Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Keeping Faith

While in Atlanta for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, I did something that I had put off too long—a visit to the Carter Presidential Museum and Center.  President Jimmy Carter has long been a hero of mine, so I am not sure why it took me so long to do this.

The Center is in a beautiful setting. The Museum is an attractive and informative survey of the Carter Presidency, and the complex is also  the headquarters for the work that the Carters continue to do around the world in addressing issues of peace, health, and poverty.

Carter was something of a populist but he was, most of all, a progressive Christian, probably the President most formed and driven by the idea that all people have worth, deserve respect, and should be given a hand up when needed.  As recounted in Randall Balmer’s Redeemer, his activist Christian perspective was rejected by Christian fundamentalists, even those who had supported his election in 1976.  Carter not only talked the talk, he walked the walk.  As in the title of his presidential memoir, Keeping Faith, he really attempted to do what he promised to do. People rarely see that in a politician.

Did he make mistakes? Certainly, but his errors in judgement pale into insignificance compared to what we have seen in recent years from his successors.

Jimmy Carter was, and is, a decent human being whose legacy and impact have continued to grow since he “left the job earlier than he expected.”  He and Rosalynn continue to forge new paths of service.  We are lucky to have them.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cars 3: A Review

The good news first:  Cars 3, the third Pixar movie about racing cars, is much more like the original film (2006) than the 2011 sequel that jumped the track.  The new animated film has the heart, fun, and action of the original film while allowing the hero to evolve and introducing interesting new characters.

In the original, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) makes the transition from a brash, hot-shot racer who doesn’t need anyone to part of a supportive, loving community.  In Cars 3, McQueen is starting to lose his edge and feeling not only old, but also realizing the vacuum left in his life by the departure of his mentor, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman).

In the quest to reinvent himself, he is supported by his old friends but meets new characters such as perky trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), wise Smokey (Chris Cooper), and rival Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer).  The journey is unpredictable and, of course, amusing.

Lightning’s breakthrough is learning how Doc Hudson valued the contribution he made to the younger racer’s career and seizing the opportunity to pass on what he has learned to a new generation.  He continues to compete and face new challenges, but he finally acknowledges that it is not all about him. 

There is, of course, the obligatory big race that will determine Lightning’s future, but the twist there shows how much he has grown and learned about himself.

The film provides a reminder to those of us who are leaders that investing in others is a vital task.  Each of us can point to mentors who shared their experiences, walked alongside us, and then pushed us out on our own.  This is how the church has fostered leaders down through the years from Jesus and his disciples, to Barnabas and Paul, to Paul and Timothy, and on to today.

Cars 3 is good fun for both children and adults without the rude humor found in many animated films today.  Lou, the obligatory lead in short film from Pixar, is worth watching as well.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Vision Thing

President George H. W. Bush said that he did not really understand the “vision thing.” Whether this had anything to do with his failure to be elected to a second term is unclear, but we do know that vision continues to be a key word for churches, not-for-profits, and other organizations.

Often these entities confuse strategic planning with vision.  The assumption is that if we can identify our vision, then our mission, objectives, and goals will fall in place is flawed.

Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen, the authors of  "Discerning God's Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church,” would disagree, especially as vision relates to the church.  They write:

"In visioning culture, the role of vision is vital for the community and its leaders. Vision goes beyond strategic planning, because it is rooted in God’s plan for humanity and the world. Vision is the big picture, God’s kingdom, offered by God as a gift.”

True vision empowers, inspires, and transforms.  Perhaps the big mistake we make in stating our vision is that we think too small rather than too big.  If we are on mission with God, God’s vision far exceeds anything that we might imagine.  The missio Dei is nothing less than the redemption of humankind and all that God created.

Embracing God’s vision is the first step toward articulating our own vision.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Wonder Woman: A Review

Wonder Woman is the real deal.  With the relatively unknown Gal Gadot in the title role and Patty Jenkins as director, DC has finally produced a superhero movie with both action and heart. If you are expecting a feminist polemic, you will be surprised.  This is a story about humanity, our virtues and sins, and the choices we make between the two.

Diana (Gadot) is a young woman raised for a special purpose, one that is unwrapped throughout the film. Raised as the only child on an island of Amazons, the real world intrudes on her tranquil (although martial) environment when the plane of American Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into the sea nearby.  This begins her journey into a larger world as she pursues the mission for which she was destined.

The film has a strong cast both among the Amazon women and the rag-tag force that Trevor recruits to accompany them on their mission.  There is humor, social satire, romance, and certainly action (some of which may be a bit over the top).  The film is both fun and touching but may be a bit too intense for younger viewers.

There are some significant theological themes present as well.  As the Amazons prepare on the hidden island of Themyscira for their mission to save the world, the world is engaged in the Great War resulting in the deaths of millions, both combatants and innocent bystanders.  They are unaware and indifferent to this calamity.  The time has come to act, but they refuse to do so and are reluctant to bless Diana’s mission.

As I watched this part of the film, I was reminded of the church. We prepare for engagement with the world, but when the opportune moment arrives, we fail to act.  We train for the work then we refuse to do it.  Are we ignorant or afraid to engage in the mission of God?

This is a redemption story, of course, but the role of the Redeemer is assumed by two protagonists--a female and a male.  One gives up life to save humanity while the other chooses to stay in the world and fight evil.  If you doubt the messianic theme, consider the pose that Wonder Woman (Diana) assumes in the final confrontation with the villain.

The story is full of non-Christian and mythological themes, but the bottom line is the free will of humanity to decide its own fate. The right choices arise out of self-sacrifice and love for others.  As Diana says at the end of the saga, “Only love can save the world.”