From Rage to Grace

Here’s a lil video done as a final class project for a Media & Religion course I took earlier this month.  The video is a retelling of Smashing Pumpkin’s 1995 hit Bullet with Butterfly Wings.  In a way this is also an extension of my Reformation Rage sermon.  The sermon narrative only explored part of the song lyrics, of rages and cages. This video works through the entire song, a work that already drips of spiritual longing all by itself.  Viewers take note: the video starts dark – that’s the rage – and evolves into a brighter place. Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Proof of Faith?

I ran across this article yesterday of a boy, now 17, that recants a story about going to heaven and back while being in a coma for two months as a 6 year-old.

Beyond the main headline, interesting enough in itself, the article mentions that the book this experience is based on has sold over a million copies and is part of the “heavenly tourism” genre.

I hadn’t heard that term before, tho a quick internet search tells the story nicely, there are a good number of books in this genre that sell millions of copies each documenting that author’s experience going to heaven and back. An article by Tim Challies, Heaven Tourism, summarizes the genre and many of the more popular books. Tim has some thoughts on heavenly tourism too, definitely worth a read.

I’ve always wondered about books like this and what value people find in them. We want to believe, sure, but are we trying to prove faith? If so, why?

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Perhaps this proof mindset helps explain the endless debates between religion and science. You’ve likely heard much of this, either as history or ongoing debate. The earth? Flat, some said. Sun revolves around the earth? True, and worth imprisoning those that disagree. Age of the earth? 10,000 years tops, and worthy of a museum that seeks to prove as much. And yet each time these views fall by the wayside as understandings from science become mainstream.

Thinking on this some Hebrews 11:1 comes to mind. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. No proofs here. Just hope. Just conviction. Ideally lived out into the world around us as we seek to do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. As someone who appreciates the blessings of science and sees that as one of many gifts from our Creator, for me, that is enough.

 

 

Johnny Cash tourism destinations

Repurposed Meaning: Johnny Cash Christianity

Meaning can be a funny thing, changing over time, influenced by the storyteller and how the story is told. Take the song Hurt. Originally released by Nine Inch Nails (NIN) in 1995 the song hit the top 10 on Billboard for Modern Rock tracks. This was during undergrad for me, and part of my grunge phase, so the song and album got a good bit of play back in the day.

Fast forward to 2003, when Johnny Cash rerecorded the song and music video. Often new versions of old songs take second stage to original content, but not this time. Trent Reznor, lead singer of NIN who also wrote and produced Hurt has this to say:

“I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”

It wasn’t just Trent Reznor that was impressed. The Cash version of Hurt went on to be named best video of the year by Grammy and CMA awards, and in 2011 went on to be named the best video *ever* by NME.

So what changed? For one thing, the artist. As much as I love NIN, the legacy of Johnny Cash is tough to top. The Cash version of Hurt also made a minor, but significant change to the original lyrics. The NIN version speaks to wearing a “crown of $#!+.”  Cash removes the four letter word – not to censor, but to enhance – instead referencing a crown of thorns. This change, of one little word, opened up all sorts of possibilities to what narrative the music video would tell.

Before diving in a bit more, maybe it’s worth a view of Hurt.

The video is a highly personal view of Johnny Cash, showing footage of his life over past decades alongside current video of the 71 year old. The dark, reflective lyrics and images show Cash looking back on his own life, his empire of dirt the lyrics say.

The crown of thorns reference, again a new lyric for this particular version, gets put to good effect near the end of the video. One scene shows Jesus carrying the cross, blood pouring from the nails hammered into his palm and from the crown of thorns that sits atop his head. As the video closes Cash finishes playing the piano and closes the cover over the black keyboard. That moment reminds me of closing a casket, some good foreshadowing for this legend; fittingly he passed away seven months after the video was filmed. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that everyone I know goes away, in the end.

More importantly, this end is not an end at all, it’s a look forward to a coming new life promised to us through the death and resurrection of Christ.  Jesus isn’t in this video to say goodbye.  Instead he’s here as a reminder of the hello that is coming.

So what can we take away from all this? Sometimes powerful messages change over time as they are retold. We see this in the evolution of Hurt from depressing NIN grunge to the reflective faith of Johnny Cash. As a future pastor, I’ll be using older source material too, ancient material, and looking to retell the stories of that source in new, fresh ways. Thank you Johnny, you’re a great example. I hope to use your storytelling excellence as a reminder of what is possible for years to come.

