Friday, September 23, 2011

The Future Through the Eyes of the Past

A couple of weeks ago I was watching the 1987 non-classic Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction film, “The Running Man”. And no, I’m not proud of this. The film tells the tale of a man in the totalitarian future of 2017 who is unjustly accused of a crime and is therefore sentenced to fight for his life on a gladiatorial TV reality show. Based on a Stephen King story, the film attempts to say profound things about the dangers of voyeuristic media but is chiefly remembered for the being the one place you can see Richard Dawson outside of “Hogan’s Heroes” reruns and “Family Feud” Youtube clips.

But the reason I bring this fairly lame film up is because of a prop used in the film. Again, the film is set thirty years in the future for the filmmakers and is six years in the future for us. There are many scenes of sadistic TV show host Dawson making threats and demands in his phone. So the film’s property master was assigned to make this phone of the future.

The property master had to think about what a phone of the future would look like. He or she came up with a kind of cool design of a thin, white cylinder for the phone. And it’s corded. Yes, this phone of the future is not a cell phone and Dawson is tethered to a 5 foot radius as he plots his nefarious schemes with his evil phone buddies.

The makers of the film didn’t dream of such a thing as a cell phone, or even a cordless one.

This is an interesting thing about science fiction film and literature. It often says more about the time it was written rather than the future. If you watch 1960’s era Star Trek you’ll believe that the future is mini-skirts and sideburns. According to “2001” Pan Am took us on commuter flights to the moon a decade ago -- but sadly, Pan Am is no more.

And “Back to the Future II” says that in three years we’ll still be going to books to look up our sports trivia.

That’s one of the big things the creators of science fiction missed. The internet. With all the whiz-bang rockets, robots and computers envisioned throughout the first ninety percent or so of the twentieth century, no one imagined what has become a central facet of modern life.

All this makes me think of heaven. Yeah, it’s a long and winding road from Arnold schlock films to the Celestial City, but I think it’s worth the trip.

Those who write about the future are limited by the vision of the present. In 1638, Francis Godwin, the Bishop of Hereford, made the bold imaginative step of writing about a trip to the moon. But the mode of transportation of the hero of the tale is a chariot pulled by geese. It wasn’t in Godwin to imagine rockets.

In the same way, we have a difficult time imagining heaven. As Christians we might inwardly mock the Muslim vision of heaven for men as the Prohibition singles bar where seven babes are waiting.

But is our vision much better?

We think of seeing loved ones or a grand banquet or a big mansion and Scripture allows for those images. But there will be more than we can imagine.

C. S. Lewis said our attempts to envision heaven are like a little boy who’s told about the intimate love between a man and woman. The boy wonders if chocolate is involved.

A simple rule about Heaven: Jesus in John 14:2 said that He is going to prepare a place for us. He said in John 10:10 that He came to bring us life to the full. Whatever we think of as glorious in Heaven will be a mere shadow of what is to come. It will be so much better than we can think.

But to close on a completely different note: we are just eight years from the time of “Blade Runner”. Where’s my hover car?

New Book at Amazon

Here's "King Con"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Sacred Dump

(I found this little devotional I wrote after a missions trip to Mexico)

Unwrapping the pieces of sliced cheese, I looked for a place to throw away the plastic wrappers.

“Throw ‘em on the ground,” Dave said.

Dave was the local Vineyard worker who had taken our mission team to the Mazatlan Dump. We were making cheeseburgers for scavenger workers at the dump. Dozens of men and women every day sort through the dump for trash to sell; cardboard and plastic.

Dave told us when they first began to preparing hot lunches for the workers, they used to be mobbed. They were afraid that the food would run out. But now the people waited patiently until the food was ready because they had learned there would always be plenty for everyone.

Anyway, back to the unwrapping the cheese thing; it was shocking to realize that we could just drop the plastic wrappers on the ground. Because we were…you know… at the dump. And it’s OK to litter at the dump, because it’s not littering, because the dump is the place litter is ultimately supposed to go.

For me, that makes the dump a sacred place -- or at least an image of a sacred place. That sacred place is the cross where we can drop our garbage, our sin. Colossians 2:13b & 2:14b explains, “God made you alive in Christ, He forgave us all our sins…nailing it to the cross.”

We don’t need to hold on to our sins, we can dump them at the cross of Christ.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"King Con" This Month?

I said last month that the newest Bill the Warthog was coming out at the end of August. Let's try September...

The Sistine Chapel Plot

(This story appeared in Brio.)

