Saturday, October 30, 2010

Good News for Poor Hearts - Luke 19:1-10

Josh Broward
October 31, 2010

Read Luke 19:1-10.

    At this point anyone who grew up in English speaking Sunday Schools is thinking about the song, so let’s go ahead and get that out of the way.  Feel free to sing along.

    How’s that for a cheesy intro?  Zacchaeus is the classic children’s story.  The story is told and sang and colored and dramatized in Sunday Schools around the world.  In fact, this story has been told so many times that it has become trite.  But maybe the short little man still has something to say. 
    If we read through the whole book of Luke with a careful eye, we see something surprising in the Zacchaeus story - everything!  This is a narrative summary of the whole gospel of Luke up to this point.  In one simple story, Luke has woven together all of the key themes of his entire story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. ...

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sullivan's Travels (#61 Greatest Movie of All Time) - Review

Sunday night Sarah and I watched another of AFI's 100 Greatest Movies: #61 Sullivan's Travels.   Sullivan is a famous director.  His specialty is making comedies, but he longs to make serious movies about the struggles of people in the working classes.  In an attempt to return him to making commercially (if a bit shallow) successful comedies, his producers tell him that he doesn't know anything about being poor and suffering.  This tactic backfires as Sullivan sets off to experience the world as a hobo.  
On the last night of his ventures into poverty (which have been superficial to this point), Sullivan is hit on the head and mugged.  He wakes up dizzy and disoriented on a train car in an unknown place.  When a railroad worker harasses him about trespassing and hits him with a stick, Sullivan beats the man with a rock.  Sullivan is tried while still disoriented and delusional, unable to remember his name.  He is convicted to six years of hard labor.  
This turn of events gives Sullivan a real taste of poverty and injustice.  The prison boss is stereotypically cruel.  Even though Sullivan remembers his real identity, he is unable to seek help.  
Next is one of the best church scenes I've ever seen in a movie.  The prisoners are invited to attend a movie showing in an all black church.  Before the prisoners arrive, the pastor asks the people to give the prisoners the front three rows.  Then he poignantly encourages the congregation "neither by word, nor by action, nor by look to make our guests feel unwelcome, nor to draw away from or act high-toned. For we's all equal in the sight of God."  This scene is doubly touching.  First, because it is an all black church, and showing African-Americans in a good light was extremely rare in 1941.  Second, simply depicting the church in a positive light is also pretty rare.  This small group of struggling Christians (Their church is fairly poor.) is living with the grace and hospitality toward which the gospel propels us all.
While at the church, Sullivan is amazed at the simple joy and exuberance the people take (and he himself takes) at the silly slap-stick of the cartoon movie.  This returns him to his true joy and calling - making comedies.  After he earns his freedom, he explains his change of heart.  "There's a lot to be said for making people laugh! Did you know that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan!"  
In my opinion, that last line (also the last line of the movie) is one of the best movie lines of all time.  Life really is a cockeyed caravan.  It's a beautiful caravan, but it's cockeyed nonetheless.  
I see two basic points to this story.  
(1) It really is hard for rich folks to understand what it's like to be poor.  We have to go way, way, way out of our normal way of life to even start to understand.  
(2) There is fundamental value in joy and hilarity.  Of course, there is also value in making our world better in very serious ways like reducing poverty, increasing education, and bettering health care.  However, joy (however ephemeral) is a value of its own.

I give this movie: JJJ.  Although it is a good movie overall, it loses one J because of the ridiculous slapstick and attempts at humor.  (Though they were very common in the 40s, they sat poorly with both Sarah and me.)  It also loses a J because of a few plot weaknesses.  However, it's a good movie that deals with a few serious topics in a fun way.  It's worth the rental fee.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why Art Should Matter to Christians

I rarely repost articles.  However, this one touches on a theme that has been hitting me repeatedly in the past year or two.  I highly recommend: "Why Art Should Matter to Christians" by Melissa Kircher.  Something about art opens us to the creativity of God in a way that we desperately need.  We need more art personally (no matter how creative we feel) and secondarily (from those who are especially skilled in the arts).  We need more creativity because we need more creation!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Good, Hard Year - 2009-10 Annual Report (Luke 18:1-8)

