Saturday, April 29, 2006

Da Vinci Code: Should Christians Embrace or Avoid

With all the attention being paid to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, (both for his latest paperback release and the upcoming big-budget movie starring Tom Hanks)'s hard to avoid the question being asked in both the Christian and secular media..."as Christians should you avoid this book and/or movie because of its basis in distorted Christian history?"

WHY AVOID IT? As we are all aware there is a vocal minority of "religious Christian leaders" who feels that any book, or movie or graphic novel, (plug, plug, plug), that seeks to question the statis quo, (or for fictional-dramatic purposes)...twist, bend, add-to or distort the Biblical narrative...should be avoided at all costs. The reasoning seems to be, that these blasphemous presentations (despite the fact that they are clearly presented as works of fiction), could lead to un-churched people getting the wrong idea about Christianinty and will therefore continue to keep it at arms length; or worse, that current believers will buy into the fictional basis and decide they no longer believe!

When I see high profile tele-preachers spending screen time on this, or neo-politico-religous organizations setting up websites and boycotts, I ask myself, "Could it be these people really don't understand the nature of the Man that they are basing their lives on?" To me, being a loyal follower of Jesus and censorship in any form or advocating cutting off yourself or your family from our pop-culture, just do not go hand in hand. What our neo- conservative leaning-brothers never seem to understand, (or even consider), is that Jesus was not about being at odds with our culture, but embracing it, understanding it and diving into it. Jesus did not tell his disciples to avoid the sinners, (prostitutes), avoid the corrupt, (tax collectors in league with Rome), avoid the un-believers, (Gentiles). He was right there with them, listening to them, talking with them, eating and drinking with them, sharing God with them, demonstrating unconditional love and compassion to them. They did not join him, (as depicted in the Gospels), because of he demanded it, or told them how evil they were if they didn't...rather because of the spirit of love he demonstrated, made it impossible to ignore. Jesus is about attraction to a life of service to our fellow man in love and compassion, not conformity to a set of laws or rules designed to keep us all a uniform cultural step! Hey....that's what he was fighting with the Pharisees and Saducees 2000+ years ago!

The Apostle Paul, whose high profile life as an anti-Jesus activist, all led up to his rebirth and salvation, took Jesus' examples in this area to the next level. He used his education and familiarity with numerous cultures throughout the Roman Empire, to dive into each region and not try to get them to hear the Word the way he wanted them to hear it, but rather using methods, stories and legends that these cultures were use to and comfortable with, (I.E...using Greek God's as a point of reference in Athens etc...). In a formal sense, this process is know as Contextualization. In basic terms that means, that the Gospel, (though it never changes), should be put into a familiar frame of refernce to the culture in which it is being brought. My thoughts on this are, that both Jesus and Paul modelled for us that we are to use our cultural surrounding to more effectively share this gift we have, not as someting to avoid or boycott. Who are you going to reach, if you don't go out of your social or cultural comfort zone?

In my own chosen form of ministry there is a very applicable example. With some notable exceptions, most of what is produced in the comic industry is pretty empty hero-worshipping tripe, when you really get down to it. But I will admit, I grew up reading, studying and enjoying the heck out of this tripe! Breaking it down to it's most basic components, the whole super-hero genre is all about Idolatry, (which is "excessive devotion to or reverance for some person or thing other than God"...a major no-no in the Bible all the way back to the old testament). If you don't believe this applies, try spending a day or two at the Comic Con Intenational in San Diego, and see the level of devotion that thousands of people have to some of these characters and/or their creators! But my point being, that as a man reborn in Christ and person who has worked within the industry for about 15 years, (retailers, artist, writer, publisher), I could go down one of two paths....

1. I could start an anti-comic-book webpage, that directs children not to read them, because of all their idolistic themes, violence and sexual content, and even better create a boycott against the parent companies of the publishing houses that create these titles, (say Time Warner, who owns DC Comics). Or....

2. I could work within the industry to create comic books and/or graphic novels that are both attractive, entertaining and have Christian and Spiritual themes, in the hope that I will better be able to reach unbelievers, who may not be touched by God's word otherwise.

Which do you think Jesus would advise is the right course to take?

Which do you think would "attract" more young readers to God?

But I digress, (as Peter David is found of saying)....

WHY SHOULD WE EMBRACE THE CODE? Simply put...if you don't read the book or see the movie, how can you possibly discuss it with people and use it as a tool to share the truth from the Gospel, verses what they saw on the big screen? This is a tremendous opportunity to engage millions of people in discussion about Jesus, Christian history, and the true nature of our faith...who are not in your weekly home teams or churches! Why would we want to avoid that?