I started dreading art class. It’s weird, because the same things had happened in biology and Civics, but I never expected to enjoy biology, and in political science there was a chance to argue back. It was different in art class; I didn’t expect to debate my faith in there.
I’ve always enjoyed art. I’ve wanted to be a cartoonist for a long time. I liked being able to draw and not get in trouble for doodling. (I can’t tell you all the times Mrs. Alvarez has given me grief for doodling in the margins in English.) I was even enjoying the history part of the class. It was cool getting to see the work of great artists of the past. So you can see how one of my favorite things was getting spoiled. It was like finding dill pickles in my chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
The worst thing was, we couldn’t argue back. When I tried to give the other side, Mr. Jeffries would say, “This isn’t the time or place to discuss these issues. This is an art class.” While showing slides from his trip to Europe and lecturing about the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, he did it again.
“This is, of course, the famous image of God creating Adam, their hands touching. It makes one wonder what Michelangelo might have painted today; perhaps a dramatic abstract of the primordial ooze. He was a brilliant man, and surely if he lived today, he would concur with scientists that there is no Creator, that we are not here by plan or design, but we and this world are the result of purely natural and random causes.
“But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Though we can no longer believe the fairy tales this work of art is based on, we can still appreciate its beauty and craftsmanship. Yes, Paige?”
“Mr. Jeffries,” I began, “You can’t talk about scientists as if they have one viewpoint. There are many scientists that believe that God...”
“Paige, this is an art class, we don’t need to go into those issues. Now you will see in this next photograph...”
See what I mean? It’s one thing to hear we’re just a result of monkeys learning to stand in biology class, you expect that. And in Civics, Ms. Daniels talked about the dangers of the religious right, but she gave us Christians in the class a chance to have our say.
Things seemed even worse when I talked to Elizabeth. She’d started going to youth group with me. It seemed like she had been listening during the Bible studies, but she told me she was going to quit going. I asked her why.
“I don’t know, Paige. I’m beginning to think the stuff they talk about at your church is just a load of... You know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been thinking about some of the things that Mr. Jeffries talked about. Like about the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition where the Christians killed everyone who disagreed with them, and how Christians have tried to ban great art through the ages. And the stuff he was talking about the other day. How we’re probably just here because of random chance like the scientists say.”
I tried to tell her the other side of it, but she didn’t really seem to hear me. After all, I’m just a student, and Mr. Jeffries has been to graduate school and must know more than me.
That was the last straw. I didn’t like that garbage Mr. Jeffries was saying, but I wasn’t falling for it. But if Elizabeth was, others maybe were too. So I needed to do something. And that’s when I started to get the Idea.
I’m not saying the Idea was a good idea. I’m not recommending anyone do what I did. I’m still paying for it. That’s why I won’t explain how I did what I did, because I don’t want anyone else to do what I did. I’ll say this much. It involved paint and brushes and pencils and charcoal and a ladder and duct tape on a window lock and an alarm clock set to go off early on a Saturday morning. But let’s just jump to Monday morning in Mr. Jeffries’ class, third period.
“Before we get into today’s material, I suppose we must discuss what I’m sure is on top of all your minds, or least above your heads. So everyone may look up.”
Most everyone was already looking up, of course. In section of the ceiling above Mr. Jeffries’ desk was a waterfall scene, with a light fixture as the sun. There were also a couple of cows, an elephant, a lion and a tapir, and a naked man and woman behind strategic bushes.
In the middle of the ceiling there were pencil sketches of a hospital and a college. Next to the hospital was a sketch of Jesus putting his hand on a leper (which, I’ll admit, had a rather graphic depiction of decaying flesh.) And next to the college was a sketch of Jesus talking to a crowd and monks copying a Bible. On the other third of the ceiling there was…nothing. (If you guessed that the vandal became nervous when she thought she heard someone coming, so she took off before finishing…good guess.)
“Now I’m going to ask this once. Does any one know what happened here?”
I gulped, and raised my hand.
“Yes, Paige.”
“I’ve been thinking, Mr. Jeffries, maybe these works on the ceiling are accidents. People paint in here, so maybe paint has just randomly splashed up to the ceiling, and that’s the result. It might just be a cosmic accident.”
“Paige, do you really expect me to believe that random splashes caused this? There was planning and design that went into this graffiti. I believe, Paige, it was your planning and design.”
“Yes, it was. And I’m planning to pay for the damage and doing detention and all that. But I just want to know why you’re willing to admit there was planning and design involved with what’s above us, but not in the world all around us.”
“I see. So you were making a point that the world has a Creator. Obviously the reason you drew the nature scene. How droll. But why the pictures of the buildings?”
“Those are hospitals and universities. A lot of times this year, you’ve mentioned evil things Christians have done, like the bloodshed during the Crusades of the Middle Ages; things that went against Christ’s teaching. But aside from art, you don’t talk about all the good the Church has done through the centuries. A majority of the first hospitals and universities in the world were founded by followers of Jesus.
“I’m sorry for going all Michelangelo on the ceiling. But you’ve made a lot of snide remarks about Christianity this year, and I wanted to respond. And you’ve said we should communicate through our art. That’s what I was trying to do.”
“That will be all, Paige. Now, if we’re finished with religious studies, let’s return to the Renaissance.”
OK, so I didn’t score a lot of points with Mr. Jeffries that day. It probably didn’t help my grade, my bank account took a hit, and I’m just finishing the detentions. But Elizabeth is coming to youth group again.