Yes, I Am Finite

As a young(er) person I used to think, “Man, if I only had the money I would do this or that, go here or there, do things I can’t do right now.”

I still think that, sometimes, but the older I get the more I realize money is not the only, or even the primary, asset I need.

God has blessed me so sometimes I HAVE the money. What’s scarcer, and more precious, is other things: Time, for example. Also relationships, community, emotional capital, mental capacity.

I may be able to afford to go away for two months, living in an interesting or beautiful place, but I can’t afford the gash in my community that would create. I may be able to pay for a night out, but I can’t take the time. I can afford textbooks to study something I’m interested in but I don’t have the mental space: my work is already using that to the max.

As someone who loves to travel, experience, and learn, I am often frustrated by my own finitude.

On the other hand, I think coming to terms with finiteness is part of what it means to be humble.

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Photo by nicolas.boullosa

In ancient Israel, God required the people to take a Sabbath one day every week during which they would not work. Modern studies show that Sabbath-keeping is actually the maximal way to live in terms of health and even productivity. But the whole thing is an interesting exercise in being consciously finite: you step back and say:

“Today I will not work, I will not determine my own provision, I will not affect my future. Today I will rest and recognize that I am not God.”

I’m a believer in abundance and that God gives resources beyond what we can need. But I’m also a believer in recognizing that I am not God; I can’t, and I don’t have to, take on everything. God is unlimited, I am not.

Many years ago I was wondering why so many people in ministry seemed so burned out, and I heard the Lord say to my spirit, “Many of my people are carrying burdens I did not put on them.”

So I don’t take on every prayer request. I don’t follow every news story. I don’t pursue every study, every opportunity, every possible open door. I CAN’T.

Even Jesus, in his earthly life, didn’t. He limited his ministry to natural Israel. (A little over 8000 square miles, if Google is to be believed.) And it lasted for only three years.

One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is “Lord, enlarge my heart.” The Scriptures actually talk a lot about this concept of God enlarging, widening, increasing — giving us greater territory, widening our borders, actually making our hearts bigger. Enlarging our capacity. But I believe that goes in hand-in-hand with a kind of Sabbathing approach to life: Recognizing always that we are finite, receiving from the Infinite. Humbling ourselves before the One who has “the whole world in his hands.”

As ever, life in the kingdom is a paradox. Become a child, receive the heavens. Humble yourself; be exalted. Accept your limits; enter the limitless.

You cannot be, and you do not have to be, more than you are. It’s okay to live with limited assets and to need wisdom to manage them well. There is freedom in knowing we are not God, even as we worship and live within the One who is.

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Fantastic Four: I Want a Sequel

We-e-e-e-e-ll . . .

f4-characters-poster-usIf you’ve read anything about the new FANTASTIC FOUR movie at Rotten Tomatoes, or local reviews, or the blogosphere, or, well, anywhere, you probably know it’s a bomb, and I don’t mean “da bomb” in the sense that things used to want to be.

Actually, reviewers and fanboys have trashed this movie worse than maybe any superhero movie ever. Despite that, Fox is apparently still planning to make a sequel.

And I really, really hope they do.

Yes, as a dedicated Marvel moviegoer who is working on a book about Marvel movies and real-life spirituality, I trotted off to see this film a few days after it came out. (I hadn’t read any reviews so I didn’t know what a giant flop it was supposed to be.) And the thing is, although it had some obvious problems, it was not the worst superhero movie ever made — and definitely not the worst Fantastic Four movie ever made — and I actually liked it. The film’s biggest problems were in pacing and story structure, such that it essentially set up a really good story and then never finished it.

But I cared about the characters, and I want to know what happens to them.

To me, if a sequel doesn’t happen, this movie will have been a waste. And if a sequel DOES happen, and it’s good, then I will quite happily continue to enjoy this movie as the prequel that it is.

Of course, how all that plays out remains to be seen.

(Incidentally, my dedicated Marvel movie-going does have limits. I won’t be seeing Fox’s R-rated DEADPOOL, and jury’s out on whether I’ll take in the MCU’s DR. STRANGE. Depends on how they handle the occult elements.)

