What do you do when your comedy hero screws up?

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I’ve heard the rumors about Louis CK for a while and I’ve hoped that they weren’t true.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew they were.  Continue reading

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What the Church can learn from Pride

So three day days ago was Belfast Pride. By all accounts a wonderful, joyous celebration of Love and acceptance. I was sad I missed it because Belfast is a city in a country that often seems very divided and any opportunity to join thousands of other people from different faith or no faith backgrounds, variety of political persuasions, skin colors, Protestants and Catholics, should be grabbed with both hands.

It should be celebrated. Continue reading

Why Christianity didn’t work for me.

 

It’s fair to say that in the past few years I’ve gone on somewhat of  a pilgrimage with my faith. I’m a Christian and remain one and I believe in Jesus and I believe there is power for good in the world. I believe the church can be a wonderful mix of people who can Love and accept everyone regardless of anything intrinsic about them. I believe in this crazy story of a Carpenter from Nazareth who completely upended (sometimes literally) the way people viewed God.

But I’ve not always found that those things have impacted my life. Continue reading

Why it’s ok for Christians to watch Fifty Shades Darker and The Shack (and probably the Batman Lego movie too).

I wrote a post recently about my love of Horror movies and how they connect deeply with my faith. There aren’t too many other movies that we Christians lose our shit over, more than Horror movies.

Except movies with a bunch of sex. Or violence. Or anything that makes us laugh or cry. Even cartoons aren’t always safe.

This leaves us with slim pickings. Superhero movies are the exception because they save Pastors time and energy having to think of sermons. Why spend time exegetically deciphering Leviticus 28 when you can compare Iron Man to Jesus?

So with the recent release of the movie, Fifty Shades Darker and the upcoming movie depiction of The Shack, I’m sure there won’t be a lot to comment on.

As if.

Our instant reaction to anything be it movies, books or music that we’re cautious of, tends to be to criticize it without actually having experienced it ourselves. Famously, many denounced Rob Bell’s Love Wins without reading a single word. To be fair, many criticized it after reading it too but it’s still extremely common for us to close ourselves off to something without giving it a fair go.

This is why when Christians decide to review such things, they can come in for criticism for doing so. Recently both Martin Saunders, the film critic for ChristianToday and Craig Gross, of xxxchurch have both had to endure this for actually paying to see Fifty Shades Darker. Even though both generally came to the same conclusion that it depicted a relationship characterized by “abusive, controlling behavior”; this didn’t stop many having their say. Not so much about the movie itself, but about the fact two prominent Christians paid to see it.

Contrary to this, blogger Tim Challies recently wrote a post detailing why he believed even going to see The Shack would be sinful. shackGrowing up I was under the impression from various sources that we had to be afraid of the world. Anything “of the world” or “secular” was dangerous. Playing football on a Sunday was going to send me straight to Hell.

Thankfully, I had a mum who wasn’t afraid of the world and who encouraged us to explore it and be intrigued by it. There wasn’t a sense that going to a concert of my favorite band was going to turn me into a devil worshipper. I remember when she even tried her best to get my friends and I into the Empire to see Therapy? soundcheck since we were too young to actually go to the gig. Quick Mum brag.

We were too young, but we went anyway and it was awesome.

All that being said, I understood that the world was ok. There were experiences to be had, some that may be frightening, sad, discouraging but also ones which were hopeful, exciting and full of Love.

They’re all part of the deal.

The Bible itself is full of verses and stories about not being afraid.

Yet, fear is the most prominent emotion for many of us. It’s so engrained in our subconscious that we’re blissfully unaware of it.

Fear of the other is a regrettable characteristic  for many in the church today. Despite the examples that Jesus set where he constantly and frustratingly for the religious elite, spent time and energy with the very people who were believed to corrupt everything. The very people that were set on the destruction of His faith.

He spent time with Roman Tax collectors, he healed Roman soldiers kids, He rebuked the religious for attacking a prostitute. And, He never went to Church.

