Archive for June, 2010

Despicable Me – A Review

There are no villains; we’re all heroes in our own story.  It’s not like people wake up, roll out of bed and think to themselves “what kind of villainy can I get into?”  Well, except for the star of Despicable Me.  Its hero, anti-hero, protagonist Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) has an accent somewhere this side of Russia.  Not unlike anyone with a job, he wants to be the best at what he does:  rise through the ranks, climb the corporate ladder, excel above his peers.  So when new villain on the block, Vector (Jason Segel), comes along having stolen the Pyramid at Giza, Gru has to up the ante.  He opts to steal the moon.  But first he has to steal a shrink ray and his “lightbulb” of a plan involves adopting three little girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher),

“In my eyes, you will always be one of the greats.” –Dr. Nefario

Told in flashbacks, we see the old wounds, lies and disapprovals that shape Gru into the villain he grew up to be.  Beauty—in this case, an inner hero—sometimes has believed lies about itself, be it from a parent or a friend or a social group, to the point where it can’t recognize itself. The tragedy is that beauty is so often determined from the outside that we’re left in need of validation. We find ourselves consciously or unconsciously asking “Do you see beauty in me? Am I worth another glance?” We can become trapped in negative stories we’ve come to believe about ourselves and cling to a fundamental insecurity about ourselves to the point where we can recognize beauty in the mirror.

Still the son of a disapproving mom, still possessing desires and ambitions, and still human, Gru is not so far gone that he can’t be loved back to life by the presence of the three orphan girls and the relationship—the connection to his humanity—they represent.  Love and acceptance frees him from his “Box of Shame”.  We so often hear about God’s divine love and acceptance, how nothing can separate us from His love, but do we believe that?  To think that God knows us in the deepest possible way, loves us unconditionally, celebrates who we are, and wants me to grow into who we are, that’s the kind of love we can hardly fathom.  And He identifies with our humanity.  Christ’s example on the cross left him exposed for everyone to see.  Naked for people to mock, spit upon, and pour their own self-contempt on Him.  Yet Jesus willingly embraced it and came through the other side.  His wounded place exposes shame for what it is.  Exposed, trusting and with boldness, we’re free and ready to love others in our weakness.  To live out of that reality of His example.

“Tonight we’re going to read a new book.” –Gru

Finding and accepting this love, Gru begins to (literally) write a new story.  One where the “big unicorn” realizes that he isn’t built to buy into the myth of the rugged individual, but rather was  created for community and relationship.  A story where he opts to create family adopting into his life the girls, his minions, his assistant Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and even his mom (a shrewdly cast Julie Andrews).  And he lives the life of a changed and redeemed heart full of love.

Screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (working from an original idea by Sergio Pablos) use our familiarity with a number of animated features (from Shrek to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to Monster’s Inc to Ratatouille) as capstones to build a new story. Despicable Me has some clever moments, in which the sheer amount of jokes thrown at the audience (with the subtlety of the 3D animation it employs) teetered on trumping the narrative for a while but eventually came together as a cohesive whole.

Knight and Day – A Review

Wasted Days and Wasted Knights

Knight and Day tries hard.  In a lot of ways, it’s a chick flick masquerading as an action movie.  The kind of movie a guy could take his date to and not feel completely duped into a romance.  But that’s all there is to this movie.  It’s as breezy and forgettable as a tepid popcorn movie, you enjoy for the briefest diversion that it is then *poof* all is a quickly faded memory.  To use the word effervescent would ascribe to it a sophistication it wants but doesn’t quite attain.

Director James Mangold (Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma) and scribe Patrick O’Neill go for snappy banter and when their efforts can’t quite pull it off, they throw in a few hundred bullets and an explosion or two to distract the audience.  This only adds to the schizophrenic feel of the movie:  one moment it attempts to be a screwball, the next it has the kind of graphic action of a Bond or Bourne movie.

Obviously this movies was sold on the star power of Tom Cruise (in a nod to his Mission Impossible turns) in full boyish charm mode and Cameron Diaz (last paired with Cruise in Vanilla Sky) in full ditzy blond mode.  And the movie dotes on them despite there being next to no chemistry between them.  They play essentially card board cut outs; we’re never not aware that it’s Cruise and Diaz on screen.  Cruise’s character is a boy scout (technically, he was an Eagle Scout) who takes care of everyone who has a bit of a psychotic charmer edge to him (and, frankly, manic-styled crazy seems to suit him).  His character is every bit the super hero action star reminiscent of 80s/90s action films from Speed to True Lies.  You know the kind:  thousands of bullets flying, the good guys are never hit and never miss.

