was a critical and box-office success and won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

But I loved The Return of the King because it told such a big engrossing story. Like all good epics Peter Jackson’s movie connected the small everyday lives of its characters: Frodo, Sam, Strider, Legolas, Pippin, Faramir, and gang with a struggle much bigger than themselves. Save Middle Earth from slavery and death. The film deftly shows each individual character’s role in that cosmic battle.

Like The Return of the King, Worship is Epic

Epic stories well-told, such as The Return of the King, become classics because they strike a chord deep in our souls. Instinctively we want to be part of the chorus singing about the significance of life, if even singing from the back row. Or to return to a movie metaphor: simply to be even an extra in the army of Gondor might be enough to give our lives meaning.

This is because God created us to be a part of something grand, epic, so to speak. That is what that strange activity called worship is supposed to do: connect our small, everyday lives to something–or more so, Someone–bigger.

What Blocks Worship?

Donald Miller, of Blue Like Jazz fame, calls this living a better story. Worship is the door through which we enter a better story, God’s story. Unfortunately the story conflict often blocking the way is not a malicious ring, or Sauron but daily drudgery. Doing dishes, watching the news, rushing here or there. Forgetfulness.

Maybe we ignore God’s casting call to play even a small role in God’s Grand Story because we think we are miscast, or unable, or we believe there is no such thing as a Grand Story. Yet, as I wrote in my last blog, there are no expendable crew members for God. You are not miscast as a worshiper. It’s the role you and I were made for. Most people, when asked what they would do with large lottery winnings, say pay off debt and then do something big, like help the homeless. Worship. And, as to belief, even non-theistic scientists search for the meaning of life, the answer, the Big Bang. Again worship, just not of God.

We were created to worship God. This is why moutainscapes, brilliant music, the flick of a bird’s wing, or the birth of a baby freeze us mid-breath and leave us seeking more. They tantalize our earth-bound imaginations. Encountering these mysterious moments free our imaginations while at the same time worship of God anchors them to something real, not just fanciful.

Worship is More than Filling our God Tanks on Sunday

Sadly even many who believe in God have forsaken this gorgeous gift from God, unless it be the rare gape at nature.

For many the trappings of religion are what deaden the desire to worship God. Church does not often feel epic. Worship has become a show, or duty, or a time and place to get what we need from God. Worship today is filled with purposes and propositions and practical applications. All the while keeping the true mystery of communicating with God miles from us.

In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” Eugene H. Peterson debunks this popular view of worship. He writes, “Fear-of the Lord [his biblical term for a lifestyle of worship] is not studying about God but living in reverence before God. . . is not a technique for acquiring spiritual know-how but a willed not knowing [italics mine]. It is not so much know-how we lack; we lack a simple being there. Fear-of-the-Lord nurtured in worship and prayer, silence and quiet, love and sacrifice, turns everything we do into a life of ‘breathing God’.”

Much church worship is anything but breathing God. Worship is simply “being there.” Where? In the Presence of God.

Add Worship Back into Your Life’s Menu

But just like when some meals are bland and wolfed down only to fill our empty stomaches, we do not stop seeking that one gourmet meal set in an ambiance of laughter and delight, so too we need not give up the wonder of worship simply because we have turned it into fast food.

Next time you see a movie or read a story or view a sunset that makes you yearn for something bigger, give in to the urge and turn your eyes to God. It’s God calling, trying to connect you to something epic, Someone bigger than yourself. Go ahead, worship.

Eugene C. Scott believes the command to love God with all we are is an invitation to worship. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Are You Broken?

God made me into a masterpiece.  And yet, like the broken volcanic rock I’m standing on in this picture, I’m a broken masterpiece.

I’m a broken masterpiece who’s enamored with a kids movie.  When Hugo came out before Christmas I was blown away by its beauty, but as I’ve watched it again and again, I’ve seen the true elements of God’s grace and redemption weave their way through the story.

