God shows up in Battlestar Galactica

Ok, so maybe I watch too much TV.

Actually, I don't watch very much TV at all. In fact, most of my TV watching lately is on DVD--Lost (which I've mentioned before) and now the new Battlestar Galactica.

First of all, I need to say that I don't think Battlestar Galactica is nearly as good a show as Lost. But it's still pretty good. If Lost is an A+, then Battlestar Galactica is a B+.

That said, I am really enjoying the show. And I'm especially intrigued by--you guessed it--the spiritual aspects of the show.

The strangest spiritual element in Battlestar Galactica is the Cylons' belief in God. The Cylons are the bad guys. They're basically robots who were created by humans, then rebelled against their human creators, and then evolved into a more organic, human-like creation (in fact, some of them look exactly like humans). But their deepest quest is to be human--to be alive.

Interestingly (and perhaps not surprisingly), the Cylons' God is made to sound very much like the Christian God. When they speak of God, they use a lot of "Christianese." Things like: "God loves you"; "You must repent"; "God simply wants your love"; etc., etc.

The humans, on the other hand, believe in the "Lords of Kobol." Theirs is a polytheistic religion, though exactly what they believe (or what the Cylons believe) is still unclear--at least in Season 1.

But I want to share one of the most interesting dialogues of the show so far. It takes place between Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) and President Roslin (Mary McDonnell). Adama has told the fleet that he knows where Earth is, the legendary homeworld of humankind, and that he is taking this remnant of humanity there. In reality, Adama has no idea where Earth is, and Roslin knows this. In fact, Adama doesn't even believe Earth exists. He told the fleet this only to give them hope.

Roslin, on the other hand does believe that Earth exists. Here's the brief interchange between them in a scene from the episode, "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1."
Adama: There is no Earth. You understand that.

Roslin: Commander, just because you and I don't know where Earth is doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Now that's a great illustration of what faith is! Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

There you go. Just because you can't see something doesn't mean that it's not there. Just because God's presence isn't always evident doesn't mean that God isn't there.

I love the way that God makes surprise appearances even in silly sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica.

LOST vs. Lord of the Rings

There's more to talk about than just Dominic Monaghan when you're comparing Lost with The Lord of the Rings. A few days ago I posted some thoughts on theology in Lost (see my post here). Just yesterday, my brother, Jonathan, at The One Ring Blog posted some reflections comparing the spirituality of the writers of Lost with the spirituality of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings. Check out his post here.


Just for fun...

So, my brother runs a Lord of the Rings website called The One Ring. Since 1999, it's been primarily a LOTR news website, but he recently started The One Ring Blog as a companion site.

He just posted something today that I though was pretty funny: a poem called "Green Eggs and Lembas." As you've probably already guessed, it's a LOTR spoof on Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham."

Check it out here.


LOST Theology

About six weeks ago, upon the recommendation of several people I know, I rented Season 1 Disc 1 of Lost, a TV show about a bunch of castaways on a really creepy island. First, I gotta say that I love this show. It's definitely one of the best shows I've ever watched. Even Robin, my wife, is totally into this show--and she usually can't stand scary sci-fi stuff.

I do have to admit, however, that some of the stuff they do to keep the dramatic tension high is getting a little predictable. Here, for instance, are the six rules of interpersonal dynamics on Lost:

1) Always keep secrets. If you discover something new about the island, make sure nobody finds out.
2) If they do find out, lie about it.
3) Always blame someone before you have any evidence.
4) After blaming that person, hit them.
5) If you're going on an expedition, tell everyone else they can't come.
6) If you've been told not to go on an expedition, secretly follow them.

There are probably some more rules I've overlooked. If you've got any I'd love to hear them!

All that said, I think the spiritual aspect of the show is pretty interesting. It's also pretty indicative of the culture we live in today.

There's a clear tension between reason and faith on Lost, especially in season one and the beginning of season two. The two characters that embody those worldviews are Jack (reason) and Locke (faith). Jack needs empirical evidence for everything and is skeptical of anything that isn't confirmed by logic. Locke is convinced that they are on the island for a reason and is willing to risk everything to blindly follow that belief.

So you've got the tension between the modern worldview and the postmodern worldview. Interestingly, age is not a factor in this. It's the young guy (Jack) who embodies the modern perspective and the old guy (Locke) who embodies the postmodern perspective.

I'm about halfway through season two, and the show has added a whole new layer of spirituality by adding a new character, Mr. Eko--who happens to be a Nigerian warlord-turned-Catholic priest!

