A Forgiveness Story

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<Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Passengers yet and were going to see it stop reading now!>

In the movie Passengers, Jim Preston (played by Chris Pratt) is himself a passenger on an interstellar spacecraft who is woken from hibernation 90 years too early by a mysterious computer failure. As a result, he is trapped, alone on a spacecraft carrying more than 5 000 other sleeping passengers on the way to their eventual destination: a new planetary colony 60 light years from Earth.

The Avalon

I think part of the critical failure of the movie (only 31% of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were positive) can be blamed on the fact that the movie was sold to the public as something that it wasn’t ultimately trying to be.  Movie trailers for the movie (see links below) and TV commercials cast it as an interstellar romance between Jim and another passenger named Aurora Lane (played by Jennifer Lawrence). The star-crossed lovers find themselves (and each other) facing a technological disaster that was (perhaps) caused by corporate greed or some other nefarious deed.

In one of the trailers, Jim ominously says that “there’s a reason that we woke up early,” and in another, “there’s something they didn’t tell us,” implying that some greater purpose was at work, leading to a desperate challenge that must now be answered by our heroes: Save the ship or be lost in space! Neither of these lines appeared in the film.

Jim and ArthurThe truth is that the movie is centered around something entirely different: a horrible dilemma that causes Jim to commit an unthinkable betrayal.  (Last chance to get out before the spoiler). Inexplicably, Jim wakes up early, and alone, and spends more than a year as the only upright passenger aboard the Avalon, except for the android bartender.  He tries everything he can to get help from the sleeping crew, or to contact Earth (already 15 light years away) but to no avail. Finally, in a desperate scene, he is also pushed to the brink of suicide, pondering his prospects in one of the air locks leading out into space.

After a torturous year in isolation he notices an interesting passenger on the ship manifest, Aurora Lane, who is still sleeping in suspended animation.  Jim is then faced with the horrible dilemma: would he wake someone who could then be his companion and, as a result, damn them to the same fate?

After months of unsuccessfully trying to forget the possibility, he does this unthinkable thing, and turns off her sleep chamber, bringing Aurora into his personal nightmare – pretending at first that it was the result of another “malfunction.”

Things are great for Jim and Aurora, at least for a few months, as the two seem to make the best of a terrible situation but unfortunately for Jim the truth comes out.  Aurora is enraged, feeling cruelly betrayed by the only other person she can spend the rest of her life with. The two interstellar castaways are left in an even more bitter isolation: alone together.

Jim and Aurora

As movies usually do, a crisis comes along where Jim and Aurora must avert disaster by depending on each other and Aurora reaches her own moment of desperation when she realizes that unless she can save Jim, she will face the same fate that he did originally: spending the rest of her life alone.

Critics who panned the flick all observe that the romantic relationship the movie is supposed to be based on is terminally flawed. How can there ever be love in a relationship that was based such manipulation and deceit?  Richard Roeper of The Chicago Sun writes that the movie “is a well-designed, initially intriguing, visually interesting sci-fi romance torpedoed by a premise … so creepy and misogynistic, it’s amazing nobody… raised concerns about [it].” Kwame Opam of The Verge writes that the relationship is “deeply disturbing, even enraging.”

In space, no one can hear you scream, “Restraining order!” – Kwame Opam

The critics are right of course.  How could a relationship ever recover from such a betrayal? It is absurd and unrealistic. The whole premise of this relationship is built on a cruel, self-serving lie.

The mistake the critics make is that this movie is not a sappy love story.  It is a forgiveness story.  Aurora cannot forgive Jim for how he has betrayed her. She also bitterly realizes that she cannot punish him in such a way that would make this whole thing fair.  In the film she says to Jim, “you have taken my life away from me!  It’s like murder!” The betrayal has been committed and they are stuck with it.

While no couples you and I will ever know will be intractably stuck on a space ship for the rest of their lives, we likely all know more than one couple that have faced a cruel betrayal that cannot be humanly made right again. When I counsel soon-to-be married couples I warn them that they need to have a plan for what to do when they sin against each other, not if.

