Dark Knight Rises and The Myth of Redemptive Violence

*** SPOILER ALERT ****
There be spoilers below. If ya don’t want ’em, don’t read it. Still, I whited out as many spoilers as I could. Select the invisible text to see the missing words.

Dark Knight Rises was pretty epic, as movies go. I left the theater with dozens of thoughts tumbling around my mind, centrally this one: Could Bane and Natalia have been saved?

I pondered it over and over again. Where did things go wrong for Bane and Natalia? What was broken in them? How could it have been healed in a non-violent way? What could the common citizens of Gotham have done to show the evil Bane that they were now as he once was? If they had done it, would he have been saved? What was it that made Bruce Wayne a vigilante for “true justice?” Would Bruce’s story play out that way in the real world?

The Myth of Redemptive Violence has been around for a very, very long time. At its core is the idea that evil is located somewhere else, evildoers cannot be redeemed, and they must be destroyed / stopped at any cost. The myth itself is that evil looks like it reigns a while, but then at the end (spoiler alert for almost every movie ever) our brave single hero (or small team of heroes) digs deep within and finds, either within or without, the power to be mightier than those evildoers bent on the destruction of the world. Basically, good overcomes evil with Superior Firepower.

And that (spoilers) is exactly what happens in Dark Knight Rises.

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, it depends on your worldview. As Christians, we follow a guy who defeated evil with good, a guy who, instead of killing his enemies, died for them. A guy who destroyed evil by letting evil crush him. We do not overcome by Superior Firepower, but by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.

Dark Knight Rises is a pretty legit action movie, with lots of crunchiness going on, including a barely-veiled reference to the Patriot Act and lots to think about regarding moving on past tragedy, as well as a fascinating perspective on what will make us happy / save us (true love / getting married). It’s optimistic and idealistic to the end… but I don’t think it goes far enough in its idealism.

Maybe we’re prone to believe this myth because this is the myth we’ve seen seem to play out for so long, and it’s worked out fantastically for us. Maybe it’s because having superior firepower is the only thing we’ve ever seen “defeat” evil. And maybe that’s because we live in America, where we’ve been “overcoming evil with Superior Firepower” since day one. Maybe if we lived under an oppressive system, we’d see things diferently.

Or maybe we’d just hang on to our Myth of Redemptive Violence and pray for Superior Firepower.

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Me vs Them

I hate “Us vs Them” Christians. You know the type: Every other denomination is going to hell in a handbasket, and they have a handle on the truth, and if only somebody would listen to them, the world would be a much better place. They go to small churches and have small minds and occupy small worlds where everybody is against them. They try to convert people to their way of thinking, and scare them off in the process.

That’s the kind of church I grew up in.

Since then, I’ve matured. I’ve realized that us vs them Christianity is evil. I’ve finally gotten a handle on the truth, and if only they would listen to me, the world would be a much better place. I try to convert people to my way of thinking, and scare them off in the process.

Oh dang. Continue reading

Value

I posted this to my Intro to DMA blog back in Fall 2009. I felt like it needed to be reposted here… 🙂

Have you ever noticed that in some films there is a message, intentional or unintentional, that value is dependent upon certain things? For instance…

You’re valuable…

  • if you’re beautiful (think every Disney Princess movie)
  • if you’re strong
  • if you’re clever (MacGyver. etc.)
  • if you become famous
  • if you succeed
  • if you get married or get in a relationship

But then there are other movies where you absolutely fall in love with the people and they are valuable whether they succeed or not, though they may not be beautiful, clever, famous, successful, married, or even in a relationship. Their value doesn’t come from them HAVING something. It comes from them BEING something.

And in a sense, I feel like a lot of Christian-esque films are even MORE guilty of making “you’re valuable IF” statements than “world-esque.” We just have a different list. Continue reading

Fire

You just can’t sit still, can you?

I was taking off my shoes in my apartment when this thought hit me.

There are some people who just can’t sit still. There’s this fire deep inside them, something that refuses to sit down and shut up. They can go do stuff they don’t care about for a while, but eventually the fire will burn a hole in them if they don’t do something they care about. It’ll move them to leave jobs to go do something “important,” and then leave the something important because there’s something more important. Everything is an emergency, everything is priority. These people give themselves 200% when they care, and 50% when they don’t. Feed that fire, and they will be the best workers you’ve ever seen; ignore it, and they will eventually leave. I am one of those people.

If I don’t think what I’m doing will matter for eternity, I get restless. I have to have a God-project, something that I think God wants to have done. I had a long, passionate conversation with one of my friends about that – kept him up ’till about 1:30 one night figuring it out.

I came into my apartment and took off my shoes, and as I did, that thought materialized in my mind.

You just can’t sit still, can you? You always have to have some project, a something burning in your soul. Something central. That fire is meant for Me, not for any of your goals.

