Liturgy, Breathe and The Gospel of John

Without going into detail, it would be fair to say that these past few years have seen some tough moments for us as a family. I shared some of this story with a good friend who happened to be in town visiting a few weeks back. We are childhood friends and shared a a similar Christian upbringing, but after attending the same Christian university we both found ourselves wrestling with our faith. He made the choice to walk away from the Christian faith he grew up with while I ended up (eventually) being pushed further towards it. Our friendship however thankfully has persisted, and is perhaps even stronger for, even considering the fact that we really only talk at most a couple times a year.

Given the geographical distance to our relationship we have developed a knack for picking up exactly where we left off the last time we connected. These are always the best kind of friendships. It affords us the ability to dig deep without wasting a lot of time with unnecessary pleasantries or surface banter. In truth we don’t often discuss religion,  however, when I shared our story it caused him to ask a rather revealing question about faith, one that was obviously very important to him on his own journey as well.

How do you reconcile that experience with your faith in God?

Of course this is not the first time I have encountered this question. In truth I find myself asking it often, even on my best days. But what surprised me was just how unprepared I was to answer it coming from the mind of someone else. This caused me to walk away from our conversation feeling unsettled, needed to seriously consider revisiting the question again for myself.


A Co-Existing Relationship Or An Irreconcilable Contradiction
I think the reason I felt unprepared to answer this question is that I don’t necessarily recognize my faith to be at odds with the idea there is suffering in this world. That is not to say I don’t wrestle with the questions suffering evokes, but I have learned to be okay with the idea that these questions can co-exist with the confessional nature of my faith.


What left me unsettled though was the fact that my friend posed this question to me in the way that he did. This told me, considering our shared upbringing and education, that I didn’t always believe this co-existing relationship was possible. Looking back on my life I think this feeling is most likely right, which means that my faith is something that has evolved over time. For me is a good thing. In fact, the willingness to learn and to evolve, which is never an easy thing, has strengthened my faith rather than weakened it. But the fact that my faith has changed meant that my ability to make sense of my friends question in the context of my life required me to figure out why it changed.


The Lutherans and the Liturgy
The time I spent working in the Lutheran Church in my 30’s stands out for me as having a significant impact on my understanding of the relationship between suffering and faith. Every Church has a liturgy. Not every Church recognizes this liturgy for what it is. For me, the first time I had walked through the doors of a Lutheran Church was when they gave me a job as a Youth Pastor. This was also my first encounter with something I recognized as liturgical, a Church that practiced a liturgy that was visibly and audibly connected to a long standing faith tradition. The opportunity to learn the liturgy in this environment helped me to rediscover the power of the Christian narrative in a new light.


Liturgy in its most basic sense evokes an expression of both service and work, two words that provide some context for the original Greek. We participate in the “work” that God is doing in our midst by being called to praise, confession, prayer, Word and communion, the components that make up this liturgy. And it is this communion with God and one another the pulls the liturgy in this direction, becoming the means by which we are then equipped to “serve” God by being in “service” to the world around us.


So back to the question at hand. How do I reconcile the idea of suffering with my faith? I think my first response might be that not unlike the liturgy, it is a process, one in which the way I see God in the midst of my experience is rarely the same as the God I encounter in my confession. Which is why I feel the need to keep returning to this liturgy week after week. I need to be reminded every day of who God is in the midst of a world that doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense.

Service is sacrificial language bound together by humility, submission and grace, something that permeates the direction of the Liturgy and holds it together. Service is a willingness to subvert our own need for control by submitting our needs and our sins to God and in turn allowing God to move us towards attending to the needs of others. And the truth of this process is that it leads us is into the midst of not only our own suffering, but the suffering of Christ and ultimately the suffering of others. And suffering, captured in the light of service, is something that remains very much outside of our control. And so this becomes a willingness to enter into service to one another’s suffering in a way that is not dependent on the condition of our own lives or our ability to control the way we believe things should be. Rather it teaches us to depend on God’s ability to use our lives regardless of where we find ourselves and despite what we feel we might have to offer.


Learning To Breathe
A recent viewing of the film Breathe, starring Andrew Garfield and the rather wonderful Claire Foy also helped me on my journey toward considering my friends question. The film tells the true story of Robin Cavendish whom, after contracting polio ends up confined to a bed and a breathing machine and given mere months to live. Through the inspiration of his wife, the reality of his new born son, the help of an inventor, and the support of friends, Robin finds the will not only to keep on living, but to transform the idea of what it means to live with such suffering. Cavendish inserts himself back into public life against what society, in this day and age, had deemed all odds.

There is a moment in the film when Cavendish has first been hospitalized and received his dire diagnosis where a priest comes to visit him at his bedside. The Priest is moving from bed to bed blessing the souls of the sick and the dying, and when he gets to Cavendish he goes on to suggest to him that it is in our suffering that we can see God’s plan for our lives more clearly. He then leans over Cavendish’s bed ridden body so that he can offer him God’s blessing, at which point Cavendish spits directly into the priest’s face. It is a singular moment in the film, but it is a moment I can’t help but feel the real life Cavendish’s son, who produced this film, inserted with intention. It feels necessary and important for setting the film up to tell the rest of the story in an honest way, an important mountain to climb and a pertinent question to address in the face of his impending (and desired) death. As if to hear Cavendish say, here is my suffering, there is the idea of God, and so let’s not waste our time chasing after foolish notions that cannot be brought together.

And although the scene is only a moment, it does manage to linger just long enough for the sentiment to emerge that, if this idea of God is true then this “God must be playing a joke on us”, as a fellow terminally ill resident suggests to Cavendish in the aftermath of watching the Priest run out the door. A bit later during Cavendish’s eventual trip to Spain, a trip intended to give a figurative finger to death’s supposed upper hand, a Spanish resident also follows up this sentiment up by adding, “God plays a joke… so then we might as well throw a party”.

Which brings me back to my conversation with my friend. Breathe is a film about one mans decision to face his suffering head on and give it meaning. But for my friend, as it also seemed to be for Cavendish, suffering without meaning is what caused God (or the idea of God) to become irreconcilable.

Which brings me to an important realization as I work through my friends question for myself. The message of Breathe is that we need meaning in this life in order to live in this life. So the real question becomes, where do we find this meaning. For John and his Gospel, this meaning flows out of the work that God is doing in the midst of the suffering, a work that is made visible by our own call towards the service of God and others.


The Gospel of John
If, as I mentioned above, “work” is an important part of our liturgy, work also becomes an important theme in John’s Gospel as he continues with his testimony of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.

In my previous blog on the Gospel of John I reflected on the fact that in his first chapter John establishes the single most important theme in his Gospel, the idea that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness, as weighed by the witness of history itself, has not overcome it (1:7-8). And it is because of this witness that we can believe (trust or hope) in the work that Jesus is doing “as” the light of the world (1:7). This presupposes a strong correlation between the work that Jesus is doing in the world and our ability to believe, a relationship that John’s Gospel is deeply interested in exploring through demonstrating the way in which he sees the witness of Jesus taking shape in the lives of his original audience.
As John begins his “testimony” (1:19) we see this pattern emerge where nearly every person who encounters Jesus first encounters Him through the witness of someone else, beginning with the priests and the Levites whom are sent by the Jews to find out who Jesus really is and then to bring this information back to them. Upon encountering Jesus, we see the priests and Levites insist,

“We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself? Who are you?” (1:22)

There is this need for the Jews in this story to have an answer for who Jesus is, and yet they remain distant from the , filtered through the testimony of others in a way that they can’t quite make sense of for themselves standing at arms length.

This need for an answer, for a way to reconcile our experience of this world with our faith in a God whom seems unconcerned with our suffering, remaining distant and allusive from our struggle, is also reflected in my friends question. We need to find meaning in our suffering, something the story of Breathe so eloquently reveals, and yet it is the idea that we seem to suffer without meaning that is the very thing that appears to keep God at a distance.

This is the darkness.

But John insists that the light still shines. For as allusive as Jesus seems to be in the midst of our struggle, in the midst of the darkness, perspective, He is in truth, walking in their midst, the one “crying out in the wilderness” (1:23), a phrase that not only resonates with the voice of the prophets and the Israelite story, but one that also resonates with the voice that brought this world into existence.

Jesus has been walking with us throughout history. This is the light that the darkness has not overcome. Which means we can also believe that the darkness will not overcome it in our present tense. As the brief recollection of the storm in chapter 6 reminds us, it is when the darkness persists, both literally and figuratively, and when the storm rages that we can also find glimpses of Jesus and an opportunity to invite Him into the boat with us. And a significant part of this storm passage, one that we must not overlook, is the persistent rowing of the disciples in the perceived absence of Jesus. They want to do work themselves, and yet for all the strength they show in rowing in this passage, they find themselves stuck without Jesus. It is the work of God then, in bridging the distance between our struggle and His love and grace, that welcomes Jesus into the boat in the midst of our darkness. This is what it means to believe.

And for John, to believe, this activity of hoping and trusting in the work that God is doing in getting into the boat and taking control of the oars,  is to see God in the pattern of Jesus’ own witness. And not only to see, but to see the “greater things” (1:50) that God will continue to do to shine a light into the darkness.

To say this again (because it is worth saying again), if most of the people in these opening pages of John’s Gospel discover Jesus through the witness of someone else, John uses this to awaken us to the truth that it is in the witness of Jesus that we come to see God. And what John seems to covet is this idea of bridging the gap, of coming to see God in the person of Jesus with our own eyes, of welcoming Him personally into our boat, our lives. And the “greater things” that Jesus is referencing is coming to believe (hope and trust in) with our own eyes the work that God is going to do in Jesus, the work of Resurrection (2:18-22; 1:51; 5:25), the giving of life in the midst of suffering, the shining of the light that will one day break through the darkness for good.