Johnny Cash tourism destinations

Blinders of Privilege

Today’s thoughts come by way of a video our Media & Religion class viewed, 5 Tips For Being An Ally, by Ches Caleigh.  The first tip defines Privilege in a way that was really helpful for me, got to thinking, egad, I could describe this to others now.

“Privilege means there are some things in life that you will not experience or ever have to think about just because of who you are.”

Ches continues with an analogy, saying that:

“It’s kind of like those horses that have blinders on. They can see, just fine. It’s just that there’s a whole bunch of other stuff on the side that they don’t even know exists.”

This, to me makes sense.  Being a white, straight male, upper middle class and Christian, privilege defines me.  It’s something to be aware of that impacts how – and what – we see in the world. My own demographics, traits I was born with, are all in a dominant position in culture currently with respect to race, sexuality, gender, income and religion. There’s nothing wrong with this, tho it is something to be conscious of, and how that changes what we see in the world by default. Things like immigration, paying for college, and Ferguson. Blinders_1Our conversation after watching the video was predictable for a while, what you’d expect in a room of future pastors taking a class at a seminary affiliated with a progressive Christian denomination. We talked about gender and income, and the privilege that comes with being a male of some means. One of my classmates hails from Liberia, and spoke to the difference of being on the other side of mission work done in Africa through churches in the US. “People want to visit and be benefactors for us” he said.  “We really prefer if you come to visit, sit and talk, learn our ways.  Maybe we can share in finding solutions.”   That reconfirms my own sense of international mission, it’s a great perspective.

What happened next really opened my eyes and removed the blinders for a moment as to what other types of privilidge are out there.  Another person in class, former military, spoke about the high incidence of suicides among veterans.  While veterans make up about 1% of the population in the US, 20% of suicides are veterans.  Whoa!  I was floored.  Here we live in the land of the free, the home of the brave, most of us living a life of privilege by *not* having to serve in the military.  And yet those that do are TWENTY TIMES more likely to commit suicide than the general population. That’s huge.

What are the solutions to this? We only touched on that a bit, but my sense from listening to this is the US could to better, much better at reintegrating veterans back into society. Offering vets jobs that reflect the leadership skills they honed while in service is one way to get at this, there are likely others.

I’m still processing this experience a bit, tho suffice to say there is more privilege in our daily lives that each of us enjoy without realizing it.

What are some of your privileges? What kind of blinders does this create? How can you use this knowledge for good? Post any thoughts in the comments section below.

We Both Had Insomnia

A few years back a set of experiences changed how I spend most my waking hours, playing a large role in why I’m pursuing ordained ministry. First I was promoted at work (a positive, right?). A couple months later a good friend passed away far too young. A few weeks later my mother-in-law passed away too. You can read about this in more detail in an earlier series, Why I Walked if you’re curious.

Long story short all this change messed me up pretty good, which led to many sleepless nights. For six weeks I averaged three hours of sleep a night. Over time this took a toll.

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Not being able to sleep, I went to a psychiatrist to get sleeping pills. When that didn’t work, and thinking my challenges were tied to focus, I added in prescription medication for ADHD. When that didn’t work I added in anxiety pills for particularly stressful moments of life. When all of that failed, I finally went to a psychologist – really should have started there in the first place – and was diagnosed with a major depressive episode. Within days the dark fog of depression began to lift and I began to heal. I began to live again.

While all this was going on I also tried another treatment: God. I read scripture, searching for answers in ancient wisdom. I read Christian books, thinking some nugget of Truth would leap off the page. I prayed – A LOT – begging God to take this ailment away. Each attempt the answer as I understood it was the same. God was silent. I was alone.

Reflecting back on this, with the benefit of time, healing, and a perspective on the Almighty that has evolved some, I see the experience now for what it was.

I know now God was with me through the depths of depression that included pills, prayers and pain. God was present through the love and patience of my wife, who both supported and challenged me, and most importantly stayed by my side when times were tough.

God appeared through phone calls from friends and hugs of empathy, from people determined to be present in my pain.

God showed Godself in the wisdom of a psychologist, who within 15 minutes spoke with clarity. “I know this problem” she said confidently, “You are clinically depressed. We can do something about that.”

Thinking about all those sleepless nights filled with tears I realize I was not alone at all. God was there. In that space. In that place. God hadn’t fallen asleep on me. We both had insomnia.