Friday, February 27, 2015

What color IS it?

You knew this was coming. Didn't you? There's no way I could watch something go viral like The Dress and not comment. You probably would have sent out a search party to see if I was alive.

It blew up Twitter. All over Instagram and Facebook. And it even made it into an informal poll at staff meeting today in the office.

So what color is it?

It's amazing; at staff meeting we were all looking at the same version of it (and there has been a lot of photoshopping, hasn't there?). And we were almost evenly divided - Team White and Gold vs, Team Blue and Black.

So what color is it?

It's a fascinating study in human nature, the science of the brain, and nature of the public space. But to me the most important thing about the whole discussion is this:

There IS an answer. Regardless of how I see it or you see it, there is an objective answer.

A pastor I follow on Twitter made an observation that I thought was telling. The Dress tells us more about ourselves than it does about color. Here was his tweet:

Yep. As a society we have come to look at truth like this. Whatever is true for you, well that's your truth. What's true for me is my truth.

Whether it's the color of a dress, the nature of the universe, or the historicity of the Resurrection, objective truth exists. There is an answer. Regardless of how the dress looks to me - or you - it has a color. An objective color.

And likewise, either something happened or it didn't. It can't be true for me and false for you. It's either true or false.

I think this is one reason The Dress was on everybody's tongue today - as my niece said, it was all anyone was talking about. Some of us want to be reassured that we can determine our own truth. Others are annoyed because they want to know the real color and get it over with.


Blue and black.

I'm out.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Walking Dead: Them

How does God work in the universe he created? Did he just set it into motion and then watch things play out, occasionally intervening with a miracle when it's important to his purposes? Or is he intimately involved with every aspect of his creation, working through the natural processes and relationships to bring about his purposes?

In this week's episode of The Walking Dead, this question seemed to explode from the screen.

It was a strange episode, one that I felt was a little slow. There has been a lot of death recently and our characters, especially Maggie, Daryl and Sasha, are at the end of their ropes. Food and water are scarce, they are running out of energy as they try to make it to D.C., and grief is overwhelming. As Rick notes in a story he tells toward the end of the hour, they - not the "walkers," - are really the "walking dead." (It was really cool how the name of the show actually made its way into the dialogue.) The only thing is, we have spent nearly two episodes dealing with these emotions without much plot movement. In my opinion, it's time to restore the balance with some plot development.

That said, I was really moved by Maggie's character progression, and it related directly to the questions at the start of this post. For those who don't follow the show (you probably stopped reading long ago anyway), Maggie's father, a deeply religious man was beheaded recently. She wandered through Georgia wondering whether her husband Glenn and sister Beth were dead. She was reunited with Glenn, but thought Beth was dead. She then found out that her sister was alive, only to have her snatched away in a gruesome death shortly after learning the good news.

She is devastated.

And as the episode begins, it is clear that whatever faith she ever had is, at best, hanging by a thread. First, she has a conversation with Gabriel, a priest who is dealing with his own failings to do what he knows is right. Gabriel tries to help, offering to be there if she needs someone to talk to. She says to him, "My daddy was religious. I used to be." When he offers to listen, she says, "Please stop" and cuts him off cold. She doesn't want to talk about it.

Later, the group is overjoyed by a rainstorm that blows up providing them much needed water. Gabriel gives thanks to God, but Maggie just sands with a blank expression. She is not impressed.

The group finds shelter from the storm in a barn that Daryl had seen. As they walk in, Maggie notices a Bible sitting on top of a stack of books. The fact that she sees it is emphasized by the way the scene was shot. Clearly the role of God in all this and whether Maggie can return to her father's faith is being set before us.

That night, after they have all tried to go to sleep, a bunch of walkers (zombies) comes to the barn door and are attempting to break it down and kill them all. And the storm is raging with high winds that may blow the door in. With our three grieving characters taking there lead, the group works together to keep them out.

Cut to the next morning. Everyone is safe, and we see Maggie awaken first and soon she and Sasha are walking outside the barn. It's hard to describe what they see. Look at the tornado path, the way tress have been leveled, and how a bunch of walkers were disabled:

Sasha says, "Look at should have torn us didn't."

And then, while looking at a beautiful sunrise, "Why are we here?"

And you can see in their eyes that they are trying to make sense of it all:

Sasha and Maggie
So back to our does God work? Without attributing intent to the writers (which is never a good idea), I saw a very clear journey through pain and doubt, with the first steps back toward faith. As they surveyed the wreckage after the storm (tornado?), it was very clear that something had happened, something significant. A miracle? The natural result of weather?

