Archive for November, 2009

Belly Pride (aka Eat THAT Kate Moss)*

To know God is to know beauty; to know beauty is to know God. Just as God is the source of all truth and goodness, God is also the source of all beauty. God is the Supreme Artist – the Creator of all. Thus, everything that is beautiful reflects God’s artistry. Indeed, God is Beauty itself. –Rich Vincent

I was bumping around Amanda Palmer’s web site as well as the fatshionistas web site and was reminded of a few things. We have reduced beauty to surface matters, not thinking twice about being retouched, computer enhanced, reimagined through surgery in order to achieve the makeover of our false selves. We’ve reduced beauty to that with is merely pretty, setting cruel standards (impossible thinness and youth), the endless pursuit of which changes us and our definitions of beauty.

The tragedy is that beauty is so often determined from the outside that we’re left in need of constant validation. We cling to a fundamental insecurity about ourselves to the point where we can’t recognize beauty in the mirror. We are taught to be ashamed of our bodies, disgusted by any part of us that fails to meet up to some metric impressed upon us by others. Forgetting that beauty can be self-defined and self-determined. And easily recognized.

Admittedly, I was thinking about this while staring at my wife’s belly. It’s not a 25 year old belly. It’s a belly that has seen the birth of two children. A belly that has stood accused of being evidence of pregnancy. A belly that has caused her to defiantly retort “no, just fat. Thanks for asking when I’m due though.” It’s a belly that isn’t afraid to go swimming in a two piece bathing suit.

What impresses me is that it’s a belly that won’t be shamed by others. That won’t be belittled by the short-sighted or narrow-thinking. It’s a belly that won’t be defined by modern society’s pressures of beauty and physical definition because her sense of beauty isn’t rooted in what people think of her. It’s a belly that demands appreciation on its terms. It’s a belly that won’t believe the lies of her past won’t be condescended to and won’t be pressured by others.

Hers is a belly has been tested and persevered. Held a marriage together through good times and bad. Sure, that belly has dieted, exercised, but it still knows how to enjoy the occasional hot fudge brownie sundae. Hers is a belly that has lived and loved life. A belly that is fearless. A belly that demands to be known, loved, and appreciated.

A belly that knows peace and contentment because she knows that she is a beautiful creation of God, His perfect daughter.

Sometimes it takes a spiritual eye, a discerning eye, to truly appreciate beauty. A spiritual perception of glory, the loveliness of holiness, and the preciousness of grace … all the things that come with being created in God’s image. All beauty reflects its source, namely, God. When we experience beauty, we experience God. Sometimes we need to be reminded how much we need to still grow to appreciate the beauty around us.

*Hers is a belly that says “it’s your blog, why don’t you take a picture of YOUR belly.”

Wounded Stories III: Wounds As a Source of Healing

One of my favorite essays I’ve ever read was Brian Keene’s Bleed With Me. It was about what artists have to do for the sake of their art, which is essentially to bleed for others. Our pain, our hearts, our souls laid bare in order to convey the truth of art. Put another way, it is the vulnerability and transparency of the artist that is the source for the best art experience.

Admittedly, there are varying levels of transparency. Sometimes the emotional truth is easier to get to through the distance of fiction. Even on my blog, it’s still fairly safe, after all, it is my platform with moderated comments (though that doesn’t stop the occasional troll). Encountering people in the real world is an entirely different matter because be it blog or story, once it’s sent off, it’s in the hands of the readers for them to experience as they will.

Transparency is a learned skill. People might be born open, but we learn to protect ourselves, to shut people out, and build walls. Personally, I’ve been blessed to have a half dozen pastors who get in my face, hold me to account, and walk with me (not engage in CYA meetings to say they have checked in). I am also in a recovery program. And let me tell you, I’ve had to confess that I suck at transparency. In fact, I’m convinced that I need an introductory program of steps to make it to the first 12, just to get me to the sharing part.

As much as we may sometimes want to, we can’t live alone. We have blind spots. We’re biased to our own stories, positively and negatively. Live life outside of our paradigm. People who grow up abused may consider that the norm until they develop relationships with people outside their experience. We live from a place of fear, wanting to protect ourselves from pain. For many, that means suppressing emotions or otherwise leading a flat emotional life. We have a distrust emotions, for some it’s a Charismatic paranoia, afraid of letting emotions sweep us away as a part of the faith experience. Step outside of our mindset of how people ought to behave and deal with how they do, meet them where they are.

