Holy Monday Reflection: The Kind of Hero We Need

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For those of you closet Christians, this is a quite notable week in our faith.  It all began yesterday as we celebrated Palm Sunday, the reenactment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  From today to Wednesday we study the teachings of Jesus in the temple.  Then on Thursday we gather together for a “Maundy” or “New Commandment” Service where we wash feet and sing about love.  Friday night we descend into darkness as we extinguish candles during a Tenebrae service.  On Saturday we wait.  And then on Sunday the party gets going!

If you are a Christian, this is our week.  It is our time to fast, to pray, to meditate and to attend the special services and to long for the salvation that only Christ can bring.  The goal of Holy Week is to give ourselves over again to the story that we believe changed the world.

But there is another story happening Friday that my news feed won’t shut up about.  It is the epic showdown between Batman and Superman.  And don’t get me wrong, I am kind of excited for Batman Vs. Superman, or BvS as us cool kids are calling it now.  And like most cool kids I am more excited for the “B” than for the “S.”  I fell in love with the Batman mythos through Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, whose stunning second act, “The Dark Knight,” is considered one of the best movies ever made.

The closing act of that movie gave us an iconic line about heroes as Commissioner Gordon tells his recently rescued son, “Batman is the hero we need but not the one we deserve right now.”  That line, right up there with the best of all movie lines, still resonates today.  Sometimes our hero doesn’t look the way we want the hero to look.  Sometimes the hero we need is not the one we want or deserve.  Sometimes the conquering king is actually a crucified criminal.  Sometimes the way, the truth and the life is a carpenter’s son from the middle of nowhere.

That can be quite unsettling.  As a pastor friend and New Testament scholar once reminded me, “The good news doesn’t sound like good news to some people.”

In Mark 11, after Jesus’ triumphal entry, those in established authority roles get nervous.  To them Jesus is not gospel.  He is threat.  He threatens to steal their followers.  He threatens to expose their arrogance and ignorance.  He threatens their long held beliefs.  He threatens their prejudices and power.  And they are not cool with that,  In fact, to them he just might be the kid in the crowd who yells, “Wait, that emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”

So the chief priests go to Jesus and ask, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?  Who gave you this authority?” (Mark 11:28).

Jesus is rather coy.  He asks them a question about where John the Baptist’s authority came from, a very clever question because there is not a right answer.  I imagine they stuttered and stammered as they weighed their lack of options before spitting out, “Um, we don’t know.”

But then Jesus tells them a parable about the misuse of authority.  Like most parables it points out to the Chief Priests that they had asked the wrong question.  They wanted to know the source of authority.  Jesus wanted them to know about the misuse of authority.  Jesus told them about a vineyard owner who sent several messengers to collect his share of the profits.  They beat and killed all of the messengers who were sent until the owner finally sent his son, whom they also beat and killed.  Then Jesus closes the parable with, “But the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mark 12:10-11).

This is not good news to those in authority.  Jesus is not the hero they want at this point and the gospel has become threat.  The stone we builders rejected has become the stone that holds the entire building up.  That tells the world we don’t know much about building after all.

In the same way the gospel reminds us that we are not all that great about religion.  The prophet the theologians and pastors and good church people rejected has become the savior of the world.  The vigilante the police force is trying to capture has become the symbol of justice in our city.  The ingredient the expert chefs threw out is now on the menu of every restaurant in America.

One of the reasons we take great care in telling the Easter story during Holy Week every year is because we need constant reminder that we are the foolish builders, the misguided theologians, the over zealous police force, the lousy cooks.  Yes, we don’t want the world to know it.  Like most people, I would prefer if you all believed I knew what I was talking about.

But in the end our salvation can only come by accepting the truth that the hero we rejected, the one we crucified has become and will always be the savior of the world.

We should not be like those chief priests who immediately wanted to arrest Jesus on the spot.  Instead we should accept the truth of our errors for what it is and turn towards Jesus the author of eternal life.  Only by admitting our ignorance and arrogance and repenting towards the truth can we enter into the glorious Easter morning.

Dear heavenly father, help me to accept the cornerstone and grant me newness of life this Holy Monday morning.

 

 

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For The Joy of It: Video Games Pt. 4

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I like Batman.  I do.  He is the only superhero without any super powers which makes him more “super” in my book, despite what the nay-sayers say.  Plus Batman is far more 3 dimensional of a character than any other super hero.  He is a protagonist that struggles to find the limits of his own power and morality.  Christopher Nolan brought much of this to light in his brilliant Dark Knight Trilogy, but the Arkham games, which were released during the same time, perfected the character.

The original game, Arkham Asylum, was meant to be a low budget affair with mild sales.  However, brilliant game play along with incredible boss fights, an excellent original story penned by the comic book scribe Paul Dini, and an open map format with gadgets that resemble the Zelda franchise all launched the game to a 92% rating by Metacritic and a Guiness Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game of Modern Times.” (You can read a bit more on the wikipedia page.)

I bought it for a few dollars at Wal-Mart and fell in love with it almost immediately, well.  .  .after I spent an hour dialing down all the graphics so my lousy laptop would run it.  To my (not) surprise, a sequel called Arkham City had all ready been released so I bought it for a few bucks.