Josh Broward
October 17, 2010

   This has been a good, hard year.  Even the good times have been difficult, and even the difficult times have been good. 
    Many of us have had personal struggles.  We have had struggles with our jobs, struggles with finding a job, struggles with figuring out what to do next, struggles with our faith, struggles with our health, struggles with our identity and self-worth.
    Many of us have also had family struggles.  We have lost fathers and grandfathers.  We have had family in the hospital.  We have had new babies, with all of those joys and stresses.  We have had family conflicts and unspoken pains and griefs.
    We have also experienced some hard times as a church.  The cycle of coming and going has been unbalanced on the going side lately.  We bless them as they follow God’s leading, but we grieve for the hole they leave behind.  Others in our church are struggling to stay connected even though they’re staying in Korea.
    In the midst of all of these changes and struggles, we can feel overwhelmed, depressed, powerless or hopeless.  We might feel a lot like a widow in the first century.  In that era, a widow was the iconic symbol of a helpless sufferer - especially if she was poor, especially if she had no close male relatives, especially if someone wronged her.
    That is the case for the woman in our Gospel lesson.  She is a widow.  She is poor.  She can’t even afford the court fees or bribes to get the judge to hear her case.  She is alone.  Courtrooms were places for men, but she can’t find a male relative to go into the courtroom to plead her case.  And she has been wronged.  Probably someone has taken advantage of her vulnerability and taken some of the little bit that she has left.  She is desperate for justice.

Read Luke 18:1-8. 

    The word “justice” is repeated four times.  “Give me justice.”  “I’m going to see that she gets justice.”  Even the unjust judge “gave her justice in the end.”  “God will surely give justice to his chosen people.”   What is this “justice” about?  The word means to vindicate, to confirm, to justify, to uphold, to find innocent. 
    In this world, as we follow the way of Christ, we can often wonder if we’re doing the right thing.  Is it really the right thing to give rather than to keep?

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Healed or Saved? (Luke 17:11-19)

Josh Broward
October 10, 2010

Read Luke 17:11-19.

    This text is more complicated than it sounds.  On the surface, it seems like a simple story about remembering to say thank you.  However, four different themes weave through this text.  To really get the full picture, we need to see and understand each color of thread.
   The most obvious theme is thankfulness.  Jesus’ action in our lives calls for our joyful gratitude.  Ten people are healed.  One comes back.  Nine go on their way, maybe not noticing their healing yet, maybe in a hurry to experience the benefits of healing (seeing their family, reintegrating into society, entering the town).  Only one shows thanks.  Martin Luther said the essence of worship is the one leper who returned to give thanks.
    We live in an era where most people in developed nations have an attitude of entitlement.  We believe that everything is supposed to go our way.  We believe we are supposed to get everything we want.  And if we don’t, if life isn’t going our way, then something’s wrong with the world.  “Why is it raining on my birthday?  It’s not fair.”  A good income is a right not a blessing.  Health and happiness are standard expectations, and if we don’t have them, we pout.  In general, we have a glaring lack of gratitude for the many, many blessings we experience. 
    On the other hand, this leper who was healed is extreme in his expression of thanks.  Did you notice that?  He shouts for joy at the top of his voice.  He falls on his face at Jesus’ feet.  He praises God openly. 
    When was the last time you shouted for joy?