So how do we begin to access our heart? How do we begin ending that awkward dance of disconnectedness? We long to feel close to another, be it intimacy with God or simply a connection with others, yet live in the shadows of not knowing what to share, or fear over-sharing and chasing people away. It’s funny, some people need conflict to access their hearts while others are so conflict averse, they find it easier to walk away from relationships. We have to come to a place where we learn how to listen and know ourselves. Sometimes we’re so numb we have to begin by praying to have our hearts woken up, to have the fear broken, and be released to be the real you. And that’s risky: people may not like the real you. Start with what you know. The power of confession is admitting our failings. There is a power to putting our feelings to words through prayer, sharing our stories of woundedness, and finding healing as we push one another forward.

Moving forward is the key. Some people become stuck and need help to not suffer needlessly for the wrong reasons. Some days it hurts more than others and people cry out. For some, in the superficial sharing, pain can become romanticized, An openness about woundedness brings with it the danger of exhibitionism—an emotional Munchausen syndrome—as if the superficial sharing is the end of the process. While people don’t need to be categorized as being drama queens seeking attention, open wounds don’t heal, so we can’t stop with just airing problems.

Sometimes a person in pain can’t recognize their hurt and nor diagnose a treatment. All they know is that it hurts. We’re all afraid of the pain, none of us wanting it in our lives. We want it to be fixed, ended, to be made better and while we wish we could go back to the way things were or snap our fingers and make everything better, it is a process. One which requires time. The proper community plays a role in this process. Cries for help are met with care, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, fellowship, and in all things, love; all the things that make and should characterize a community. Shared pain stops being paralyzing. In the sharing and bearing, community is build as they carry one another in shared hope, in their common search for Christ.

Learning to stand and walk (not hide) midst of pain and misunderstandings involves allowing the opportunity for people to speak into your life, to walk beside you, to break through our fears and loneliness. To allow others to know what’s going on and pray for you. For those with similar stories to find you and lead you. It allows community to spring up in a time of need and do its job and in so doing the community acts as witnesses and agents of grace and love and peace.

Wounded stories become opportunities in peoples lives. Moments of confession, to reflect on and live out our faith, and to build community if we’re bold enough to wade into another’s pain and story. To do so means we have to move outside of our own preoccupations and agendas and needs and worries. It means a withdrawal of self to allow room for another. It may mean allowing them room to vent, cry, be angry, be silent, rest; in short, to be a safe place.

While we have to move forward in our pain, wholeness can’t be given from one to another. Not a friend, not a romantic interest, not a well-intended seminarian, but only through the blood of Christ. It means washing our own wounds and past, giving them up and letting go of them. It means finding forgiveness, for ourselves as well as others. In so doing, our wounds become occasions for new visions. In our weakness we have a reminder that we can’t do it alone, that we have to move forward while clinging to God’s promises. We need to let the light of His amazing love work through us, holding us together, holding marriages together, dispelling the lies of isolation and abandonment.

We need to know and own our own pain, our own story. Being authentic, raw, and vulnerable is risky. Being a wounded healer means allowing others to enter our lives, connecting their story with yours … without having any idea where this will lead or what it will look like. We can only hope that life on the other side of the journey to wholeness—the journey our of our dark places—will be a much better place.


Wounded Stories I: Wounded Story Tellers
Wounded Stories II: Suffering Servant
Wounded Stories III: Wounds As a Source of Healing

Wounded Stories II: Suffering Servant

We all carry around hurts with us, pain which, left untreated, has a way of settling in and rotting us from the inside like a festering wound. Sadly, hurts and lies have a way of shaping us as we carry them around inside us like an infection. Be we wounded by parents, having felt the cold indifference of friends, the sting of a careless word from a pastor, a sense of abandonment at a critical time, or just the tragedy of life in a fallen world, our stories of what carves out pieces of us are all too similar. As much as our American culture teaches us to “suck it up”, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, eventually we come to the realization that our own strength will only take us so far.

