Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why People Should Hate You

"The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer" - Painting by Leon Gerome
"You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved."
-Jesus, Matthew 10:22
Jesus warned his followers that the world would hate them. Today, we hold onto this warning, as we witness the ongoing martyrdom of Christians from around the world. In many countries, Christians' human rights are violated on account of their faith. Churches are being burned, pastors imprisoned or killed, and many people are forced to flee their country - if not underground.
Persecuted Countries
I understand that many people face injustice on account of other faiths or unaffiliated reasons around the world, but I find it interesting that one man holds himself responsible for the persecution and deaths of his own followers.
The number of martyrs [in the period 2000-2010] was approximately 1 million. Compare this to an estimated 34,000 Christian martyrs in 1900.
-George Weigel
This begs the question, what was so threatening about the message of Jesus that would demand hatred from everyone? And who is everyone, anyway?

When we look at the way Jesus is depicted by the Bible, there is one thing that is inescapable. He clearly thought he was a king. If his goal was simply introducing moral behaviour, it is fair to say he did this poorly. I think there is something to be said about people who wish to take only the morals of Jesus and leave his apolitical agenda aside; it's a tad bit extreme. Take these, for example:
A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

So why does pairing these morals with Jesus' politics make any difference?
“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
-Jesus, John 18:36
A Donkey Symbolizes Peace
The politics of a king are concerning his kingdom. For Jesus, it is also about a God who keeps His promise to make the nation of Israel a nation of priests. Because of this oath, Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant. His message identified the true enemy of Israel not as Rome (nor is it now Palestine), but as sin and Satan. He was proclaiming the inauguration of a spiritual kingdom. The morals of Jesus should be equated to spiritual kingdom arsenal. Therefore, as soldiers of the Lord's army, we are not required to carry a gun; on the contrary, we are required not to.
If crucifixion is the coronation ceremony of our king, then you know this is not a kingdom that will progress through force.
-Bruxy Cavey, Why Did Jesus Die?
This is a hard pill to swallow for many of us as Christians, and that is evidenced throughout our history.   We either demoralize Jesus' politics, or depoliticize His morals. With the church institution perpetually being defined as a moral compass, it becomes compromised in politics, and subsequently loses in the end. In fact, the Catholic Church has failed to convince anyone that they are a force for good in the world any more. This is simply not an effort we can expect to see fruition from in this life. Steve Wilmshurst puts it aptly:
It is the overlap of the ages which produces the ongoing collision of the kingdoms and its attendant conflict: the Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus' mission is neither entirely ‘now' nor entirely ‘yet to come'. Thus there are two possible errors here. We could confine the Kingdom largely to the future, denying its effective presence in the world for today and minimizing its political dimension. . . On the other hand, to believe that the Kingdom can be fulfilled within the present age – the dream of certain liberal optimists and Christian socialists – is to ignore the plain teaching of Scripture, supported by our own experience that the power of sin and evil does not look like fading away! . . . The Kingdom's demands are so fundamental that they replace or transform our adherence to every other group, national, ethnic or cultural. . . The way of the Kingdom is to scatter the proud and bring oppressive rulers down from their thrones.
North Korean Christians Praying
What are the reasons people hate you? Are you kingdom-minded?
"We ask North Korean underground church members how we can pray for them," says Eric Foley. "And they answer, 'Pray for us? We pray for you!'" Foley explains, "When we ask them why, they say, 'Because you American Christians put so much confidence in your wealth and freedom that you don't fully know what it's like to be able to trust only in God.'"
-Pam Sparks, Christian News Wire
How has excess and freedom affected your ability to rely on God?
Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, "I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it," says the Lord. . . Don't let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.
-Paul the Apostle, Martyred in Rome, 65 AD

Friday, April 13, 2012

Seven Stories That Rule The World

As some of you know, I've been dabbling in screenwriting throughout the past months. I'm really enjoying what I'm learning, through taking a 2-day workshop, joining a small bi-weekly writers group, and reading a book called Save The Cat! One thing that has been fascinating for me is the principle of Archetype: the pattern of storytelling. Although the Jungian archetypes are limited to five, the amount of archetypal transformations are innumerable. British literary critic Christopher Booker famously limited the variety of stories of the world to only seven. In the film medium, these are synonymous to movie plots, for which there are arguably ten. Yes, that's right, you have only ever seen ten stories told in a movie theatre.
Of course it's the same old story. Truth usually is the same old story.
-Margaret Thatcher
The reason I find this so fascinating is because stories themselves are the one thing that can penetrate our souls and give our lives meaning; and ironically, our connection points are limited to a handful. Storytelling is the art of giving meaning. This is why Jesus told stories. For filmmakers, a screenplay is the set of instructions on how to tell that story.