Christians should see marriage as being all about forgiveness, and it comes from a proper understanding of the cross and the resurrection.  Forgiveness is not just something that occasionally happens in a world where Jesus is raised from the dead. N.T. Wright in his book The Day the Revolution Began, writes

Resurrection and forgiveness belong together.  Both are the direct result of the victory won on the cross, because the victory won on the cross was won by dealing with sin and hence with death. Resurrection is the result of death’s defeat; forgiveness, the result of sin’s defeat. Those who learn to forgive discover that they are not only offering healing to others. They are receiving it in themselves. (p. 386)

Forgiveness is hard work and it takes time (much more than 1h 56 min, the running time of the film).  One thing that helps with forgiveness is remembering the humanity of the offender, and that is something that Jesus helps us do.  Aurora could not forgive Jim, at least not until she was forced into a situation where she can see things the way Jim saw them when he was first stranded on the spaceship.

In the same way, a first step for us when we are trying to forgive is to reflect on the fact that we are valuable because of what God says about us (we are an inherently valuable child of God) and so is the other person in our conflict.

Contrary to what you may have heard, love does not mean “never having to say you’re sorry.” In fact, true love comes only once you start getting good at it.

Passengers Official Trailer

NCW

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Happiness vs. Holiness

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BW

Some more thoughts about marriage and happiness (kind of a part three post continuing the thoughts of part 1 and part 2):

Bound and DeterminedIn her book, Bound and Determined: Christian Men and Women in Partnership, Jeanene Reese observed that happiness is a bit of a fixation for Western culture. Many believe that marriage is for making people happy, and its not just marriages.
Most parents too, at least in North America, if they were asked what it was they wished for their kids, they would say, “I just want my kids to be happy.” (Aside: If this topic is more interesting to you go here and read Dr. Robin Berman’s article on “Unhappiness: The Key to raising Happy Children”)

Now Jeanene doesn’t want her kids to be unhappy (neither you nor I do either) but she says that in marriage, happiness is the wrong target to aim for, both for your kids and for your marriage. Happiness is too dependent on our emotional state, and our circumstances, both things we cannot change nor control.

31540211943_3a9b74dc95_nPinterest is full of little projects that celebrate the “happiness of marriage.” But what if you follow the recipe shown here and find that it isn’t all that happy? What if marriage is instead frustrating and difficult, even when you follow the recipe?

Marriage was created by God and one of the things marriage does is help us practice loving someone the way God loves people. Unlike people, God loves the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God never tires of loving. On the other hand, remember the way you loved your spouse back at the beginning of your marriage. Everything they did just tickled and delighted you. The cute way they sneezed, the way they folded towels, the way they left the seat up / or down, the way they left the dirty dishes on the counter even though the dish washer is empty and ready to be loaded again. How about now? Not so much.

The truth is that humans aren’t natural lovers. We learn to love from the example that God gives us and marriage is a place where we can safely learn to get better at it. Jeanene reminds us,

Do [you] always feel the love? No. Love is not an emotional response but an ongoing choice. There are times, however when I don’t even have the will to choose to love. Jack (her husband) and I, like all married couples, have experienced our share of hard times. I used to think that if things got difficult enough that I couldn’t love with my love, I could always love with God’s. Then I discovered that I cannot love with God’s love unless I am fully surrendered to it (p. 141).

What Jeanene means here is that I need God to be at the center of my marriage and I need to love in the same way I am loved by God. When I can accept that unconditional love that God has for me, I can then be a conduit of God’s love to others. If I don’t accept that God loves me and is working a miracle in my heart, then I only have a limited supply of love to give. When that runs out, I will naturally switch gears and begin my games of manipulation and distrust (something humans are naturally good at).

There are times when I am not feeling it and on those days love is a choice. Marriage is tough and sometimes I am so fed up and frustrated that I don’t want to choose love anymore. Then I need to trust God to fill my choices with his love. (There is, of course, no place for abusive or destructive behaviours in a marriage relationship. Abuse is not something that is tolerated or worked through. This deserves its own blog article sometime, but I feel compelled at this point to mention that I am not suggesting that God will help you love an actively abusive spouse until they stop abusing you some time down the road. Abusive behaviours are unacceptable and need to be addressed as the sin that they are. You will need to seek the help of a counselor and in some cases you may need to involve the police.)