But you say, what if Christians see this, and decide they are now unsure about the basis for our belief? Guess what, then they were never really in "the Spirit of God" to begin with! Jesus does not lose his true followers, (defined as those who truly have the Holy Spirit of God working in them and through them, see John 6:39, 10:28, 17:12). He only loses those whose profession of faith may be more political or social in other words, not quite sincere.

As someone who loves these kinds of historical challenges I say, go out and do a little studying for yourself. The truth is right there in the Bible, as well in libraries and as close as the internet. So when you do run across a skeptic or unbeliever that says, "Aha....I knew it...the Bible is wrong!" You can discuss with him why that is not correct...or you can just get your feeling hurt and go away angry.

And by the way, your welcome Mr. Brown for this backhanded endorsement!

(my advise for great resource...Lee Strobel's, A CASE FOR FAITH, or A CASE FOR CHRIST. Either one will help shed the light of truth on a lot of the fictional distortions portayed in Dan Browns work).

Copyright Robert James Luedke, 2006
Author/Illustator of the graphic novels... Eye Witness: A Fictional Tale of Absolute Truth and Acts of the Spirit.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Imagine: Someone You know Rising from the Dead

Imagine the feeling....

You have just experienced the biggest letdown of your life, because the man you have known, loved and followed as a mentor for the past three years, has just been arrested, beaten, publicly tortured and finally executed in the most humilating fashion possible in the city streets.

You've spent the past two days in hiding for fear that the government might come after you next, because everybody knows you were one of "his followers." You only have the cold isolation of your hiding place to keep you company in your sorrow. All you have been able to do is pray and feel your life ripped apart in silent anguish, for fear of alerting anyone of your secret refuge.

Then the Word comes....his body has been discovered missing from his place of initial burial. One of your friends, and fellow disciples of this man, has even reported that he is alive and walking again among the living! You struggle with mixed feeling of joy and disbelief about this, 'cause after all dead is it not? I've never seen a dead man walking...except of course for that fellow you met months back. What was his name? Lazarus...yes Lazarus... and he was apparently raised from death by your mentor, though some of us had our doubts!

Then it happens...after you and your friends have mustered enough courage to come out of hiding to meet, (even though it is in a secret as not to attract attention), he's there! Seeing him in the flesh, you suddenly think of every person who you've lost to death and the dreams you've had about just being able to see and speak with them, one last time. You recall how joyful and peaceful this makes you feel, upon waking up. But now this feeling of Joy and Peace is multiplied 100 times, because this isn't a dream...he's really here in front of you. You have touched him, talked with him, seen the scars from the whipping and stabbing he suffered. You've even see him consuming food in front of this can't just be some kind of spirit that you've heard about 100's of times in tales around the camp-fire. He starts to tell all of you, about where we will go after death and what it's like...because he's been there, he's seen it's glory for himself!

Then after a few weeks of his presence he tells you he is leaving you to join his father in that next place, but he will save a spot for you there and you feel momentarily sad because he will be departing again. But somehow still his presence is with you and within you and you vow to always remember how you felt on this day...the day you discovered that you had met, known and could talk to the living God. And this provides you with peace, joy, strength and security for the rest of your life, in both good times and bad.

Just imagine the feeling...!

copyright Robert James Luedke, 2006

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Happy Resurrection Day!

To me, this seems like the holiday we should be celebrating above all others, (as opposed to Christmas), since as Christians it is at the core of what we are all about. Sure Jesus birth into the world is significant, but his death, (Good Friday) and rebirth, (Easter), are what we are all about. Without them, Jesus would have been just another prophet...not the Son of the Living God, whom walked the earth and helped us to know God, because he was God.

It's Jesus ability to overcome death, (which was witnessed by the way, in over 500 separately reported incidents all around Palestine, over a 40 day time period), that separates him from every other Holy Man or figure, in every other religion. So this event should take on massive importance, (like in the same type of level Islam celebrates their holy week in Mecca, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in every city in the world where the Church exists).

But when it's all said and done...the public display of worship is just that! Jesus talked about it in fact, that men who worshipped primarily on the street corners were the ones to be weary of, since they were doing it for man, rather than for God.

So, as a spiritual person....yes, attending corporate Easter worship at your local church is important, especially in Fellowship with your brothers in Christ...but more important is your personal worship this weekend. I worship God and especially his son Jesus with a personal fervor during this time, that rivals Islam in their shows of public prayer, in compassion shown to everyone I come across, and in trying especially hard to honor Jesus this weekend with a sacrificial act for someone in need. As Christians we all should hold these qualities within our hearts year-round, but especially during thise three day period... the most important of days in the history of mankind.