Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Well-Written Life

Don't you love it when two pieces of media that you have recently consumed intersect with one another? Several months ago, I read Donald Miller's newest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which unpacks and explores the idea that all of us are living within a grand narrative and that our calling is to live a truly great story.

Last week, Caroline and I watched a movie called The Brothers Bloom. The film is about two brothers who are lifelong con artists. Toward the beginning of the film, one of the brothers (Bloom, played by Adrian Brody) tells the other brother (Stephen, played by Mark Ruffalo) that he does not want to be a con artist anymore. It's a pretty typical scene in which one one character asserts that he wants out and the other character coaxes him to join him for just "one more job." Despite the fact that I have witnessed scenes like this one in several other films, the writer (Rian Johnson) keeps it interesting with truly good dialogue. At one point, Bloom says something quite profound. He tells his brother that he wants to live an "unwritten life," which is to say he doesn't want to live as a character in one of their cons anymore. The story becomes a journey in which Bloom wrestles with this notion.

I recently listened to an interview with Rian Johson, and he talked about this piece of dialogue. He pointed out that Bloom desires something that is incorrect. None of us truly live an unwritten life. The true quest of his character was not for his life to be unwritten; it was for his life to be written better. This is also the point of Miller's book. We are seeking to live a life that is well-written.

The reason we respond so well to stories (movies, TV shows, books, etc.), is because this is how we filter all of our experiences. We live our lives and we retell our memories to ourselves in a narrative form. We don't think of our lives as a series of random events (at least most of us don't), we see them as a series of stories and, ultimately, one large story.

To be a follower of Jesus is not only to see our lives as stories with meaning, but also to see them as part of a greater story--God's story.

So the question remains, Who is writing my life? It will not go unwritten, but it may very be poorly written. What does it mean to live a life that is truly well-written?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reading With Your Ears

For the past five years, I have been gradually working toward my Master's Degree at Baylor University. The reason it has taken so long is that I live north of Fort Worth, and every time I need to go to class it takes a minimum of two hours to get there and another two hours to get back. In that amount of time, my listening tastes have gradually evolved. At first, I listened exclusively to music. After exhausting all of my music radio stations and iTunes playlists, I switched over to talk radio. This was alright for a while, but I grew tired of hearing the same voices every morning. Then, a year ago, I discovered the very best in non-visual entertainment: Audiobooks. I resisted this trend for a while, because I am a purist when it comes to books. I like to hold a book with all of its papery goodness. However, I have given in, and it has made my commute quite the positive experience.

Recently, I listened to a great book by Dennis Lehane (he also wrote Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island). It was called The Given Day, and it is a novel that takes place during and around the Boston Police Strike of 1919. I highly recommend it.

I have gotten into this type of listening because of a service called Audible.com. If you are at all interested in audiobooks, this is the best service out there.

Another new discovery is that I can use my iPhone as a Kindle! This is another medium that I had resisted until recently because of my staunch traditionalism about books. I like the feeling of paper in my hands as I read. In spite of my Fallwellian fundamentalism toward all things literary, I have been won over to the digital book. I am currently reading Nick Hornby's High Fidelity on my phone/Kindle, and it's pretty stinking cool (although it does make my eyes hurt a little if I read for too long).

Anyway, I suppose I'm saying all this to say that it has been quite a liberating experience to overcome my preconceived ideas and prejudices toward various mediums of reading. My fears and trepidation were doing nothing but paralyzing me from experiencing all there was to be experienced. I have found that I have never gained anything from being closed-minded.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Responding to Glenn Beck, part 2

Well, he's done it again. Not Glenn Beck. Donald Miller. He's one of my favorite writers, and he always seems to know what to say and when to say it. He had a perfect response to Pat Robertson's comments on Haiti, and now he has aptly responded to Glenn Beck. If this has been a controversy that has interested you at all, you should absolutely go read Miller's latest blog post entitled, "Jim Wallis Loves His Enemies." As always, when everyone else wants to respond with hate and rage, Miller offers thoughtful grace and empathy.

Also, just for fun, here's a video of Stephen Cobert's response:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Glenn Beck Attacks Social Justice - James Martin
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care reform

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are There Churches That AREN'T Preaching Social Justice?

So, last week Glenn Beck instructed churchgoers who watch his show to leave their churches if they are hearing messages about social justice. Social justice is, of course, what church leaders call the broad scope of discussion in which preachers talk about the importance of caring for the poor, the sick, the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner (I'm not quite sure, but I think I may have read that somewhere before...). So, of course, it has the word "social" in it, so Beck probably thinks we church leaders are secretly advocating a Marxist takeover when we are simply pretending to care about people who are hungry. I wonder if Glenn will close his Twitter account because it is a "social" networking site, just like the kind Hitler used.

I realize this is a topic that has been tirelessly blogged and commented over. I also realize that anyone who knows me or even reads this blog will have no doubt about where I stand on this issue. However, the best response I have read so far has not come from any theologian or church leader. Interestingly enough, it comes from a film critic. The great Roger Ebert wrote on his blog about this, and I thought it was worth sharing. I hope you'll visit the link below and enjoy Ebert's commentary as much as I did.

The title of his post? "Jesus Was a Nazi. So's Your Preacher."

In the meantime, if you're in the mood for some good old fashioned, Nazi/Communist/Socialist activity, go visit some of these great organizations:

International Justice Mission
North Texas Food Bank
Mission Arlington
Save Darfur
Toms Shoes
Free The Children

And don't forget. If you ever start to feel compassion towards other human beings, seek help immediately. That's your inner socialist demon trying to get control over you. It will probably pass eventually. Just tune in to Glenn's show, and it will all fade away.