Marriage was invented by God as a way to train our hearts to love like God loves. Theologians call this “progressive sanctification.” It is the gradual process where you learn to forgive and learn to love in ways that wouldn’t have been possible before. You are being transformed into the image of God. You are becoming holy, in one of the ways that God is holy. It is a difficult, and yet beautiful process, and it starts with submitting to the love that God has for you, and then embodying it for someone else.

Marriage was designed by God to produce holiness, not happiness.

ncw

Marriage Doesn’t Make You Happy

forced-smile

[From Noel] noel portrait1BWIt turns out I have already blogged on this topic: Joy vs Happiness in marriage but I’m not going to let that stop me.  Just think of this as Chapter 2 of an emerging written work :).

Marriage in western culture is really taking a beating out there.  Today, like all adult relationships these days, marriages are becoming more and more provisional: they are simply assumed to be temporary – “we’re just going to make the best of it while we can.”

Many twenty-somethings have only known serial relationships without any formal act of commitment and research shows that, outside of marriage, adult romantic relationships like this (read: living together) only last about two years on average.

When a relationship of mine is provisional, I am constantly checking to see  if it is still alive.  “Are we still an item?” And to answer this question I look inward at myself.  “Am I still in love?”  “Is he/she still sexually compatible with me and my needs?” “Do I still have feelings for him/her?” And this is where a big problem lies.  Joy (lasting happiness) is not something we find through self gratification.  It will not be found through facing inward but instead joy is found through attending to the other in a self sacrificing, sort of way. It reminds me of a story I read recently: A desperate man wrote Rabbi Menachem Schneersohn seeking advice.  He wrote,

I need the Rabbi’s help. I am deeply depressed.  I pray and find no comfort.  I perform the commands but feel nothing. I find it hard to carry on…

The Rabbi sent a compelling reply without writing a single word.  He returned the man’s note and circled the first word of every sentence.  At the bottom of the note he wrote one sentence.  “The door to happiness opens outward, not inward.” Happiness is not something that we will find through looking after our own needs. but instead, it is found through looking after the needs of someone else.

There is a word in the Old Testament that makes this point beautifully.  It is the Hebrew word simchah. It is translated as “joy,” “gladness,” “mirth,” but translators  have trouble because it has no exact equivalent in English.  Johnathan Sacks writes in his book The Great Partnership, “in English … all our emotion words refer to states of mind we can experience alone. Simchah is something we cannot experience alone.  Simchah is joy shared.”  (p. 203-4)

soccerball-accident

You know that Internet video of the guy getting hit in the head with a soccer ball.  It’s funny, but sharing it with someone is almost as much fun as seeing it again for the first time. It’s a joy shared.  That’s what married joy is like. 🙂 To truly experience it you need to want it for the other person.  If you are trying to get it for yourself you will be disappointed but when you want it for your spouse, in time, you can find it too.

So being married is like getting hit in the face with a …. no, getting married is hitting someone in the face with a soccer ball…  Or is it being married is watching someone getting hit with a soccer ball…?

Where’s Julie?   I think I need her to finish this blog post off.

ncw

Book Review: A Dude’s Guide to Marriage

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book-reviewdudesguideI meet a friend for coffee every week or so and we have been working our way through The Dude’s Guide To Marriage: Ten Skills Every Husband Must Develop to Love His Wife Well.  It is an investment that we are both making in our marriages. We read a chapter, talk about it, and then try to go home and apply what we’ve learned.

While I must confess that I am usually allergic to books that have numbers in the title: “Seven Steps to Successful Marriage,” “Five Focus Points For Fostering Fidelity.” It’s almost as bad as my allergy to alliteration. Despite the numeration, I would recommend this book if you are looking to invest in the health of your marriage.

It’s written by a Darrin and Amie Patrick, who are in full-time church ministry and it is specifically written for “guys who want to grow. For guys who want to stop using their strengths to excuse their weaknesses.” (p. xiii)

It is sadly true that one cannot take for granted that you, dear reader, are willing to work on your marriage. Today people get married for love (and research would suggest that about 50% of people get unmarried for the same reason). Marriages take work and this book gives you some very practical things that you can work on.

