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May 2008

A Mundane Day

Last week my work laptop was experiencing peformance issues.  We figured out that the hard drive was going bad.  HP sent a new one in less than 24 hours.  Today was the day I set aside to work on it.  I began at 7 a.m. and it wasn't until 6 p.m. until everything was restored and all the software was installed and the settings configured properly.  There are still a couple of things to tweak.

How annoying to spend the entire day on this.

Indiana Jones

To begin with, it started off wrong.  Suddenly you were into the film, but with very little sense of nostalgia or welcoming you back after twenty years. 

The NYTimes also pointed out this lack of attention to the audience:  "There’s plenty of frantic energy here, lots of noise and money too, but what’s absent is any sense of rediscovery, the kind that’s necessary whenever a filmmaker dusts off an old formula or a genre standard."

I felt it lacked the snappy beginning of the previous films.  The nuclear blast scene was well done, but I felt it was a downer.  The entire audience seemed troubled by how to respond to the scene.  No one laughed.  In fact it was almost an hour into the film before the audience I was with began to laugh with any sense of abandon.

Everything prior to Shia LeBouef's appearance was really unneccessary for the film.  I think the opener should have actually involved some scene of Marion searching for Ox and being kidnapped.  Her appearance later in the film is treated as a surprise, but it wasn't given that we've all seen the promotions.  This scene could have been followed by a brief sequence of seeing the Russians bust into the warehouse and steal something.  It would have left us wondering if the Ark was taken.  Then you could have opened with Indy teaching and Mutt coming seeking his help.

The bloated and unneccessary beginning was part of the problem that I feel burdened the film -- it tried to tie together WAY too many things -- the Cold War, McCarthyism, the moral issues of nuclear weapons, Roswell, aliens, the crystal skull legend, the Eldorado legend, conquistadors, multiple dimensions, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things.

One of my loudest laughs in the film was actually a laugh of sarcasm -- the appearance of Mutt dressed up to look like Marlon Brando in The Wild One.  It looked stupid.

I never felt caught up in the plot.  I didn't care really.  Much like Temple of Doom, when we don't already have a sense of connection to the treasure being sought, it just doesn't work as well.  Plus, the adventure didn't make much sense and kept spinning epicycles. 

The alien aspect could have been more of a mystery rather than pretty obvious from early in the film.  I didn't really care for it at all, though.  It felt cheap to do a Roswell story with Indiana Jones.  I'm not sure why; it just did.

Then, in the climax, they become not space aliens but travelers from another dimension, and you're left really not caring at all.  It just seemed ridiculous.

All that said, there were elements I really enjoyed.  Harrison Ford was fun to watch.  The ant scene was creepy fun.  And the dry sand was hilarious (the loudest laughter in the film for the audience I was with). 

3 1/2 popcorn kernels

2 film reels

Rodeo Chaplain & an Offensive God

For the second year in a row I served as the chaplain for the Great Plains Rodeo, our local gay rodeo. The rodeo is a fun event every year and this year I enjoyed spending more time hanging out with friends and actually watching the events (we elected not to have a booth this year).

This year I was invited to do something I had never done before, which happens occassionally in ministry. A congregant asked me to bless his ropes. Which I did. I have a pretty sacramental theology these days anyway.

My prayer for Sunday's grand entry was better than my prayer on Saturday, partly because I was thrown off just before the grand entry when I was told not to mention God because that would be offensive.

To be charitable, I think they really meant not to pray a sectarian Christian prayer, which I wouldn't have done anyway. I do know how to pray at a civic event.

But it left me a little flummoxed as to whom or what I was praying if I wasn't to be praying to God.

Only later did I realize the great comeback that I should have used. "Yes, I understand, after all, he is not a tame lion."

Caspian, finally

Simply put, I loved it. 

I loved it as being a good film version of a novel that I really love, and it a way that doesn't rob the novel of its imaginative space of the unique joys of reading the story.  Because there are, of course, elements of the story not in the film (and that's okay).  I think I can still read the novel and use the imagination around them that I've had for all these decades without the vision of the filmmakers overwhelming my own. 