The walking wounded run a risk when we choose to encounter another’s pain. Our instinct may be to flee, find a way to distance ourselves from them, even ostracize them. After all, it’s an emotional risk to put ourselves out there in order to be arms of comfort, ears of compassion. Ultimately, we’re also faced with a two-pronged tension: we can’t find healing in one another, yet who can alleviate suffering without entering into it?

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3-5

Christ identifies with us in our pain and woundedness. Our stories are His stories from a life He experienced alongside us. Leading us by example, making our story His, knowing our hurts and fears. He lived with eye to hope, no matter how dark it got. Hope provides a glimpse of the destination we wish to reach. Home.

We don’t take away one another’s pain. There’s no way for us to. What we can do is share one another’s pain, bear one another up. It’s messy, there are no universal steps because life, like the people in it, is creatively individual. So we also have to give each other room to move. It’s also from this place of brokenness that is a starting place for a profound journey.

Entering the complexities of our inner lives, our inner journey, involves sifting through and dealing with the muck of transformation. We all want to lead safe and protected lives, yet we aren’t called to safety (another tension we have to live within). Still, we search out a safe place to confess, repent, and heal. Seek those who are safe, possibly those who can relate to our pain, our woundedness. Those who are willing to be raw and failing yet be at one other’s disposal. Muddling through the faith and doubt, light and dark, hope and despair, that often comes with the real inner work of transformation.

And we continue to let Christ in as we pursue an emotional intimacy with Him. Continuously learning to give ourselves over to him. Continuing to wash our past and brokenness in the blood of Christ.


Wounded Stories I: Wounded Story Tellers
Wounded Stories II: Suffering Servant
Wounded Stories III: Wounds As a Source of Healing

Wounded Stories I: Wounded Story Tellers

“…I have found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is the most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets who have dared to express the unique in themselves.” –Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

We are called to be wounded healers taking care of our own wounds, while prepared to treat the wounds of others. The idea of wounded healers led me to Henri Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer which I’ve been meditating on for the last few weeks.

A lot of folks don’t know what to do with folks who are truly hurting. They are quick to label them crazy or drama queens, accuse them of self-aggrandizing behavior. To be fair, condition not always easily recognized, hidden behind walls, retreated to caves to lick wounds (ironic that our instinct is to withdraw from those who would help us). On the flip side, people who are hurting aren’t always the most cooperative of “patients”, often scared or indifferent and stubborn, or whatever else their posture of woundedness, unable to give voice or words to their state of despair or hopelessness. Burdened with the weight of guilt and shame, and self-contempt, they might pull away from people, not wanting to let others see our wounds believing them to be too ugly.

They have a sense of being lost, believing themselves without family or friends or anyone to understand or relate to their plight. As they bottom out, not knowing whether they want to live or die, unable to give any direction (or even perspective) to their story, they become prisoners of their own existence. People feel alone when no one seems to be around to walk through your pain with you, to simply be there to pray with, talk to, comfort. That’s part of the healing power of being present.

A desperate cry demands a response from their brother. Not indifference or isolation, not intellectual platitudes of a well-intentioned seminarian. These are easy emotionally, safe responses, sometimes betraying a hubris and insensitivity, an aloofness to the pain and suffering of others. As Larry Crabb said, “the solution to the problem of disconnection is connection.” To become present to one another means that we have to encounter each other in a very real and very human way. The comfort of presence allows us to smell, feel, hear, and see another. It’s a connection through each other’s story that puts a lie to no one being there, the lie that no one cares. It lets the wounded know that there are people waiting on the other side of the dark time.

We are human and we will fail one another. We can’t and won’t be there perfectly for one another, despite the well-meaning promises between parent and child, spouses, boy/girlfriends, friends. It’s all a part of the mystery of people. They’re so individually … peoplely. It’s easy to point out the failures to draw near to others. We forget, they’re people too, wounded in their own ways, and like the rest of us, have to work through their own fears, hesitations, self-preoccupation, and self-protections in order to reach out to others. It’s why the idea of dealing with people who are deeply wounded and hurting leaves them befuddled, not knowing what to do.