One focus that I appreciated was on communication. The first three chapters are entitled, Listen, Talk, Fight, all dealing with vital communication skills. Darrin writes that men and women have different communication styles because they have different communication purposes. Men tend to “report-talk” while women often “rapport-talk” (p. 5). There are, of course, exceptions to every sweeping generalization but I think that Darrin captures something here that men often miss.
Women often communicate as a means of developing closeness, not just sharing information. So that’s why, Darrin says, women share their struggles without necessarily needing a solution to their problem. Women want to be heard, not fixed. (I wish someone had told me this about twenty years ago. BTW teens want to be heard and not fixed too. In fact, it turns out that very few people want to be fixed… Good to know).

Darrin’s wife Amie adds a brief comment to most chapters, but one of the highlights of the book is a chapter she writes herself concerning the need for husbands to pursue their wives (in a healthy, non-stalker like way). She writes that a woman wants to be known, loved and enjoyed for who she is. That’s what it means to pursue your spouse: it is a “personal, intentional, and specific commitment to actively love your wife where she is right now and to be intimately involved in the process of who she is becoming” (p. 140).

She confesses that the times in her marriage that she has felt the loneliest, the most unloved, were the times when Darrin failed to pursue her well. Amie says that women who are not being pursued withdraw (out of fear or a desire to avoid further disappointment). Not being pursued leaves a woman doubting the character of her husband, and the security of her marriage.

Pursuit is not important because a woman can’t take care of herself or must have a man to meet her needs. Pursuit is living out a heartfelt concern for your wife’s long term good, no matter what the cost. It is a deliberate, physical, act of servant hearted love.

Her challenge to pursue struck a chord with me. In my marriage to Julie we have weathered seasons where my pursuit has waned. It’s not that I loved her any less, or felt any less strong about our marriage. It was rather, a failure of priorities, a failure to carve out time. If I’m honest, my pursuit of Julie was poor at times when there were idolatries working on my heart that were getting in the way of my marriage flourishing. I needed to be seen as being busy and I was given positive strokes for all the extracurricular activities that I was involved in. Nobody was praising me for spending an evening giving the kids a bath and going to bed early with my wife but that was one of the things that I should have been doing more of. Julie was feeling lonely and like she was not a priority in my life.

We would sometimes fight about it and talk past each other. She would say that I was not making family life (and her) a priority and I would say that she did not understand all the responsibilities that I was juggling. We would go round and round expressing ourselves very clearly and concisely while at the same time not hearing each other very well. It took a few years for me to understand how Julie experiences presence as a love language (see Gary Chapman’s Love Languages).

Amie ends the chapter with a collection of very helpful suggestions (some of which Julie and I discovered on our own.)

  • Do physical things together, life washing and drying dishes, going for walks, filing papers, etc.
  • Start and end the day with some kind of physical touch: a hand on a shoulder, a hug, a peck on the cheek, a squeeze on the hand, or something spicier (use your own imagination).
  • Put down your phone while talking with each other. Eye contact speaks volumes.

Amie also talks about the importance of taking responsibility for your physical health. “Your wife benefits when you feel better, have more energy, and live a long healthy life” (p. 150). I recently discovered how important this is when Julie is working. I strategically make sure I am well rested when she is going to be available to talk or go for a walk. I want to give her some of the best of my time, not just what is left.

The book is full of practical, well reflected biblical advice and would be a great place to learn how to love your wife better.

NCW

My Babies

by Julie Walker

Walker Boys

photo by Shannon Vine Photography

I don’t know how this happened. I feel like yesterday we had small children running around this house and today we have a house full of teenagers. Every single one of our children is a TEENAGER!! What has actually happened! This cannot be God’s plan. All those runny nose, messy eating, midnight wake-ups with sick kids, all those running kids to swimming or soccer, toy-infested-house moments, which I swore I would be thrilled to part with, are now gone! In fact, I can barely remember the exhausting parts of this time in my life. I can only recall the sweetness of the snuggles and the smells of the freshly-bathed babies and the “I love you Mommy” expressions of affection. I think it’s a trick that God plays on parents so that, on some future far distant day, when my kids ask me to babysit their babies I’ll say “of course I will!”

Twins

photo by Shannon Vine Photography

The last of our babies turned thirteen last summer.