In the last episode I watched tonight, titled "Fire + Water," Mr. Eko actually baptizes two characters on the show: Claire and her baby. Something like that would have been unheard of even ten years ago on prime time TV!

Granted, the theology is usually pretty bad. Mr. Eko told Claire that when John the Baptist baptized Jesus he saw the Holy Spirit come down on Jesus, signifying that the baptism had washed away all of his sins. That's not, of course, how we understand the baptism of Jesus. Nor do we believe that baptism is what removes our sins. Baptism is merely a sign and a seal of that which removes our sins--namely the and resurrection of Jesus.

But, y'know... I'm not gonna hold it against them. The writers of Lost aren't trying to be theologians. They're trying to be spiritual. And that's a great start!

There are a lot of people who are in that same place on their life journey. They've got bad theology, but they want to be close to God.

Are we gonna blast them for their bad theology? Or are we gonna encourage them to keep their eyes open? To keep searching? To keep reaching for God?

And as we are given opportunities, will we then point them to the true God, the God who says, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart"?



Every Thursday afternoon, Russell Smith and I (and several other Cincinnati pastors from various denominations and backgrounds) get together for discussion at Barnes & Noble in Newport. When I arrived last Thursday I asked Russell if he'd read my post regarding the Presbytery meeting. He looked at me and said, "You're not looking to make any friends in Presbytery, are you?"

First I laughed. Then, later, I got nervous. Then I reflected on what I'd written. Then I came to this conclusion: We need to be free to say what we think.

I also mentioned in my other post that I nothing excites me about being Presbyterian. However, I need to say that I do appreciate that we can at least hold different viewpoints. And we can still respect each other--ideally, anyway.

I say all this because it ties in with the "Permission-giving" aspect of the Transformation Team's report (see Russell's post for more on this). Russell writes:

It is much easier for me to go off and ad hoc partner with a few churches on things that we really care about than it is for me to try to make a sales pitch to a presbytery committee, wait for their meeting to come around, and then see what they decide. That, I think, is what the transformation team's proposal is about.

In other words, instead of making people jump through hoops, we ought allow people to go and do ministry without having to ask permission first.

I think there's another aspect of permission-giving, and that's the freedom to challenge others to a higher standard.

I'm currently reading Winning, by Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. In his book, he says that one of the most important aspects of a winning team is candor. Y'know--being candid. Being frank. Being open and honest. Not mean-spirited, but honest. Candor is what brings good ideas to the fore. Vigorous debate and grappling weeds out the bad ideas. You find this concept not only in Winning, but also in Good to Great, by Jim Collins. Candor, wrestling, debate--these are all critical for us to become a great presbytery.

I don't claim to be right all the time. In fact, maybe my comments in my other post were way off base. But they were written in a spirit of candor. I just want to be open about how I feel and what I think.

Believe it or not, I really do care about this presbytery. If I didn't, I wouldn't have expressed myself so strongly.


Read a Book in Your E-Mail

Found something kinda cool today over at Lifehacker. It's called DailyLit. It's an e-mail service that sends you bite-size chunks of public domain books.

In other words, you find a book you want to read, sign up for it, and every day (or however often you indicate) you get a small portion of the book to read. And if you want the next part right away, you can get that, too.

What an awesome idea!

I just signed up to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, one of those "everyone should read it" books, but I've never read it. It'll be coming to me in 90 parts.

But if you want to stick to something more spiritual (especially since this is a stretchychurch blog), how about The Pilgrim's Progress?


Hope for the PCUSA?

I admit it. Tuesday night was the first Presbytery meeting I've attended since March (and I actually can't remember the details of the March meeting, so I'm not even sure I was at that one either).

For those of you that aren't Presbyterian, Presbytery meetings are a gathering of pastors and elders from (in our region) the 80 or so Presbyterian churches in the Cincinnati area. And to be honest, these meetings are boring!

I've only been a Presbyterian pastor for two and a half years now and I've become less and less enamored with my denomination. Presbytery meetings have contributed to this. I often feel like all we do at Presbytery meetings is act Presbyterian ("decently and in order") and make each other feel good about being Presbyterian ("I got my PCUSA logo pin on! How 'bout you?!").

See, I know why I'm a Christian--because Jesus loves me. I know why I'm a pastor--because I want others to know this love of Jesus. But I don't really know why I'm a Presbyterian. I come from a family of Presbyterians and have always attended Presbyterian churches, but that's only because my dad is also a Presbyterian pastor. So I'm basically a Presbyterian by default.

