Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Revelation – yes, that Revelation!

Every so often, we used to get oversized postcards emblazoned with fantastical monsters, horrifying creatures that looked like something you’d see in an old Japanese monster movie, but these postcards weren’t about movies – they were announcements for a local seminar on the book of Revelation. Even though there wasn’t a prominent indication of where these cards came from, they were from the Seventh Day Adventist church. That knowledge alone was enough to let me know what I could expect if I attended one of these seminars, but I never went to one, because I don’t happen to believe Revelation is a scary book at all.

My wife is one of the leaders of the youth group at our church, Hopewell United Methodist, in Milledgeville, and our junior high group has decided to start a Wednesday night Bible study. She came home last Wednesday and told me about it and asked, “Guess which book they want to start with?” Without giving me 66 guesses to run through the list of the canon, she answered her own question, “Revelation!” (Thank goodness she’s aware of one of my big pet peeves and did not call it “Revelations” – the title has no “s” at the end.) Not such a bad choice, in my opinion. After all, it is one of the most mysterious books in the Bible, and probably one of the most alluring, even for non-religious people.

We can all recognize some of the terms and images that find their genesis in Revelation – the Anti-Christ, the Mark of the Beast, the number 666, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, to name a few. Historical and contemporary interpretations are loaded with contradictions and extreme speculation, so what is the real message of Revelation? Even the name seems to be deceptive – in the Greek, the title is “apokalypsis”, which means literally “uncovering”, as to uncover something that has until now been covered so it is in plain sight. Many people would argue that nothing in this book is in plain sight.

I’ve been drafted to help my wife out, and while she'll do the presenting and leading of discussions, I'm planning to do my own updated study and put together some notes in as systematic a manner as I can. It has been several years since I led a Bible study on the book of Revelation at the last church I served as pastor, and one of the greatest compliments I received when it was over was by an elderly gentleman who came up to me, shook my hand, and said, “You know, Preacher, I’ve always been scared of the book of Revelation, but I’m not scared anymore.” I’m going to share this fresh journey I’ll be taking through Revelation here at the blog, and I invite you to come along. If you agree, disagree, or plain don’t understand what I’m talking about, feel free to comment or send me an e-mail. At any rate, I hope when it’s done, you won’t be scared anymore.

~ Jim

Monday, July 30, 2007

Magic... The Critical Element

Listening to an audio presentation from The Gnostic Society entitled “Harry Potter and the Roots of True Magic” -- Dr. Stephan Hoeller, in his strong accent (German?) is talking about the Harry Potter books with reference to other mythological themes -- the Authurian legends, Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings tales, C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, just to name a few. He talks about Carl Jung and about the fairy story. Now -- for some reflections on this topic:

The fairy story, mythology, the tales of the hero -- our contemporary disillusionment with things related to magic -- the tendency of contemporary literature towards realism (meaning, what seems to me, a dark and depressing type of realism...what I’ve sometimes believed seems to be an aversion to hope and happy endings). The question -- How do we (how do I) recover the proper perspective of magic -- of the fairy story, of myth, of religious literature, of wonder and fantasy? This, it seems to me, is the most important task in which I could engage whatever humble talents I may have as a writer and thinker.

I can see things in my head. I can feel things deeply. There are images and imaginations that sometimes bring tears to my eyes and set my neck tingling with goose bumps. Sometimes the magic spills over into my reality. That is what I want somehow to bring to life and deliver to the world. The reference to Harry Potter continually comes to mind, because those books have meant so much to me in finding my way back into a world of magic. The things I want -- need -- to write about explore a world of magic even more deeply astounding and real than the world of Harry Potter. I must bravely and confidently step foot into that land of magic and wonder, and danger, and tell about it.

When I was a boy, I used to dream of living in a house nestled between the Munsters and the Addams family. There is a delightful creepiness about these characters, and I wanted to be at the center of it. This too is part of the magic I want to capture. The magic of houses and landscapes and weird, yet loveable, characters. Often, the most truly detestable characters in the episodes of these TV shows are the “normal” characters who just don’t get it -- who are frightened and judgmental, and who jump to the wrong conclusions. Another character I just thought of who fits this pattern is Casper the Friendly Ghost. Poor Casper just wants to be a friend and to have friends. He is a genuinely loving spirit who cares about people and animals, yet they are horrified by him. They mistake his character and his intentions. I’ve often wondered about the nature of the boy to whom this disembodied spirit belongs. It must have been an exemplary child. This type of character must have a significant place in my fantasy world.

Some important themes -- there is good and evil, and often there is an unclear distinction about which is which. Evil comes in disguise, but no disguise is ever completely adequate. Good also comes veiled, but not in deliberate disguise. Instead Good comes shrouded in the misunderstanding and fears of those who don’t recognize it. There is also the fact that there is no truly perfectly noble character. The good character comes flawed, but it is the Good that always triumphs, sometimes in spite of imperfection, sometimes because of it.
Love in all its healing and redemptive power, and in the sadness of loss, must also find a home here in my world. Friendship and courage, rising above fears and weaknesses -- these too are part. And redemption -- oh, how wonderful and critical this is.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Space Music

In the late 1980s, I discovered, quite serendipitously, a fascinating program on public radio called Music from the Hearts of Space which featured New Age music. Up till then, I was completely unfamiliar with the genre, and when I first heard it on the radio, my first thought was, "I've got to find out what this is!" It wasn't long before I'd discovered several artists and become a serious fan of the genre, claiming it, whenever asked, as my favorite type of music.