We’re all called to be wounded healers, but it’s hard to lead another out of pain if you’ve never allowed yourself to deal with your own pain. Sometimes you have to head straight into the pain to come out of the other side

Our own emotions—anger, fear, disappointment, resentments, distrust—may keep us from drawing near to our “neighbor” when they are wounded (by themselves or by life). Healing can begin with a simple forgiving embrace, a confession of failure, not justifications and rationalizations. Few people want to keep screaming in the face of their pain. They want someone to listen, to truly listen. Few people don’t hope for recovery, don’t want to be restored or find wholeness, who’d rather find temporary shelter in the attention of their stories. We’re not called to camp out in our woundedness or brokenness, but it is the hope of that promised wholeness keeps us pursuing the way of Jesus.

The gospel story isn’t that we sin and God forgives, or that we’re just sinners. We’re children, heirs, called to a life of joy. We are to make his life our own and be transformed. He is the source of healing, the Balm in Gilead. We are to grow to look like him, not just as the suffering servant, but becoming fully human. And making the journey to become fully human and return home.


Wounded Stories I: Wounded Story Tellers
Wounded Stories II: Suffering Servant
Wounded Stories III: Wounds As a Source of Healing

The Blind Side – A Review

The key phrase to keep in mind while watching The Blind Side is “based on a true story”. Directed, written by John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), the movie sprang from the book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis. In this true story, Michael Oher was adopted by the Tuohy family, thrived in his new environment and currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens. As such, I won’t get to give my near obligatory commentary of this being like Diff’rent Strokes or Webster brought to the big screen. Truth be told, it’s a much better movie than that.

As a teenager, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) survives on his own, virtually homeless, when a feisty Memphis belle, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock, executive producer of Crash thus no stranger to movies with racial themes as a backdrop), spots him on the street. On what seems like a whim, she invites him to stay at the Tuohy home for the night. Which becomes another night. Then another. Then they bring him into their family. The family helps him fulfill his potential even as he helps them discover things about themselves. The fact that this was based on a true story ameliorates the stretches of credulity.

“You have to ask yourself ‘Is this me?’” –Leigh

Michael Oher is an outsized, introverted teen from the poverty-stricken projects of Memphis with no academic record and a crack addict for a mother. Outcast, too big, too stupid, too poor, too black, he feels shame due to the system’s failure. Barely educated after years of neglect, Michael can scarcely speak, much less read. The school system had given up on him as he was passed along as someone else’s problem. Not a magical Negro by any stretch, he is, however, “the chosen one”, the lucky one, the one that makes it.

There’s a perception that the poor want to live as they do, where they are because they are lazy or as the result of their choices. The reality is that most want to transition out of the streets, but they were let down, if not abandoned, by the system. These are the forgotten, the invisible, “the least of these” that Christ often spoke about.

Often people will do something for the poor they encounter and are shocked that they didn’t get a drop to their knees cry of gratitude (the unspoken sentiment being “they should be grateful to get anything”). Forgetting that the poor are human beings, with pride and inherent worth. They don’t want to be anyone’s feel good project. They want what everyone wants: to be treated with respect and dignity; valued because they too were created in God’s image. So asking for a simple thing as having their name respected isn’t too much to ask. In the final analysis, all Michael needed was for people to believe and invest in him.

“Look at the wall. ‘Christian”. We either take that seriously or we paint over it.” –Coach Cotton (Ray McKinnon)

The question is “why do the Tuohys do it? What would make them take in this penniless stranger and make him a part of their lives? A desperate coach finagles a way for him to attend their private Christian school, but we know his motives. The Tuohys have a strong allegiance to Ole Miss, so they could just be boosters with a long term plan. Yes, there is a case that could be made that this movie is guilty of being a white liberal fantasy implying that poor, black folks need only have a hand up (or could only get by) with the help of some rich, well-intentioned white folks. But there’s not that “Oh, Lawdy, thank you” type undercurrent to this (and this not-so-veiled racism is addressed when Leigh confronts some of her well-to-do-friends). The central theme is about the need to invest in people and create family; about how to open up your home and lives to take in “the least of these.”

There’s a cost to discipling or mentoring others. You pour in your time, energy, emotional resources, often at the sacrifice of time and energy from your family or friends or other responsibilities. Partly because at the end of the day you want to know that you’ve made a difference and that people are better off from having encountered and shared life with you.

Jesus set the example, having led by serving. He saw needs–physical, emotional, or spiritual–met them, and THEN spoke. It was more important for him to walk alongside his disciples and pour himself into their lives—getting a towel and washing the feet of those who walked beside him—rather than isolate himself. Even knowing that some would deny or betray him later.