In the movie, Hugo Cabret, the main character, loves fixing things.  As the story progresses he realizes that everyone around him is broken. Just as Hugo realized that the people around him were inventions who needed fixed, I realized that fact is true to life.  We are all creations who have been broken.

I’ve been writing a lot about my recent mission trip to Guatemala.  During the first part of March 2012 I led a small team down to Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala to help out with a vacation Bible school program and a high school and middle school retreat.

Now, if you have been following my blog you know that the week was quite an adventure.  You also know that you are God’s masterpiece.  You know that God created you for a reason.

But what happens when you mess up.  When you feel broken. Does God just toss us away?  Can we mess up so bad that even God wont take us back?

During the retreat, once we’d made it down to hotter than hell Reu, Guatemala, I asked my students if they knew what the word redemption meant.  We were packed into a small dining hall for games, worship, and a message.  Going along with the theme of creation I asked three boys to create something with Hot Tamales.  First they had to chew them up and then build something artistic.

The game failed.  I’m pretty sure all of the students were bored during the game, which wasn’t how I pictured it.  I’m glad it was just a game.  But then, somehow the games failure fit into my talk.  How often do our lives not go as planned.  If we are inventions we sure tend to break down a lot, and sometimes it’s our own fault.

In my last blog I talked about how God chose a little shepherd to be king of Israel.  David was the smallest in his family, but he had something God desired.  An open heart.  But let me tell you the rest of David’s story.  If he was a man after God’s own heart, he was also horribly broken.  Once David becomes king he stops following God’s plan for him.

If I think I’ve messed up, well at least I haven’t skipped out on God’s job for me so that I could commit adultery.  David did that.  But wait, there’s more.  David finds out he knocked up the woman he slept with, and wait, she’s married.  So, after he tries to pin the baby on her husband, which fails miserably, (as is what happens most of the time when we try to hide our mistakes) David has the man killed.  So, David has gone from a man after God’s own heart, to an adulterer, to a murderer.  I am sure when he woke up the morning before all this happened, he didn’t write on his to do list, sleep with a married woman and then kill her husband.

No.  We never plan on making mistakes.  As I shared this story of David with my students, I wanted them to realize that even great biblical figures mess up. If someone in the Bible screws up royally, then what does that mean for us normal folk?

And so I opened my Bible and shared with them how David responded to  God.  Yes, at first David hid from God, tried to cover up all his wrong doing, but then he does something us normal folk should do.  He admits his wrongs and asks God to redeem him.  In Psalm 51 verse 1-12 David writes:

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

David was a broken invention.  God set him on a path to be king of Israel and David messes things up.  We are God’s masterpieces, but if you are like me you have messed up.  The first step to redemption is admitting to God how you messed up.

I have found that when I am open with my faults God tends to redeem them. Redemption doesn’t mean erasing all that we did wrong, but fixing what is broken.  Like David said, create in me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  He didn’t say take this all away as if it never happened, he asked for God to fix him.

That is exactly what God did on Easter through Jesus.  He sent Jesus to fix us.  But that can only happen if we admit that we’re broken and need someone to repair us.  If we do, our story will be as meaningful as Hugo’s, probably even more so.  Because when we are living out God’s plan for us our stories turn into grand adventures.

As I finished giving my message I prayed that each of the students would keep their heart open to God and know that, no matter what they’d done or will do, they could never separate themselves from God.

I hope you know that too.  I urge you to join me, and my dad, Eugene Scott, in Living Spiritually.  We have set this year and hopefully our lives to keeping our eyes and our hearts open to God.  It has been an adventure so far and it would be amazing if you joined us.

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Jennifer Aniston and Eugene Scott Reflect on the Fatherlessness Epidemic

By Eugene C. Scott

In 2010 Jennifer Aniston became the spokeswoman for fatherlessness. In her movie, “The Switch,” Aniston plays Kassie, a self-assured single woman, who Aniston describes as “ready to have a child and she’s not in a place where she feels she needs a man to do it.”

Ms Aniston, I don’t believe, was intentionally promoting fatherlessness. She was simply promoting her movie. I don’t think she gave a second thought to the plight of the 24 million children growing up in homes without fathers in America today, at least until trouble-maker Bill O’Reilly brought it up.