The hosts of Music from the Hearts of Space, Stephen Hill and Anna Turner, called the music that was the show's foundation "space music". I loved that! Since I was a small child, I've been intoxicated by a passion for anything related to space -- planets, stars, manned and unmanned space exporation, the prospect of extraterrestrial life... in short, the entire realm of the cosmos. In later years this would lead to other obsessions -- quantum mechanics, theoretical physics, relativity, superstring theory, the search for a "theory of everything", you name it, and if it hasn't captured my imagination yet, it will.

Space music gives me a spiritual lift into the cosmos, where I stroll like a star-struck tourist on a Hollywood back lot, but the "celebrities" that most fascinate me are real stars -- and while I'm by no means oblivious to the loveliness of the female form, the heavenly bodies that turn my head the quickest are really heavenly bodies. Among my favorite artists are John Serrie (And the Stars Go with You, Lumia Nights, Flightpath), Constance Demby (Novus Magnificat: Through the Stargate), and Michael Stearns (Encounter, Singing Stones).

A couple of days ago I was listening to a podcast of, I believe, a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) program which featured a scientist with NASA who specializes in recording audio of space sounds. Space is not a dead, empty place, but is full of gases and dust, movement and activity, and solar wind moving at a million miles an hour can generate a heck of a whoosh going around celestial bodies. Some fascinating space sounds have come from the Cassini mission to Saturn, and you can listen to wave files at the website -- it's eerie how much this sounds like the effects from 50's sci-fi movies like Forbidden Planet. (There's another cool page of planet sounds from Jupiter, Uranus, and Earth.) I half expected to look around and see Robby the Robot in my kitchen. Which would have been very cool indeed.

Live long and prosper, and may the force be with you!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some Controversial Issues on the Eve of Harry Potter's Final Tale

[NOTE: Please excuse my long absence. I've been busy having grandchildren and other such exhausting feats of derring-do... but I'm back now.]

Creation Science - vs- Evolution

To begin with, I'm a practicing Christian and a former Christian minister, who still has a pastor's heart for the gospel and for people. That said, I think Creation Science should be booted out of public schools and should in no school be taught side-by-side with evolution. Folks -- Christians, atheists, agnostics, lapsed believers, monkeys, and single-cell organisms -- I tell you all, evolution is an indisputable fact. The scientific evidence is clear, and only self-delusion could lead one to any other conclusion. How's that for certainty. Does that mean there is no God, no Creator? No! It just means true faith isn't dependent on fairy tales. Evolution is a mechanism -- not a purpose, and I still believe in a purposive Creator. In my mind, there's no conflict with faith and science. Neither, properly exegeted, contradicts the other.

Harry Potter -vs- Christianity

"Harry Potter is evil because the Bible says God abhors witchcraft and sorcery." Oh, how this sugary flowing sentence makes me gag -- forgive me, those of you who may agree.

Folks, the "witchcraft and sorcery" that the Bible says God eschews were some serious things -- not the whimsical, fantastical versions of the Harry Potter series and other wonderful stories (i.e. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, etc., etc. etc.). That brand of sorcery defiled humanity, committed human sacrifice to gain power, tortured and maimed pracitioners and victims alike. It wasn't wands and pointy hats. It was truly evil -- much more akin to violent Islamic jihad than to storybook tales.

When the first Harry Potter movie came out in theaters, my son came home with a flyer that had been placed on his windshield while he was at the mall. He didn't go the the movie, but the theater was at the mall. A local church group had put together the flyer to warn the vulnerable of the "evils of Harry Potter". They had quote after quote, each of which they used to describe how Harry Potter "encouraged evil" and lured children into "the spell of witchcraft". The problem was, every quote was taken out of context. The evil quotes were clearly from the evil people who were clearly evil in the book, but this church group was on such a "mission for God" that it didn't matter to them that they were complete liars. It's like taking a quote from the devil in the Bible, or taking an evil act of a bad person, and saying, "Look! The Bible clearly encourages evil!" The church folks may have been sincere, but they came across looking like fools, and they were actually, in my opinion, an embarrassment to the Church.

Harry Potter is a story about good and evil, where evil is clearly evil. It's a story about love and friendship, courage and morality, and even that value that some would like to keep at arm's length these days -- honor. Harry Potter is in essence a manifestation of the Christian story.

UFOs -- Real or Fake.


After all, UFOs are "Unidentified Flying Objects", and there's no doubt there are many flying objects that aren't readily identifiable. But space ships from distant galaxies? Come on! No way. We are not being watched by space creatures. There are no flying saucers, flying cigars, or metalic disks that hover in the night competing with Christmas trees.

Alien Abductions -- genuine or phony?

Except for the occasional Mexican or Honduran or Columbian who enter our country illegally and eventually kidnap someone, there are no alien abductions. The phenomenon is clearly induced in a person's mind when he or she awakens during the phase of sleep during which the brain essentially paralyzes the body.

And finally...

Elvis -- alive or dead?

Elvis will ALWAYS live in my heart! Thank yu' verah much!

~ Jim

"Ladies and Gentlemen -- Jim has left blog!"