Sunday Prayer 49

Heavenly Father,
Your awesome power surpasses our view,
and Your majesty is beyond our comprehension.
It is even this reality which makes Your grace more amazing
and Your love more tender.

The Scripture tells us:
‘The Name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe’ (Proverbs 18:10).

We run into Your Name – Your character –
for refuge because of Your power and majesty;
if You are for us, who can be against us?

And we run into Your name for covenant-love,
finding that nothing can separate us from
the tender, fierce love of the God who made us
and came for us in Christ.

We seek You.
We praise You.
We hide in You.
We live in You.

[This is part of a series of prayers for Sunday worship preparation that begins here.]

Cameraperson: memory, story, and seeing

film_cameraperson_1022x522_895_483Three weeks ago, I watched Kirsten Johnson’s memoir in film, Cameraperson. It is an interesting – and sometimes jarring – journey through Johnson’s work behind camera, that reveals the power of story and memory, while also exposing us to the way in which we see people and situations. Johnson has won awards over thirty years of film-making, and this film culls footage from some of that work while being something totally different. Johnson’s memoir ranges through world events and personal experiences, violence and beauty, all the while giving us a view into something we rarely think about or see: how does the person behind the camera both choose what is seen and how does what we see affect our lives.

For me, Johnson’s film left me pondering various things:

  • What does it mean to be truly present versus being an observer?
  • How do we engage with people where we are, and also how do we choose not to engage with others?
  • How does memory shape the way we see ourselves today? Does it help or hinder or heal?
  • What happens when we experience or witness violence, and how does story-telling help in the healing?

Nick Olson offers some helpful further reflections on the film in his article “The Eye Behind the Camera: Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson” on Image Journal‘s website. Here’s an excerpt, but you may enjoy reading his entire reflection.

In creating a non-linear montage of moments drawn from her work as a cinematographer during the last twenty-five years, Kirsten Johnson searches for some contiguous logic that can make sense of the seemingly disparate moments that have, in her words, most marked her.

The viewer will see many different countries via footage from twenty-four documentaries. One moment will be in the Bosnian Mountains, the next on New York City streets. We first become attuned to the montage as pattern because eventually we return to a particular subject we’d seen earlier; the first emerging motif is that Johnson has documented sites of great violence and death, especially in the aftermath when grief afflicts memory.

If pain and death are part of life’s tapestry, can the pattern be beautiful?

It occurs to me: In our movement with Johnson from memory to memory, from ashes to ashes, in our striving to make sense of what can possibly neighbor us in the midst of so much suffering, we might, through it all, find ourselves being shepherded.

Memory is crucial to the pattern: We must remember what we’ve seen in the film; Johnson remembers her mother as she descends into forgetfulness; the victims remember the atrocities and thus bring them to light. We have a short prayer for the hope that we will be remembered after we return to ashes: Memory eternal.

[Read the entire article here.]

You may also enjoy this interview with Johnson from the Sundance Film Festival.

Jürgen Moltmann on Crucifixion

jurgen-moltmannDuring this past Lent I read through Jürgen Moltmann‘s classic work The Crucified God. I am just finishing it up, but it is both an intellectually challenging and deeply moving book. As I draw near to the end, there are some real jewels in his writing. In my mind, the entire book was worth reading simply to encounter this profound paragraph.

When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religions, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1974), 276.

Atheists Who Sought – and Found – God

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasIn my message this past Easter weekend at Eastbrook – “A King and His Kingdom” – I explored the startling reality that Jesus’ closest disciples did not initially believe the message of Jesus’ resurrection but doubted. Luke tells us that they even went so far as to categorize the story of the women who encountered angels at the tomb as “nonsense.” This terms comes from the medical realm and refers to the delirious ravings of someone overcome by their sickness. Not a good response from the disciples, it seems.

However, I believe their honest engagement with doubt and questions actually is an expression of faith as they move into a new experience of Christ. It is not authentic to disavow our doubts when they are there. It will not lead us into faith to shut our questions into a back room of our minds, and pretend they do not exist.

Even in our own day, we’ve had our share of doubters who have in their honest journey of doubt experienced the risen Jesus. Here’s a list

  • Lee Strobel (journalist) – at the popular level, Strobel sought to disprove his wife’s faith in Jesus, but ended up becoming a Christian himself. His book The Case for Christ shares that journey.
  • C. S. Lewis (Oxford and Cambridge medieval literature professor) – Lewis is so well-known for The Chronicles of Narnia and his own journey of faith that it’s hard to remember that his journey from agnosticism to faith was triggered by conversations with J. R. R. Tolkien. Basically, Tolkien got Lewis thinking about whether all the best myths which cause longing to rise up in our hearts might be echoes of the one true story found in Jesus Christ.
  • Edith Stein (Jewish philosopher) – Stein’s upbringing in a Jewish home led her to reject her faith. She wandered for years before finding faith in Jesus Christ after battling through philosophical issues. Stein went on to become a nun, later known as Teresa Benedict of the Cross
  • Francis Collins (geneticist) – Collins was an atheist scientist, but his work on the human genome project with DNA brought him to a point of consideration about the intricacy of the nature of life and the universe. He later converted to Christianity, and wrote about it in his book, The Language of God.
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn (novelist and social commentator) – Solzhenitsyn is best known for writings such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn’s suffering in a Russian gulag actually led him to faith in Christ.
  • Antony Flew (philosopher) – Flew was a rabid atheist throughout most of his life, but changed directions later in life. His 2007 book, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind, offers this striking description: “It may well be that no one is as surprised as I am that my exploration of the Divine has after all these years turned from denial…to discovery.” He defended his change of direction and directly addressed claims of ‘the new atheists’, most notably in his review of Christopher Hitchens’ book The God Delusion.

Let your doubt lead you to Christ in this resurrection season.

A King and His Kingdom (discussion questions)

Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “A King and His Kingdom,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is part of our series “The Kingdom Life.” The text for this week is from Luke 24:1-12.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your favorite memory of Easter time?
  2. This weekend we celebrate Easter and begin a new series entitled “The Kingdom Life.” We focus on Luke 24:1-12 this week. Begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you as you study His word. Then read that passage out loud.
  3. What do you notice about the women from 24:1-9 and 22-23?
  4. What do the two figures, later called ‘angels’ (24:23), say to the women (24:5-7)?
  5. What sort of impact does it have on the women?
  6. When they return to the Eleven (apostles minus Judas) and the others gathered with them in Jerusalem, what is the disciples’ response to the message of the women (24:9-11)?
  7. Why do you think they responded in that way? How might you have responded if you were in their situation?
  8. Peter rushes to the tomb to see for himself (24:12). What about Peter’s experience with Jesus may have led him to do this?
  9. Which group of people do you relate to more in their response to the resurrection: the women, the disciples, or Peter? Why?
  10. What is one way that God is speaking to you personally about the resurrection of Jesus through this study? If you’re on your own, write it down and share it with someone later. If you are with a small group, discuss this together.

Daily Reading Plan

To encourage us together in our growth with God, we arranged a daily reading plan through this series. You can also join in with the daily devotional here. As you read each day, ask God to speak to you from His word.

Saturday, Apr 15       Luke 22:66-23:56
Sunday, Apr 16         Luke 24:1-12
Monday, Apr 17        Matthew 28:1-7
Tuesday, Apr 18        Mark 15:42-47
Wednesday, Apr 19  John 20:1-9
Thursday, Apr 20      Acts 2:22-36
Friday, Apr 21            1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Saturday, Apr 22       Luke 24:13-35