Given all of that setup-that-doesn’t-really-go-anywhere, though, there isn’t a ton for me to work with as far as those real-life, Bible-based applications I like to make. (I mean, the movie definitely agrees with Proverbs that people in power shouldn’t get drunk. But that feels a little weak for a post here on Adventures.)

I could say that it reminded me not to judge an end by its beginning: a lot can happen in the course of a story told over time.

For me today, that’s good enough. This has been your friendly neighbourhood Marvel movie report. I’ll see you in May for thoughts on CIVIL WAR!

Accidental Books & Life on Purpose

When I was young I could write books almost by accident.
play photoSee, I would have an idea for a scene or a place or a character, and I would play with it in my mind for a while (and usually also with toys or sticks or something — I was a kid, and I “played” to a late age), and then eventually I would start putting it on paper. The latter part happened more often as I got into my teens and started to be more serious about writing. But serious or not, manuscripts came together as a side effect of having fun.

That never happens anymore.

My current WIP (work-in-progress) is a stellar example of why. I am working on BELOVED, Book 3 in The Prophet Trilogy. My goal is a late fall release. I’ve been doing some preliminary work for a while and intended to start the actual writing three days ago.

What I actually DID on that day was catch up on work that was due after a busy week of directing camp and doing nothing else. The next day I went to church and then a wedding. The next day I drove 4 1/2 hours to my parents’ house, where I’m staying for a week doing prep stuff for another wedding (my sister’s). I’m working full-time while I’m here, plus hanging out with my siblings and sibs-in-law and nieces and parents.

Next week I drive eight hours to Ottawa to spend a week teaching Bible three hours a day, Monday-Friday, at another camp; and then drive back eight hours for another week of wedding prep and then the wedding itself. I also have to visit the doctor, get some legal papers notarized, and do some financial management.

All, I want to stress, while WORKING FULL-TIME.

In other words, when you grow up, life gets full in a way it was not when you were a kid. I don’t play on the computer anymore; I work on it. Relationships aren’t just things that are happening around me; they take intentionality and focus and driving many hours.

And I’m glad they do. They’re worth it.

All of this has me thinking about life and how important things happen. Often we learn what’s important accidentally. Through play. Through exploring. Through just growing up within a community of people, in church, in family.

But as you get older and demands come, important things don’t happen accidentally anymore. If they’re going to happen at all, they will happen because we choose to prioritize them and give them our time, our money, and our attention.

That’s true about writing books. It’s true about relationships and spiritual life.

It’s true about anything that matters.

Paul said there comes a time to “put away childish things” and think like an adult, and I think this is part of it: actually identifying what matters to us and choosing to live in line with that. It’s part of the beauty of being human, this ability to make ourselves and make our lives to some extent within our God-given context.

For me, writing books and telling stories is important. So BELOVED will get done — although realistically, that late fall release may turn into early winter. Thankfully I publish my own work so I can be a little elastic with deadlines. But it will only get done as part of a bigger whole, as part of a life where work and artistic expression are important but not all-consuming, because they’re just one little part of a life of worship.

Which can, perhaps, be defined as making choices mindfully and gratefully with the awareness that our context comes from God and that all that we choose to do within it is of him and to him and through him, for his glory and in the light of his grace.

Objects of Unknown Origin

In Marvel’s prime time television show Agents of SHIELD, an 084 is an “object of unknown origin,” which in the show’s milieu usually means something alien.

(Do you get why I’m posting about this today, huh? Do you? Go check the calendar … now do you? Yes, I know, I’m a nerd.)

084In the first Thor movie, Thor’s hammer was classified as an 084, and Phil Coulson and team showed up to whisk it away into custody. They did this because in the world of SHIELD, anytime an object of unknown origin shows up, it has the potential to change all of life as we know it.

Why is that?

Because like all of us earthbound creatures, the people of Marvel Earth have a tendency to think that what they see is what there is — to define reality by their own experience, their own five senses.

Much like us.

Into this narrow, limited perception God has sent inexplicable things from outside, things that challenge our understanding and force us to realize there’s more to reality than we can see.