Twin BabiesJuly 25, 2003 ended with a bang when our third son, brought a friend with him. They surprised us with their speedy arrival almost as much as they surprised us when we found out that there were two of them in the first place. Six months earlier, the routine ultrasound ended up being anything but routine. Let’s just say I’m glad I was lying down. It was at that moment that I realized that: A) God likes surprises, B) He had a lot of work to do on my control issues, and, C) I strongly suspect that He likes spoiling Noel more than me. Noel said when we were pregnant the first time that we should have four kids. He ominously pronounced that if I disagreed then we would just have twins during the last pregnancy. So ya, he’s spoiled.

The boys were born on a lovely summer night following a wonderful meal at the home of a terrific couple from church. I was kinda feeling some mild cramps but, being 37+ weeks pregnant with twins in the middle of the summer, I was not at all alarmed. Given that it takes me (historically) approximately 500 days to actually have my babies, I usually don’t get excited about cramps. Besides, I fully expected to be the only woman in recorded history to actually have to be induced when her twins refused to leave the womb. But God had a different plan.

God had the most perfect birth possible in mind for us. We were under doctors orders to arrive at the hospital with plenty of time to monitor the babies during labour to make sure they were both handling everything okay. I was also going to have an epidural just in case the babies weren’t happy and we had to do something quickly. This was not how I would have liked my delivery to go but, okay. So, the night of July 25th arrived with me wondering if maybe these cramps were actually something to worry about. I called our midwife and she informed us that the hospital we were going to deliver at was closed (no empty beds) and I would have to go to another area hospital. We made the decision to head to our local hospital where I worked as an obstetrical nurse to at least be assessed. I was still thinking that this whole thing was probably nothing and we would be sent home. By the time we got there I was pretty sure it was the real thing and indeed it was. Liam arrived within thirty minutes and Daniel just eight minutes after that. No hours of monitoring, no epidural and not even a lengthy labour and I ended up delivering surrounded by friends and colleagues.

Twins

photo by Shannon Vine Photography

As I think about how the boys came into the world, they demonstrated their own unique personalities right from the beginning. Liam arrived screaming and active right from the beginning. I think he was just as shocked to be born as we were to see him. He was crying so much that he flipped himself over right in front of the nurses who were trying to assess him. Daniel made his appearance in a more relaxed manner. He cried at birth but was quickly settled and didn’t seem to think this new environment required much more from him despite the fact that everyone else in the room wanted a little more of a response.

During this whole surprisingly short ordeal Noel had a look on his face that I have never seen before or since. He said he was just praying the whole time. Scared to death and also extremely excited. We were both glad when it was over. After a couple of days in the hospital being spoiled by my nurse friends, we went home to begin the adventure of Liam and Daniel.

They were loved immediately by their big brothers and were constantly being snuggled and petted. All our children have been snugly babies and Liam and Daniel just soaked it up. They loved to be together right from the beginning and spent hours and hours entertaining each other. They still are each other’s best friend. I hope they always remain this close.

I tend to always think of them together, almost as a unit which is not something I’m proud of. They are very different but they are also very similar and I have difficulty thinking of one without the other. Liam is emotional, sensitive, a deep thinker and a little bit of a worrier. Daniel is relaxed, a go-with-the-flow kinda guy, and a calmer of worries. Both boys are affectionate, kind, tenderhearted, hard-working and thoughtful. They love Jesus, their family, babies, and anything with fur. They have dealt with struggles at school with their usual good humour and have met every challenge with a good attitude.

This past year we made the decision to change schools to provide the boys with an environment which would better meet their needs. This was a huge change for kids in grade eight but they both agreed that they thought it would be good for them and they wanted to give it a shot. I was so proud of their maturity in choosing their learning over their friends. It’s been a difficult transition at times but they both agree that it was a good decision and they’ve already made up a lot of ground in their schooling. I’m so proud. We’ve always heard from their teachers that the boys work so hard and now all their effort is paying off.