The novel has a more careful pacing.  Discovery unwinds much more slowly.  Things feel more tenuous and at times scarier.

In the film, not so much, because the dazzle and splendor of the visual effects keep you enchanted and excited and moving along.  It works as a film.

Here's a good example of difference.  Take the scene in which the blue flame is conjured.  In the novel it is a far simpler scene than in the film.  The book is actually more frightening at this point than the film.  But had you filmed it exactly as portrayed in the novel, the scene would have come across as rather weak in the film.  The way it is filmed makes it one of the best scenes.  It possess a grandeur and scope it does not possess in the novel.  You can really see the power of sin at work.  Plus, I loved the addition of Edmund's line at the end, "I know.  You had it sorted."

I loved the portrayal of Edmund in the film.  I thought he and Susan the best portrayed in this installment.  Edmund has properly matured and deepend as a person because of his experience with the White Witch.  I look forward to his performance in Dawn Treader.

Since I was in sixth grade I have visualized this story.  And I was impressed with the majesty of the visuals in this film.  It exceeded my expectations.  There could have been a tendency to make the visuals a little cartoon-like (this seemed to happen at times in the first installment), but there is a good, gritty realism which made for a richer visual pallet than my own imagination had ever conceived. 

Plus, there are some things I've always had trouble visualizing -- such as the dryads.  Thank you for helping with that.

The film doesn't quit have the time to deal with the theological depths and riches of the story and when it does, Aslan comes across as a pretty poor god lacking somewhat in the compassion compartment.  But I don't think the film can do much with the theology other than to invite you into the imaginative space where maybe you will now pick up the novel and let it work its magic.

5 popcorn kernels

3 1/2 film reels

From Sin to Christ

From Sin to Christ

Romans 3:9-26

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

25 May 2008


[Note: this sermon was delivered without manuscript.  What follows is a summary of my sermon yesterday.]

    In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Narnia is in thrall to the White Witch. Her rule is oppressive to the point that even creation is affected – Narnia is locked in an interminable winter ("always winter, never Christmas" they say). The White Witch represents a common theme in the great fantasy stories, whether it be The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Star Wars, that evil and sin are powers which enslave. In these stories even good people, well-intentioned, are trapped in the oppressive power of sin.

    These stories become our window into the biblical worldview in which sin is conceived not simply as a set of wrong choices or bad actions. Sin is a power which enslaves creation. Overcoming sin is not merely a matter of making right choices or performing good actions, it is the defeat of power.

    Romans is Paul's presentation of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. As this series of sermons approached I have done a lot of research into Romans and the thought of St. Paul. In recent decades there has been a paradigm shift in interpretation which has resulted in exciting new explorations of this letter. In my studied opinion, Romans is a story of liberation, of how God's righteousness liberates us from the powers that would enslave us. So, in the ensuing weeks we will look at what the gospel liberates us from and what the gospel liberates us to become.

    In the ancient worldview the powers were personified as demons and Satan. In our contemporary understanding we view them as institutions and structures or aspects of human nature.

    Now, whenever we begin talking about the powers in this way we run the danger of committing the heresy of dualism. The oldest Indo-European religion is Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism holds that there are two gods, a good god and an evil god, and they do cosmic battle for the universe. Born in the Caucasus, Zoroastrianism became the state religion of Persia and deeply influenced Judaism and Christianity. This form of dualism has reappeared in various heresies throughout the two thousand years of Christian history.

    Paul is a good Jew. He believes that God is the only sovereign power. All the other powers are created by God. They were intended by God for good – to order creation. The powers are fallen and have become corrupt. Now they enslave creation rather than ordering it for the glory of God.

    But this creates a theological dilemma. Is God, then, the author of sin and evil? If God is the only sovereign power, what gives rise to sin and evil.