“This team is your family.” –Leigh

Hollywood knows what stories to base their movies on as it seems content to tell the same type of story over and over again. Despite sticking to the expected inspirational sports-movie/fish-out-of-water conventions, The Blind Side nevertheless proves to be an affecting movie. It’s more a heartwarming movie about what it means to build, become, and protect family than a football movie.

Aaron portrays Michael Oher as emotionally vulnerable, not an idiot savant with an eyes downcast performance which is all the script asks him to do. Only near the end do we get a sense of Oher the man and what goes on inside his head. It’s almost as if the film, as well as many of the characters in the movie, never get around to asking “what do you think?”

Bullock gives Leigh sass, iron-will and unabashed sentiment* while Tim McGraw is marvelous as her supportive, somewhat long suffering husband. S.J. Tuohy (Jae Head) nearly steals the movie with his humor and mugging-for-dollars cuteness. Involving, affecting and, for the most part, emotionally honest, The Blind Side is a touching depiction of what can happen when some reach out to “the least of these.” And the movie made my wife tear up on at least three occasions, which she thought I didn’t notice. Also a true story.

*The record should also reflect that at no point in this review was Bullock’s performance described as a “hoot.”

Ally McBeal – A Review

“I’ve been down this road / Walking the line, displaying my pride / And I have made mistakes in my life / That I just can’t hide…I believe I am ready for what love has to bring…I’ve been searching my soul tonight / I know there’s so much more to life / Now I know I can shine the light / To find my way back home” –Vonda Shephard “Searching My Soul”

From the first time you hear the familiar piano strains and Vonda Sherhard’s vocals, you immediately recall Ally McBeal like an old friend remembered fondly. It was one of those water cooler shows, or in my case, one of those shows I dissected either later that night or the next day with my female friends. After all, it was about the trials and tribulations of a modern single person trying to find happiness and contentment in her professional and personal life, sort of a Mary Tyler Moore Show for the nineties.

What made the show unique wasn’t only its lead being a single girl in her late 20s trying to find empowerment wherever she can, but how her inner thought life helped her muddle through her day and various life situations. Her secret life of Walter Mitty-esque escapades were filled with dancing babies, swelling heads, tongues sailing across the room to lick the face of a man she finds attractive.

David E. Kelly had a formula he’d been perfecting over the course of his long, often critically acclaimed career. From L.A. Law, Chicago Hope, Picket Fences, The Practice, Boston Public,to Boston Legal, he created sympathetic (if often … eccentric) characters and plopped them into either questionable/hot button issue moral dilemmas or ludicrous plot twists.

“Here I am, the victim of my own choices.” –Ally

Obviously, there are various issues surrounding the reality of singleness, from loneliness to unrequited love, and Ally McBeal wrestled with all of them. The main thrust of the show was about finding contentedness in her situation. It is about discovering herself, finding her own independence and self-reliance rather than (continuing to) make life choices based on a boy or defining herself through the ideas of what men want. It’s important to be content in your circumstances (Philippians 4:11), but some people define content—in terms of singleness—as relinquishing their desire to marry (read: given up). It’s not an either/or: you can both be content with your singleness and desire marriage. The danger of being discontent is that frustration and impatience can lead to forcing things and settling.

The thing about Ally McBeal is that there’s a reason we remember it fondly. The first season was great, after that, the series suffered from a roller coaster of quality. When it was good, it was very good; but when it was bad, it careened completely off the tracks. The second season was hit and miss at the best of times, with the show often becoming a caricature of itself. This is the danger of shows built on such well defined eccentric characters. If they stick around too long, they become one note jokes. Which only led to more ridiculous situations from Ally falling into a toilet and having to have firemen come to rescue her; or propelling herself down a bowling alley after throwing a ball that was stuck to her fingers. [Though the second best season of the show came in season four as the show found its center again with the casting of Robert Downey Jr as her love interest].

Ally McBeal redefined a lot of things (besides fashion, as short skirts were described as being “Ally McBeal short”). It fit neither the mold of the hour-long drama nor of the half-hour sitcom, thus paving the way for shows like Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty. And it never hurts to visit with old friends.