It was true. Whether it was God talking or me imagining what He’d say, it was true. So I wrote it down in my prayer journal and hopped in the shower, where the thought continued.

You haven’t been given a mission because you can’t handle a mission. You would worship the mission and not Me.

Busted. Every time I get something that looks like a mission, I turn that fire in my soul on it. I let it take over my life. I might even destroy it, or myself, or others, for the sake of the mission. I let myself run to the point of exhaustion. The fire is meant for Me. I realized that sometimes I let my mission take priority over loving others. I know it. In letting the mission take center stage of my life, I let God slide off center stage. And that’s a dangerous place to be.

God is the only safe containment field for that fire. He is the only safe fuel. The fire was meant for passionate love for Him.
It was not meant for accomplishing His goals.
It was not meant for completing His missions.
It was meant for Him, and Him alone.

That’s my explanation.

What’s yours?

Preach

I learned during my very formative years that the world was largely filled with people who were going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus. I also learned that my primary job as a Christian is to get other people to believe in Jesus so they will go to heaven and not go to hell.

I heard sermons telling me that on God’s final judgment day, I would see every person I had ever met and not told about Jesus and heaven and hell and they would ask “Why didn’t you warn me?” I even heard a story about a man who had “seen one person saved per day.” For years, he prayed with at least one person who wanted to accept Jesus every single day.

I was raised roughly Arminian, I think, which is to say that I believed that people had choices about whether they would become Christians or not. Being raised Arminian is pretty rough, because you believe two things: Everyone in the world has a choice about whether they’re going to accept Christ, or reject Him, and it’s your job to tell them. Matthew 28:19 was often called “The Great Omission” because every Christian was supposed to go make other people accept Jesus, and so few actually were. It never occurred to me that Jesus has been saving people without my help for over 4,000 years.

I always had a hard time with that because I was selling other people something I hadn’t actually experienced for myself but believed was true and couldn’t prove. Life-after-death fire insurance. Also, I was taught in church was that accepting Jesus and living for Him means accepting a boring life where one gives up anything that is remotely fun in exchange for what is spiritual. In a paraphrase of Rob Bell’s words, “Religious people don’t throw very good parties.” And so I’ve lived most of my life with a screaming in my heart that says that I have to get other people to accept Jesus. And I’ve had jobs where I’ve woken up every morning with a profound sense of emptiness because I wasn’t getting other people to accept Jesus through those jobs.

Then I heard Mark Driscoll talk about how only the “elect,” those God chooses, are going to heaven, and everyone else is going to hell, and how that’s completely fair because God *should* send everyone to hell, and the elect will become Christians when they are preached to. From that perspective, if I don’t preach to someone who is elect, then someone else will and they will become Christians anyway because they are elect, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off… but it still makes God seem kinda mean because he chooses some people to go to hell, no matter how you frame it. He’s just and fair, but kind of mean to everyone he doesn’t choose to be gracious to.

So when Love Wins came out, and Rob Bell said that maybe people who don’t “receive [Jesus] by that name precisely” (Athol Dickson‘s words) may find their way into eternity with God, I almost cried when I got to the end because of three things (I didn’t quite realize what they were until I had had a few months to process it and read other books):

  1. Maybe I don’t have to go out and sell everyone on what I was raised to believe was “the gospel” (that everyone was bad and going to hell and Jesus came and died so they wouldn’t have to).
  2. Maybe God is more gracious than I first thought.
  3. Maybe there is indeed something about Christianity that is worth sharing that isn’t guilt, condemnation, and fear of hell.

The first has been discussed already, so I’ll grab the other two.

If God is, in the words of Paul in II Corinthians 5:19, “…reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them,” then that could truly be good news! Maybe people don’t have to believe that they’re evil and God is angry with them for their sins to be reconciled to God. And maybe those who have been harmed in Jesus’ name may one day be reconciled to God in spite of their inherent distaste for the name they believe to be responsible for their wrecked lives. Maybe some people who haven’t heard about Jesus may still be counted righteous. Maybe the doors of heaven are open to more people than we thought.

I have not become a universalist. I still believe that “no man comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (John 14:6). Like my facebook post said the other day, “Jesus is the front door to the dining hall, and there are no other doors.” But haven’t you ever been somewhere and not known where you were or quite how you got there? Tell me you’ve never had someone ask, “Did you come through the foyer?” and said “What foyer?” They pointed back where you just came from and said, “That one.” I’m beginning to suspect that people may be able to come to the Father through Jesus without necessarily realizing it.

There are some who have said that if God lets people in who haven’t accepted Jesus by that name precisely, then that makes Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection irrelevant. I don’t understand how that logic even works (though Ree tried to explain it to me). If God accepts more people, it can only be by Jesus’ work on the cross, thus making Jesus work on the cross more effectual, rather than less!

