Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Heroine for the Kingdom

I am currently working on preparing the gospel of Matthew as an epic storytelling. The final product will take between four and five hours to tell in it's entirety. A daunting task I must admit, but one I've been contemplating for some time.

I've chosen the gospel of Matthew because it has always been my favorite gospel. It is often referred to as The Kingdom Gospel because of the number of times the phrase "kin
gdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven" appears. The story of the Gospel Kingdom reads as well as any other lengendary tale. The Herald roams the country declaring the return of the Heir to the Kingdom. The Heir indeed appears and gathers about him a band of loyal followers. Together they wander from place to place openly proclaiming His imminent return to the throne, calling out the corrupt usurpers who lead his people down a misguided path.

Throughout his campaign he demonstrates to the people that He is indeed the rightful Heir, rallying them to His cause. He confronts the corrupt officials who have usurped His Father's house and challenges their right to lead the people. The story's climax comes
with a final confrontation between the Heir and the true force behind those who would usurp His Father's authority.

It has everything a legendary story needs... except a heroine.

Every hero needs a heroine: Aragorn needs his Arwen, Arthur needs his Guinevere, Paul Atreides needs his Chani. In his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge says that to be complete a man needs "a beauty to rescue" and popular culture would certainly seem to bear this out. Nearly every hero rescues his heroine and they live happily ever after.

In days gone by the heroine was often a wisp of a girl who faints at the sight of blood, screams incessantly when the monster appears, then trips and sprains her ankle during the escape. Not my idea of a heroine. Personally I lean more toward the pioneer type, bravely loading her hero's guns for him while they fight off the rustlers who would steal their ranch.

One of my favorite heroines is Evelyn Carnahan (played by Rachel Weisz) in "The Mummy", and "The Mummy Returns". Though suitably terrified of the mummy she doesn't back down. Instead she stands side by side with her hero, guns blazing. In fact when her hero faces certain doom it is Evelyn that comes to the rescue.

But Jesus does not have a heroine in the gospels. There is no lover standing by his side to fend off the bad guys. Which is likely why people like Dan Brown and his Da Vinci Code keep trying to give him one. It seems wrong in human eyes for the greatest figure of all time to die a martyr's death without ever having tasted the fruits of true love. A match between Jesus and Mary Magdalene appears to solve the problem and tries, at least in part, to give the story a "happily ever after" quality. There's only one problem - Jesus already has a heroine.

The reason so many people don't recognize this fact is you won't exactly find her in the gospel of Matthew or in any of the others. Her part shows up a little later in the story.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." Ephesians 5:25-27

"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. .... And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life." Revelation 21:9-11, 25-27

You see, the heroine in the story of the Gospels is the church herself. And since the church is made up of those who call upon his name then we, my dear reader, are the heroine in The Kingdom Gospel. We are the heroine He risked it all for. It was for the love of you and me that He gave everything he had to reclaim the throne that was His.

The question left for us to answer is, "What kind of heroine are we?" Are we the wisp of a girl who faints at the sight of the enemy and sprains her ankle during the escape? Or the steadfast partner, sword in hand, ready to face whatever comes as long as we are at His side? Or some other kind of heroine entirely?

I suppose that is a question each of us has to answer for ourselves, but regardless of what kind of heroine we are, Jesus remains the hero of the story. He is the rightful Heir to the Father's throne. He has faced and defeated the enemy leaving only a few minions running around for us to deal with. And one day He will retrn to claim His heroine and take her back to be with Him.

And if you check out the end of the book you will discover that we do indeed live "happily ever after."


Covering My Legal Derriere Dept.
First picture: Liv Tyler as Arwen. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Copyright New Line Cinema
Second Picture: Rachel Weisz as Evelyn Carnahan. The Mummy Copyright Universal Pictures

Saturday, June 10, 2006

It's Not Fair

It's been two months since I last wrote anything here. I know it's an over-used excuse to say that I have been busy, but the fact is -- I have. What I've been busy with I may talk about some other time but for now I just need to write something. Let me explain.

In my 50 years I have had the privilege of knowing many of the souls that populate this world; some great, some not so great, some good, some bad. This week one of the gentlest souls I have ever known was taken to be with the God he loved so much. I have often heard the Lord described as "gentle Jesus meek and mild", but I never had a clear picture in my mind of what that phrase meant until I met James. My first reaction to the news of his death was simply, "IT'S NOT FAIR!"

I know, I'm a Christian. I'm supposed to believe that God has a plan and since so many have been praying for James for so long and this is the result then this must be part of that plan. And let me say that I do believe that - truly, I do; but I still find I want to stand in the night, facing into the wind, and scream at the sky, "God, your plan is not fair!!"

It's not fair because it doesn't include James healed of his cancer and out of his wheelchair walking with the people he loves.
It's not fair because it doesn't include James and his wife Loo Sar holding each other and looking towards the future. It's not fair because it doesn't include James watching his little girl Angie grow up and graduate and get married and make him a grandfather. And God forgive my selfishness, but the biggest reason it's not fair is it doesn't include my spending more time with him, getting to know him better than I do, and continuing to learn the art of gentleness from a man who had mastered it so well.

How do I justify such a childish attitude when I'm supposed to be a man of faith?

Simple. I may be a man of faith, but I am also still a child - a child of God. And like a child sometimes I just don't understand why life has to be so unfair. When I was physically a child my father must have heard me whine, "It's not fair!" a thousand times or more. Sometimes he would tell me that life wasn't supposed to be fair. Sometimes he'd tell me I would understand when I was older. But the time that stands out most in my mind was when my dog 'King' died.

King was a white Siberian Husky and I loved him a lot. One day he got out of the yard and was run over by a truck. I remember crying for what seemed like hours and looking into my father's eyes and saying, "It's just not fair!" He looked back at me and said, "You're right, it isn't fair, but there's nothing I can do. For whatever reason, this is the way things are and I can't change it. I'm sorry!"

These days, whenever someone whom I've been praying for dies, I remember my Dad saying those words to me. I also remember how helpless he looked that day. It was then I realized that there were some things my Father couldn't fix.

Now I can imagine what some of you are thinking. "Dennis, this isn't much of a comfort. There's nothing God can't fix, after all - He's God! He's not limited like your Father was."

You're right of course, God is all powerful. But this isn't about God, it's not even really about James and unanswered prayer. It's about me.

It's about me learning to live with the fact that just like my Father there are some things that I just can't fix. There are things in life that even with the power of prayer I cannot control. That, for whatever reason, this is the way things are and I can't change it!
It's about me and every other Christian coming to grips with the fact that we don't know everything. I don't know why James wasn't healed. I don't know why James had to die. The only thing I do know is there has to be a reason. And since it is God's reason it's probably a good one, though I can't for the life of me imagine what it might be.

So, there is nothing for me do but cry for my loss, reach out as best as I can to others who will miss James, and take comfort in the fact that his suffering is now over. He is, I believe, pain free, out of his wheelchair walking with Jesus in the garden, learning even more about being gentle from the gentlest man who ever lived.

Goodbye James.
Catch up with you later.
Say hello to Ignatius for me.