Nip/Tuck (Season 5.2) – A Review

“Deeply Superficial”

Nip/Tuck is what it is. It’s an over-the-top look at our culture’s fascination with physical beauty, how it defines (and traps) us, and how no pretty the outside it, there is no covering the deep scars of untreated wounds. The season 5.2 DVD set picks up right after the events of the (mid-)season finale, picking up right after Sean McNamara’s (Dylan Walsh) attack from his former agent. The season continues to mine the lives and characters of this broken collection of folks. Not ready to face his life, Sean decides to fake his recovery, pretending to be paralyzed below the waist. All too ready to face his death, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) seeks to find his replacement to help Sean and pursue a marriage with their lesbian-except-to-marry-Christian anesthesiologist, Liz Cruz (Roma Maffia). In the mean time, would be true love to Christian, former drug addict and porn star Kimber (Kelly Carlson) returns with Christian’s grand-daughter in order to have plastic surgery done on the toddler (injections of botox to correct her “thin, villainous lips” so she can pursue a modeling career).

“Now you are perfect.” –Kimber

We live in an image based culture. From the moment we turn on the television, pick up a magazine, turn on the computer, or step out the door, we’re told what is pretty, what is the sexual ideal, what is stylish, what is beautiful. We forget that there is truth and goodness in beauty, one that we recognize without having to be told (much less needing it plastered all over magazine covers). Beauty should touch a primal chord within us, captivate us, and spur us to adoration, even worship.

“If I could just find joy in my life. Or maybe one day feel human again.” –Budi Sabri (Chi Muoi Lo)

A lot of people live their lives never fully convinced they are loved as they are. Never be able to love or unable to receive love, or allow ourselves to feel and accept love without strings attached or pre-requisites. They are so starved to be loved, they go to desperate lengths to fill that hole. Time and time again, the characters try to stave off the travails of the human soul, the loneliness and sorrow; and fill a hole, desire, and thirst only God could satisfy. They looking for affirmation, validation, appreciation, affection from friends, family, or fans; not realizing that they can’t look for their true self there.

“Even I, in this body, am a true expression of God.” –Budi Sabri

One particularly interesting case the doctors are presented with is that of Budi Sabri, a man with a virus that causes warts to break out all over his body. “All he’s known is pain and isolation” and his condition (and his hope) touches a chord in all of them. He is a reflection of what they all feel (and perhaps what they look like) inside. So the doctors take it upon themselves to try to get him to look and feel human again.

It is critical to not be defined by the past, but to always be working toward who we were meant to be. And live in the hope of becoming whole. We’re all wounded healers, broken or rather, incomplete. In the midst of pain, agony, and infection, we are to encourage one another as a fellow patient and in so doing become part of the healing. When our spirits are wounded, we speak words of resurrection. We offer new hope and new life. We invite one another to live a new kind of life, one where we are continually surrounded by Jesus’ transforming love.
As Nip/Tuck prepares to enter its final season (again, another show guilty of sticking around at least one season too long … Smallville says what?), the storylines and surguries only continue to get stranger as the characters have all but been exhausted. In what episode, the writers all but concede that they didn’t know what else to do with Christian besides kill him off. Despite its multitude of flaws, it has just enough left in its tank to limp to its finish line.

Zombieland – A Review

“Time to nut up or shut up”

Zombies continue to be hot. The current boom in zombiephilia may have some of its roots in the literary realm, from the horror of Brian Keene’s The Rising to the comic ridiculousness of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. They have had a parallel surge in film, from the “fast zombies” of 28 Days Later again to the comedy of Shaun of the Dead. Zombieland is very much in the comedic tradition.

The movie review in a sentence: Zombieland delivers on what the trailer promises. Opening with the image of Earth turned into a vision of Apokalips (a present to us comic book geeks) due to a virus, we are introduced to our hero, Columbus. He’s a neurotic, over-cautious, nerd (Jesse Eisenberg, Adventureland, The Squid and the Whale) who has managed to survive due to being a loner as well as by the system of rules he created.

“I’ve always been a bit of a loner.” –Columbus

As he longs to return to Columbus, Ohio to find his family, he comes across Tallahassee (an exuberant Woody Harrelson) who prefers to go by place names, because real ones get you too emotionally attached. The loss he suffered in the post-human reality has transformed Tallahassee into a road warrior who revels in taking out zombies in the most brutal and creative ways possible.