This is the reason why personal testimony trumps science, logic, and reason every time. As Christians, this is the best we have at our disposal for describing our experiences with God. This is the only thing that centres me when I'm in a crisis of faith. This is what I wish I had every time I meet someone else in a crisis.

There are few things in this world more satisfying to me than to see the following words appear on a cinema screen: Based on a true story. Honestly, it's not even because the events actually happened; it's because I know I'm in for something primal. I know that the substance of whatever the film, at its core it will grip me by my basic instincts and make me feel something. Biographies do, however—though they resonate with our beings—often need to be embellished for one simple reason: humans are detestable. Would you watch the rest of Pursuit of Happyness if it opened with the affair Chris Gardner had with a dental student that brought his son into the world? Or that he was still married to the first woman while he was living on the streets? Perhaps, but it would be harder to not think he's an asshole.
It's the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something — like saving a cat — that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.
-Blake Snyder
Truth is, it's hard to tell a good redemption story without a redemptive quality in your main character. And for this reason, Christians have a particularly hard time making good films. Theologically, we don't believe anyone has a redemptive bone in their body, and to show a full, true transformation of repentance, it makes sense to highlight this. Fortunately (and unfortunately), God cares for the person nobody else would care about (not even an audience), if we truly knew their private life. However, I don't believe you have to break your conscience by making your character likeable; transparency does not necessarily need to be exposed in the same order as transformation. In fact, I think there is a much better time to reveal the deep darkness of the soul.
If you love only those people who love you, ...what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that?
-Matthew 5:46-47
The biggest problem in portraying your character/self as completely detestable is that nobody relates to or cares what happens to this person. In a feature-length commercial (sellable spec) screenplay, a good protagonist generally has about six things that need fixing. I think a good testimony follows suit; generally, a concise oral parable only revolves around one or two problems.

There is a basic pattern in storytelling called The Hero's Journey, given name by Joseph Campbell in the 1940s. This charts the transformation process of any given archetype, as told in myths and folklore. The journey is divided into eight steps:
  1. Miraculous conception and birth
  2. Initiation of the hero-child
  3. Withdrawal from family or community for meditation and preparation
  4. Trial and Quest
  5. Death
  6. Descent into the underworld
  7. Resurrection and rebirth
  8. Ascension, apotheosis, and atonement
Incidentally, when this transformation process gets translated into film, one archetype is not enough to keep an audience engaged. Therein lies the purpose of a B Story or subplot. To demarcate this visually, every great screenplay follows a structure called a beat sheet. It's a preliminary blueprint for screenwriters that guarantees writing credit. Instead of writing out chapter four from Save The Cat!, I'll just list the steps here:
  1. Opening Image (first impression of tone, mood, type and scope of film)
  2. Theme Stated (say what A Story is about)
  3. Set-up (what is the world of the protagonist)
  4. Catalyst (world gets knocked down)
  5. Debate (what's the hero supposed to do?)
  6. Break into Two (something big happens, antithesis)
  7. B Story (the "love" story, breather from A Story)
  8. Fun and Games (promise of the premise)
  9. Midpoint (false peak or false collapse)
  10. Bad Guys Close In (everything is in perfect sync, but trouble abounds)
  11. All is Lost (whiff of death)
  12. Dark Night of the Soul (hero pulls out best idea to save himself)
  13. Break into Three (hazaah! the solution)
  14. Finale (lessons learned are applied, A&B Stories end in triumph)
  15. Final Image (opposite of opening image)
Note the similarities between the two structures. If you can fill in the blanks for the first structure, you can tell a story effectively. If you can fill in the blanks for the second structure, well, you probably have the makings of a decent film. If not, why not? Every life is a story worth telling, especially the ones of failure.
I really haven't had that exciting of a life. There are a lot of things I wish I would have done, instead of just sitting around and complaining about having a boring life. So I pretty much like to make it up. I'd rather tell a story about somebody else.
-Kurt Cobain

Friday, April 06, 2012

Planetary Self-Defence

When I was in high school, I got addicted to an Internet tick-based game called Planetarion. For me, this was the beginning of Online Gaming. In the wake of the Year 2000 Problem, Elite Commander Zirconus was spending all day and night combing the galaxy, forming alliances with neighbouring planets to defend Arsentium against militant aliens looking to deplete my,  ahem, *his resources and steal his orbiting asteroid mines.
To a human, this probably looked more like staring blankly at a chart on a 12" monitor waiting for the next hourly tick to go by so I could buy another eon gun...