The Bible is an 084. Though it came through human beings, it’s an object with its origins “elsewhere,” in a dimension our senses can’t comprehend. Jesus himself is an 084: he looked human (he is human), but in the strange circumstances of his birth and the unfolding of his life it became clear there was more to him. He is human, the Son of Man; he is also something else.

That something else changes all of life as know it.

The force of an 084 is that it means reality isn’t what we thought. It means that the borders of What Is transcend the limits of What We See. And we have to respond to it: whether that means burying our heads in the sand and pretending it isn’t there or actually looking at it, considering it, and shaping our actions and thoughts to the realities it suggests.

As a Christian this is a helpful perspective for me. It’s too easy to get overly familiar, overly comfortable with the Bible and the person of Jesus, as though we made them up and they are just helpful ideas to bring ourselves comfort and to lean on. Faith, though, is something very different from that: it’s choosing to be uncomfortable, to stand up straight into the wind when we would rather crumble and lean, because we believe in something more than we can see that calls us to an actual difference in the way we live our lives.

And with that thought, I’m signing off for today — going to spend some time reading an alien book and praying to an ordinary man who is also something extraordinary.

Ant-Man (And What Life Is Really About)

AntMan3(Poster)Since I am doing research for the Marvel book, I happily trotted off to see ANT-MAN in theatres last week.

(Yes, it is research. Shush. I have a good job.)

Considered the riskiest Marvel film since GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, ANT-MAN is not a big story a la AGE OF ULTRON. Watching it put me in mind of the earlier MCU films, like the first THOR or IRON MAN or even the early SPIDER-MAN films Sam Raimi did. Maybe because it’s an origin film (sort of) or maybe because the whole thing just feels smaller stakes.

Yes, I know, it would be distastrous if the bad guys won, but somehow that threat doesn’t seem as real here as it does in the Avengers films. To me, the bad guy and the movie’s climactic fight felt obligatory and almost beside the point.

See, ANT-MAN isn’t really about a guy trying to save the world from an evil villain. It’s actually about relationships, specifically father-daughter and mentor-apprentice relationships. Although the movie is named after one guy and is ostensibly a stand-alone hero film, it’s really about a team: the trio of Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man and inventor of the technology that makes shrinking possible), his mostly estranged daughter Hope, and Scott Lang, who Hank has picked to wear the Ant-Man suit.

(This suits me fine. I don’t like movies about lone wolves. When I first saw MISSION IMPOSSIBLE as a kid, I LOVED it for the first five minutes — until they killed off the whole spy team and the movie became about Tom Cruise doing whatever crazy things he does in it, at which point I lost interest and spent the whole film annoyed that they’d killed off all the relationships. Give me a team movie every time.)

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The “estranged” part is important, because not only is this a film about relationships, it’s a film about reconciliation. Scott isn’t allowed to see his own daughter, Cassie, until he leaves his life of crime behind and starts paying child support. And Hank and Hope may be working to stop an egotistical maniac from destroying the world, but they’re working just as hard to find each other again after decades of resentment and pain.

Even Darren Cross, the villain, has a backstory that’s largely about broken relationship. (If you want spiritual parallels, compare Cross’s downfall to the classic story of Satan’s pride. It’s interesting.)

It was the relationships I really cared about in this movie. I loved the characters and wanted to see them all find their way home to each other. All that stuff about defeating the villain? Important, yeah; necessary, yeah; but the real story was always about broken relationships being healed. Being “redeemed,” to use Hank Pym’s term.

And that’s where I saw the biggest links between this film and our lives, the links I’ll probably write about for the Marvel book. We are in a real war, yes. There is a real villain and real stakes. But ultimately, our battle is already won. Jesus has defeated the enemy. We are walking out that victory “until his enemies be made his footstool,” but in so many ways, beating the villain isn’t really the point.

The point is reconciling broken relationships.

The point is bringing children back to the Father.

The point is redemption.

Our story might look like a war epic, but in the end it’s about the reconciliation of individuals who were meant to love one another deeply and live in a relationship of trust and wholeness. I’m glad to report that ANT-MAN’s story has a happy ending. Just as, it turns out, does ours.

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