The pair, who gradually come to, at least not annoy each other completely, are completely flummoxed and bamboozled by two young sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone, Superbad) and 12 year old Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, My Sister’s Keeper), in apparent distress.

“When you’re afraid of everything out there, you quit going out there.” –Columbus

Columbus found a lot of things disturbing, from people to clowns, becoming a paranoid shut in. Except part of him still longed to be a part of a family. Columbus treated people like zombies to be avoided even before they were flesh eating monsters. The plague of the 21st century has reduced people to a hateful, violent case of the munchies.

“Without other people you might as well be a zombie.” –Columbus

Zombies are the ideal monsters, perfect to illustrate our dehumanization. These creatures portray a resurrection to walking death. A similar metaphor is found in the case of Frankenstein and the curse of the Mummy. They are the living dead, with no hope, only the eternal existence in a “body of death” (Romans 7:24). They are particular reminders that there are worse things than death.

Storytelling wise, there is nothing present in these monsters to imprint a character on. They are relentless aggression, hunger, and need. So the story has to be about the “humans” surviving. On the flip side, you can do anything you want to them, revel in the brutality of the kills without guilt, because they aren’t human only animated desire. They aren’t even alive.

Like in the movie Slither, this virus like the nature of sin, is an infection that spreads and grows almost like a conscious disease. Because of the introduction of sin, the created order is disrupted, neither humanity (once infected with sin) nor creation are as they are meant to be. This virus transforms us, our way of life, our way of prioritizing what is important, our ways of thinking and going about life. Rage, fear, and insatiable desire seeking to be quenched only leads to a spiral of death.

“I don’t know what’s more tragic: that I have no family or that I didn’t have much of a family to begin with.” –Columbus

Columbus, even Witchita and Little Rock, all want to head home, be it Columbus or Pacific Playland (an amusement park they believe is zombie free). They want a sense of family and their hope is to find their way home. And while they do whatever it takes to survive, life can’t just be about survival. It has to be about living. The solution is relational, as they try to be with whatever family they can carve out.

“I hope you find whoever it is you’re looking for.” –Wichita

Despite having nowhere else to go, they can’t find what they want, not knowing their way home. They are surrounded by the really sick, with the dehumanizing spiral reducing people to relentless aggression and hunger and insatiable need. We’re defined by the world and the loud voices who want us to buy into lies about ourselves. If we’re hurting and chase a high to numb ourselves from the pain or feel a sense of peace, we’re unable to full experience life. And these have inner consequences as we end up running further and further away from home and the less we’re able to hear the voice of the one who loves and speaks love to us.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all looking for a home where we could feel safe. A place of belonging and rest. Home. In God we have an invitation to intimacy, to a safe place to call home. God has made His home, a place for us to return to, a place He calls us to.

“I wasn’t the only one running from something.” –Columbus

Horror and humor are a delicate balance, with one of the best examples being the Evil Dead movies. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have written for Spike and MTV and get by on the kind of snarky banter and self-referential pop cultural allusions seen on Gilmore Girls. This was the debut feature for director Ruben Fleischer and the movie gets style points for its wonderful videogame-esque violence. I loved Zombieland, though now it has me worried that H1N1 may turn my kids into intestine munching fiends … though that would explain a lot.

Spirit & Place Commercial (Shoot)

The Spirit & Place Festival is now in full swing. I was asked to write an essay for them (and recorded it for our local NPR affiliate). This Friday I will be joining my fellow essayists for a live reading and Q & A:

As part of Big Car’s event at the Wheeler Arts Community and in partnership with Second Story, a reading will be featured from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. during Friday’s event only. This will feature eight of this year’s Spirit & Place essayists, each reading the essay they contributed for the magazine. After the reading, essayists will answer questions from the audience and from moderator Jim Walker. (Go here for more information about the event)

I also had the opportunity to be a part of the commercial for Spirit & Place. As this was a new experience, it was documented ad nauseum. Here’s the commercial script:

PAM: The one-of-a-kind Spirit & Place Festival is…

MAURICE: … a marketplace to test my ideas,

GANESH: … an explosion of creativity and imagination,

MICHAEL: … unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, where my curiosity leads the way

BETTY: … an opportunity to engage, explore and converse with my community

DENNIS: … a time when art, music and culture all merge together

REBEKAH: …a place for spontaneous fun — a killer good time!