The Work of God
So what is the work of God?

The work of God is the person and ministry of Jesus, the Word that John testifies of in the opening moments of His Gospel.

And what is the work the Father is doing through Jesus?

He is making Himself visible, moving us from seeing Him at a distance towards an up close and personal relationship with the one through whom all things are made, the one who is walking in our midst.

This is the sentiment we find in chapter 4 as the Samaritan witnesses finally declare, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.” They believe, and this belief is the work of God in bringing them into this relationship so that they can know who God is personally.


The Gospel of God’s Work Continues
This sentiment allows John’s Gospel to become a growing exposition of  God’s “work” in this world as we move from chapter 4 into chapter 5, the beginning of a 5 chapter arc (chapters 5-10) known by scholars as the “festival cycle”. And it is in this arc that we see opposition to Jesus’ ministry set against the idea that God is still working, a work He has been up to since the beginning of time, a work in which we are called to reap “that for which (we) did not labor” (4:38), to reap the work of the One, as John puts it in chapter 1, who has gone before us to be a light in the darkness.

As we enter chapter 5 we encounter a story of a healing, and then we are abruptly pushed into the presence of this growing opposition as we read “now, that day was the Sabbath”.

The Sabbath reference here is equated with the law to which Jesus, as a Jew, would have been obligated to follow. Context is important of course, and for Jewish readers this phrase would have uncovered an important debate in the Midrash (Jewish commentary or exposition), noting an important piece of the puzzle when it came to deciphering ones moral responsibility or obligation to the law. It is true that one does not work on the Sabbath, yes, but if, for example, one is sick (as this invalid at the pool was), the obligation to care for this person (also under Jewish law) should take precedence over the Sabbath as law.

The issue of the Sabbath comes up a lot in the Gospels and in Jewish tradition, and this noting of this piece of the puzzle is what lies behind Jesus’ response in Mark when He says “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”. In other words, to make sense of this moral obligation, for Jesus we must begin with the truth that the Sabbath is about God’s work in us, not about whether we do or do not work on the Sabbath. Is it possible for them to work on the Sabbath and still be in relationship to God’s law? Yes, if that work is the work of God. And as Jesus informs us in John, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” And the work God is doing is a healing work, a light giving work, a work that informs the Sabbath for our benefit rather than being defined by it.


Framing and Reframing the Question of God’s Work
John frames work in chapter 4 around the idea of the Sabbath in chapter 5 in order to reframe the questions surrounding God’s work in the world in chapter 6 in a more definitive fashion, a point in which we once again arrive at an important and familiar question, one that sits well alongside my friends question as well.

Following a call to enter into the work of God in the passage that begins in 6:22, the crowd asks,

“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”

To which Jesus responds, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 6:29

Which awakens me to a couple of important points:
1. Jesus juxtaposes their question against His answer by switching the order of the question, emphasizing that belief is the work of God not our own. It’s a way of repeating their question back to them and setting it into proper perspective.
2. What must we do? We believe. Once again, this is the purpose of God’s work.
3. And what is belief? It is seeing God in Jesus.

To which they naturally ask, if the point is to see you, what work do you perform (6:30)?

To which Jesus responds by saying that He is feeding his people (the image of the bread becomes important in John), and he is giving life (Resurrection) (6:33).

If we move back in this passage ever so slightly we discover that the reason the crowd came seeking Jesus is because they had already ate their fill of loaves (6:26). Jesus uses this to remind them that it was not the physical signs that caused them to believe, but the taste they got of Jesus Himself and the life that He came to bring on His terms. It is a contrast that is intended to remind us that to see God’s work we must give up control of our need for God to work in the way we think He should. God’s work is Jesus, not the absence or fulfillment of hunger, and to hunger for Jesus is the real point of His work. And if we move forward ever so slightly in the passage we see the motivation for this work that Jesus is doing, “that I should lose nothing of all he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

So back one final time to my friend’s question. How do I reconcile our suffering with my faith in God? I think it is significant that this passage begins with a story of one man’s healing in a crowd of many suffering invalids. There are multiple characters in this story that I might be able to relate to in different ways at different times. It could be the man receiving healing. It might be the many invalids surrounding this man who is healed. It might be the ones who are struggling with the question of who Jesus is in a world where so many still suffer.

The truth is, whoever I might relate to in this passage, a good practice to be in when we meditate on scripture, I think the most important point still remains the same- God is working even when I can’t always see it. God is still working even when I don’t always know it. And this might sound trite. It might sound cliche. But in a world full of suffering, in a crowd full of invalids who do not appear to see Jesus and who do not appear to be healed, I find myself taken aback by the thought that God still sees the life of this single individual. This, for me, is what allows me to enter into the insistence of Jesus in 6:51 that the bread (in the form of his flesh, in both His literal suffering and the figurative sense of His life giving spirit) He is giving is for the life of the “world”. Or the concern He has for losing “nothing” of all the life God has entrusted to him. Or that familiar phrasing of John 3:16 that declares that “whoever” believes, the belief that is the work of God and God alone, should be given life. Where Jesus singles out one man in chapter 5, here in Chapter 6 he sees the crowd, a crowd that eventually eat their “fill” and become seekers as Jesus uses the limited resources of a few to fee the multitude. And this curious phrase, “gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost” (6:12) seems to indicate to me this powerful picture of Christ intimately concerned still with the one even as he sees the multitude.

I don’t have all the answers and I don’t always feel confident in my faith, but like the ones who come to Jesus I have in the past ate my fill of loaves (6:26). Which is why I keep seeking even in the midst of my suffering. Which is why I have hope that God is still working. Which is why coming to this liturgy, the liturgy that leads me back to the communion table, is so important to me.


And The Light Still Shines
There is an important scene in Breathe where they have travelled to Spain, they find themselves stuck on the side of the road with only a breathing pump to keep Cavendish alive, and they are given the opportunity to sit in this moment and watch the sunset and the sunrise. It’s a moment that conjures up this sense that in each day lies the promise of another, that in the darkness the light still shines. And as Cavendish looks to find meaning in the midst of his suffering, this realization of a new day reminds him that any meaning he is able to find this life, in these moments, is a gift, not something he can create.

It is a scene that also reflects the narrative bookends of his own story, one in which his suffering causes him to lose sight of the light of the sun as he loses control of not only his body, but his life, confined to a room where the darkness is given space to consume him with sorrow. This is where he wants to die, where he becomes apathetic to the ones who can be a light to his world and who need him to be a light to theirs, the ones through which he will eventually find the meaning he needs in order to live again. It is an important realization that digs deep into the root of the growing question, exposed by the presence of this priest, about why this sort of suffering exists, and it rings out through his eventual efforts to give new life to those who need it in the world that surround him, the world in which, I believe, God has placed him.

This is the same realization I came to in my wrestling with God and the Gospels. The work of God in my life, the glimpses I am giving of Jesus in the people and places in which God has placed me, is where I find meaning that can’t be stripped away, no matter what suffering I may or may not face. And the truth that I mean something to God is what allows me to enter into this work as one who can choose to extend this meaning outwards. Because the world needs meaning in the midst of its suffering. It needs the light in the darkness. And where God’s story intersects with my own, I can confidently declare that the light persists, not because I have all the answers, but because I have tasted, and that is what keeps me seeking.

A Review of Easy Street (The Hard Way): A Memoir by Ron Perlman- My 2018 Reading Challenge

232632392018 Reading Challenge
Challenge #: Read 2 books that were recommended to you by a friend
Book: Easy Street (The Hard Way): A memoir by Ron Perlman.

Thanks to a personal recommendation my 2018 Reading Challenge is off to a great start. I have discovered a new favourite book! Or at the very least my new favourite autobiography/memoir. Although confining it to a sub category seems unnecessary in the moment, I happened to love it that much.

There is little question in my mind about why I loved the Perl’s Easy Street (The Hard Way) as much as I did. It managed to check off most of my favourite boxes, painting a vivid picture of growing up on the streets of New York, offering me an intimate look at the inner workings of Hollywood, inviting me to consider what it means to truly wrestle with faith and doubt in an industry that is as rewarding as it is difficult and, in a rather remarkable and genuine fashion, celebrating film as one of the great art forms.

How could this not grab me. The only thing missing is an element of time travel, but in its own way, as a memoir, it even offered me a bit of that. And truth be told I found it really hard to put down.

With that said, it is the fact that the book is also so much than simply a checkbox of my favourite things that really caught me off guard and exceeded my expectation, and this owes much to Ron Perlman’s knack for storytelling. There are moments in this book that genuinely brought me to tears, others that had me laughing out loud in the middle of a Starbucks, and many more that had me riveted to the page in anticipation. There are sections that function as a sort of call and response, molding itself into a biting social commentary that manages to shed light on the divide that exists between the haves and the have nots in Hollywood, while using his life story to extend this light into the reality of every day life.

I have to imagine that if one was to seek out this book you likely have some level of a pre-determined interest in or connection to Perlman’s list of films/television series. And if you are like me you will find yourself heavily anticipating the chapters that touch on those specific movies or shows that connect with you personally. This is where it might be fair for me to forewarn but not deter. The way you read this book might depend on the particular show or film that you are especially passionate about, which means your experience of the narrative could be very different than the next. But I think this lends much to the books accessibility and charm.