There’s a “classic” spy movie set up involving a perpetual energy source macguffin, betrayals, frame up job, need to clear name and restore honor.  Also, Cameron Diaz really wants a man.  Her role for the first half of the movie is to over-the-top react to everything going on around her, though she does seem to have her own super power of being able to dodge bullets without any sort of Matrix-style effort.

“Who are you?  Really?” –Diaz

The life of a double agents is a mercurial one. By necessity they have to lead secret lives and while at first or on the surface it may seem exciting, it takes its toll. Living with the desire to tell their friends and family, be honest and real with them, about who they are.  Spies lie for a living, getting the empathy and compassion trained out of them.  They live in a world of shadows, lies, and misinformation, having to let go of who they were, and give up the happily ever afters for the sake of the mission.  In the same way we can compartmentalize our spirituality as well as our lives. Our duplicitous lives lead to a sort of spiritual dissociation. This is the way of how (secret) sins work, how they infiltrate our lives and we manage to continue to function.  But again, to explore that theme with any depth wasn’t a function of the movie.

“I don’t know exactly what to believe.” –Diaz

Ironically, this movie sends out an oddly paternalistic and chauvinistic message.  This is a fairy tale dressed up with espionage and intrigue that boils down to a princess who constantly needs saving.  The knight protects and empowers her and she feels strong only when he’s around.  Coincidentally, she only seems to be able to handle her business to get her man.  Literally.

Knight and Day is predictable but not without its charms, but ultimately there is nothing to the movie.  It is a thrill ride to be enjoyed in the moment.

No Room for Me in Heaven

So awhile back I posted a conversation between me and an atheist acquaintance. In the turnabout is fair play department, I’m posting a recent gchat exchange I had with one of my Christian brethren . To be fair, I find conversations with fundamentalists of any stripe particularly taxing, because I don’t think there’s much traction for conversation to start with. There’s just their side of view and you being wrong until you agree with them. That said, we should be able to talk to one another even when we disagree theologically. As I see it, the formula’s pretty simple:

-listen to each other’s opinions
-ask questions for clarification when we don’t understand (rather than assume)
-respect one another
-realize that you might actually not be right
-value the relationship over your certainty

(Check out this Jay Lake post for further clarity)

Anyway, the discussion began over this tweet (and we’ll see if I ever re-tweet alanfadling ever again!) The stuff in italics is the side conversation I was having with my youngest as he was reading over my shoulder.

MauriceBroaddus: RT @alanfadling: “We have a finite number of ways to sin; God has an infinite number of ways to forgive” (Peterson) http://bit.ly/8s21zf

MP – Jesus said : I am the Way, The Truth, and The Life, No one comes to the father but by me. Sounds like God only has ONE way to forgive via repentance and trust in Christ, Not infinite ways…that’s universalism.

#2Son: Daddy, do you know him?
Me: Not really. We know who each other are, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation before. I think this is his way of introducing himself.

Maurice Broaddus – yeah … i’m probably not in your heaven.

#2Son: Daddy, why aren’t you going to heaven.
Me: Daddy’s just joking. I’m probably too quick to make a joke out of something.

MP – Sounds like you’re not going to be in Heaven. Do you really believe everyone goes to Heaven? Even Hitler?

#2Son: Daddy, are you sure you’re going to be in heaven? He doesn’t seem to think so.
Me: I swear, I don’t think he’s in charge of the list.

Maurice Broaddus – actually, i have no idea who is going to be in heaven.

MP – So by that last statement, can I imply that not everyone goes to Heaven?

#2Son: You’re sighing again.
Me: I know. I’ve had this conversation before.
#2Son: I thought you said you’d never talked to him before?
Me: I haven’t. But I know when someone’s building a head of steam spoiling for an argument. He’s building up to his “gotcha” moment. I used to be like that.
#2Son: What happened?
Me: I realized that people quit listening to me. And that I didn’t really care about them, but the IDEA of them.
#2Son: I don’t get it.
Me: I was more concerned with getting “notches in my belt”. I mean, I was more concerned with my number of wins rather than getting to know the person themselves. He actually means well. He sees himself as saving me from myself and my “bad theology” because he doesn’t want to see me go to hell. Kind of like how you might run into a burning building to save a stranger.