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Life UneXpected (Season 1) Review

Our friend Shannon loaned us the DVDs for a new show called Life UneXpected.  We enjoyed watching it at first, but it seemed to get more and more strained and more and more melodramatic. 
The basic story kept me interested.  Lux is a 16 year-old foster kid.  She is trying to be emancipated so she can leave foster care (where she has had a host of negative experiences) and be independent.  Toward this end she locates her birth parents: Baze and Kate.  Kate got pregnant after a high school dance.  She led Baze to believe that she had had an abortion, while actually she gave the baby up for adoption.  Lux's re-entry into their lives turns their world upside down.  They discover a second chance at parenting and become more of the people they always wanted to be.
However, in my opinion, the show is sunk because of the reaching, stretching attempts at stirring up drama and then milking it for all it's worth.   There is a weird love triangle going throughout the show between Kate, Baze, and Ryan (Kate's fiance).  Then, Lux has a parallel triangle with Bug (her boyfriend, who rides a motorcycle and has a large tattoo on his neck) and Jones (the high school quarterback and classic preppy). 
On one hand, I love the redemption story of a second chance at life and the beautiful family moments.  On the other hand, I hate the casual sex and over-done drama. 
So the Josh rating for this one is mixed: JJJ.
Life UneXpected: The Complete First Season

Monday, October 4, 2010

Modern Family (Season 1) Review

A few weeks ago, Sarah and I finished watching the first season of Modern Family.  It is hilarious and touching.  I don't remember when we have laughed so much at a TV show.  We recommended it to Michael and Elizabeth, and they were instantly addicted.
Here's the basic story line.  Jay (formerly played Al Bundy) is a traditional, white, slightly bigoted 50-something man.  He is remarried to a hot, much younger Columbian woman with a 10 year old son.  Jay has two adult kids who have families of their own: Claire and Mitchel.  Claire is married to a cheesy but funny guy, and they have 3 kids.  Mitchel and his partner Cameron have adopted a baby girl from Vietnam.   The story is simply their mixed-up life together as one big extended family.
The show is in a mock-umentary format.  In other words, there is a mixture of standard sitcom-type footage and some private interview time.  It's similar to The Office in format.  Often the interview bits are the most hilarious.  Sarah and I were often rolling around laughing during these.  We found ourselves quoting and remembering and laughing again in the days after we watched an especially good episode.  This is always a sign of excellence in a TV show.
However, the humor - as great as it is - may not be the best part of the show.  Modern Family does two other things very well.
1) They show people learning to love each other for who they are - with all of their ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses, lovability and annoyingness.  The show in poignant in its understanding and expression of the difficulties and joys of family life.  Part of the humor comes from our identification with the very sticky and awkward situations that families often encounter.  But through it all, they stick it out and genuinely show love and concern for each other - even if that requires change and sacrifice.
2) The show constantly sets up stereotypes and then explodes them.  The gay, uber emotional partner also played as an offensive lineman in college football.  The hot Columbian younger wife is also very smart and emotively aware.  The ADD kid who is always breaking things completes an outstanding school project on Van Gogh - without the help of his ADD father, who was supposed to be supervising him.  The stereotypical old white guy somehow comes around again and again to appreciate the beautiful diversity in his family.

We loved this show, and so the Josh rating is without a doubt 5 J's: JJJJJ!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Luke 17:1-10 - Do We Need More Faith?

[Note: Our series on Jesus and World Religions has been canceled.  Upon much prayer and refection, I don't think this is what our church most needs to hear at this time.]

  Today, we continue our journey through Luke with Luke chapter 17.  Has anyone else felt like this has been a tough trip as we’ve been preaching through Luke?  Luke is rough.  Especially in August and September, we’ve been dealing with some of Jesus’ most challenging teachings.  And, let me just tell you up front, today it doesn’t get any easier.  Next week will be better, but not today.

    Our Gospel lesson today is Luke 17:1-10, and it’s pretty challenging.  Instead of reading it as a whole, I want to walk through it and talk about it piece by piece.  I think this will help us really get what Jesus is trying to say.    Jesus starts out with a warning.
 1 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! 2 It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. 3 So watch yourselves!”
    Apparently, Jesus takes integrity and mentoring and parenting pretty seriously.  A millstone is a huge rock slab used to mill or to grind grain into flour.  Jesus sounds a bit like the mafia here: “You mess with my kids, and you’re going to be sleeping with the fishes.  Capisce?!”

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