I think about it though–maybe too much. I can’t really help it. Like the kid in “The Switch,” and every other fatherless child, I had no choice in growing up without a dad. My father died of a heart attack when I was 11. I often wonder what life would have been like, both good and bad, if dad had come home that night after welding bumpers in his best friend’s garage. I only know after that summer night in 1968, life got down-right hard. So much so if I had my way, no kid would ever have to grow up without a dad–or with a bad one.

So, Aniston really struck a nerve. “[Kassie] wants a child more than she needs a man,” said Aniston. Want and need are key words here. Kassie may not need a man to become a mother–maybe all she needs is a sperm-donor. But the kid needs a dad. And believe me, no kids wants to grow up playing baseball or dolls with just a sperm-donor.

But my argument against raising kids without good dads is not sentimental and anecdotal. My case is both statistical and personal.

  • Kids in fatherless homes are twice as likely to do time in jail. All of my siblings, including me, found ourselves in jail.
  • 63% of youth suicides happen in fatherless homes. I am alive because my mom–and God–intervened.
  • 71% of high school dropouts live in fatherless homes. Three of four Scott kids failed to earn a diploma.
  • Fatherless children are at greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse and mental disorders. Okay, so this is getting too personal.
  • Single parent families are more likely to live below the poverty line. I had to start working at age 13 and at 16 dropped out of high school in order to work full-time.
  • Children without fathers are more likely to beget kids to fatherless homes. This may be the most painful personal statistic. My sisters’ children grew up without their fathers and now several of their children (a third generation) have kids who don’t know their dads, though one family is motherless (equally painful). And the cycle seems unlikely to stop. How I weep for them.

Unfortunately these are just a few of the obstacles us kids without fathers have to contend with. There are myriad more.

Losing my father left a huge hole in my life. Fatherlessness is leaving a vast canyon in our culture. We gape at the hole and then try to fill it up or deny it’s there.

For many years I blamed my dad for his death, just as if he had flipped me off and walked out the door. After all, he smoked and ate fatty foods. There is always blame enough to go around. But that was simply a way for me to try to deal with the loss. Blaming my dad did zero to alleviate the pain and problem. Sure Hollywood, et. al. have exacerbated or glorified the problem by promoting what they think are funny or unusual stories for the sake of the box office. Or worse they have promoted an ideology that sounds progressive and wise, but is not. As a man, I get the feeling some think life would be better without men, much less fathers. (Responsibility is another issue and I believe men, no matter the contributing cultural factors, need to own their role in this epidemic. More on this next week). But blame. What a waste of time.

Denial is another way we try to fill the gap absent fathers leave in our lives and world.

My family often said we were better off without him. He was strict. Dad would have never let me grow my hair out like I had. Real men didn’t wear long sissy, hippy hair. Sometimes dad got really angry, especially with my oldest sister. Today he may have bordered on what we call abusive. And he made me mow the lawn and sweep out the garage and clean greasy car parts.

But even as we sat around the basement living in denial, my heart ached for my dad to yell down the stairs: “I told you kids to get to bed. Don’t make me come down there.”

If you tell yourself something untrue long enough, maybe that’ll make it so. It didn’t. Listen to pop culture on fatherhood and you will come to believe it is, at best, archaic, and at worst abusive. It’s not.

In his book “To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing up Without a Father,” Donald Miller relates how hard he tried to fill his father gap. To no avail. Not even God, the Father of all will fill it. When something crucial to our lives goes missing, God is not capricious enough to replace it with a stand-in, or even stand in the hole Himself. As it should, this is why grief lingers. Forty years after my father’s unexpected death, I look back at all the silly, hurtful, even beautiful things I tried to replace him with. I’m glad I failed. Now–mostly–I live with this hole in my soul willingly. I know now to fill it is to not acknowledge it.

Perhaps that is what we, as a culture,  do too. Like bewildered people watching a fault line grow in the street before us, we deny, blame, anything but say, “Look, a terrifying hole. What are we going to do about that?”