    The first way to respond to that question is to consider the character of God. If God created all the powers and some of them are evil, then maybe we wonder whether or not God is really good. So an important question for Paul is the goodness or righteousness of God.

    One of the errors of fundamentalism is that it seems to find this question unimportant. What is relevant to fundamentalism is that God is powerful. For fundamentalism it is the power of God which makes God worthy of worship and obedience, not the character of God. Thus, if they perceive that God tells them to kill or wage war, then that is what they are supposed to do.

    But this is not the case for Paul, who is a good Jew. What makes God worthy of worship and obedience is the character of God. And the character of God is revealed in God's relationship with God's people in human history. Paul is an empiricist, in this regard. Our actual experience reveals the character of God to us. In our experience we can determine whether or not God is righteous and therefore worthy of worship and obedience.

    So, how do we determine the character of God? Well, it all goes back to that one story which I am all the time telling you that it all goes back to – the Exodus. What happens in the Exodus that reveals the character of God.

    The people who are slaves in Egypt cry out for help. And Yahweh listens. The first thing we learn about the character of God is that God is one who listens to the cries of those in need, particularly the oppressed.

    Then Yahweh God responds in three ways. First, God sends prophets, leaders, to help the people. In this case three leaders – Moses, Miriam, and Aaron.

    Second, God fights on behalf of the people for their liberation. Notice in the Exodus, and we'll get to this more when we preach on Exodus this fall, the people do not fight for their liberation, it is God who does the fighting on their behalf.

    Then, once the people are liberated, God chooses, or elects, them and makes a covenant with them. They will be a new people, living according to the law of God, intended to bring God's blessing to the rest of creation.

    What do we know about the character of God, then? That God listens and God responds, by sending leaders, fighting on behalf of the people for their liberation, and by making relationships in history in order to change the creation. Experience and history reveal the righteousness of God.

    Well, then, all that sounds great, but we still have the question, whence then is evil? If God is the only sovereign power and God's character is righteousness, then where does this power of Sin come from?

    Here we must turn to that puzzling passage in Romans chapter one:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world God's eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

Therefore God handed them over . . .

    I believe that what this passage describes is the freedom of creation which God allowed to run its course. I believe that the story Paul is telling is something like this. A free creation chose to glory in its own freedom instead of remaining faithful to God, and in the process God allowed the creation's freedom to play itself out. What resulted was the power of Sin which has enslaved creation rather than bringing it into the glory and righteousness of God.

    Now, that might not be the most satisfying answer to the philosophical problem of evil, but I do believe that it is Paul's answer.

    Paul says that God is angry and disappointed at creation, as you would be. If you have children who have chosen to do the things you tried to teach them not to, then you have probably been disappointed or angry. Or if you've spent a lot of time and hard work on a project only to see it go differently than you had hoped it would, disappointment and anger arise. God's anger is a result of God's close, compassionate relationship with the creation.

    But the story does not end there. The righteousness of God is reveals that God will act, so just as in the Exodus, God listens and responds to the creation enslaved by Sin.

    God hears the groaning of creation, as Paul calls it in Romans 8, or the conflict of a human person who would like to do good but finds himself trapped by sin, as recorded in Romans 7. God hears these cries and responds.

    God sends a leader. In this case it was Jesus of Nazareth whom Paul has come to perceive as the very incarnation of God. Paul's theology is rooted in the dramatic experience of his conversion on the road to Damascus where he encountered the Risen Christ. Paul believes that unlike every other time that God has responded to creation's need, this response in Jesus is God's ultimate response because God sent God's very self.

    And in Jesus God fought for our liberation on the cross. Paul brilliantly realizes that the cross is the ultimate and final defeat of the powers. Instead of a symbol of torture and oppression, Paul makes the cross a symbol of power and liberation. Paul's teaching on the cross reveals his genius. He realizes that the way God fought the powers was through the ultimate act of subversion. The powers are based on violence and oppression. So, the only way to ultimately defeat them, much as Aslan did with the White Witch, is to willingly and nonviolently suffer their violence and oppression. God fought by not fighting. And so in the death of Jesus on the cross, Sin receives its ultimate defeat.