But these are rabbit trails. The real discussion I wanted to start was this:

What would you do with your life if you stopped believing that the eternal destinies of other people lay in your hands?

Because I really don’t know what I would do.

I posted my question on facebook and got no responses from the usual suspects. Nobody touched it. But this is hugely important for me. I’ve lived my life with a screaming inside of my soul that won’t sit down or shut up, telling me that people are going to hell, and they need to accept Jesus, and I need to tell them about Him, so they can stop having “fun” to have “real fun” which is usually… not really fun.

But if Rob Bell is right, and if Jesus was right and being a Christian means living life to the max (John 10:10), then maybe I can live my life with arms, eyes, mouth, and heart wide open. Maybe I can live free like the birds who don’t have to worry. Maybe I can live righteously and feed the poor and be delighted in giving (because I have experienced that! Giving is fantastic! It’s way more fun to give money to someone who needs it than it is to use it for yourself!) Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the good gifts that God has given to me.

And maybe I can tell this screaming voice inside of me to finally shut up… because voices that scream aren’t Jesus. He whispers.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s actually a consistent quiet whisper. Because I still need to do work that feels meaningful, work that actually translates into things that are good. Maybe that’s why I like Jumonville so much. I haven’t had to tell anyone that they need to become a Christian. I’ve told them they’re beautiful unrepeatable miracles. I’ve told them that Jesus loves them. Some have accepted Jesus during Wednesday Worship… but there isn’t this compelling to tell them.

And never once have I woken up wondering why I do what I do.

So now I’m trying to figure out what I like to do. What work it is that makes me wake up in the morning with the sense that this is what I was made for? What has God made me for? How can I be a part of God’s good and creative work in the world?

A lot of my life has had to do with affirmation – having people pat me on the back and say “Good job, kid.” I’m a pleaser. I want people to be happy with me and what i’m doing. …So largely I end up not doing what I want, but doing what I think will make other people happy. Ree asked me what I do when there’s nobody to please, nobody watching to say “Good job.”

…And I told her that I don’t know, because i’ve hardly ever had time like that except when i’m completely by myself, and then i’m usually bored and watching movies or something… because I’m alone.

What would you do?

Creation Groans

I woke up this morning from a dream about being at Jumonville. Summer Staff 2011. And I realized that, come summer 2011, most of the people that I knew and loved from Summer 2009 won’t be there. The Beattys, Ree, Craig, Ashley Crago, and maybe David Orr will still be there… but Kristen will be gone (sort of)… Nate, Tyler, Brittany, Sara, Rob, Mike Nuss, Will, Carrie, James, Caitlin (both of the Caitlins)… and it stung. I could feel their absence at Jumonville already. I could see its emptiness without them there, and hear their voices and laughter in its silence. Even some of the friends I made during summer 2010 will be gone come next year. I think Nate’s gonna hurt the most, though, because he was more than a supervisor. He was the big brother I never had. I’m gonna miss him, especially while I’m making schedules and figuring out how to fix stuff… this time I’m going to be the improviser. We worked together all the time. …At least I’ll have another adventure staff I already know and love: Margo. And that’s a relief.

Then I remembered how it felt this year. I didn’t feel people’s absence as much because I was around other people I loved. And I don’t feel their absence so much now that I’m around still other people I love, here at school. And I realized that loving the people you’re with is really the only way around the holes left in your heart by the people you love who are now in the rear-view mirror. “New people” can never fill the holes created by those in the rear-view. They just create new holes. But in their presence, you forget the holes left by those in the rear-view. To love someone else is deeply is the only way to feel less hurt from the holes left by those who are gone. But it’s hard. Cynicism takes you hostage and lies to you.

Cynicism is one of the ugliest perversions of Imago Dei. We are made to love and be loved, but we grow instead to despise those made, like us, in His image and likeness, thinking that the ones we meet now aren’t as good as those we knew then. But everything changes. And in change, there is both the bad of sin’s corruption and the good holiness with which the world was made. Imago Dei and “very good” mesh together with fall and curse and sin. And the body and blood of Jesus is kneaded into the whole mix, generating hope – hope for a day when our glorious King will return in power and majesty and finally set all things right. But until that day comes, all creation groans with longing. The heavens and earth declare God’s glory, and at the same time the earth cries out for the return of the King.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Saints & Poets

“…I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?”

“No. …The saints and poets, maybe they do some.”

-Our Town, Thornton Wilder, 1937

Right now, I’m sitting in the A/V office at Jumonville, surrounded by computer screens and enough video tapes to make a public library jealous. They’re all videos of camps, or most of them, but that’s beside the point. Alex’s iPod is plugged into the speakers and playing on low volume. It’d be louder, but it’s being drowned out by the two air conditioning units. My arch-nemesis, the Lacie 5Big network storage device, is turned off. And that’s how it will stay until I get around to calling tech support. Yeah, I’ve given up. Their stupid web site instructions for resetting the **** thing are useless. But let’s drop that.

