Issue #557 -------
November 30, 2012
The vampires have always been metaphors
for me. They've always been vehicles
through which I can express things
I have felt very, very deeply.
Anne Rice (b. 1941)
On December 30, 2001, here in the city of Alamogordo, New Mexico, a local pastor, Jack Brock, who founded and heads the Christ Community Church, and whom I have known for a number of years, and with whom I have appeared in a number of community events, made national (and even international) news when he and his church members had a public burning of Harry Potter books. In his sermon on that occasion he stated, referring to the character of Harry Potter, "Behind that innocent face is the power of satanic darkness. Harry Potter is the devil and he is destroying people." Jack freely admitted he had never actually read any of the books, but that he had "researched their contents." Interestingly, I have had some do the same with my own books and writings. Never having actually read what I have written, they nevertheless concluded my teaching to be false and therefore embarked on a public campaign of condemnation. In many of these cases, where such public displays of religious zealotry are evidenced, you find ignorant people engaging in ignoble practices, the result often being to further the conviction among too many in society that Christianity is outdated, uninformed and made up of fools and fanatics.
How ironic that a pastor who, on one occasion, burns a J. K. Rowling book for promoting wizardry, might then turn around and have a Christmas party at his church where a member dresses as Santa: a mythic figure who lives at the North Pole with elves, soars through the sky at night pulled by magical reindeer, slithers up and down chimneys, and delivers toys to children all over planet Earth in less than eight hours. Our tendency to label our fables often makes about as much sense as our tendency to label our fellow disciples. We pick and choose; condemning here, condoning there ... and the inconsistency is noted by a watching world.
Please don't misunderstand my point here. I am not suggesting that it is a "sin" to have a Christmas party or help your kiddies put out cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve. I don't find anything "satanic" about the Easter Bunny. Watching little Linus sitting in a field at night waiting for the "Great Pumpkin" has probably not led a single child to later become a serial killer. My children were raised with all these traditions, and they, in turn, are sharing them with their children (my grandchildren). Such stories, when properly perceived and promoted, are harmless, and are merely a part of our culture (as other such stories are to other cultures). Can such be abused and twisted to nefarious ends? Of course. Indeed, some have used various accounts in the Bible to such evil purposes. Do we burn the Bible because some misuse its contents? Well, some do. But, that is not a reasoned or rational response. The same is true of our various cultural and societal traditions. Fables have formed a part of the "fabric of humanity" from the very beginning. Even the Bible "tells stories" that are not based in reality to convey spiritual truths and principles. Jotham spoke of trees going out to anoint a king over themselves. They asked an olive tree, then a fig tree, then a thorn bush (Judges 9:7f). What about Joseph speaking of lean cows eating fat cows (Genesis 41:17f)? Do cows gobble up other cows? Jesus told numerous stories to illustrate points. Aesop's fables are known to us all, and we have probably even heard some of them used in sermons, such as "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Grasshopper and the Ant," just to name a couple. Some would even place Noah and the ark, as well as Jonah and the "whale," in this category. The Rich Man and Lazarus, in my view, is more fable than fact, yet it conveys an eternal truth we all need to heed (Reflections #28).
Are faith and fable compatible?! Or, perhaps we should ask, "Are they incompatible?" Does one undermine the other? Is it just possible, on the other hand, given the right circumstances, for the latter to actually aid in the establishment or strengthening of the former? These questions arise in every generation, and they are legitimate. Do our favorite fables, which, admittedly, are rarely reality-based, help or hinder us in our faith-journey? The answer will vary from person to person. Those with a weak or unsettled faith, or those who may have psychological challenges (who may not be fully rooted and grounded in reality), may well be harmed by exposure to fables or stories that further unsettle their faith or disturb their awareness of what is real and what is not. Yes, there are such persons in every society, in every community, who can be influenced by such books and movies and games to exhibit inappropriate, even disturbed or deadly, attitudes and actions. There are also some who are just downright evil, and who are looking for motivation and inspiration for, and even validation of, their vile acts. Such persons are admittedly rare (constituting a fraction of a percent in the general population), yet their actions are oftentimes so disturbing that they are brought to the attention of the masses in the media, thus raising anew the aforementioned debate.
Harry Potter and Pastor Brock are yesterday's news, however. The latest target of the religious extremists in our society is the Twilight series of books and movies by Stephenie Meyer. The continuing saga of Bella, Edward and Jacob -- a human, a vampire, and a werewolf -- fascinates millions, and is making millions for the author of the books and the actors in the movies. Yes, I will freely admit that I have read all the books and I have seen all the movies. And, yes, I liked them! No, I haven't developed a thirst for blood, and it has been months since I tried to bite someone's neck!! So, I think I can safely say they haven't turned me to the "dark side." I haven't stopped worshipping God, nor have I begun worshipping the devil. I watched "The Wizard of Oz" and didn't lose my faith, even though there were witches and munchkins in it. Shelly and I let our boys watch Disney's "Snow White" and they haven't yet been sent to prison. I've read Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" series, with hobbits and weird creatures dwelling in the earth, and still believe in God. So, let's "get real" here!!
