Monday, August 23, 2010

Movie Recommendation

As many theologians, sociologists, and journalists will tell you, the Christian faith has, generally speaking, lost its sense of community over the centuries of the Constantinian and post-Enlightenment moment (take your pick). Christianity is a private and personal faith for most Christians. There is then little need to see faith as political, that is, social and interpersonal. With the exception of many small, rural congregations, the Pauline vision of the body of Christ (see especially Eph. 4) and the apostle's command to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2) in the community of faith have been largely forgotten, or else they have become a sort of footnote to congregational life to be fulfilled with the occasional church program or function. Especially in large churches, like the one where I serve, it is difficult to foster any sense of community cohesion.

This unfortunate turn in the Christian faith became evident to me again when I recently saw the film A Serious Man. The movie is directed and produced by the magnificent Coen brothers, who have been in charge of some of my favorite flicks (especially O Brother, Where Art Thou?). This particular film narrates the life of a physics professor in suburban Minnesota and the concurrence of troubles that befall him, beginning with a bribery attempt by one of his students. Yet the film goes deeper than simply his troubles. Instead, it delves into how he deals with these problems within the Jewish community (and even how the Jewish community perpetuates some of his problems) around him.

The movie is thoroughly Jewish (the Coens are Jewish, in fact, their surname is an apocopated form of the Hebrew word for "priest"), and sometimes it is hard to follow because of it. For instance, if you don't know any Hebrew, the vocabulary will throw you off for sure. Also, the movie also does not follow any particular moral and does not end in any particular direction (we never get a solid answer why Hashem would allow all of these things to befall this Job-like character). But to my mind, the film attempts to be a microcosm of Hebrew scripture- it embodies the tension and portrayal of reality of life as the community and its individuals seek to find God working in their complex world.

But aside from the metaphysical intricacies of the movie, I was struck by how the Jewish community was portrayed. There is a distinct interconnectedness between all of the Jewish characters. Despite all of the catastrophes that occur, and even despite how these catastrophes are due to the moral failure of some of the Jewish characters, they never question leaving the community and God. Instead, they keep seeking truth and fellowship among each other.

I wish that Christians were that patient and loyal to their community. For Christians, we feel like we do have the option of leaving the church and leaving God if we don't find what we are looking for. But for Jews, their identity is a gift and something they cannot wholly forsake (although I do know some folks who claim to be Jew-ish). In the Christian faith today, our community is seen as optional. So I ask- How can we recover a true sense of unforsakable community?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hardcore Justice- Methodist Style

A neighbor of mine once said, "Birmingham is a city full of secrets that nobody outside of town knows." While I have seen what she meant as manifested in the area's beautiful mountain ridges, spectacular restaurants, and down-home Southern culture, last week I encountered a negative example of her claim. In fact, to my mind, it must be the dirtiest of those secrets- the inordinate amount of homeless persons that walk the streets of the Birmingham metro area.

Last Thursday, I paid a visit to The Church of the Reconciler, a downtown United Methodist congregation whose mission is specifically to the homeless population in downtown Birmingham. Initially, the congregation was a merger of various United Methodist congregations in the downtown area on the decline. However, the church's mission shifted when the pews slowly began to be filled with more and more homeless. Instead of dreading this shift, the church embraced their new direction. Now they feed, minister to, and worship with hundreds of Birmingham homeless every week. In fact, the demand for their mission was so great that they recently had to purchase a larger facility.

During my visit, I was impressed with the church's pastor, Rev. Kevin Higgs. Kevin is a well-educated and well-spoken pastor who could easily have ascended to a more prestigious pulpit. Instead, he actually requested this specific appointment from the bishop, and embraces his calling to serve Christ with "the least of these" (Mtt. 25). He is sober and realistic about the church's situation, its needs, and its congregants. But I have no doubt that he sees the significance of serving in such a challenging, yet grace-filled, place.

According to Kevin, there are more homeless per capita in Birmingham than anywhere else in the South. In fact, in a metro population of about 1.2 million, there are well over 4,000 (Kevin estimates that it's grown closer to 5,000 since the last homeless census) homeless persons in the Magic City. To find out more about the poverty in the area, click here. And please, as we all seek to serve Christ in the least of these, help us to ensure that this "city of hidden secrets" has a few less dirty ones.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion: Sermons

The audio for my latest sermon, "The Land", is up on the TUMC website. Check it out here.

Also, be sure to check out my sermon on Moses from 7/11.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I Don't Need a Pass- I'm With the Sand

It's been a while since my last blog. Things have, all of a sudden, gotten very hectic around TUMC. I want to take the opportunity to now to turn away from my own endeavours and promote one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

A few years ago, I was at a youth conference in North Carolina. The featured "entertainer" (for lack of a better word) for the weekend was Joe Castillo, a sand artist. At first, I wondered what in the world that meant. I thought it sounded a little hokey, like the guys who come to music fests and build big sand castles. But Joe's work absolutely blew my mind.

Sand art, for Joe, starts with a plate of glass covered in sand. There is a camera below the glass, and Joe stands over the top of it. Joe's art is projected to the audience. Music starts, and Joe gathers the sand and "paints" biblical scenes with the it. But Joe does not paint one scene. Instead, the scene constantly changes (and it is choreographed with the music very well), until he finishes "painting" a biblical story. The best way I can describe it is "movie art". I know this doesn't help you very well with understanding what it is, so here are some videos of it.