God as presented in Scripture is one who works his will through everything that happens. So while so many want this to be an either/or question, I believe it is more accurate to see it as both/and. It was the working of God to save them, but he did so through the working of his creation. He sent a storm to give them water and, as it turned out, to protect them from the walkers who were about to kill them. He wills and works for his good pleasure.

As I watch over the next few weeks, I hope I'm going to see this a turning point of hope and faith. That Maggie, one of my favorite characters, will see why her father believed and return the the faith of her youth. And that this will provide hope for everyone as they navigate this post-apocalyptic world.

More than that, I hope and pray that I will learn from it as I navigate the stresses of my world and seek to interpret the tragedies we are seeing in the news. Things may seem to be at their worst, but there is a God working for our good, and all the suffering, tragedy, and even stress are being used to mold his children into what he wants us to be.

Then we, the walking dead, can have life.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Calm in the storm

The winds howled. The waves roared. The sea was like a monster that had taken on a personality, and things did not look good. Almost everyone aboard was sure they were about to die.

And Jesus was sound asleep in the bottom of the boat. Asleep.

People die from storms. Remember this scene from A Perfect Storm?

Yes, the sea can be a vicious mistress.

And Jesus was asleep. Not worried at all.

Now here's the thing that struck me as I read the account from Mark's gospel tonight:

The others on the boat - his disciples - did not care at all for his attitude! Not. At. All.

You see, Jesus wasn't worried because he knew who was in charge. He was the one who had said, "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself," along with several other admonitions not to worry.

But his disciples came to him and cried, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

To them, his nonchalant attitude could mean only one thing - he didn't care. They were about to die, and the one in whom they had put their trust didn't care.


It's not easy to conquer worrying. None of us can do it in our own power. But when we do, when we successfully take Paul's advice to not worry about anything but pray about everything, people can get the wrong idea.

"You're too calm about this. You obviously don't care whether we get this done or not. At least not as much as I do."

Ever said that? Ever thought that? Well, you're in good company - that's just what the disciples said. to Jesus, of all people. It's human nature. When we are afraid, stressed out, angry...we want everyone to share our concern. If they don't, well, they don't care.

As most of you know, Jesus did indeed care. He got up, rebuked the wind, and the sea calmed down. His lack of worry was a sign that he knew God is in control.

I think there's a lesson in that for me. It's natural for me to be like the disciples. When the storms are blowing, when the pressure is on, when things are not going right, my flesh says to lash out. Blame others. Make sure everybody is as miserable as me. But instead, next time I'm going to try to take it to the only one who can do anything about it.

The Lord of creation has got this, and I'm taking it to him.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Super Bowl Ads 2015: This Land Is Your Land

In the shadow of the steeple
I saw my people
By the Relief Office
I've seen my people.
As they stood there hungry,
I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

- This Land Is Your Land, Woodie Guthrie

Don't there always seem to be Super Bowl ads that generate controversy? Last year there was the Coke ad with children from around the world singing America the Beautiful, which I wrote about here.

Judging from twitter and other social media, the two biggies last night were the atrocious Nationwide commercial about childhood accidental deaths, and the Jeep ad using Woodie Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land as the background music.

For those who didn't see it, here's the ad:

Now, apparently there were many who were outraged by the use of this song to show images from around the world instead of just America. After all, this is one of the great patriotic songs I grew up with, and it is about THIS land...not other lands!

Here is a sample of the tweets out there:


But, as Lee Corso would say...Not so fast, my friend!

Did you see the verse at the top of this post? Not exactly a model of patriotism, is it? What most people don't know is that Woodie Gurthie wrote This Land Is Your Land as a protest song. In 1940, one of the most popular songs on the radio was Kate Smith singing God Bless America. Reportedly, Guthrie for so tired of hearing it that he wrote a song in response to it. The song was called God Blessed America for Me. He later changed that line to "this land was made for you and me" and the song was recorded in 1944.

It had the four verses we are used to singing, but also a verse about private property and how No Trespassing signs belie the idea of it being everyone's land. And of course the verse quoted above, where he wonders whether a land with hunger can really be made for everyone.

Now let's be clear. I am not saying that I endorse Guthrie's cynicism. Quite the contrary. But I am saying that we have taken a cynical protest song and turned it into something it's not. It was written as the opposite of a patriotic song. And then we get mad when someone uses it to highlight the beauty of the whole world and its people, which God created for his glory?

It's kind of like when people use Springsteen's Born in the USA in a patriotic context. Really? Have you ever paid attention to the lyrics?

So maybe we should all chill a little. Maybe we should enjoy the fact that God made a great big world that he wants us to care for. This land - this world - was made for you and me.