When our goal as Christians is to get to Heaven and to avoid anything, be it movies, music, tv etc that could get into our minds and corrupt us, our reactions should not be that surprising. But this is not a life of freedom and is simply another version of legalism.

That’s all very well you may be thinking, but what if this stuff does seep in and change us. This still doesn’t negate the question of why we’re afraid that will happen.

Things like meditation and yoga, which have been taken up by many in the church and have helped develop their spirituality and faith are seen as dangerous. The risk of becoming possessed by something dark is real, we’re told. Yet, what does this tell us about our belief in God and His power? That if we exercise or if we close our eyes and be still, He is powerless to the Devil?

I think most of us would consider this kind of ridiculous. But it’s a belief that is pervasive to many.

The purpose of being “set apart from the world” is not one where we try and shelter ourselves from anything that we decide is harmful. Being set apart means we have an alternative that is better.

If we don’t like the way relationships are portrayed in the Fifty Shades series, we can’t complain unless we’re offering a better way of discussing relationships and sex.

If we’re afraid of how God is depicted in the Shack, we need to ask ourselves why do so many resonate with the view it does portray, and why is the story we’re telling not helping more people find meaning in life, including all the joys and suffering it allows.

Christianity’s view of itself is often that we are on the winning side. But when you are the winner, you don’t need to constantly defend yourself. You don’t need to keep attacking. You don’t need to keep justifying. You’ve won.

If only there were some topical example I could use.

This is why we do not need to be afraid of movies or books or comedy or cartoons or music or anything else. Maybe these things are gifts that allow us to go deep and question the doubts we have about who God is to us. Is he a God that is afraid or one that doesn’t need to cower?

We attack because we feel threatened, not because we are strong. We attack because we doubt, not because we’re sure we’re right. We stop dead at criticizing without offering anything better because we’re not really sure there is anything better.

Only when we’re honest about this are we able to actively engage with the world from a place that desires to offer Hope and Love and something different. Because we’re actually experiencing it ourselves for once.

That is the true message of Christianity. A gift that is not ours to hold onto to solidify party lines or denominational differences or borders, or even to close ourselves off to that which frightens us.

A gift that is only useful when we engage with the world. Not because we want to save it, but because we are it.

So you’re safe. The devil won’t get you.

Until the Love Wins movie comes out that is.

Why Christians should embrace Horror movies.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of Horror movies.

I’m not sure where it originates from but I do remember seeing the trailer for Psycho 2 when I was 8 or 9 and being immediately intrigued and scared.

I remember coming out of the movie theater around the same age and seeing a poster for one of the Childs Play Movies.

I remember my friend Stephen’s friend Daniel, who told me both his parents gave him 5 quid for pocket money each week carrying a Freddie poster around to my house for some strange reason.

Or going shopping in Stewarts with my gran on Friday mornings during the Summer Holidays and exploring all the video covers while she paid for her groceries. Picking up titles like Maniac Cop and Phantasm, seduced by their covers and intently reading their descriptions knowing there was not a chance in Hell my mum would let me watch them.

I remember the most scared I had been as a kid watching Ghostwatch on BBC 1 one Halloween night; the 11 year old me convinced by familiar Children’s TV personality Sarah Greene, that I was watching something real and live.

I remember all of this and more and I loved how it felt.

I also remember as long as I’ve been remembering things, going to Church.

It was just a part of our lives that was always there and I’m so grateful my mum instilled this openness to God and Jesus in our lives. I know that at times it felt like the biggest pain but as I’ve grown up and explored what my Christian faith looks like and how it has transformed, I know that it was because of this foundation that was set for me.

Perhaps because both Church and Horror have seemingly been a major part of my life since I was a kid; I’ve never seen either as being incompatible.

Reading through the Bible it is very apparent that darkness and evil are everywhere. Even stories that as kids we sang songs about like Noah and the Ark, are inherently Horrific tales.