PAM: How will YOU describe Spirit & Place?

Okay, no one will be calling me “One Take Broaddus”. Any time a director says “You know we’ll never use that take, I just wanted to see if you’d do it,” I worry about what will end up on youtube.

Finding Our Way Home

Thinking about my relationship with my wife has—running it through the filter of Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son—has made me realize a lot about my relationship with God. And vice versa. When you wander down a dark tunnel, the longer you walk in that darkness, the longer it will take you to find your way out/back again, pure and simple. It’s a long, self-exposing journey.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all looking for a home where we could feel safe. A place of belonging and rest. Home. God has made His home, a place for us to return to, a place He calls us to. But God is also a jealous love, wanting every part of us all the time.

I know that I struggle with the idea that someone wants to know me, sees me, and still accepts, loves, and pursues me. So the words to that familiar hymn, “prone to wander”, ring true as over and over I have left home. Thoughts, feelings, passions, busyness all take me away from home, from God. Trying to stave off the travails of the human soul, the loneliness and sorrow; fill a hole, desire, and thirst only God could satisfy. Looking for affirmation, validation, appreciation, affection from friends, family, or fans. Not realizing that I can’t look for my true self, my true home, there, I have gone off to find somewhere else what I believed what I couldn’t find at home.

It boils down to we don’t trust in love. It’s hard to. It’s difficult to believe in a love that doesn’t compare, that doesn’t reward, that meets you where you are, as you as, because that’s not what we do and isn’t how our world operates. The world teaches us that love is conditional. That striving for success, popularity, power, denying that love is free, is all part of buying into the belief that you have to earn it. It feeds our doubts about our self-worth.

A lot of people live their lives never fully convinced they are loved as they are. Never be able to love or unable to receive love, or allow ourselves to feel and accept love without strings attached or pre-requisites. Their stories have an eerie similarity to them: their parents may not have given them what they needed, their teachers may not have believed in them or otherwise tore them down, they were abandoned at a critical moment (by parents, peers, or even a church). Whatever was their bedrock for stability was shaken or removed and they learned not to trust.

In God we have an invitation to intimacy, to a safe place to call home. We have a nearly instinctual resistance to him. Our independence, our need to control, prevents us from coming to our senses and falling to our knees. Unwilling to dare to let myself kneel down and be held by a loving God. To believe in the promise of forgiveness. Healing. Wholeness. As the Good Shepherd, God goes out and looks for His lost sheep. With God not content to let us stew in our sin and brokenness, we have to confront the question: if God is trying to find, know, and love me, how am I to let myself be found, be known, and be loved?

Ignoring the place of true love, combined with our need to fill our inner hole, causes us to look elsewhere. The deepest cravings of our hearts demands to be filled, enabling addictions. Our lostness makes us cling to different things to find (self) fulfillment. Chasing after lust confused with love, admiration, food, drugs, sometimes even a friendship can call you away from home, all are deceptive ways of finding self-worth. If we’re running around asking “do you love me? Do you really love me?” of those around us, we’re defined by the world and the loud voices who want us to buy into the lie about ourselves. If we’re hurting and chase a high to numb ourselves from the pain or feel a sense of peace, we’re unable to full experience life. And these have inner consequences as we end up running further and further away from home and the less we’re able to hear the voice of the one who loves and speaks love to us.

Stepping into the kingdom of God means giving up a sense of control. As our lives spiral out of control, as we come to, but haven’t quite arrived at, our end of self moment, we want a sense of control over the burgeoning mess of our lives. The difficult path begins when we let the situation inform and teach us, a process of letting go, dying to fear of not knowing where things will all lead. When we begin to hear a voice that could only be heard when you are willing to feel. When we’re willing to do the hard work of staying in the pain of this world, while in pain, and dealing with the pain.

Accepting love, forgiveness, and healing is often harder than giving it because giving it means we’re in control. Anything else means that we are entering into a scary place, like much of faith, and becomes about surrender and trust. We enter into a place beyond earning and deserving. A place of grace. Home.

Coming home is a long, self-exposing journey, part of the spiritual adventure.

And I’m praying for the strength to live out that journey.