To offer an example, I was especially interested in Perlman’s relationship to Del Toro given that he is one of my favourite directors (and hopefully the subject of a planned research project in 2018). And so I found myself waiting in eager anticipation for these chapters, only to find that Del Toro doesn’t really show up until well near the end and gets very little page time. Some of the films do get more attention than others, but this is primarily because of the ways in which certain films or shows overlap with important periods in his life.

However, this doesn’t mean I felt Del Toro’s films got shortchanged, even as the brief moments we do get with Hellboy are stellar and absolutely eye opening on their own. Rather, it is the insight we are given into Perlman’s life that told me more about his relationship to Del Toro and his work on his films than an actual synopsis of his filmography ever could on its own. The same goes for Sons of Anarchy, which is arguably given the fewest words in the book. Knowing who Perlman is and where he is at in his life during his time on this show sheds more light on the nature of his on-screen character than talking about the show ever could. I have a new respect of his character during these seasons, especially as it mirrors his real life arc.

The structure of the book essentially follows three threads:

  1. Perlman’s own history from childhood to present day
  2. The gradual development and growth of his acting career
  3. The odd excerpt from an outside voice who was instrumental in shaping his life (beginning with Del Toro who penned the forward).

This structure allows the book to meander in a sort of free flowing way, moving backwards and forwards between periods of reflection and recreations of his past. The structure also manages to mask the trajectory of what is, in actuality, a very clear and very intentional narrative. I’ll be honest. I was getting so lost in the different moments of his life and getting so much joy from reading his perspective of his experiences with the different film productions, actors, producers directors (I get giddy picturing him running around as a young kid in a shared playground with a young Al Pacino) that I failed to catch on to the trajectory of the narrative until I was nearly halfway through the book. And this is in large part because he is as genuinely funny as he is serious. The chapters on Marlo Brando (spoiler, he really LOVES The Godfather) and the making of The Island… were particularly memorable, especially in the way he recounts his interactions with Brando himself. This was one of those big laugh out loud moments for me. And the very short descriptive of Alien: Resurrection helped me to make some sense out of why that film remains one of my favourites of the franchise in spite of its overall lack of reception.


By the time I realized what he was actually doing with what melds into a very candid work of self reflection and the personal confession of a man formed and framed by the ragged edges of the streets, by his lingering sense of self doubt and his struggle with success and failure, devastating loss, and most notably by his struggle with a mental disorder, I was absolutely taken. He uses his life on the Hollywood stage to mirror his life off of it, demonstrating how the beast and the mask he was typecast with on screen became a means through which he needed to unmask himself and his own inner turmoil. And by the time he brings all of it together in the end in what ultimately becomes a compassionate and compelling call towards reform and accountability in Hollywood at large, the narrative is given the necessary force to truly knock you out of your seat and dare you to step into action alongside him. Action for change.

Perlman is a generation behind me, and it is from this place that he was able to provide me with an up close and personal look not only at his time in Hollywood, but of the Hollywood I grew up with. I can’t count the amount of times that I found myself feeling a bit nostalgic for the world he describes, even if I didn’t recognize it as nostalgia in the moment. Having him fill in some of the details of films I loved and actors I respect was intriguing and revealing. The respect and awe with which he talks about his own favourite films and meeting his favourite stars and being a part of the industry is absolutely infectious, and it helps bridge that line between the cynicism of those who see Hollywood as nothing but a picture of corruption, money and power driven by marketing, studio execs and manufactured stories, and that sense of wonder that has captured those of us who truly have an affection for the magic film can represent as a genuine art form and storytelling community. It would be hard for me to imagine anyone walking away without a greater appreciation for film and Hollywood after reading this book.

Make no mistake, this does not mean Perlman is blind to Hollywood’s struggles or honest about its shortcomings. In one of the most powerful parts of the narrative he helps shed light on just how pervasive mental illness is in Hollywood and offers us glimpses of why he thinks this might be (sharing the struggle himself). He humanizes Hollywood even as he remains in awe of it, and he also lays himself bare in the same process. Perlman is a flawed individual in the long process of discovering redemption and grace, and for as much as he recognizes the trappings of success in Hollywood, he also admits he is as prone to these vices as anyone else, being in so many ways a very broken man trying to accept that he has something to offer in the midst of that brokenness.

And yet he also stands as a picture hope in an industry that should be offering and demonstrating hopefulness. His respect for the power and the strength of art and filmmaking to transform us is a reminder of why Hollywood (and what it symbolizes) is so important, for him and for us. Even as he admits that most will likely look at him on the outside and simply think he is a jerk with a penchant for crass talk and short temper, the testimony of his determination to always be looking out for the little guys, the people working those menial jobs in the background that are so important for helping a film be successful, for the marginalized and the have nots, is what reveals who Perlman truly is on the inside. His willingness to give his all to everything that he does regardless of what others think is the mark of someone who is growing, changing and embracing.

And there is plenty that he offers me through this book as well, simply as a reader and a fan. He is a man who taught me personally what it means to prepare myself for what he calls the second half of life. His depiction of a midlife crisis is one of the most powerful definitions I have encountered, and it really transformed how I look at myself having crossed the 40 mark myself.

He taught me about what it means to see God when it seems like He is invisible, and to wrestle with the mystery that is faith.

He taught me about what it means to come to terms with my own struggle with anxiety and depression.

And he renewed my appreciation of film as an art form. Man did he renew that in ways I didn’t expect. I thought I loved film before. Now I cherish it.

Which brings me to the most important chapters of the book, in my opinion. This is where the trajectory of the narrative gains full force. This is where he turns it all inwards and than outwards towards a biting commentary of where Hollywood is headed in its now modern age. And not in a ‘back in the good ol’ days’ kind of way, but in a we need to be reminded of the best that Hollywood stands for kind of way. We need to be reminded to slow down and appreciate what art is, what good art does, and what it means to be a dedicated artist in a world that needs a way to make sense of a very complicated place.

And we need to be reminded of the ways in which art can speak into our own social context in meaningful ways, something that especially timely in the age of “me too”.

There is a sense of loss that we feel flowing through these pages as Perlman looks back on a Hollywood in motion. It is a loss of Hollywood of old in some ways, but in more important ways it is a loss of that magic that captured so many of us before Hollywood became diluted and unmasked in necessary ways. But there is also a sense of hope, hope in the sense that he sees an opportunity to recapture this magic and to redistribute the wonder that Hollywood is supposed to instill. It is a hope that he channels ultimately into his own aspirations for finishing well in his second half of life in the most practical of ways, by reentering the field, helping others in the way others helped him by reinvesting in the younger generation, and, most excitedly, doing something he has long felt he needed to do… Hell Boy 3.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for Ron Perlman.


The Gospel of John Part 1: The Light and the Darkness

The relationship that exists between the 3 Synoptics is helpful for understanding them contextually, politically and theologically. John, however, remains something of an enigma, as much for us today as it was for the original readers. And this being my second time working through this Gospel in the last 3 years, the sheer complexity of this book still manages to amaze me.

One of the questions I have been asking this time around is this. If I could narrow John’s Gospel down to one thing, one big idea, what would that be. And that one thing that I came away with was this:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
– John 1:5

What strikes me about this one big idea is how present this message really is. How timeless it feels. In a book that feels incredibly engaged with the activity of looking backwards, it is this single message that offers us the foundation in which to look forward out of our own places of darkness. The light shines now in the midst of our present circumstance, and the darkness, no matter how overwhelming it might feel in this present moment, has not overcome it. And how do we know this? How does John know this? And we can know this because this light, the true light that John says was given in order to “enlighten everyone” (1:8), existed before all things were made (1:3), even before John himself knew who or what the light was, and long before we could even consider the nature of this light in the midst of our own darkness.

And this single message rings clear in the midst of the passive voice that dominates the opening chapters of John’s Gospel.

“In the beginning”… all things “were” made through Him, and the life “was” the light of men. To which John centres our focus on the truth that there “was” a man sent from God (John) to help us know the light, for the law “was” given through Moses, but grace and truth “came” through Jesus, the one who “has” been (again, past tense) made known as the light that shines into our present circumstance. Jesus is then the one who forms and informs the “testimony of John” that sets up the rest of this book in 1:19. Or perhaps more to the point, forming and informing a key concern of John in defining the nature of exactly “who” this light is and “how” it is that He shines His light into the world, particularly into his own context and the persisting disagreements surrounding Jesus’ earthly existence and the truth of His divine nature that dominated the communities that made up Johns initial audience

And even though the author uses more figurative and symbolic language than the language that we find in the synoptics, the Gospel according to John is very clear about the who and the how of Jesus’ nature as the light. Packaged between the “sign” narratives, which are visually and imaginatively intended to “manifest His glory” or “exalt” Jesus above “all” things, John is quick to offer his hearers this unequivocal statement, words He expects and hopes can set these disagreements to rest:

“He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth belongs to the earth.”
– John 3:31

For John, the joy of his testimony is complete (3:29) only when the voice and ministry of Jesus becomes louder and more prominent than his own. And the way he imagines the voice of Jesus “increasing” in his own life is by engaging in the practice of looking backwards, of reflecting on and remembering the ways in which Jesus has been speaking into this world, our world, since the dawn of Creation. By remembering that He (the one who is the light) who comes after me (who is shaping the promise of my future) ranks before me because He “was” before me” (1:15). Thus for John, Jesus is above all things primarily because He is the source of all things, something only one who is from above can be. To which the word “all” that we encounter throughout these opening chapters intends to call each of us to the same practice and the same consideration.

Which brings me to three final take aways from all of this as I begin this next journey in the Gospel of John:

First, the Gospel of John is speaking to anyone familiar with the darkness, which John seems to suggest would be all of us.