    Then with the resurrection of Jesus a new power is born. In the resurrection, God elects or chooses a people with whom God will make a new covenant to change the world. This group of people is the church.

    So, the righteous God listens to the cries of creation and responds to the enslavement by Sin. God sends God's self in the person of Jesus. Jesus dies on the cross in the ultimate defeat of Sin. And then, through the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit, God empowers the church to help carry out God's new creation.

    If you, then, seek liberation from the powers which enslave you – be it addiction, temptation, or oppression, the answer lies in faithfulness to the community shaped by the cross and empowered by the resurrection – the church.


This summer I am preaching on Romans, and I am quite excited.

Last year I read N. T. Wright's Paul in Fresh Perspective and it taught me that pretty much everything I knew about Paul I needed to throw out the window.

So, when I knew I was going to preach on Romans, I knew I had a lot of research to do. So, I ordered a bunch of books of recent scholarship and took them all with me on my post-Easter retreat and my time at Wake Forest. I pestered all the North Carolinians with questions about Romans, as my views were being re-shaped by what I was reading. After reading many books, articles, and snippets of commentaries, I finally began to fashion my new view of Romans.

And I'm really looking forward to sharing that with my congregation and all of you this summer, starting on Sunday.

Because there was so much information, including topics that really can't be covered in the sermon, I decided to write a companion study and devotional guide for church members. I made those available starting last Sunday. If you would like a copy, I can e-mail it to you.

Church Picnic & Pride Float

Saturday was a long day. Michael and I started out by car shopping for him before heading out to David Disbrow's house for the rest of the day.

We first were working on the church's pride float. We are building a big red comma, to represent the UCC's God is Still Speaking, campaign. Our slogan for the pride festival is "What the comma?"

We had a blast building the thing, and I impressed everyone that I knew how to handle power tools. They are always surprised when I do butch things, but I really do know something about such things.

In the evening was our annual spring picnic and this one was the best one we've had since I've been there. Everyone was really laid back and relaxed. We had tons of food and fun beverages. In fact, we all sat out there till 10 p.m. laughing, telling stories, and even occasionally singing.

Make Disciples

Make Disciples

Matthew 28:16-20; Daniel 7:9-14

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

18 May 2008



    Growing up as a Southern Baptist boy when I did, this gospel passage is the text. Matthew 28:16-20 was second only to John 3:16. Missions was at the heart of what it meant to be a Baptist, and remains so in moderate Baptist churches. To this day, I cannot hear this passage without my deepest heartstrings being tugged.

    Herein lays the program for the church:


Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, unto the end of the age.


    We are first to go – so the focus of the church is always to be outward, spreading the good news of Jesus. We are always a people on a mission, always on an adventurous journey.

    We are to make disciples of all nations. In our going, our purpose is twofold -- to create radical followers of Jesus Christ and to unite the world. Ours is a global ambition. The good news of Jesus is not limited by race, class, creed, culture, or national origin. Our purpose is no less than a radically new humanity.

    Next, we are to baptize in the name of the Triune God. This is not simply a command to follow some ritual. To baptize someone is to give them a new identity. The identity they had before their baptism ceases to exist, and they become a new creation, born again. When we are baptized, we become part of God's story. Central to God's story is the ecstatic fellowship of the Trinity, and that same ecstatic fellowship with God and with all creation becomes our story as well.

    Once the church gives a person his or her new identity, it next must teach them. We must learn from one another how to think, how to act, and how to relate to one another. Spiritual formation, Christian education is essential to the program of the church. A Christian must be engaged in active, regular learning.

    Teaching leads to obedience to the commands of Christ. At this point the Great Commission connects back to the Sermon on the Mount and the ethical program for the church. What we must be learning to obey are the self-giving, community-building, cross-shaped teachings of Christ.