When I met with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry here in Cincinnati as part of the call-process to Union Presbyterian Church, I was asked what excites me about the PCUSA. And I couldn't answer that question. What excites me is ministry! What excites me is my relationship with Jesus Christ! What excites me is seeing others discover Christ's love for them! But there's really nothing about the PCUSA that excites me.

Which is why the Transformation Team's report at Tuesday's meeting was so encouraging to me! The Transformation Team has been working for the past several years on a proposal for doing church in a new way and what they presented last night was terrific. They proposed a church that is mission-shaped, permission-giving, and outcome-oriented. In other words, a church that is focused on outward ministry, that gives freedom to churches and members to do ministry in new and creative ways with the gifts that God has given them, and that sets goals for growth.

I was also immensely encouraged by Erwin Goedicke's sermon. He talked about (among other points) God being bigger than the PCUSA. And he challenged us to participate in the whole church in Cincinnati--even if the official PCUSA logo isn't anywhere to be found. Amen, Erwin!!

If this is the direction that the PCUSA goes, then I have renewed hope in our denomination!

Russell Smith
and I briefly talked about blogging on this topic together for a while. Check out his post over at The Eagle and Child. I'm curious to see what others of you think about this. And I'm curious to see where this all leads.


Good News and Bad News

First the good news. A couple of posts ago I mentioned Sermon Cloud, a website where you can listen to and/or upload sermons. Well, I decided to take the plunge and give it a shot.

Yes, I've posted my first sermon online! Woohoo!

Check it out if you have time. And if you like it, give it an "Amen!" or leave a comment. You have to register in order to do this, but at least it's free. And I'll continue to post my sermons each week with a link from this site.

And now the bad news.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Robin was pregnant again. Sadly, the baby miscarried this past weekend.

I thought at first that I'd have some sort of deep reflection to share with all of you, but I'm afraid I don't. I'm not terribly depressed or in grief. It sounds kinda cruel, but one of my first thoughts was, "Well, I'd rather it happen now than when the baby is Micah's age."

But it is painful. I'm reminded of the line in The Princess Bride where Wesley (while still in the guise of the Dread Pirate Roberts) says to Buttercup, "Life is pain, highness!"

I wouldn't say life is nothing but pain. I actually think there's a ton of joy in life. I'm so happy to have Micah in light of this loss. There's so much joy in him. I love playing with him and tickling him and chasing him around the room. I love it when he brings his "Jesus Book" to me, sits on my lap, opens the book, and says, "Dahzah"--which is Micah's way of saying "Jesus."

There's so much joy; but pain is always gonna be there, too. People have told me there's a reason for this. And there might be. But I'll never know what it is. There also might not be a reason. It could just be that the baby simply didn't survive. No reason. It just didn't.

To be honest, thinking there's a reason doesn't make it any less painful for me than thinking there was no reason. All that really matters to me is that God is still sovereign and that this child is now with God.

Hmm. I hadn't thought of this until just now: one day I will get to meet my little one. Cool.


What do Postmoderns Look for in a Church?

Wess Daniels (who I used to work with at Fuller) posted some thoughts on what he would look for in a church on his blog, Gathering in Light.

I thought his thoughts here were pretty representative of Christians who are looking for something more/different than what we've found in church over the course of our lives. It's a fairly high standard, but something for stretchychurches to consider.


Getting Your Sermons out There

Just found some cool new technology for the stretchychurch! It's called Sermon Cloud. It's basically a website where churches and pastors can store their sermons in a searchable archive. Pretty cool idea, if you ask me!

For a little more info on what Sermon Cloud does, check out the short article at Church Marketing Sucks.


The Blogging Church

Staying current with technology is, I think, one of the marks of a stretchychurch. With that in mind, I just heard about a book coming out called The Blogging Church by Brian Bailey.

The book isn't available, yet. But, the next best thing is available--a blog about the book. Heh... go figure.

I'll be honest--I haven't had a lot of time to look through this blog, yet. But I think that an effective (as opposed to, uh, ineffective) use of the internet is critical for the church in the 21st century and I'm hoping that this book and blog will be helpful to those churches that are in need of catching up to 2002 (much less 2006!).

Check out the blog and let me know what you think. If you get a chance and you find anything particularly interesting on this blog, either send me the link (so I can post it here) or put it in a comment. Maybe we can build a condensed list of helpful blog entries for those churches that need some blogging tips.