Alex is sitting across from me staring in a very bored way at a screen. It’s Friday, at the end of a week with a lot of maintenance for adventure staff like me. My little sister came to camp, but she got sick Thursday morning and had to go home Thursday night.

I open the door to go downstairs. It’s 8:30 at night, but outside the A/V room, it’s still gotta be 90 degrees. Then I head into the main office. Ashley is sitting at the desk watching the office listening to “Lead Me To The Cross,” the new version that annoys the crap out of me, on K-Love over the internet. It keeps buffering. The song annoys me because of the line “rid me of myself, I belong to You.” I’m pretty sure God wants to HAVE us, not have us be rid of us. The song is spiritual-sounding, but theologically (not to mention logically) incorrect. I change that line when I sing it. …Strike K-Love. It She was playing it from myspace. But I digress. The reason I mentioned that was because, well, our internet here is pretty slow. But what do you expect on a mountaintop in the middle of the woods? We’re blessed to have T1 at all!

The longer I live, the more proofs I find of this fact: there is little inspiration to be found indoors. I go outside. It’s not as hot out here as just outside the A/V room.

It’s that awkward time between day and night. Peaceful. Probably my favorite time of day. You can see fine without the street lights still, but they’ve come on just the same. I sit down on the porch steps outside of Captain Webb and listen to the cicadas. They’re singing like there’s no tomorrow. Continue reading

Reflections on the Holocaust

Not for the weak of stomach. Exit while you can. Written on a sheet of notebook paper and transcribed.

I’m sitting outside of chapel, They’re doing praise and worship inside, and I can’t go in. Not yet.

We just watched a holocaust video. For the first time, I cried over it. The inhumanity. This must have been what YHVH saw when He sent the flood. I can’t go into chapel. I need to process this.

God, You let the human race go on? After such inhumane, abominable atrocities? There are no words, no adjectives, to adequately describe the horror, the revolting… the camera pointed at a corpse on a man’s shoulders… and stayed on him, and so many others. To run the camera, and not point it away because the world needs to see it. Why? I don’t really even know. Because it’s true. Because it’s terrible. You want to cry out “NEVER AGAIN,” but it has ALREADY happened again. And somewhere in the world, it is probably happening now.

Thousands of dead
starved beyond recognition as humanity
tossed – unceremonious – into mass graves
calloused guards, uncaring citizens
bulldozers, and a sign:
__“Grave No. 3, No: 5000” on the grave.
Typhus, lice, starvation
Blood crying out from the ground
__Am I my brother’s keeper?
Human skin, cut off, and used
__as lampshades.
This is what Elie Wiesel saw.

Beware of lies that poison the soul
calling any less than human.
Auschwitz’ sign, a stark bleak warning:
“Do not repeat this desolation.”

Continue reading

"He's not finished with me yet" (and) the search for home

It seems like every time I turn on the radio, I hear Brandon Heath’s song “He’s not finished with me yet.” This last time, I started wondering about that.

I was born in Tennessee
Late July humidity
Doctor said I was lucky to be alive

I’ve been trouble since the day that I got here
Trouble till the day that I disappear
That’ll be the day that I finally get it right

There is hope for me yet
Because God won’t forget
All the plans he’s made for me
I have to wait and see
He’s not finished with me yet

Ok, I wasn’t born in Tennessee. Or “lucky to be alive.” …I have been trouble, though. But that line “He’s not finished with me yet” kinda made me think. It made me think that maybe just because I’m over 350 miles away from anything familiar that my usefulness isn’t over yet.

Continue reading

If We Are The Body: A story of the church

Chapter 12: Spiritual Warfare
(By David Schell)

An air of seriousness filled the upper room where we’d met for the past few weeks. The evening had come to prayer-walk the Jumonville campus. As Ree would tell me later, the land was purchased legally several hundred years ago, not stolen, which “is huge in the spiritual realm.” It means that the president, Larry, has spiritual authority here. And he had delegated that authority to Ree, who was now delegating it to us, the Jumonville summer staff.

Ree asked which of us had done this kind of thing before. I raised my hand, and so did a few others. The rest gathered around those of us who had, and Ree gave us some oil. Mike and one of the girls, no one can seem to remember who, were in my group. We were responsible for claiming the Epworth cabins. We picked up Bibles and walked up through the wet grass to where we had been assigned.

I put some oil on my finger and drew a cross with the oil over the door to the first cabin, then started praying, claiming these places for God in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I made declarations that these places belonged to God, and all demonic activity had to end immediately, that any enemy forces in action here were required in the name of this same Jesus to leave and never return. I declared that these places belonged to Jesus, and that kids this summer would either come to know Jesus, or come to know Him better.

Continue reading