    And finally there is one more commandment. In the King James Version it is simply translated "lo," in the NIV it is "surely," and in the NRSV it is "remember." Despite the vast differences between those words in English, they are all accurate translations of the Greek phrase kai idou. The phrase kai idou calls our attention, tells us to sit up and take notice, because something new is being introduced, something that requires our contemplation and consideration. That's a lot for two little words.

    The final commandment of Christ in this Great Commission is for us to remember that this whole program of going, making, baptizing, teaching, and obeying is "not about us."


    So, what is God's word for us today out of this most inspiring of texts? I think there are two key messages for us. This text tells us something about this small group of Jesus followers which applies to us. And it also tells us something about God that we must remember.

    In Mark Labberton's commentary on this passage, he drew attention to the fact that there were not twelve disciples in this group. Why is that important? Why should we remember that there are only eleven?

Well, for Matthew, the symbolic connections with Israel's past were very important. The twelve disciples paralleled the twelve tribes and signified that the church was to become the new Israel. That the new Israel is not whole is important to understanding the passage. Labberton writes,


The mission mandate about to be pronounced by Jesus is not given to the perfect number but rather to the less than full complement. This quiet fact underlies that it is to fallen, tempted, limited human beings that the mission of God is entrusted, including those who have denied Jesus.


    Stanley Hauerwas, in his commentary, points out that this commissioning is occurring in Galilee, not near Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, as it is recorded by Luke. For Matthew it is significant that the Jesus movement does not begin in Jerusalem, the center of the world for the Jewish people, and the center of religious, political, and economic power. Instead, the Jesus movement begins in the backwater.

    These sorts of details in the stories, often easily overlooked, are themselves communicative of deep truths. The people whom God is trusting to change the world are not powerful, rich, connected, spiritually healthy, emotionally mature, wise, and courageous people. They are politically, economically, and religious oppressed. Mostly poor. Common and mostly uneducated. So far they've proven to be pretty oblivious to what it is that they've signed up for and then pretty cowardly when confronted with the truth of what it means to be a part of the Jesus movement.

    Yet, these are precisely the sort of people that God is going to use to change the world. And, guess what, it worked.

    Now, in terms measured by the world, we already start out better off then these guys. There are more of us. We are better educated and have far more money. We are better connected and more powerful. Though still oppressed, we live in a far freer society. And we have two thousand years worth of mentors to guide us.

    But sometimes even these supposed advantages are disadvantages. Why? Because the advantages in the way the world measures can lull us into missing the radical nature of our calling and the commitment that it requires us. For example, this week Bill Powell said to me that he has long feared that our worshipping in this beautiful space for very little cost would lull us into thinking that everything was easy.

    The point is what do we do with the challenge when it is presented to us? Do we despair or do we rise up to meet it? The truth is that our little group here still has the power to change the world. If you need proof that it is possible, read your Bible.


    Now to the second thing this text has for us today. It's about God, the source of that power to change the world. Because, the truth is, we do not do it. God does it, through us. What is required of us is faith and faithfulness. Then we become the instruments of God.

    Notice that this is a resurrection story. The Jesus who is speaking in Matthew 28 is the slaughtered and risen lamb, the Risen One, the one that God has raised from the dead and given all authority.

    Each of the Gospels records the resurrection and Christ's appearances differently. In Mark the women come to the empty tomb and go away afraid and Christ does not appear. In Luke and John there are multiple appearances of the risen Jesus, including the heart-warming stories like Mary Magdalene in the garden, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, or walking with Peter before breakfast on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. In Luke's account there is also an ascension into heaven, which we commemorated two weeks ago.

    In Matthew two women come to the tomb, not to finish the preparation of Jesus' body, like in other gospels, but to see. It is as if these two followers of Jesus were alone in understanding what he had said would happen after he died. In full view of the women and the Roman guards, an angel descends and rolls the stone away and announces that Jesus has gone to Galilee and they are to tell the disciples to follow. Then, as the women are returning to the disciples, Jesus appears and the women worship him, for the first time fully aware that this is the incarnation of God.