Arkham City is just good fun.  It has the right amount of everything.  The story is thought provoking and passes all the tests I have spoken about in the other posts.  The game play is delightful and opens the player up in those conscious and subconscious ways to the struggles of good and evil.  The puzzles are complex and intricate and take a good amount of time and creative thinking to solve.  And the ending asks all the right questions without leaving the player with any easy answers (you can tell I am big on that.)

However, the game also introduced me to the online video game marketplace called Steam where you can pick up old and new games for a fraction of what they are worth.  However, Steam also tracks your game play statistics including achievements earned, the percentage of the game you have beaten, special things you have unlocked and how many hours you have spent playing the game.

It is that last statistic that annoys me completely.  It has been around since the Super Nintendo days.  Almost every game tells you on their opening screen how many hours a player has logged on a save file.  I don’t know why the developers included it.  I personally think they are being arrogant and bragging to you about how much time you have wasted.  It is akin to the victory lap you sometimes see after Track races.

But the number always unsettles me, especially for Arkham City.  I won’t tell you what it is but let’s just say when it passed 100, I gave the game up for several months.  100 hours is 4 days.  I have spent more than 4 days of my life being Batman.  And the more I think about that number, the harder it is to justify it.

I have never, nor will ever, add up all the hours on all my save files on all the games I have ever played.  Sometimes I think that God might know that number and will probably share it with me in eternity.  You can blame that on my Evangelical Protestant upbringing, that despite emphasizing grace, seemed to care a lot about silly things like hours logged playing video games.  Still I wonder what my response will be if God ever gives me that number.  Will I try to justify it?  Will I be ashamed?  Will I ask for more time to beat that one final mega boss?  I have no idea.

What benefits and what consequences have come about in those hours?  There was probably a great deal of both but still 4 days is a long time and it reminds me that simple enjoyment of great art can turn into a dark obsession.

So I want to end this blog series by addressing some practical concerns when it comes to video games.

1) Time: To repeat what I said in the first post, there should be a line drawn concerning how much time one spends on a game.  My own rule is that a game needs to tell me to stop playing it, which means the game has to end.  There are a lot of open ended games out there and those seem to be the most dangerous when it comes to addictions.  Despite your policies, every person should have a limit and it should a rule formed in conversation with mentors, family members and friends.

2) Money: Not much needs to be said here except that in all things work with a budget.  When I discover a game I want to play I will regularly look at my finances and say, “I will not buy this game for more than this amount of money” and then watch sales until I can find it.  This means there are some games I haven’t played because they never dropped below my set amount.

3) Quality of Games:  Like every other artistic medium there are video games that are just a waste of time and money.  Although all engagement is risk, if you are going to spend 100 hours on something, it probably shouldn’t be trash, even if it is addicting trash.

4) Video Games At Church:  I have known several church groups that fellowshipped while playing Mario Kart or Halo or Wii Sports.  Those times are just as fun as playing cards or board games.  However, like any movie, song or TV show, I think church leaders should be mindful of both their members (are any of them addicted?) and of the games they choose to play.  This brings me to number 5.  .  .

5) Multi-player Games:  If I wanted to extend this series into next week I would talk about multi-player gaming and the way it both benefits and detracts from true community.  Instead I will limit myself to this paragraph by stating that if you are playing games with a group, care should be taken about the subconscious nudges of the game.  Does this game really add to group identity, increase cooperation and love among its members?  Or does it increase hostility and divisions?  These concerns go for the greater culture of online video gaming.  What cultures are cropping up around these games?  Are these cultures true, noble, right?  Or do they increase hostility?  I know I avoid playing with people I don’t know because I have heard the “F” word used in hostile ways too many times.

6)  Christians in the Video Game Industry: As with any other industry, I think the world and the church can only be helped by Christians being employed by video game manufacturers.  With that said, some companies only seem to make games that are grotesquely violent or focus on paranormal activity to a fault.  As a Christian I would pray long and hard about joining such companies.  However, I think a Godly influence from within would be great for even such companies, so long as the Christian employee is well defended with the armor of God and willing to quit if the Lord so leads.

I want to close on a more devotional thought.  I think God calls us to be a people of enjoyment.  I think ultimately Philippians 4:8, which calls us to dwell on things that are true, noble, right, etc., is ultimately about enjoyment.  As Christ followers we are a people who delight in all good gifts whether those gifts come to us in sunrises or on our televisions.  So before we critique a game’s message or a game’s truthfulness or a game’s aesthetic qualities, we should set out to have some fun while dwelling upon the things in the game that open us up to further enjoyment of the world.

In Arkham City, after a confrontation with one of the villains, Batman looks at the villain and says, “You seem stressed.  What is really going?”  That line is incredibly impacting.  Here is one of Batman’s arch nemesis’, a villain who had moments ago tried to kill him (and had succeeded in giving me a “game over” message about twenty times). And yet Batman looks the villain in the face and with compassion engages him as a friend, “You seem stressed.”

That is a true, noble, right, loving moment and it is one of many in that great game.  To not enjoy that gift would be shameful.

Until Jesus returns, thanks for reading these unnecessarily long posts.  I hope they inspired you to love and see you all next week.