Yes, in every society, primitive or modern, there are always a few disturbed people who can very easily be "sent over the edge" by something with which 99.9% of the people would have no moral, emotional, spiritual or physical difficulties. Even in the church there are those who are "unsettled in faith" who struggle with some things (for example: eating meat that had been offered to idols), but Paul made it clear that their struggle with their scruples should in no way dictate or limit our own walk with God as one who is free in Christ. Yes, by all means, be sensitive toward those who struggle, and don't willfully place a stone of stumbling in their path, but don't become enslaved by their weakness and doubt. Let me give an example. When I was preaching in Santa Fe, NM (1984 to 1992) there was a dear elderly woman (now deceased) who believed with all her heart that it was a sin to go to "the moving picture show" (and this was ANY movie -- even a G-rated cartoon). She felt the same about "playing cards." The people in the congregation knew how she felt (this was the result of her upbringing in a very religiously conservative household), and they never placed her in a position where she might be offended. However, they themselves continued to watch movies and play cards. Everyone got along because neither side sought to impose their will upon the other. Instead, they loved one another and respected one another's differing convictions.
Do I believe in vampires? No, I don't. I don't believe in Santa or his elves, either. Nor a giant bunny who delivers Easter eggs. I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy, but we still put money under the pillows of our boys when they lost a tooth. I don't believe Snoopy really flies his doghouse across the sky fighting with the Red Baron, but I still love to watch the shows. I liked "Star Trek" and "Star Wars," but such shows didn't send me down the path of moral and spiritual depravity. I thought Spock was cool, but thought, and still think, Jesus was cooler. I grew up watching Superman on TV, but never put on a cape and "leaped from a tall building." Yes, a handful did, which again proves the point that in every society there are a few seriously disturbed people who have a very tentative grasp on reality. Banning books and movies won't change their condition; they would find other catalysts for displaying their dysfunction. For most people, who do not have such serious struggles discerning what is real and what isn't, such books and movies are a harmless form of escapism from the day-to-day struggles and stresses of life. They provide a momentary distraction, which we all need at times. Even Jesus told His disciples to get away by themselves for a while and rest. If there had been theaters back then, He might have told them to go to a movie.
What is my point? Well, like just about anything in life, we must examine all things with a discerning eye, and then embrace the good and discard the bad (1 Thess. 5:21). We do this even when reading Bible commentaries or books on biblical topics. Some of what we find in these books we agree with, some of it we do not, but we don't burn every book with which we take some degree of exception. Indeed, even the parts with which we differ may provide an opportunity to learn and grow in our faith and understanding. Why can't we do the same with books and movies such as the Harry Potter and the Twilight series? Frankly, there are some positive -- even Christian -- principles taught in these books and movies. Yes, there are things in them in opposition to Christian principles also. Be discerning. Enjoy the movie or book, but don't abandon reality or Truth in your own life and walk. For 99.9% of people this can be easily done. Look for the positive. It is there, and it can be developed.
For example, Dave Roberts has written a book titled "The Twilight Gospel: The Spiritual Roots of the Stephenie Meyer Vampire Saga." He is a pastor who believes that there are some strong spiritual teachings contained in Meyer's work. He finds strong teaching in this series against material aspiration, prejudice and stereotyping. Meyer talks about human dignity, self-control, forgiveness, moral restraint, personal goodness, and familial bonding and support. What many may not realize is that Stephenie Meyer is a very devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a Mormon, she takes her faith very seriously, and this is reflected somewhat even in her Twilight series. Yes, there are decidedly Mormon themes present. For those who would like to find a listing and discussion of these themes, I would recommend the following article: "Yes, Robert Pattinson, There Really Are Mormon Themes In 'Twilight'" (Click Here to read this article). Of course, there are some religious extremists who attack Meyer and her series on this basis! It seems some people are never happy unless they're attacking something or someone.
Let's face it, Christians and Christianity have long gotten "bad press" over the attitudes and actions of the extremists among us. Those who burn books and bomb clinics are religious kooks. They do not even remotely represent the overwhelming majority of rational, reasonable people of faith. Jesus was perceived by the rigid religionists of His day as a "glutton and a winebibber" because He enjoyed life and "hung out with" people the "righteous" (self-righteous) regarded as beneath them. Frankly, Jesus preferred prostitutes and publicans to Pharisees. Can't say I blame Him, given my own experience with the latter bunch in the church today! Jesus proclaimed a more reasoned approach to life than the rigidity of religious extremism. In a word, life ought to be enjoyable -- and it can be if we approach all things in life grounded in who we are and Whose we are! There is nothing wrong with entertainment. It's okay to go to a movie, or a football game, or a play, or to the beach, etc. It's okay to be entertained, and to be distracted for a moment from the stresses of life, by a book or movie about aliens or ghosts or vampires. My boys loved the story about "The Three Bears," but they didn't grow up believing bears lived in houses, slept in beds, and ate porridge. Yes, let's take our Christian journey seriously, but let's not become so radical in our religiosity that we become humanly and socially dysfunctional. It is okay to enjoy life and the traditions of our culture. Jesus did. It wouldn't surprise me, if our Lord were here today, to find the "Bright Morning Star" taking in a showing of "Breaking Dawn."