Maurice Broaddus – you could imply that. you could also imply that heaven and hell might be the same place experienced differently by different people. you could also imply that i, given my finite knowledge and perceptions, can’t presume to speak of the love of God and who does or does not get in. you could even imply that i have no idea what heaven is. and you could even imply that i don’t think the point of our lives is to just “get into heaven”. actually, you might be able to imply that i’m not a Christian. probably the only thing you could definitely conclude is that i’m probably not the Christian you are looking for.

#2Son: I like that.
Me: What?
#2Son: “I’m probably not the Christian you are looking for.” It sounds like something from Star Wars.
Me: I’ve never been more proud of you than I am right now.

MP – I think the Bible gave us more than enough information to understand the things that God desires us to understand. You can’t make your own form of Christianity. It has to line up with Scripture which is authoritative and absolute apart from the imaginations of men. Hate to break this to you. But the Emergent Church is dead. You and Doug Pagitt need to come back to orthodox Christianity…it never left and it still prevails against all false ideas that die away.

Maurice Broaddus – i’m afraid it’s not orthodox christianity that i turned my back on. what i did turn my back on what the brand of christianity more concerned with being “right” than being loving. that reduces the gospel to some individualistic pact between a person and God (which actually DOES lead to people forming their own “christianity”). and people more concerned with arguing than getting to know people.

EH – I hate to break it to Marcus, but Superman is dead. There is no “movement” that God endorses. He had one group singled out for only a sliver of history. Being rejected by that group, He opened it up for all. Whether we love or accept Him on His terms is for Him to decide. He chose us, and at that point a large amount of uncertainty begins. It should not be a goal for a Christian to get to heaven, but to strive for an eternal loving relationship with Him. It does no good to say this movement or this philosophy is better. If you don’t have love you are dead in your sins. God resists the proud. The best we can do as Christians is immerse ourselves in the word and seek His truth and don’t get into the scriptural Bloods and Crips. Orthodoxy? I am interested in a road with no turns or bumps…

#2Son: Don’t we know EH?
Me: Yeah, teh interwebz are a big place and a lot of people can see this stuff.
#2Son: Is Superman dead?
Me: Not anymore. He was in an overdrawn storyline in the comics a few years ago. I think I have the animated version of it. Want to go watch it?
#2Son: Yeah. Are you done arguing?
Me: Sometimes you just have to back away from your keyboard.

Where You Can Find Me

I’m so connected and reachable online, you might as well have my phone number.  Here’s a list of my online presence:

My website – which is where my blog has its home and I touch on a lot of my favorite themes: race, spirituality, pop culture, and writing.  And it has a contact sheet to drop me e-mails.

FaceBook – this can be a sink hole of time, but other than my message board, I hang out here the most

Twitter – for the record, a lot of gibberish runs through my mind

My Message Board – I have a space carved out as a part of Brian Keene’s Keenedom.  For a limited time only I’m doing an open Q & A thread, fielding any question you all feel like asking me.  I know I run the risk of ruining the writer’s mystique, but I’m willing to take the chance.

The remainder of my billboards I need to do more with:

MySpace – I’m not nearly as active over there as I used to be.

Goodreads

LinkedIN

SmallerIndiana

RedRoom

Drop by anytime.

Weekly Round Up – 06/26/10

First, I’ll begin with a round of shameless self-promotion:

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light [Kindle Edition] – A book of interviews with some of the masters of Christian horror, scifi, fantasy, and thriller fiction, including invaluable insights into the art of writing Christian fiction for a wide audience. Included among the honored guests are … me and Anne Rice.

Publishing Dark Faith: An Interview With Jason Sizemore – Fantasy Magazine goes and interviews Mr. Sizemore about what the hell he was thinking letting me get away with an anthology.

General:

The Self-Awareness of Incompetence (or Lack Thereof) – Thoughts on the notion of the “Dunning-Kruger Syndrome,” in which an incompetent person is not aware of his or her own incompetence.

Idiots and a$$holes – I love this thought: “And that’s one of the risks of being a writer, of being a public person. You do have a brand. Your words speak for you. People will interpret those words how they will, with whatever needs they bring to the text in the moment. As I’ve often said, “the story belongs to the reader.” Maybe a more accurate statement is “the words belong to the reader.””

Racialicious:

This is a blast from the past.  Lois Lane gets curious in issue #106.  Click here for this Very Special Issue.  I do love that Lois turning black gives her some thighs …

Speaking of comics, here’s a Black Panther & DC Comics Update.