If the traditional Evangelical Hellraiser-esque depictions of Hell aren’t the very essence of horror, I’m not sure what is.

Even as I’ve grown up and explored more mystic versions of Christianity and embraced practices such as meditation, people have warned me about letting something demonic in.

So fear is deeply rooted in much of today’s Christianity. We’re afraid of Hell, demons and we’re afraid of what (and who) we don’t understand. We’re afraid of what will happen if the Democrats or Republicans get into power. We’re afraid that if we accept God’s grace too much, we will abuse it. We’re afraid that our theology is a little too dangerous.

Fear is far more common than we think.

So there is no better genre to help us as Christians explore our faith honestly and openly than Horror.

It’s not just movies like the Exorcist or the Omen which have explored the relationship between good and evil, God and the Devil, but more recent movies have explored issues that everyone struggles to deal with. thewitch_feature

Movies like It Follows delve into the struggles between sex and growing up or the Australian Horror, The Babadook which explores what happens when we don’t express our grief and pain in a real way. Or my favorite movie of the last couple of years, The Witch. A movie that has much to speak into  how Fundamentalism, the dangers of arrogance in belief, and how life without a community to explore our faith, can result in bad things happening.

Or if that is too much for you, how goats don’t make suitable pets.

These are intelligent movies that don’t rely on cheap scares to simply entertain but rather are clever and stylish pieces of art that help us find something bigger than ourselves in their portrayals of issues that Christians have struggled to grapple with.

Movie makers like Scott Derrickson, a Christian, have used Horror to explore the dark recesses of our minds in movies like “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, “Sinister” and “Hellraiser: Inferno”.

So why do Christians have such a hard time embracing the horror genre?

I think one reason is that good horror is honest. It doesn’t pretend that everything is alright and it doesn’t just give us easy answers to life’s deepest questions. Derrickson himself put it astutely when he said,

“Christ, in His moment on the cross where He endured the ultimate horror, gives us God’s mindset. He is not detached from suffering.”

Somehow though, we’ve become detached from suffering and don’t know how to face up to our fears, doubts and questions. We gloss over them until they are unrecognizable; but they still exist, controlling us without us even noticing.

Our greatest fear maybe, is that if we go too far down the rabbit hole of where our pain resides we’ll never come back. Carl Jung the Philosopher and all round smart guy talks about the Shadow. The Shadow is the part of us whose existence we don’t like to acknowledge but in which resides healing and ultimately the light. Turning towards our Shadow as described by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels in their great book “The Tools” ultimately allows us to reconnect with our pain and suffering, bringing us back into the light.

If we can embrace that evil is real, not to justify it, but to heal it, we’ll find new types of freedom.

This is why Horror is so crucial to Christians. It gives us permission to face our fears.

We talk a lot about unconditional love in Christian circles but we don’t really believe it. It sounds nice and it gives us a get out of Hell free ticket but day to day we work tirelessly to suppress everything about ourselves that we feel people will reject. Ultimately, what we reject in others is what we’re too afraid to see in ourselves.

I used to be a small groups Pastor, helping men addicted to porn find healing. Most of the time the healing required was not some comforting words but using the light to go deep into their doubts and fears. One guy, experienced a deep transformation but it was painful and it was horrific at times. But he embraced his pain and by facing his Shadow, he was healed.

Others were so afraid of their beliefs crumbling before them that they would rather have continued as an addict than finding beliefs that actually worked.

What causes us to stay in these places? What makes someone desire the prison they are in more than having their beliefs challenged?

I believe it is fear. Fear of death. But if we’re not free, we’re already dead.

Darkness is essentially the absence of light. The existence of darkness is wholly dependent on the light. It bows down to the light. But for the light to have any authority we need to acknowledge that there is darkness.

A healthy spirituality and faith is one that points to something bigger than itself. Good horror too, isn’t about the imagery or the story so much as what it says about our deepest fears and where the light can shine in.

Horror and faith it seems then, have more in common than we would like to admit.