One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism
(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE
Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice
(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Although we don't fully agree about everything, I truly appreciate all you do to bring glory to our God. I especially appreciated your two CD set of your Sunday morning classes The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. The final lesson in that series was particularly meaningful because it brought new thoughts about the meaning of heaven as restoring our intended relationship with our Creator and Lord. The symbolism of walking in the garden with Him is powerful.
From an Elder/Author in Florida:
I devoured your new book on baptism -- Immersed By One Spirit. Thank you!
From a Reader in Utah:
I am impressed with your body of work, and I commend you for your Christ-like service. You are a great example to all of us. I'm grateful for your friendship. Also, you really got a sweetheart with Shelly! Have a very Happy Thanksgiving, and may God bless you.
From a Reader in Alaska:
On this day of all days (Thanksgiving), I'm disproportionately grateful than at other times, hence this email: your inclusion of selected sentences and phrases from my emails in your "Readers' Reflections" section has encouraged me greatly! For the record, I am a moderate (politically) -- a man without a party -- and reserve the right to think about complex issues on a case-by-case basis in our troubled America. I often hold my nose when voting, but find David Lipscomb's views on non-involvement unpersuasive. May your health continue to facilitate ongoing efforts to point others to the Son and what that means in terms of each person's spiritual journey toward eternity.
From a Reader in Alaska:
Someone sent me a paper written by John Waddey -- "Why I Chose the Church of Christ." His points were well-stated, except for the one he missed: all who have accepted Jesus are members of the church of Christ, regardless of what they name the group with which they meet. On Sunday, our preacher here included in his sermon the statement that all so-called "denominationalists" who have accepted Christ are members of His church. I hope to see you in a week or so -- some of us plan to come through your area and worship with you and meet you. May God bless you!
From a Reader in California:
Your last article -- "Breaking Free of Fear: Enjoying the Liberty of Grace" -- was a beautiful and inspiring message, brother! It is for this kind of freedom I am most thankful to God. God bless you, Al.
From an Elder in Texas:
The root assumption of the "play it safe" argument is that our salvation is dependent on our correctly deciphering every detail of how to "do church," a view that is totally unsupported by Scripture. To follow that view consistently we would be "safer" without Sunday schools, orphan homes, located preachers, etc. It portrays an erroneous picture of God as One watching to catch us in any and every mistake. How sad!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Thanks again for courageously sharing your amazing insight with those of us who have been seeking a better way than the traditional law-bound arguments that have shattered Christ's church. Your latest Reflections article about fear is right on! For years I have been wondering if my late husband's bondage to fear was based more on his raising in the Church of Christ than his supposed "genetic bipolar disorder." As to your "Post-Election Reflection" (Reflections #555), it seems clear (from Bro. Yun's books -- "The Heavenly Man" and "Living Water" -- about the mushrooming spread of Christianity in Communist China) that God is using the illegality of the church (including terrible abuse against the church) to empower the faithful to spread His Word. Maybe that is what is about to happen here in America. God is definitely in control, with power beyond our imagining. May His people choose to cooperate, and not just say "Lord, Lord."
From a Minister in Tennessee:
With reference to this week's article ("Breaking Free of Fear"), it hits the nail on the head. When I was younger, I came in contact with an anti-Sunday school brother. He took advantage of my innocence and/or ignorance (take your pick) to attempt to convert me. To say the least, I almost gave up and became a skeptic. For years the "What if he is right and I am wrong?" mentality was like a ball-and-chain around my ankles. If we aren't 100% right, then we are an "apostate." A sad commentary on our belief system.
From a Reader in California:
I appreciate (as always) the fact that you are willing to take on the craziness of the patternistic way of thinking. Thank you for your hard work in the Lord, and may you have a most blessed and grace-filled Thanksgiving!
From a Reader in Virginia:
You are, and have been, a true blessing not only to our movement, but also to those who are dying to know of the freedom that we have in Christ. Your book Down, But Not Out has freed so many people, myself included. I can't even tell you how many people I've purchased your book for, or with whom I have shared comments that came directly from your pen. Although we don't agree politically (I was bothered by your article "Post-Election Reflection," as my perception of your tone suggests to me that you believe one party is godly and the other is not), nevertheless I will continue to read and support you, because I know that you have been sent here by God to do the work He has placed on you. The politics of this world will never be able to separate you and me, because we are joined through Christ.
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