Second, the Jesus that we find in the Gospel of John desires to breathe hope into the darkness and to give light into the places in which we are finding it hard to see.

Third, the way we allow Jesus to breath hope into our lives, the way we come to know and see Jesus more clearly, is through the practice of reflecting and remembering.

As I prepare myself to engage more fully with the “testimony of John”, the fruit of his own reflecting process, the challenge I find for myself is to continue my own path of remembering, a practice that motivated me to start this blog nearly 2 years ago. And as I remember, I also pray. I pray that the spirit that I encountered in these opening pages of John, the spirit that moved and gave voice to all of creation, will be the same spirit opens my eyes and my heart to new truths and new conviction, to greater “enlightenment” if you will, to borrow from the ESV translation. And may these truths and these convictions be not only the light to my darkness, but a light that I am able to share with the world around me as well.

My Make-shift, Pieced Together, Made Up, Experimental 2018 Reading Challenge

My 2018 New Years Resolution (see: ROSEBUD) included a personal goal to come up with a different reading plan than my usual Goodreads challenge. I am still signed up to Goodreads, but I limited the number of books I expect to complete to leave room for reading with more intention and focus without worrying about quantity.

But to do this I needed to find another Reading Challenge. Of which a simple google search offers plenty. But none of them seemed to offer what I was looking for. To be intentional it needed to be personal. And so, with some online help to nudge me in the right direction, I created my own list, a list I hope speaks to 2017 while also helping to give shape to 2018. It’s a list that I hope can challenge me. It’s a list I hope can introduce me to to some new ideas and some new books. And it’s a list I hope can help me revisit some books that have been sitting on my TBR list for a while.

1-5. Chose 5 out of the first 20 books added to your Goodreaads TBR list.
6-8. Read 2 books connected to the year I was born (released on that year, talking about an important subject from that year, the most popular author from that year, etc.)
9-12. Finish two different trilogies that you started and have yet to finish
13. Read a book by your favourite author that you have not yet read
14-15. Local Books: Read a book by an author from my home province/Country and by an author of a province/state that I visit this year.
16. Read a book with 500 plus pages
17-19. Read 3 travelogues or non-fiction books related to the theme of travel.
20. Read a book dealing with a food related theme
21-25.Read 5 new books released in 2017 or 2018
26-28. Recommended Reads: Read 3 recommended reads from 3 different friends.
29-30. Browse through an independent store in the city in which I live and in a place which I visit, find a (personally) undiscovered book and read it.
31. Read a biography of a personal hero
32. Read a book related to a favourite film/director/actor
33. Read a history of something you love
34. Read a book together with a friend
35. Read a book on the Gospel of John
– Just to provide context, the reason for this addition is that every year my Church goes through one of the Gospels. This year it is the Gospel of John. Previously I worked through Matthew and Mark.
36-38. Read 3 (personally) undiscovered books that I have not yet heard of.
39. Reread a book from my childhood
40-42. Read 3 different books on three different topics relating to theology that were important to me in 2017
43. Read a childrens book
44. Read a book of a film you have not already seen
45. Read a book of a film you have already seen

Rosebud: Continuing My New Years Resolution Plan

Last year I started a New Years Resolution Plan called Rosebud that I got off one of the podcasts I frequent. The process essentially looks like this:

Step 1: List Three Roses-
This is the stuff that I would consider the greatest strengths, successes or accomplishments of the past year, the stuff that has managed to blossom into a Rose.

Step 2: List Three Thorns
This would reflect my greatest personal struggles of the past year.

Step 3: List Three Buds
This is a list of what I would like to “bud” into Roses in the coming year.

Step 4: Come up with a word for the year
This should be a single word that can help reflect the direction I want to head in the coming year, a single word that can give my year a theme or a recognizable flavour.
The great part of the Rosebud system is that it allows you to document these things by year so that you can follow your growth, keep yourself accountable, and target the yearly summation of your  hopes and expectations in ways that are more practical, personal and balanced.

So looking back, here were the 3 buds from last year that reflected the things I had hoped to bud into Roses:
1. More focused writing
2. Small Steps, namely in areas like debt repayment, giving more, and taking smaller more manageable trips (because opportunity to travel and see new places is important to me).
3. Travel (in the manner mentioned above)

And my single word for 2017: Time

So how did I do?

The first bud was definitely successful (more focused writing). There were some lulls in 2017, but I am happy in general with how much “time” I was able to give to writing more and writing with more focus. My hope down the road, if I can continue to focus my writing, is to be able to take that time and figure out a way to turn some of it into a book.

The second bud (small steps) came with some hits and some misses. The latter half of the year saw some setbacks in certain areas (I was not where I wanted to be in terms of finding areas to give more), but at the same time we made some positive (small steps) towards positioning ourselves to be better equipped this year to tackle some small steps.

The third (travel). Not where I wanted it to be. I think looking at some of the thorns of last year, this lack of budding increased some of those thorns (namely anxiety, social isolation). Some of this is due to a phase of life. So much of our time (which is important to travel) was invested into our son over this year. And no regrets there at all, but it does speak to a reality that we have to learn how to navigate together if we are to increase our investment in “family” time. And I think (small step) travel is one of the best ways to do that. And the truth is it does help my anxiety as well, and that means I am better equipped to really give into the family in other ways as well.


So on to 2018:
3 Roses:
1. More focused Writing
I wanted to include this again not as a retread but as a way of making sure I don’t fall off the wagon. I just wanted to acknowledge that it did become a noted strength in 2017, not because my writing is great but because I feel I have been able to articulate some important things for myself in times and in ways that I have needed.
2. Engagement at my job
This wasn’t on my radar when I did this in 2017, but by the end of last school year I was not very engaged with my job. I am a school bus driver by trade, and last year was a really tough year. So much so that rather than engaging with my kids I just wanted to hide most days as I tried my best to trudge through it all. At the beginning of this school year I made a commitment to reengage with the students and to reinvest in the time I was spending with my bus (small steps). I feel like it has payed off. I am seeing stronger relationships, and although there are still challenges I have stayed engaged and involved and creative.

3. Risk taking and lifestyle changes
We made some tough choices this year, especially in the latter months, to try and reposition our family towards where we needed to be. Some of these choices involved taking a risk and a step of faith. But I feel like this is a positive strength for us as a family, The ability to make changes and to maybe do some things a bit off course than the way we normally might do it makes me excited for the potential and possibilities down the road.

3 Thorns
1. Anxiety
This is a retread, and for good reason. I suggested last year that this is one that will likely be ongoing. The struggle this past year grew from manageable to a negative and not very manageable in the latter half.

2. Social Activity
Again, a retread, and again for good reason. It goes hand in hand with the anxiety. When my anxiety is high the number one place it manifests is socially. And when social activity is low, anxiety grows. It is a bit of a vicious cycle.

3. Time
Time was a positive last year in certain respects. It was my word for the year, and I chose it because it was necessary for my buds to grow. But time also remained allusive and not balanced in other respects, especially in making use of the summer (we are all on the school system and are off for those two months), and also in balancing family time with a crazy schedule for our kid in the fall months.

3 Buds
1. Make Travel Goals
I have put this at number one not as a selfish goal but as a proactive one. Some of the changes we have made in our house involve planning with more intention, so I think with this bud I wanted to see something more intentional as well, keeping in mind that I also want to approach this according to the “small steps” mantra of last year. So here are some possible and intentional ideas:
Toronto- The ball was dropped on me getting our son Sasha (and us) back to Toronto. And time is ticking for opportunity to get him over there so that he can build some relationships with his extended family. This is a manageable trip. We know how to do it and we know how to do it on a budget. Couple this with the fact that they are also opening up a brand new, multi level go cart track in Niagra, and this will be a great opportunity for Sasha to get down there again and for all of us to see family.

Old Mid-West Trip– This will coincide with my second bud, but I had this idea for a blog that revolved around the Western. I wanted to pair some movies with a visit to some Western icons that are not far from where we live. Hopefully I can find that opportunity this year.

Duluth– Our son Sasha really wants to get back there to do some snow boarding.

Memphis/New Orleans– this is the year to think about racial issues and civil rights. A few different anniversaries are being celebrated in 2018, including an important anniversary of New Orleans.

Detroit and Cleveland- A short trip over the border from Toronto are two of the top cities to visit in North America in 2018. I had been hoping to get Sasha down to Detroit so that I could take him to the museums and introduce him to some of the history of race relations and civil rights. He got really interested in that last year in English class. Maybe this is the year where that is a possibility.

Omaha– weekend away with my wife. What better place than this mid-west city and the gondola ride down their canal.

2. More Focused Reading Challenge
I typically stick with the generic Good Reads challenge, and typically I make my goal of reading around 50 books in the year. This year I hope to become more intentional with my reading challenge. My goal is to research different creative ideas around how to read and what kind of books to read and then formulate it into a plan. I think this will help slow my reading down, give it more intention, and branch me out to different ideas and opportunities.

3. Creative Giving Ideas
Rather than just giving more, I hope to be able to look at this as branching out in more ways than just financially. It used to be a really big part of my character to come up with creative ways to give. And if this is an opportunity, it is an opportunity to challenge my social thorns as well. Because to give creatively means to give of time, to give towards specifics, and to know the people and situations and circumstance and personal ideas where giving might be meaningful or purposed.

One word for the year: Intentional

My Most Anticipated Films of 2018

Lots to get excited about in the year ahead when it comes to the world of film. A new direction for the Transformers universe (Bumblebee). Years of investment will finally pay off in Infinity War while diversity will finally come to the Marvel universe in the very promising Black Panther, an exceptionally intriguing multi-verse and multi-ethnic take on Spiderman, and the release of not one, but two new X-Men films.