And because sometimes you have to get your black nerd on, Racialicious Presents…The True Blood Roundtable

Homophobic? Anti-Christian?–“Pause,” Boondocks Season 3 Episode Reviewed – I haven’t had a chance to see this episode (because i buy Boondocks by the season).  But folks have already been talking about this one in particular.

Spiritual:

I Am a Pastor – I love this definition of what it means to be a pastor.  It reminds me of this RT @RickWarren: Don’t call yourself a “pastor” if all you do is study & speak. Pastoring is caring for & shepherding people one-on-one

Christ and the Dragons 2 – I’m still mulling over this thought:  “White thinks intellectual tolerance has too much influence among too many evangelicals and it is cutting into the fabric of its integrity, and in particular into its orthodoxy. But what about Jesus? Did Jesus believe in orthodoxy as a test case to be his follower?  “The idea [for many today] is that Jesus did not have a statement of faith — he was about calling people into trustworthy community as opposed to cognitive assent to abstract propositions””

Evolution in the Key of D – Continuing the discussion that science and religion doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.

Emerging Church Retreat? – for those still involved in that conversation, I agree with teh Kiwi’s conclusion “that the emerging church movement grew up in 2009 and is no longer a radical and controversial movement, something that I fleshed out a little with 10 Types of Emerging Churches that will no longer upset your grandfather.”

Writing:

The Big Magic Shelf – Where do you shelf some of your authors?  I know I’d want King Maker in the “African American” section, the fantasy section, the mainstream section, the crime section, and any other section you can think of.

Anthologies: A Reader’s Point of View – what makes a good anthology for you?

Warren Lapine vs. the American Right – um … wow.

Local:

It’s almost time for First Friday down at the Harrison Center for the Arts.  Friday, July 2 the Harrison Center presents Old & New, featuring “old” work by artists who have shown here before and “new” artists who have never exhibited at the Harrison Center.  Also that night:  The Viewfinder Project presents student photography from The Oaks Academy and LifeBridge Community.

Btw, GenCon is quickly approaching.  There is a writer’s symposium for those who think it’s just nerds getting together to play Magic: the Gathering and dressing up as Star Wars characters.  Granted, that’s still 90% of my plans …

This is Not a Soup Kitchen

So we’ve been attending The Crossing for nearly half a year now.  I’m a people watcher by nature, so it’s always fascinating watching the dance of getting to know one another.   As church should be, there’s an interesting confluence of race and class each week.  Each Sunday night gather ends with Communion and then sharing a meal together.  And each week there are lessons learned in the partaking of Communion and the community meals together.

If the sacrament of Baptism is like entering  into family—entering into community and pledging to be a part of it—the Communion meal is part act of living up to the pledge.  Reflecting on what it means to be a part of that community, how easy it is to damage that community, what it means to reconcile with one another and with God.  I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in I Corinthians 11:20-26:

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Again, it’s funny how you can read something and yet see it in an entirely new light when you see it play out in front of you.   In Paul’s day, too many people saw the ritual of the Lord’s Supper strictly as dinner time.  For a few weeks in a row, we had a number of attendants see our community meal that way.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re perfectly cognizant that some of the homeless in our congregation are there just for the free meal, and for many, it might be the only good meal they get that week.  So nothing is begrudged there.  The problem was in the selfishness of piling up one’s plate with no regard to other’s who hadn’t eaten yet.  Which caused our pastor to exclaim that “This is not a soup kitchen”  and we were reminded that this meal is no different than a family dinner.  And while everyone is welcome, each person should be aware that they aren’t the only person in the family or in need.

Now, I’ve done my time in soup kitchens.  I used to get together with friends, go down to Wheeler Missions and serve food to the homeless men there.  It was a great time of fellowship for us workers.  We’d prepare the food, serve the food, and clean up afterwards.  Now that I think back on the time, us volunteers largely spent out time in the kitchen, rarely interacting with the men, while the men waited about like patient children.  In that scenario, I think the experience was more about “us” as workers, learning to be servants, than it was about reaching out to the men and building relationships with them.

If the meals were to be more about the men, we would have had them help plan or prepare meals, asking their opinions, and working and talking alongside one another*.  It’s  the difference of having dinner with them as opposed to giving dinner to them.  It’s not until you’re around people who are real all the time that you realize our  comfort level with fakeness.  Eating alongside one another means that one has to put to death any germ-o-phobe notions:  during communion, we pull bread from a common loaf.  Anyone afraid of homeless hands obviously assumes they know where my hands have been.