Twelve years later, there is now talk of low earth-orbit transit systems attainable by using existing magnetic-levitation technology.

Maglev passenger trains have carried passengers at nearly 600 kilometers per hour (373 mph) - spacecraft have to be some 50 times faster, but the physics and much of the engineering is the same.
-Brian Dodson
With our eyes fixed on the stars, we start to imagine even greater possibilities. Interplanetary travel? Alien life? Earth 2.0? Jedi Academy? Ok, now I'm getting carried away...
Trains would shoot to orbit in seconds in an 80-mile sealed tube – and the scientists behind the $60 billion proposal claim it could revolutionize industry, allowing for cheap space-based solar power and generating unimaginable wealth from mines on asteroids.
-James J. Williams
I don't know about you, but I find this exciting. Slowly but surely, my high school alter-ego, Zirconus of Arsentium, is shaping up to become a reality...

But with technology pushing us beyond the limits of our humanity, so the anticipated challenges come.
End Times prophecies are even more popular than ever among date-setters, and Hollywood has even capitalized on the paranoia. With so many people fixated on the annihilation of our world, it's questionable whether channeling the energy required to save it is worth our time.

And time, apparently, is of the essence.
A rock, which is quarter of a mile across, will pass between our planet and the moon in November 2012 and will be visible with small telescopes. Passing by at a distance of just 201,000 miles, the asteroid will be the largest object ever to approach the earth so close.
-Martin Evans
Discover Magazine predicted the 10 most probable ways the world will end. Rather grim study, I must say. Odds being 1 in 700,000, asteroid impact is the only one nearly 100% preventable (as opposed to unpreventable for the rest).

What could be seen as a demonstration of God's glorious power, instead instills fear to most who describe it as nothing less than a swing and a miss.
The universe is trying to kill us.
-Phil Plait
Perversely, some Christians cry for the riddance of our home in pursuit of something greater in an after life. Was this what God intended?
The LORD smelled the pleasing scent, and the LORD thought to himself, I will not curse the fertile land anymore because of human beings since the ideas of the human mind are evil from their youth. I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done.
As long as the earth exists,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and hot,
summer and autumn,
day and night
will not cease.
-Genesis 8:21-22
Some Christians finish that sentence differently. To them, God's promise is about a flood, and therefore, we should not rule out fire and brimstone. We needn't really take Him seriously. But the way I read it, the earth is meant to continue to exist unharmed. God promises that it will not end in destruction. It will not cease.

Side Note:
The confusion comes from this passage:
By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
-2 Peter 3:6-7
Which is in reference to refinement, as opposed to annihilation.

My question is, if our world is in danger, should we be prepared to defend it?

In 1995, a politically unstable South Africa came together to celebrate the victory of a rugby World Cup championship. If a common adversary in sport is enough to unite a country facing civil war, even for a moment, what would be required to unite our planet?
If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
-Nelson Mandela
It seems ironic to me that, for many Christians, world peace is not a goal but rather something to be feared. In light of end times prophecies, they seek war with each other as a means to an end. But what kind of God desires that?

Could it be that our God is feverishly trying to unite us?

Supposing our solar system lasts as long, scientists say that within the next 5 to 7 billion years, gravity will force the sun to collapse into its core which will ratchet up the heat on the remaining hydrogen and cause the sun to expand into a red giant. Currently, Plait labels this catastrophe "unpreventable".

So, we've got about 5 billion years, give or take, to figure out where science could lead us, before the sun implodes (*insert tongue in cheek). Is pursuing peace in our world a fruitless task? I believe one day, Jesus will return. And when he does, we will welcome him to reign in his kingdom here.
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
-John 3:17
Could the Saviour of our world be the Saviour of our universe?