But the real story of this year I think will be the unusual anticipation of a slew of new (and prominent) sequels for Paddington , The Incredibles, Pacific Rim, Jurassic World, Fantastic Beasts, Wreck it Ralph Tomb Raider, Cloverfield, Mission Impossible, Sicario, Oceans, Predator, and The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo.

And as if all of that was not enough, we also get more Star Wars (Solo), some big name originals with franchise potential (Ready Player One, Red Sparrow, A Wrinkle In Time, B.O.D), tons of great indies and smaller productions, and a follow up to the live action Beauty and The Beast (Mulan) that I am actually quite excited about.

And lets not forget Sherlock Gnomes. I mean come on. Who didn’t enjoy the first one. I know I did.

So with all that said, and perhaps willingly granting my anticipation of Infinity War and Solo right off the hop, here are the films I am most anticipating seeing in 2018.


  1. Paddington 2
    The original swept me off my feet. The sequel looks to be even better. And judging by early reactions (plenty of screenings have already happened for this one) it has a chance to be one of the best of 2018.
  2. Annihilation
    A killer trailer, memorable source material, an incredible cast and the director of Ex-Machina come together to make this a must see film this year.
  3. First Man
    It’s hard not to consider this new film by Damien Chazelle to be in the running come next awards season. It is biography and it is distinctly American at a time when American seems desperate to find itself again. More than this though, the film harkens back to Apollo 13, one of the great space films of all time,


  4. Isle of Dogs
    Wes Anderson follows the success (and brilliance) of Fantastic Mr. Fox with another animated feature set in Japan. Everything about this trailer looks and feels like Anderson, dripping with intrigue, creativity and charm. By far one of my most anticipated animated films, and in a year that will give us The Incredibles 2 and another Wreck It Ralph, this is no small feat.


  5. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
    A film 17 years in the making, the story behind this story is probably the thing that intrigues me the most about this (once upon a time) time travel narrative turned 17th century period piece. It has gone through multiple actors before settling on Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce, and has been considered one of the most troubled productions in film history, even spawning a documentary to try and shed light on this intriguing sentiment. It is a movie about the ways movies (and movie production) can impact people, providing us with a potentially fascinating look into the world of film culture at large.


  6. Ready Player One
    I could not put the book down. The trailer looks to bring all of the stuff that made it such a fun ride to life. It’s one big geek fest celebrating everything that made 80’s Hollywood so magical. And with Spielberg on board I can’t wait. This is going to be one heck of a ride.


  7. Sisters-Brothers
    I love Westerns. So much of American cinema owes much to the Western, and with this particular entry into the genre we get to watch an indie director and a stellar cast weaving the age old Western tropes (in the most positive sense possible) over 1000 miles of the rugged and notorious American landscape.


  8. Wrinkle In Time
    A childhood favourite, I have been looking forward to A Wrinkle In Time ever since it was first announced. And now that they are promoting the heck out of it my anticipation just keeps growing.


  9. Bilal
    With the subtitle “A New Hero”, this is a tale that jumps straight out of the pages of its ancient subtext. In terms of Biblical narratives I could easily note the long projected The Apostle Paul finally making headway, the epic looking Samson or the curiousity of the oddly marketed Mary Magdalene. But this is the one that really caught my eye. It lives and breathes as a Biblical epic, and inspired by the true story of one man standing against injustice is bound to be a larger than life big screen presence in 2018.


  10. Please Stand By
    From the director of the emotionally rewarding The Sessions, this is a film that celebrates the wonders of geekdom and fandom while also managing to shed light on the challenges of living with autism. It looks to be an important film and a touching film, but even more than that a whole lot of fun.


  11. A Quiet Place
    Three things elevate this film to my top must see list of films. First, I feel like I really want to see just how they handle the plot of this film. It would seem to me a real challenge to centre a film around a group of people who have to be completely silent. Second, I love horror and in a year that will also see Cloverfield: The God Particle, the fantastic looking Winchester and the next installment in the Conjuring universe, The Nun, this is the horror film that seems most unique to me. And lastly, it comes from the director of Away We God, and to say I loved that film is an understatement.

  12. Road Trip Movies
    We don’t get one in 2018, we get two, and so I thought I would highlight both of them. The first is called The Long Dumb Road, a film about two people from different walks of life who happen across each others path and end up on a road trip across the American South. I have long been fascinated by the American South and its culture, so this was a huge buy for me. And it just feels and looks like it has the potential to really hit home on the whole question of equality in a time when this discussion continues to be prominent on the American stage.The second Road Trip movie is called American Folk. In a similar way it follows two strangers who are brought together (in this case from the both of them being stranded), only here theme is music and musicians and the backdrop is 9/11. Again, fascinated and a huge buy.



3 Honorable Mentions:
1. Fast Colour
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a beast right now, as is bringing together the producer for La La Land and the producer for Jackie. In the case of Raw, following Beauty and the Beast, we can also see her in Cloverfield (can’t wait for that one) and a Wrinkle In time. That’s huge. But this is the film that will truly showcase her in a leading role, telling the story of a woman forced on the run when her superhuman abilities are discovered. It feels very X-Men in story, but decidedly unique and fresh in tone.

2. Maze Runner: The Death Cure

The Scorch Trials really caught me off guard and managed to work its way into being one of my favourite films of that year, or at least the biggest surprise. It is a film that our whole family can get behind which is great, and this final film in the trilogy looks to end on a high note.
3. My honourable mentions could just as easily be another top 12 list in its own right with many competing categories including most anticipated superhero film (Black Panther) and reboot (Oceans 8). But the one I have to include here is Pacific Rim Uprising. This one just looks to be bonkers good, and given how much I enjoyed the first one my expectations are sky high.


My Year In Film: Cinema and the Importance of Remembering, Making Memories and Finding Meaning in This World

If there is a single cinematic theme that has been lingering for me in the closing moments of 2017 it would be the theme of “remembering”, or the importance of “memory making”. It showed up in some surprising places and with surprising force, guiding an exploration of loss, grief, identity, self reflection, relationships and our need to belong.  In one case it even looked at the power of nostalgia to shape the way we see our lives in a new way.

Here is a look back on an important part my personal cinematic journey this year, one that called me back to this practice of remembering the importance of memory making. And please be aware, all of the films discussed here will contain a degree of spoilers.

A GHOST STORYdownload-1
One of two like minded ghost stories I saw this year (the other being Personal Shopper), this film managed to offer a poignant and poetic cinematic picture of the importance of remembering in the midst of loss. The fact that a single bed sheet with two holes cut out for eyes could challenge my perception of life and loss so profoundly is a testament to the power of the moving image.

At the forefront of A Ghost Story are two competing ideas: how hard it is to remember and how easy it is to forget. And the thing that binds these two ideas intimately together is the notion of time.


downloadThe film narrows in on the story of a young couple, aptly named C and M, but as the film progresses through the sudden loss of C, it is the house that carries their story forward, transformed through the sudden feeling of emptiness and connecting us at once backwards and forwards in time as it calls us to consider and to wrestle with the brooding silence. And on this same note, there might not be a better use of a single song to really capture a films tone than the one C composes on a piano in this film. Its presence, followed by its absence, is a gut wrenching realization of the power that silence has to truly shake our world.


In one particularly powerful scene we see another family in time sitting (and imposing their own noise) onto this house as they wrestle with the idea of legacy. To which one of the family members laments the fact that no matter how hard we try to do something or make a life that matters, all of this is eventually destroyed, forgotten. That C lingers in the background haunting this sentiment and giving a sense of timelessness to the house they embody is a truly captivating moment.


At one point M writes a note in the midst of all of the destruction of her life and sticks it in a wall. We never see what is written on this note, but it symbolizes her best effort to persist in the midst of the destruction, to remember the past that is now building her towards an uncertain future, and to take the necessary steps to move forward.


But what is especially fascinating about A Ghost Story, especially in this singular moment, is the way the film shifts our perspective from M to C. In Personal Shopper the ghost is allusive and mysterious, kept ambiguously absent from our sight. In contrast, the ghost in A Ghost Story is fully imagined and fully present. In this film it is not so much about M’s struggle to see C, as it is in Personal Shopper, but of C’s struggle to be seen by M, of his ghost coming to terms with what his presence, and his lack of presence, means to the world around him. It evokes this sense not of struggling with the unanswered questions, but of the importance of engaging with these questions of our struggle and of meaning in the first place. We never see what is written on this note, but what we do know is that this note allows C’s ghost to eventually move forward into the light, to pursue these important questions.

At one point in the film we are given a glimpse of a secondary ghost that lingers in the house next door. The ghost next door can’t remember who he or she is waiting for, and ultimately realizes in its eventual fading that whoever it is, they are not coming. In the end of film we are given a picture of a secondary C standing in house watching himself watching M. For C it is a point of remembering in a way the ghost next door could not. His memory of the past he left behind allows him to embrace the moments of his life, good and bad, that have allowed him to be seen, to be needed, a life that is brought together symbolically in this film through a song. For C, it is the idea of this song breaking through the silence, through the mess, that connects him back to M and the world she inhabits, ultimately leading him to this note which has been stuck in a wall and out of reach until the destruction of their home, their lives, becomes so vast and so final that it opens up a crack wide enough for him to reach it. And whatever this note says, whatever this note means to C, we know it is important. Important enough to allow him to finally move forward in the midst of his own lingering memories.




Similar to A Ghost Story, Personal Shopper is another fascinating exploration of what it means to remember in the midst of loss, grief and the destruction of our lives, using the presence of a ghost to propel its story. It just looks at it from a slightly different perspective with slightly different nuances, shifting our perspective from the ghost to the one who left behind struggling to see the ghost.