I also wonder about how much we take the idea of family for granted.  I wonder what it must be like to have never been in a home with meal shared with family.  Or not having learned how to have conversations.  To have no relational connection to people, or being so focused on self and simple survival for the niceties of what we call politeness.  So without lowering the standard for what it means, I try to increase my understanding and perspective.   Just like others will have to learn to be patient with me for being … me.

People like the idea of community, but people don’t want community. People like thinking of church as a family reunion or get-together, then they remember how much their family sometimes annoys them. People like the idea of eating a meal together, but are too busy to sit down with folks. We like the idea of community, we hate the effort it takes to build and maintain it (“I want community but I don’t want to have to get out of my comfort zone”).  We just need to remember that we’re all created in God’s image, we’re all broken, and we’re all capable of experiencing Christ’s reconciliation.

*It’s funny that even while writing this blog, I defaulted to an “us” and “them” language which I had to go back and edit.

The Unleavened Bread Café: The Doctor is IN

3001 N. Central Ave Indianapolis IN 46205
Tel: (317) 920-5292

In ancient Israel, there was a concept called a city of refuge.  These were places where someone guilty of a crime, say, manslaughter, could go to and receive asylum.  There weren’t necessarily places of protection, but places where there was an opportunity for atonement.  That sort of image is what comes to mind when one visits The Unleavened Bread Café.

The matronly woman typically seated near the front of the café ready to greet everyone who comes through its doors is Elease Womack, though she goes by many names, typically Mother Womack (or Momma or Ma).  Getting Elease to talk about herself is like pulling teeth.  Mother of three, grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of two, she’s always given back to the community; first as a teacher, then as Momma Womack, mother to a community. She has a hug for everyone since hugs are “God’s arms extended”.  In short, to be in her presence is to be loved.

“”The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,”” –Luke 4:18

Now entering into its 14th year, the Unleavened Bread Café was born out of her dream to have a Christian café.  Yet, that dream was transformed and impacted as “the Lord gave me a vision about the people” in the form of that verse.   “A lot of folks can sit in pews every Sunday,” she says, “but it was time to start doing work.” After sharing her dream with a few folks, she soon she found herself in a room full of men; many of whom had Ph.Ds, M.S., or B.S. degrees.  All she had was her “B.A. (Born Again) degree”.

One of the many remarkable things about The Unleavened Bread Café is its location.  On the corner of 29th and Central, it is surrounded by empty lots and boarded up buildings, an oasis in a desert of urban decay.  The building itself was once the home of the Seven Star Baptist Church, only part of the long history to the place.

The founders “dedicated the building back to the Lord in October, 1996.”  Back then, the building was in a sorry state of affairs.  Ceiling tiles missing, wiring exposed, walls falling apart.  In fact, at one point they didn’t know there was a window on one of the walls, because it was so lost in boards nailed upon boards.  Yet that’s when the miracle of neighborhood transformation began.   The people of the community pitched in to reclaim this corner, with even the local homeless men helping out.  On February 8, 1997, The Unleavened Bread Café opened for ministry and food.

There is a missional aspect to the café, as Momma Womack has made it her personal ministry to give people hope and help.  She sees her role as reaching out to people who are in the midst of despair, directionlessness, and not knowing where to go; the spiritually downtrodden, broken, and those in need hope.  And she has a special heart of concern for women caught up in substance abuse; women in all walks of life actually.  She takes in prostitutes, drug dealers, and ex-cons and helps them get back on track.  By hiring them, she gives them an opportunity to transition into better opportunities.

“He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”” –Ezekiel 37:3

Fourteen years ago, the building was little more than a dilapidated, abandoned pile of bricks, urban bones, yet they now live.  The building serves as a community meeting place with everything from Bible studies to a living skills class to cocaine anonymous.  It has a Vacation Bible School, a Back to School Rally, and Thanksgiving giveaways.  Many groups were founded within its walls from the Community, Faith, and Labor Coalition to Women in Motion (HIV education) to a women’s Sewing Group (even the sewing group is missional, as they make blankets for women and children down at the Raphael Health Clinic).  The tendrils of the café stretch all the 
way out to Mulberry, Indiana  where they have a garden project, taking people—some of whom have never been to a farm—out to help raise food for the community.

With its mix of down home cooking (just a few examples including pancakes, hash browns, eggs any way you can imagine for breakfast; chili, chicken noodles, and gumbos for lunch) and hearty portions, no one goes away hungry from The Unleavened Bread Café.  If folks have no money, they are given jobs to work for their meal.  In turn, the community is very protective of the place.  Over the years, though it’s been broken into a couple of times, for the most part, it’s considered hallowed ground.