Jennifer, Kassie may not need a man, but we all need a father. And it’s okay.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.

P.S. See fatherhood.about.com/od/…/a/fatherless_children.htm for more stats and http://www.co.jefferson.co.us/cse/cse_T86_R33.htm for more local Colorado stats.

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When a Kiss is not Just a Kiss

The Princess Bride Kiss

No one is quiet sure where kissing originated or who invented it. I’d gladly kiss whoever did. Those who research such things say most cultures have some form of kissing and have had since time began. In all cultures kissing is an act of intimacy: from an air kiss when greeting someone to nuzzling a new-born baby to the sensual Western world’s romantic kiss. Personally the last is my favorite.

But what does honesty have to do with kissing?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Jeremiah 6:16-8:7

Colossians 2:8-23

Psalm 78:1-31

Proverbs 24:26

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Jeremiah 6:16-8:7: The first section of this reading is a dire warning for disobedience. Once again God lays out the specifics of Israel’s sin and, if they do not repent, the consequences of their disobedience.

God is amazing. He sends Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Jonah, and a slew of other prophets to warn God’s beloved people to repent and turn back to him. In Jonah’s case, God even warns a nation who are not “his people.”

Two thoughts: First, God spends more time correcting the sins of his people than those who have not made a covenant with him. Yet, it seems that Christianity spends more time bewailing the sins of those on the outside than those on the inside. Second, God always seems to send ample warning and opportunity for his people to repent before he sends wrath. Therefore, do the earthquakes, random diseases, and tragedies that befall us humans always point to God’s wrath? If so, where is the explicit warning and opportunity for repentance?

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips,” the writer of Proverbs tells us. How so?

Though some may argue that “The Princess Bride” is simply a sweet, silly romp of a love story, “Princess Bride” author William Goldman does not just marry off Buttercup and Wesley. He too marries honesty with kissing.

“Is this a kissing book?” the grandson (Fred Savage) asks his grandfather (Peter Falk) as Falk reads to him in the beginning of the movie.

“Wait, just wait,” Falk answers. But later in the story we learn, “Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one [between Wesley and Buttercup] left them all behind.”

By then Savage’s character is hooked and doesn’t mind the kiss on the lips because Wesley’s (Carey Elwes) honesty and bravery has earned him that passionate and intimate kiss with Buttercup (Robin Wright). It is the most passionate, most pure kiss because of the honesty with which it is pursued and delivered.

How are a kiss on the lips and an honest answer similar? Both require intimacy. Honesty is not just stating facts or statistics. There are lies, dam lies, and then there are statistics, the old but true saying goes. Kissing and truth-telling both require vulnerability and authenticity, closeness. When Wesley drops his Dread Pirate Roberts mask, Buttercup realizes who he really is and how much she loves and trusts him.

Giving someone a factual report requires no risk, no relationship. Telling someone the truth, how you feel, what you think, and who you really are calls for an earned trust and a closeness that often only comes through facing difficulty together, as did Wesley and Buttercup.

Honest answers and a kiss on the lips also involve bravery. When I was in third grade, my best-friend told me he would pay me a quarter to kiss a certain girl on the lips. I was scared to death and could not summon the courage, even for a quarter. In later years, I’ve been asked to give an honest answer in difficult situations and have too often backed down. After my cowardly breakdown, there always seems to be a distance between me and the one I was supposed to be honest with.

Kisses on the lips and honest answers are also similar in that they are gentle. A kiss is not a right hook. Too often “honest” people offer their truth like a right hook. And they feel they have accomplished something if they delivered a fat lip. The difference here is that a kisses that are given are gentle and bless and strengthen the other person. A kiss that is taken is a punch that deflates and manipulates. Plus a gentle kiss does not make a person put up his dukes in defense but rather produces a smile and openness, even to difficult truths.

What if our close relationships could be summed up the way Wesley and Buttercup’s kiss was? “Since the invention of the honest answer, there have only been five answers that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.”

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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