Stewart gives the performance of her career playing a young woman caught between her professional life on the outside (an assistant or personal shopper for a celebrity supermodel) and the despair she carries on the inside (the loss of her brother whom she shared a heart condition with). The way the film brings together these two realities makes them feel far less apart than they might first appear. The glamorous, dressed up lifestyle of Maureen’s career reveals a much less dressed up sense of sadness and weariness, providing a stark reminder of what lies underneath the masks we all tend to wear in our everyday lives. And we see this even more realized in a couple scenes where Stewarts character is literally left bare, not in a sexualized way but in a way that reveals the depth of her weariness.


download-1In all of this, what sets Personal Shopper apart is the way it leaves its ghost just out of reach. In the midst of Maureen’s sense of loss and the prevailing grief that deconstructs the slow destruction of her imagined world of playing dress up, we see her desperately seeking, longing for something to give her hope and healing. And so she begins to see glimpses of her brothers ghost haunting a world she doesn’t understand, and she begins to hope for the chance to reconnect with the loss of that memory, that reality, that person with which she continues to feel so intimately tied even in his absence.


On the other side of this is the presence of a possible dangerous stalker who is trying to infiltrate and upset the professional world she inhabits. As a viewer the film leaves us uncertain about the identity and the existence of either of these presences, allowing this to focus our attention on Maureen, who is left swimming in a mix of fear, sadness and desperation, wrestling with the films important questions. What gives us meaning? What is it that binds us to the people of our lives in a meaningful way? What does it mean to remember these people that allows this meaning to exist beyond their presence, beyond ourselves? And where do we find hope that this meaning can carry forward in the midst of all of the destruction in our world and our lives? How hard must we fight to stay connected to this sense of hope?


As an added piece, it is interesting to note the fact that her brother was a carpenter, a fact that allows the questions of this film to offer some concrete images in the midst of its own ambiguity, the sense that maybe, just maybe there are some answers to be

These are powerful questions that expand my understanding of what it means to remember in ways that can help motivate me to recognize what hope is and to hold on to it when things feel hopeless. And it challenges me to reclaim hope as more than a memory, but also an expectation? As the promise of new life that we are free to imagine in the midst of a life lost.

The film also allowed me to consider the power of its ambiguity, to recognize and embrace the struggle to hold on when these expectations are challenged. To recognize that we don’t, and won’t always have a firm grasp on these things, and to learn to be okay with that. The film doesn’t do the work answer these questions for us, nor does it suggest that the struggle of the ambiguity and the unanswered questions or the conviction that forms our expectation has power the other. It simply lets us sit in the tension, leaving room for us to ponder and to wrestle with these things along with Maureen.


One of the great cinematic moments of 2017 also managed to bring me face to face with one of the most profound explorations of memory and what it means to remember this year.

download-2As a sequel to the 1982 film, Blade Runner 2049 introduces us to a new Blade Runner (K, played by Ryan Gosling) who is created to hunt down the old generation of rogue replicants who are not complying with the larger Order ( the order for these human/android hybrids to be programmed to be slaves and workers for the benefit of society or, should they go rogue, ultimately be hunted down and destroyed). This job eventually leads him to discover an untold question about his own past, a question that forms the central concern of the films story going forward.


The discovery is a box buried under the tree that sits at the home of a replicant K was called to destroy, a box that we find out contains the bones of a baby, the remains of the miracle this rogue replicant references in his final breathe. And what adds to the mystery of this box is that it appears to be tied to a date K notices scratched into the trunk of the tree, a date that conjures up a forgotten memory in his own mind.


download-3What concerns the story itself is the prospect of rogue replicants being able to procreate and the challenge that posits to maintaining the order. What concerns K specifically is how and why these dates are attached to his own memory and how that defines his place in the larger order. Memories are implanted artificially, but this memory seems strangely distant and real. And so K sets out to discover the truth about his memory, the truth of who he is, a journey that blurs the line between where human and android begins and ends.


As the questions of the film begin to get clearer, this idea of our memories becomes a powerful way of understanding our humanity. Caught at this intersection between human and android is this question of our memories, and at heart of being human is the genuine capacity to remember and to connect ourselves to these memories. What pushes this further is the connection of memory (and remembering) to recognizing the difference between being born or being created. In the world that K inhabits, to be born is a miracle, an action that pushes back on our ability and our need to control, while the other represents our mastery of this world, our need to control our place in this world. And what is important to this futuristic and dystopian reality is the question of what the world might look like in the absence of a miracle.


At the heart of this miracle, the thing that pushes back on our need to control, is our ability to remember. This is what is given to us in the miracle of a birth, both a memory and the ability to remember. Take these memories away and we are left with something wholly unrecognizable. something unable to give or receive meaning with intentionality. This is what a hologram named Joi comes to represent. When K goes on a journey to discover the truth about who he is, the memory that gives him meaning, he removes Joi from her memory base and transports her through a mobile emitter (which allows her to take shape outside of her memory base). The danger of this though is that if this emitter is destroyed all of Joi’s memories, and thus her ability to give meaning to K’s world, disappears for good. downloadThis is used to shed light on the possibility of K’s own humanity. If he is human it is the memory he is chasing that gives him meaning. And if he dies, it is the loss of these memories that challenges his humanity.


The film answers some these questions in its powerful conclusion, but it leaves others unanswered allowing me to wrestle with the kind of ambiguity that Personal Shopper evoked even while trusting in the message of A Ghost Story, the truth that these are important questions to be asking. Where Blade Runner adds to the picture is by offering something a bit more concrete about what this journey looks like out in the world. The film left me as a viewer to ponder where we are given and afforded meaning in our own lives and what those memories are that infuse my own life with a sense of meaning with purpose in intentional ways, even as I also feel obligated to impose these same questions out into the world around me as well. Blade Runner challenged me to consider the things that are able to fade away without any lasting meaning, and pushed me to hold a little bit more tightly to the stuff that is worth building our memories around.

I have written elsewhere about Coco’s powerful message surrounding the importance of remembering in a life full of loss, and the joy that this practice of remembering, this practice of creating memories together, can infuse into our sense of being, our sense of meaning not only as an individual, but as a

What is worth noting again though is the way this film uses memory to expand our perception of where we find meaning in this world.

A Ghost Story asked the question of us personally and looked at it from the lens of our own journey in this life, calling us to consider the importance of spending time asking the bigger questions of what gives this life meaning, especially as it connects us to others. Personal Shopper looked at these questions from the perspective of struggling with life’s ambiguity in the midst of all these questions, calling us to consider the ways in which our memories are tied to our relationships and the impact and ability of these relationships to bind us to the memories that give life meaning, even when we can’t see it in the present. Blade Runner 2049 pushed these questions even further for me, asking what it is that sets these relationships, this sense of the miracle we call a meaningful life, apart from the world we are desperate to control in the midst of all its ambiguity, apart from the world we look to create when given meaning feels allusive. And in all of this Blade Runner stood as a poignant reminder that it is relationship that gives this world meaning and it is our memories that connect us to these relationships.

I noted in my review of Coco that one of the central things I wrestled with in that film was the way it connects these relationships that give us meaning directly to the idea of family, and particular to Coco, the mutli-generational family households that are familiar to Mexican culture. The film expands the importance of remembering, or celebrating our memories of others, into the grand tapestry of our bloodlines and our generational ties. It is a good challenge to the exclusivity we tend to find sometimes in our ideas of the North American household that sometimes tends to separate us from our connection to the people in our past that have helped shape our family name.  At the same time though it caused me to wonder if the film was not being inclusive enough.images As the father of an adopted child, it seemed to me that family, as a primary expression of these relationships that give us meaning in this world, must have a more expansive reach for us to be able to participate.

With this in mind, if Coco pushed this concept of memory and remembering further for me in this cinematic jouney, it is towards a greater consideration of some of the poetry that I found in Blade Runner 2049’s final images. Coco helped me to see that in the bigger picture of these important questions, questions of meaning and relationship and memory, is the presence of the walls we create to hold and encase the memories we deem important. In A Ghost Story this becomes a literal home. In Personal Shopper this was a shared heart. These are defined places. But Blade Runner 2049 considered what it might look like to break down these walls, to consider the ways in which who we are reaches beyond the question of bloodlines or technological advancement, the two worlds that K finds himself caught inbetween. Blade Runner challenges our tendency to narrow our perception of just how far this sense of meaning can reach, and imagines what it might be like to extend this sense of meaning into a world that we don’t entirely understand or relate to. We tend to narrow our sense of meaning to the places we can control, to the confines of our personal space, and this in turn sets the stage for how we are able to see and respond to the world that exists around us.

And so the act of remembering, and miracle of memory that infuse this world in Blade Runner 2049 with meaning is intimately connected to learning how to see beyond these walls that we create for ourselves. It is connected to our ability to  see our life in the world as meaningful and to give life into the world in a way that gives others meaning regardless of their story, regardless of where they are coming from.

In Coco we sense glimpses of just how wide and colourful the world really is in the expansive picture it creates of the Land of the Dead. But we only ever get glimpses of how far our memories, our ability to relate to the world around us, can actually reach if we were to see beyond the confines of our walls. download-1Only a passive mention of what this sense of meaning, might look like if it were extended outwards, as it is imagined in Blade Runner 2049 and again in the story of Coco, beyond our bloodlines, beyond our family name and into the world at large. This is where K is able to find his given meaning, and it is where we find Coco, however briefly, extending this meaning outwards as well in the midst of his search for his father.
download-1If there was a single film this year that managed to bring together all of these  aspects of remembering and meaning and memory it was Cars 3. It managed to recognize our relationship to the places that define us- our homes, our culture, while pushing us to see the world that exists around us, expanding our understanding of this world through the experiences and memories we make when we step out of our places of comfort. Cars 3 uses the passage of time as a means of bringing together our past and the distance that time creates, and the experiences we gain on this outward journey as we move forward.