One may not know it to see it, but the Unleavened Bread Café is a beachhead of neighborhood reconciliation or as Momma Womack puts it “a place to come in and get well.”

Let the Right One In – A Review

“The Non-Crying Game”

Let the Right One In is the anti-Twilight.

True, it is a vampire movie.  True, it deals with themes of alienation, powerlessness, revenge, and love.  That’s pretty much where the similarities between the two movies end.  Let the Right One In takes its vampires and the emotions of (pre)pubescents seriously, soberly, and painfully.  No emo, no overwrought angst, and no surface or trite ideas about what romance/love is.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is lonely, an outcast from his own family, as his parents have separated with neither seeming to want him.  His alienation doesn’t end there, as his school life finds him the object of a bully’s attention; a bully who travels with a posse of fellow miscreants who nearly drown Oskar in the school pool.  He finds love and revenge through Eli (Lina Leandersson), a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire; who has been 12 for over 200 years.  The two being the painful adolescent dance of courtship, slowly falling in love.  From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Twilight, the aspect of the several hundred year age difference between our romantic leads is often glossed over.  Yet here, in a testament to just how good this movie was, the relationship is amazing, tender, and sensual, with the creepiness quotient amped up by never letting the audience forget that we’re dealing with twelve year olds.

The movie was largely bled of color, the Nordic visuals reduced to stark whites.  All of the characters are pale to the point of transluscence, with an eerie, ghostlike quality to them as if they aren’t fully there.  The movie’s sound is every bit as terrifying as any visual element, from the jarring rumble of car to the sound of blood dripping into a jug to even the desperately hungry sound of licking.

“May I come in?” –Eli

Different stories can enter us and become a part of us.  A lie can get in and shape us.  It’s one reason why we have to be careful about the voices we let speak into our lives.  We can run from bullies or stand up to them, but we can’t become defined by them (in terms of fear and/or hate).

“Thanks for another evening steeped in friendship and merriment.”

Watching Eli and Oskar’s first moments together, we observe outsiders trying to reach out and connect with ever-tentative, awkward steps.  This dance of connection, their escaping the pain of being alone, perfectly captures the cruelties of youth.

The vampire trope works best when it’s symbol for something else.   In the movie’s vampires, we have an encapsulated portrait of the loss of humanity.  In this case, vampirism  stands in for the  isolated, broken, those outside the mainstream; forming communities and bonds, set apart, to fight against their sense of alienation and isolation.  They have an inner emptiness, a hole of relationships, which leaves them with an ache.  A hunger.

“I must be gone and live; or stay and die.” –Eli

We’re broken and not as we should be.  We’re often reduced to vampires of relationships:  preying on community, living on its fringes, using people to fit our own needs and wants.  We’re prone to building walls, becoming things of cold beauty, not letting people in to know us.  Always running away, never settling down or developing roots.  Not realizing that our hunger stems from being caught up in the Trinitarian dance of relationship.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the heart of the life of God, and we’re created in His image.

“Be me for a little while.” –Eli

Directed by Tomas Alfredson and written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel (a Swedish film, in subtitles rumored to be on the fast track for an American remake), Let the Right One In is a perfect example of horror in the ordinary (quite reminiscent of the horror at the heart of Stephen King’s Carrie).  Chilling, devastating, and heartbreaking, it manages to encompass the terror of adolescence.  The (pre) teens are unconventionally Pretty. And Awkward. And Violent. And Uncomfortable.  And Beautiful.  And Haunting.  There is an additional element of creepiness not quite glossed over in the movie, but better appreciated if you’re familiar with the book.  Let’s just leave it at the fact that these vampires did not sparkle.

Shame on Us

I have plenty of things I am ashamed of.  I have plenty of things I regret.  They just keep stacking up in my closet of remembrances.  It seems like each year that goes by, there’s something new I can add to that stack.  You’re going to have to forgive my mental noodling which I now foist upon the internet, but I’ve been struggling with the statement my pastor made that “shame has no place in the Christian walk.”  It’s so natural to think of shame as a proper response to a situation.  When our actions lead to people hurt, trusts betrayed, the acts themselves being destructive, shame seems like the appropriate, entirely proper, human response.  Yet, it’s also a counterfeit response.