    In Matthew Jesus appears to the disciples this one time in order to empower them for mission, and, instead of disappearing into the clouds, tells them that he will be with them always. The Risen One is always with us, inspiring us, guiding us, and empowering us for the journey ahead.

    Notice, also, that this is an Exodus story. It really does all go back to the Exodus. The Exodus is the story that tells us the character of God. God is one who listens when creation cries out in need of liberation. God then intervenes within human history, calling forth prophets to lead the people. God, then, fashions those people into a new people with a mission for all humanity.

    Stanley Hauerwas reminds us that Matthew's gospel is an on-going re-interpretation of the story of Israel in light of reality of Jesus. So, on the point of the resurrection, Hauerwas writes, "A people who believe that God raised Israel from Egypt might well believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead."

    Finally, notice that this is an apocalyptic story. Apocalyptic is that big bible word that describes a genre of literature that you are most familiar with in the Book of Revelation, but which really permeates the New Testament. Apocalyptic literature uses evocative symbols to reveal God's plan to defeat evil within human history in order to bring about God's will for creation.

    Now, you might be wondering, where is the apocalyptic in this story? There aren't any blood colored moons or the sky being darkened by attacking locusts. There is no flaming sword coming from the mouth of Jesus. Well, the apocalyptic is subtler in this text and appears as a quotation. Before commissioning the disciples, Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." That is a reference to Daniel 7 and the passage we read early.

    Daniel 7 records a vision of the prophet Daniel who lived in Babylon during the exile of the children of Israel. Daniel 7 is the vision of the four beasts – the winged lion, the great bear, the four headed leopard, and the devouring beast with ten horns. These beasts represent the oppressive power of human empires. These beasts are powerful and inspire awe and terror.

    In contrast to these beasts there appears the Ancient of Days, God enthroned in majesty, passing judgment upon the beasts. To whom does the Ancient of Days give power? Not to one of these mighty beasts, but to one like a human being.

    In Matthew 28 Jesus says, "I am that man." I am the one to whom God has given all dominion, glory, and kingship so that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve me. Jesus is saying, it is this missionary movement I am starting today which will bring ultimate defeat upon these powerful beasts.

    This story tells us that the God we follow is the God who raised Jesus from the dead and who remains forever with us, who heard the cries of the children of Israel and set them free, who judges the nations, and who empowers a small group of people, like you and me, to change world.

    Jesus is saying, it is you rag-tag, incomplete, broken people to whom God is giving the power to change world.

    So, then, it is important for us to remember that we have the power to defeat mighty beasts. That as long as we are faithful, there is no challenge we cannot meet.

    Therefore, let us go, make disciples, baptize, teach, obey, and remember.

Speed Racer

Despite all the reviews we've read, Michael and I really enjoyed Speed Racer.

First off, it was a visual delight. Unlike any other film I've ever seen. I wouldn't want to see many with this bold use of color, lighting, and editing, but I loved seeing its use this time. I do wonder if like with the Matrix this film will usher in a new era of how a film is supposed to look. This, too me, seems to be the first film to really make effective use of digital as the new format.

Second, we enjoyed the story. Of course the basic points are predictable -- duh. But I thought it played out well with good suspense and tension. Even at the end, when you know he will win, the film still makes you really tense. I, in fact, think it should be judged as a sports film and that it is pretty damn good judged in that genre.

Yes, the film did lag a little at one point in the middle, but otherwise I found it instilled a sense of wonder, especially toward the beginning (the sharpest parts of the film).

I enjoyed the humour, especially of Sprtile and the Chimp. There were simply a classic comic relief duo.

The story is also told in innovative ways. Some plots points play out simply as a visual treking across the screen. Two plot points play out simultaneously, with their visuals interwoven in stunning ways.

I left filled with wonder and excitement and talking abou the film with Michael for hours. Forget the naysayers and give it a try.

5 popcorn kernels
4 film reels