And the way it does this is by conjuring up a brilliant use of nostalgia, recreating images of a national icon (Route 66) that once existed to connect a Country to a common identity, while contrasting this with a world that continues to move forward, with a ferocious sense of velocity and destructive force, in a way that seems to be constantly threatening to disconnect us from this sense of identity. And it is in this place of tension that it calls us to both remember and to live anew.


But as all of these other films have done, it also reminds me that living in this way is never easy. And more often than not this journey has way of causing me to question, where do any of us fit in all of this uncertainty. downloadWhat makes this journey called life meaningful when the past seems so fleeting the future so uncertain. In Cars 3, pieces of the puzzle are found in remembering the past. There is a deftly realized sequence that brings Cars 3 back full circle to where we started in the first film, recognizing that the ghosts in this film is the faded track, the familiar old stomping ground. Other pieces are found in the choices we make in the present. For as much as the past feels distant, there is opportunity in seeing what is right in front of us, which in Cars 3 is the opportunity to give into a young life in the same way that someone once gave into the life of the main character so many years ago.

And the final pieces are found in our consideration of an uncertain future. We can’t know the impact of our choices today, but the more we see the world the more opportunity there is to give it meaning that comes from outside of our control, outside of ourselves.

And so it becomes a constant wrestling, a juggling act. The effort to hold onto the stuff thats important while also making room for the world that calls us forward. And Cars 3 reminds me that when we feel lost in this world, i this life, when the forces of threaten to push back in our uncertainty, when the stuff that steals our memory feels too strong to resist, the most important place to keep looking is towards the relationships that sit in our path, past present and future. This is where we find the opportunity not just to see how meaning there really is in this world, but how much more meaning we can find in our ever widening experience of this world should we embrace it. A story about cars thus becomes a story of what it means to be human, to exist in a shared story of a common grace brought together across time and across experience. A story of life in the midst of loss, faith in the midst of shattered dreams, and of building anew along the wreckage and destruction that time often leaves in its wake.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
And where there is new life there is also the opportunity to connect this sense of meaning to perhaps the most important question of all. The question that shapes the longing we find in Personal Shopper. The question that shapes the undercurrents of the lingering and undefined spiritual longing in A Ghost Story. The question that permeates the lingering philosophical consideration that meaningful relationship and pictures of humanity reaches beyond bloodlines in Blade Runner 2049. The question that pushes through the culturally bound expressions of family in Coco.

This is the question of meaning. Given meaning and created meaning. Meaning that comes from outside of ourselves or meaning that we try to control. As one character in the rather wonderful midlife crisis film Brad’s Status laments, “You’re 50 years old and you still think the world was made for you?” It echoes at a crossroads of humanist reckoning and spiritual longing. And in a film like Downsizing, where these two things could have been seen as irreconcilable, they are afforded an opportunity to come together in an unexpected way, a way that is able to shape our practice of memory making in a profound sense, a way that forces us to look outside of ourselves not just to a world looking to survive, but to a world looking for meaning, for a reason to live. As A Ghost Story first reminded me, these are important questions to keep asking.

This is the meaning that we see breathing through the incredibly realized spirituality of remembering and forgetting in Your Name, or the pastoral pondering that motivates The Pursuit of Silence as a life of constant self and spiritual reflection (remembering), or the culturally defined faith that gives direction to a Past Life. Or the way that the religious history, and remembering this history, brings together faith, family, culture and world in Keep Quiet.

Perhaps most poignant for me though was the way that Star Wars: The Last Jedi recognized the importance of a spiritual force permeating our experiences, our memory making, in a way that gives it worth outside of ourselves, through the givenness of an other. This force is what binds us to our places of identity, which in TLJ comes in the form of recognizing the markers of our faded and forgotten and hidden past, and facing the tension that exists between our places of belonging, pushing ourselves to see beyond blood ties and being open to discover a universal given worth, one that breathes outside of the exclusivity of these walls and bound by a common humanity and a common struggle.

In all of this I have found important sentiment for examining my own life. As I look to reconcile this practice of remembering and memory making in my own life I find myself wrestling with these same ideas of created and given meaning/worth. And I have pondered the role that my own life plays in giving meaning into relationships and into the world. And what these cinematic moments have taught me the most is the opportunity my faith affords me in accepting meaning, accepting worth and then giving it freely outwards without exclusivity, not bound by walls.

Hopefully this is something that can shape 2018 moving forward.


Jumanji and the Game of Life


For what it’s worth Jumanji was the last place I expected to find meaningful theological discussion. But it actually presented me with an opportunity to engage with my son in some heathy and timely dialogue surrounding faith and God. A likely testament to how simply and effectively the film handles its narrative.
Particle Man
On our way to see this film my son happened to start talking about his school year and some of what he has been learning. He mentioned that he was struggling to believe in the idea of God or religion. Using his limited vocabulary (he was adopted from Ukraine so his english is still limited) he went into some pretty impressive existential and philosophical reasoning for why faith in God was a difficult thing to understand. He made reference to the fact that we are simply particles coming together with other particles to form something real, knowable, seeable, touchable, and went on to say “I believe in myself” while suggesting that, on the other side of this equation he can’t see, know, or touch God in the same way. And so we should do our best to spend this life being our best selves, but he is not sure we need God to do that.

I went on to dub him “Particle Man”, a hero destined to change the world for the better.

Lives Versus Life
If you have seen Jumanji you will know that it does some neat things with contrasting the way we play this game (of life) with 3 lives versus 1 life. This idea sparked some conversation about this contrast afterwards when we got home. When the game is going well and we are advancing to the next level and making progress, the game is fun and enjoyable to play. But in these moments we aren’t always paying full attention to our surroundings, or anticipating what could be coming around the next corner. And we don’t always concern ourselves with the bigger questions of why we are doing what we are doing or what the end goal of this game really is working towards.

In Jumanji lives are measured by bars on your wrist. When a bar is lost it has a way of making us more intently aware of these questions. It causes us look at the game differently. It has a way of encouraging us to think about why we are doing what we are doing and what risks are worth taking.

It also makes us far more aware of the people we are playing the game with and the ways in which we need these other people (with their strengths) in our life in order to play the game well. Especially in those times when our weakness- our struggles, our insecurities, our failures, our sins, become more apparent.

The message of the film of course doesn’t intend to reach into the realm of theology (with its one life to live, so make the most of it message). But it did set the stage for some really good and timely discussion in our home about some of the bigger questions. Questions about what it means to recognize our strengths while also being okay with our weaknesses, something that follows these characters as their avatars begin to expose their real world struggles, the stuff they have been hiding behind in the every day. This can be especially pertinent in times when we like to believe we don’t have any weaknesses at all, something Johnsons character must come to terms with over the course of the film.

Or Questions about how our weaknesses reveals our need for an other in our lives, and how our strength can help the weaknesses of others in their time of need. There is a key scene in the film that really drives this point home, showing the power that this kind of sacrifice and sacrificial language can really change the way we play the game in some real and amazing ways.

And ultimately this is what we are reminded of in the story of scripture. God came into this world to be that visible, knowable, touchable other who demonstrates this sort of self sacrificial language on our behalf. A God who then calls us to follow in his footsteps and to do likewise for the life of others. These are the most important rules for the game. This is the way to the next level. This is the end game. This is the bigger picture.

The next morning following our evening viewing my son asked me to give him a marker. He said he will draw three bars on his arm. And then he’ll show this game how its supposed to be played. I suggested that when you get as old as me life has a way of reminding us of just how fast those bars are fading every single day. I can keep trying to scratch them back on all I want, but I can’t control them from disappearing. Which is a reminder to me to keep playing the game according to the most important rule. Love God and love others.  Which is really what I hope and pray this Christmas season can be for our family, and especially for my son in the midst of his questions and his wrestling. A time of fresh perspective. An opportunity to see the one who entered this game to make God knowable, touchable, seeable. Who taught us how to play this game on His terms rather than ours. Who infused it with purpose, gave us our strength, and offered grace and meaning in our weakness, the same grace we are called to give to others.

May this be the spirit by which we play, and may we remember the spirit by which He came this season.

A Conundrum Full of Questions

The other night I couldn’t sleep, and so I came downstairs. My son happened to be curled up on the couch rather than in his room. I found myself looking at my son and wondering about what I had to offer him as his father. I wondered about all the things I wanted to promise him. I thought about his hopex and dreams. And I thought about all the ways this world can steal these promises, these hopes and these dreams.

And then I just started to write. And what came out was this series of questions:


The Meaning of a Life
The moment we discover gravity is the moment we realize that we cannot fly. And so we learn how to walk.

The moment we learn to walk is the moment we learn to die. And so we begin the work of learning what it means to live.

But what is life if not the slow process of dying?

And so we choose to believe that death gives life meaning.

But if death gives life meaning, why do we spend so much of our lives trying to find a way to fix death? We work and we give and we fight so that someday we might conquer disease. We could not imagine a public request for money to help fund a cure for cancer while also hearing that this same cancer cannot or should not be cured.

Which begs the question. Would most people not accept a pill that could cure them of all disease, especially if this disease was threatening to take their life? Or would they take it?

We hope for more. We hope for better. We hope that one day life can change. This is human nature. To live life we must face death. To change life it seems we must change death.