Shame is “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous.” Shame is feeling bad for who you are, and is expressed as, “I’m not what I should be… I’m bad!”  Shame is the perceived loss of place with others, a loss of being, of who we are.  Shame is the experience of being exposed and feeling somehow “ugly”, “bad”, and “deficient” what for is exposed.  Shame makes you think of yourself as uniquely damaged and so we create personas which hides our true selves.  And because we don’t share it, we think we’re the only ones

We keep how we feel about ourselves a secret.  We don’t share our deepest fears, insecurities, confusion because the world is unsafe.  We live in a fallen world full of pains and hurts.  Sometimes even your church becomes an unsafe place.  We don’t want to be seen as pathetic, weak, or vulnerable so we hide it from other people.  In not wanting to be hurt, we have no freedom to be truly ourselves.  Since the experience of shame it too toxic for us to remain in, we hide.  And all of us have favorite ways of self-protection:  performing, people pleasing, withdrawing, fighting, isolation, anger, humor, silence … whatever it takes to not be hurt.  A lot of people settle for not wanting to be known.  Our secret fear in being open with others is the reaction of “I’ve seen who you are and you are wanting”.

Sin, such as the sin of shame, is a like a disease, a communal virus we pass along to one another and leads to sudden rupture in relationships.  Even with good intentions, we love each other poorly and hurt one another, so we operate out of fear.  This sense of shame infects our spiritual lives and even how we view God.  It’s like we come to believe that we have to do something to make God love us, as if His love is conditional.  Our gospel message becomes that we don’t measure up and He had to send Christ to die for us because we’re so screwed up.  But if we behaved a certain way, He would accept us.  Or we feel like we’re not forgiven because we can’t overcome one area of struggle in our life.  We may secretly believe that God can’t accept us is we can’t overcome our addiction, as if we have to get right in order to get right with him.  We’re left feeling that while God may “love” us, He might not “like” us very much, reducing our spiritual journeys to explorations of and exercises in guilt.

Shame becomes a counterfeit to conviction of guilt.  When you instead internalize the shame, it becomes guilt.  Guilt focuses on self and never frees us.  Usually it leads to a kind of boomerang effect as we adopt a “try harder” mentality.  And it wears on us physically.  Our face and eyes turned down, slumped over under the weight of letting people down or doing something unacceptable.  And we end up wallowing in it as if the act of swimming in shame and guilt is somehow “redemptive”.

Both guilt and shame are different than Godly sorrow and repentance.  Dr. Les Parrott in his book, Love’s Unseen Enemy, compares godly sorrow and guilt.  Godly sorrow focuses on the other person while guilt focuses on the self.  Godly sorrow recognizes pain as part of the healing process while self-absorbed guilt refuses to go through the pain required to heal a relationship.  Godly sorrow looks forward to the future while guilt moans about the past.  Godly sorrow is motivated by our desire to change and grow while guilt causes us to get bogged down and robs us of the energy to move forward and change.  Godly sorrow knows a change in our life is a choice for something better while guilt forces you to make a change to earn favor again.  Godly sorrow relies on God’s mercy and thus is free while guilt relies on self.  Godly sorrow gives us a positive attitude and results in real and lasting change while guild gives us a negative attitude and can bring change but only temporarily.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes God’s love baffles me.  As many times that we feel shame, it’s because we’ve foolishly put our trust in something we weren’t meant to.  We’ve made an idol out of a relationship, church, self-protection, addiction, ourselves, the approval of others or some other seemingly benign thing.  Our shame comes when that idol we put our trust in fails us.  So we begin by renouncing that idolatry, though that realization may not come until we have an “end of self” moment.  We put our faith where it’s supposed to be and take on our true identity.

We so often hear about God’s divine love and acceptance, how nothing can separate us from His love, but do we believe that?  Most times, we really don’t.  To think that God knows me in the deepest possible way, loves me unconditionally, celebrates who I am, and wants me to grow into who I am, that’s the kind of love we can hardly fathom.

And He identifies with our humanity.  Christ’s example on the cross left him exposed for everyone to see.  Naked for people to mock, spit upon, and pour their own self-contempt on Him.  Yet Jesus willingly embraced it and came through the other side.  His wounded place exposes shame for what it is.  Exposed, trusting and with boldness, we’re free and ready to love others in our weakness.  To live out of that reality of His example.

I’m still not sure I buy all of that, though I suspect that I should.  I’ve bought into the idea of shame for so long, it’s tough letting go and embracing a new identity.

Stuck

“I’m sick of myself and I’m sick of feeling, so there’s not really anything positive there.”