But what kind of world, what kind of life do we expect to find on the other side of death and disease?

What motivates us to long for this world?

Which begs another question. Would most people not accept a pill that could cure the life of someone they love, especially if this disease was threatening to take their life? Or would they give them this pill?

And so we find motivation to live through investing in the life of others.

We learn that we are not the meaning of this life, and so we work to make others lives meaningful.

But how do we convince others that their life has meaning if ours does not?

When we work to make other lives meaningful, it gives our life meaning.

But what are we helping others to live for if not the long road towards death?

And if we are helping them to live for more, what kind of life do we expect them to find on the other side of death and disease? What do we believe should motivate others to long for this world?

And so we hope that they too will find motivation to live through investing in the lives of others. Because we also need to be reminded that this life has meaning. That there is something to hope for on the other side of death and disease, that fine line between meaning and meaninglessness.

Hope that maybe, just maybe there is a chance we are able to fly after all.


A Marriage Analogy
First we enter the Honeymoon period where anything is possible. Love is ours for the taking. This new world is an enchanting and wondrous place. Romance is very much alive and well. Everyday is made up of big, extraordinary moments.

We believe we can fly.


And then reality sets in.

Routine. Struggle. Conflict.

Innocence lost.


Which presents us with an opportunity.

We must learn to walk. We grow through the struggle. We find meaning in the routine. We come to cherish the small moments in the midst of what is sometimes an overwhelming sense of conflict. We realize that one day this romance will be stolen, one day death will take its toll.

And then we learn to live.


But we also learn to live for more.

The reason we walk is to remind ourselves of what it was like to fly. We spend the rest of our lives trying to reclaim the wonder and the romance that the world stole and continues to steal away. In the midst of this reality- the routine, the struggle, the conflict, we find ways to fall in love with our spouse over and over and over again.
Where reality steals, we give.
We give towards the relationship that offers us meaning. Because in giving we are able to let them know that they mean something to us.
We hope for more than til’ death do us part. We hope for new life.

Patriarchy, Coco and the Power of Redefining Family


Lately I have been gaining more and more interest in the work of author Carolyn Custis James. She talks a lot about the importance of contextualization when it comes to engaging with the Bible and Christian theology. One of her biggest passions is learning how to read scripture in the context of a Patriarchal society, although much of what she has to say about contextualization can easily translate to any societal norm, especially when it comes to dealing with familial structures (to which the Patriarchy belongs).

She argues that the best way to navigate this conversation is to see the Patriarchal society as the backdrop to the world into which scripture first spoke, not the message of scripture itself. When we see it from this lens it becomes possible to recognize how the stories of the Bible are reshaping and even confronting the notions of Patriarchy. She goes on to say that for many who live(d) in a Patriarchal society, the Biblical narrative (sacred scripture) was revolutionary. It exposes it as a system of oppression, a process of exclusion, and illuminates the work of God in the world as the process of reconciliation rather than opposition. For those of us who don’t live in a Patriarchal Society, or at least not in such obvious ways, this context is not as easily understood. The Patriarchy was a way of structuring the family in the ancient world, and what makes this even more important is that for ancient culture, these family structures also tended to shape and impact their approach to politics as well. And so in the ancient world, the family represents two competing forces- oppression (exclusion) and freedom (belonging), which is why contextualization becomes so important for us today, especially when it comes to comes to recognizing how the idea of family also plays a central role in God’s work of reconciliation.

download-1Coco and The Contextualization of Family
As a Pixar original animated film, the creators of Coco were interested in giving voice to an underrepresented (and also currently oppressed) culture by highlighting the multi-generational household that defines the family context in Mexican culture. It then contextualizing this for a modern and international audience (which comes most clearly in Pixar’s efforts to intentionally translate the film seamlessly for English speaking audiences). From what I have heard, the film does well in celebrating the strength of a culture that values strong generational ties, incorporating some the quirks and subtleties that give this culture so much colour. It also becomes a metaphor for the oppression the culture faces in our modern age, using that line between the living and the land of the dead to imagine a very real U.S./Mexican border. Here it brings these same competing forces- exclusion and belonging, to light in a powerful way.

However, the film also does some interesting things in exploring the ways in which this family structure gives attention to what is ultimately a very human struggle- the struggle to forgive, the reality of rejection, identity issues and the struggle to belong in a system that often excludes based on elevating the worth of blood ties and family name. It reminds us that while we can see the oppression on a socio-political level, what is not always as easy to see are these same things happening on a deeply personal level in the context of our own families and relationships on our own soil and in our own homes.

downloadBy the end of the film we see these two competing forces come together through a resonating message that, however messy family can get it is also the context in which we are able to learn forgiveness, grace, and the merits of unconditional love, all of the things necessary for belonging. For Coco (and the Mexican tradition it brings to light), the call to “remember” ones family is not necessarily about narrowing our perception of the places to which we belong, but it is about the opportunity to envision these acts of forgiveness, grace and love into our personal context.  But in a world as vast and as colourful and as intricate as the one Coco illustrates for us on screen, it also operates as a stark reminder of just how quickly theses things can become lost when our vision of family becomes too narrow, when the family structure and name becomes our idol, the means by which “we” belong (somewhere) rather than the model for how we relate to and include the “world”.


Adoption: A Metaphor For the World
As parents of an adopted son (internationally) and as parents who could not have biological children, so much of our ability to function as a family lives and dies on our ability to claim ourselves as a legal family in the eyes of the law. And so much of our ability to function as a family depends on seeing family as a cross-cultural journey. All 3 of us need to be able to hear and understand that family is not bound by a Patriarchal structure, or in our own modern context, by blood or by legal construct or shared culture, otherwise we would could not truly belong, we would not be fully included or accepted in society according to equal measure.

So the more I read and hear from James, the more I become convinced there is a very good reason why adoption becomes the singular, most dominant metaphor in response to the Patriarchal society that we find in the backdrop of scripture, because no matter which context the family takes, whether it is the nuclear family of American society or the multi-generational households of Mexican society, it still doesn’t reach broad enough, it can never be big enough to encompass God’s vision for His people and his world. Adoption, then, in it’s Christian context, is the only idea, the only familial narrative that truly reaches across our dividing lines, that touches us all and enables us to belong across borders, across multi-generational lines, and above any and all contextualization.

Reaching Towards Adoption
The truth of the Patriarchy, or any other familial system that binds us in terms of blood and status, is that these are things that can be stripped away and stolen. They are, by nature, exclusive, which means no matter what form they take they will always carry the potential for oppression. And it is this realization that pushed Carolyn James to look for something that could not be stolen, a truth about our identity that moves beyond contextualization and towards a universal truth about the work of reconciliation she saw saw breathing between the lines of the sacred scripture. And her search returned her to the pages of Genesis 1 and 2 in order to ask the question, what does the Bible have to say about us “in the beginning” that is true in birth and remains true in death. She arrived at 3 central truths (as she explains to Pete Enns in a recent interview with The Bible For Normal People podcast), of which the most important for me was number one:

We are image bearers meant to know the God we are imagining.

Out of this truth flows the mission of God’s people as image bearers, which is to break down the things that separate us from knowing God and of being a part of God’s family. And she creates a powerful picture of a nation which exists in the story of scripture to as an adopted people called to extend this message of adoption to the world, a world held hostage by their family structures, a world full of people in desperate need of freedom and a place to belong. For the early Jewish nation, and later the disciples of Christ followed by the apostles and the growing Church, this message of adoption was a reminder that the family of God knew no bounds. The family of God was not defined by the blood of relatives, but by the blood of God Himself. A blood stained image that uses the idea of sacrifice to flip the worlds power structures on its head. A self giving service that attempts to redefine the ways in which we belong and challenge the ways in which we don’t.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the Bible is interested in doing away with the idea of family or family structures, only that it wishes to set the idea of family into the bigger picture of God’s grace, work and story, the same story to which we are called to belong. This becomes in this narrative the contextualization of God Himself into our world and our circumstance, a contextualization that comes in a way that is fully realized in the incarnation, in the Gospel witness.

Reaching towards the Christmas Narrative
In the Christmas story the message of adoption that has been given to the Israelite Nation comes full circle. It has now been given to the world. As God’s image bearers created to know God’s image, each of us has been given the full imagining of God Himself, God in the flesh. And in this revelation we see ourselves for who God made us to be, sons and daughters of God, a title that cannot be stripped away or stolen by opposing forces. This is a familial structure that has been established through the birth, through the ministry of Jesus, and through the Cross, the final demonstration of what it looks like to belong to God’s blood-line. Here God demonstrates the nature of a Father and His first born son in a world which desperately needed to reshape its perspective of a Patriarchal order. In the Gospel story the Father (God) becomes bare and the first born becomes a servant, and in its place we are able to see stories of the oppressed and the marginalized, the women and the sick, the sinners and the broken, being raised up and being made visible through the act of adoption in an ancient world that had made them invisible, giving them the full rights of the firstborn son and the Father in the family of God.

In Christ each of us has been welcomed into the family of God because we share in the blood of Christ. And it is because of this that each of us has been called from our own context to continually broaden our perspective of family to include all nations, all peoples in this adoption truth regardless of context, regardless of culture. To go back to the story of Coco, for as much as it tells a wonderful story and is a celebration of a wonderful culture, I can’t help but feel like this same Gospel, this same message of adoption, would be as welcome in the context of that story as it was for the ancient Israelites and as it certainly is in my own. For all the potential for family to be oppressive for young Miguel, the truth of the Gospel is that family is also the place we can be redeemed when we set it in God’s story rather than our own.