I have this friend that just can’t see himself the way that I and others in his life see him.  Believing himself to be worthless, unfit for proper relationship, and even a burden for others around him as he struggles with various issues.  Thing is, I bet I could be speaking of a lot of friends in my life.  For that matter, we all can fall into these existential traps of loss of self, purpose, and perspective.  Be it not having the strength to overcome an addiction, tired of fighting and changing the flaws we see within ourselves, or simply resigning ourselves to the lie that this is all we’ll ever be.  It’s hard to escape the shadow of this negative light we often see ourselves and much easier to believe the lies about ourselves.

We become immobilized, locked behind insecurities we have about ourselves.  Stuck.

Being stuck is a good way to not take risks, a good way to not trust God, and a good way to not live life.

Living out of fear, afraid of that chance of rejection, we default to “I’m a failure” or “I’m a screw up” and give up (or worse, live into that).  We can spiral down a slippery slope of believing that we’re just going to keep being a disappointment to believing that we’re a sort of contagious cancer that people should avoid.

The simple truth is that we want to be accepted, we want to be loved, and we want to feel as if we are needed and valued.  Somewhere along the line, we were shamed (and re-shamed) accepting lies about ourselves and choosing failure through inaction by not attempting rather than risk trying.  It’s part of our need for self-protection.  Put simply, we don’t want to hurt or feel pain, a perfectly natural and human response.  Yet sometimes in our need for self-protection, we develop thick emotional armor, walls, or find other ways to numb ourselves from the realities of life in a fallen world.

I’m reminded of a take on Matthew 7:4 (“How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”).  What if the point IS to be able to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, but we can’t see it because of the huge plank in our own?  What if self-protection is one type of plank making it so that we     don’t have to feel pain of being rejected but also making it so that we don’t have to get serious about taking speck out of brother’s eye?  Our life revolves around it always being about “what’s wrong with me?” rather than extending ourselves to live for others.

We must be willing to speak truth, starting with the truth about ourselves.

“Just keep swimming.” –Dorrie (Finding Nemo)

Internal journeying is rarely easy or fun, especially if the circumstance isn’t a situation you can just “think” your way out of.  But you’re not as stuck as you think you are.  There is another way.   Moving forward is the key. Some people become stuck and need help to not suffer needlessly for the wrong reasons.  A counterfeit spirit and the Holy Spirit operate in similar ways.  The counterfeit spirit, our enemy, feeds us lies about ourselves, focuses on what’s wrong us, and heaps shame and condemnation on our heads.  We feel we must hide our dark core from everyone either from fear of being rejected or not wanting to drag anyone else down.  And we become mired in our own self-loathing.  Stuck.

The Holy Spirit wants us to dine on truth.  That we’re an image bearer of God, a beautiful creation.  Yes, we’re sinners, but there’s conviction, repentance, and redemption from that.  And freedom.  Freedom from the chains of our addictions, our self-loathing, our self-protection, our “ugliness”.  We’re loved as we are for who we are.  We need to set aside the lies we’ve come to believe about ourselves (or that have been programmed into us by others):  that we’re a villain, a cancer, toxic to those around us; that we’re unworthy of loving or being loved, that others are better off without us.

It’s a matter of getting our identity straight.  We are known by God.  We are loved by God.  Yet we don’t always believe that and don’t always see how it plays out in our lives.  When our faith can’t get traction in our lives, we become stuck.  We misplace our identity, things get shifted, then our priorities change.  We want comfort, personal happiness, and the right relationship with that special someone rather than being a living billboard for God’s glory and love.  We end up not living up to our potential like we should, thus we need to keep being reminded of our true identity:  we’re children of God, known for exactly who we are, and loved anyway!

I know my friend can’t see the blessing that he is to me and those who are privileged to encounter him.  I’m betting the same can be said for many of us.  Times that are the most difficult can be the times that are the most forming for us.  Our identity is not in our situations, but our identity is revealed by how we respond to them.  It’s difficult to keep that sense of desperation, that place of need, of only being able to clutch onto Christ as your hope.  And to be thankful that in our desperation, He is there.  Practically speaking, we must continue to ask ourselves where is our hope and what is it in? What are we being formed into?  What can we be doing better?  What relationships can we be pursuing?  Are we loving those around us to the best of our ability? Live into something positive rather than concentrating on “not doing” something negative.  We need to take stock of all the things were thankful for and carry on.  Thankfulness fans the flames of hope.

And I know it’s easier blogged than done.