BaptismLast March, the boys made a very important decision. They wanted to be baptized and make a life- long commitment to have Jesus as their saviour. Liam had been asking to be baptized for quite awhile and we weren’t sure if he really understood but every time we would discuss it he would have these very reflective, deep answers to any questions we would ask him. We finally asked ourselves why we would be holding him back and we couldn’t come up with a good answer. Often during our conversations Daniel wouldn’t say much but agree with Liam wholeheartedly. I said to him once that if he wasn’t ready than he could wait. Just because Liam wanted to be baptized didn’t mean that he had to as well. He looked at me like I had three heads and said he thought the same things Liam thinks it’s just that Liam always speaks first. Well, alright then. The two of them both could not imagine taking this step without the other. In fact they wanted to be baptized at the same time. So that’s what we did. I’m so grateful that despite our flaws and mistakes, all our boys have seen the love of Jesus and want to live a life committed to him. Sometimes I think we’re doing something right with this whole parenting thing.

These two turkeys have surprised me from the beginning. In some ways I want to keep them little and snugly and always with me but I also want to see who they become. I’m so proud of the way they meet life’s challenges, how they pray and trust God, and how they care for the less fortunate. They have been a true gift from God. What a blessing it is to be their mom. I have the same prayer for Liam and Daniel as I do for Devin and Jacob; that they will always find their worth in who they belong to and that they will become mighty men of God. Serving Him with their lives. All four make me proud, even as teenagers.

A Forgiveness Story

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Passengers Movie

<Spoiler Alert: If you were planning on going to see Passengers any time soon stop reading now!>

[From Noel] noel portrait1BW
In the recent movie Passengers, Jim Preston (played by Chris Pratt) is himself a passenger on an interstellar spacecraft who is woken from hibernation 90 years too early by a mysterious computer failure. As a result, he is trapped, alone on a spacecraft carrying more than 5 000 other sleeping passengers on the way to their eventual destination: a new planetary colony 60 light years from Earth.

The Avalon

I think part of the critical failure of the movie (only 31% of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were positive) can be blamed on the fact that the movie was sold to the public as something that it wasn’t ultimately trying to be. Movie trailers for the movie (see links below) and TV commercials cast it as an interstellar romance between Jim and another passenger named Aurora Lane (played by Jennifer Lawrence). The star-crossed lovers find themselves (and each other) facing a technological disaster that was (perhaps) caused by corporate greed or some other nefarious deed.

In one of the trailers, Jim ominously says that “there’s a reason that we woke up early,” and in another, “there’s something they didn’t tell us,” implying that some greater purpose was at work, leading to a desperate challenge that must now be answered by our heroes: Save the ship or be lost in space! Neither of these lines appeared in the film.

Jim and ArthurThe truth is that the movie is centered around something entirely different: a horrible dilemma that causes Jim to commit an unthinkable betrayal. (Last chance to get out before the spoiler). Inexplicably, Jim wakes up early, and alone, and spends more than a year as the only upright passenger aboard the Avalon, except for the android bartender. He tries everything he can to get help from the sleeping crew, or to contact Earth (already 15 light years away) but to no avail. Finally, in a desperate scene, he is also pushed to the brink of suicide, pondering his prospects in one of the air locks leading out into space.

After a torturous year in isolation he notices an interesting passenger on the ship manifest, Aurora Lane, who is still sleeping in suspended animation. Jim is then faced with the horrible dilemma: would he wake someone who could then be his companion and, as a result, damn them to the same fate?

After months of unsuccessfully trying to forget the possibility, he does this unthinkable thing, and turns off her sleep chamber, bringing Aurora into his personal nightmare – pretending at first that it was the result of another “malfunction.”

Things are great for Jim and Aurora, at least for a few months, as the two seem to make the best of a terrible situation but unfortunately for Jim the truth comes out. Aurora is enraged, feeling cruelly betrayed by the only other person she can spend the rest of her life with. The two interstellar castaways are left in an even more bitter isolation: alone together.

Jim and Aurora

As movies usually do, a crisis comes along where Jim and Aurora must avert disaster by depending on each other and Aurora reaches her own moment of desperation when she realizes that unless she can save Jim, she will face the same fate that he did originally: spending the rest of her life alone.

Critics who panned the flick all observe that the romantic relationship the movie is supposed to be based on is terminally flawed. How can there ever be love in a relationship that was based such manipulation and deceit? Richard Roeper of The Chicago Sun writes that the movie “is a well-designed, initially intriguing, visually interesting sci-fi romance torpedoed by a premise … so creepy and misogynistic, it’s amazing nobody… raised concerns about [it].” Kwame Opam of The Verge writes that the relationship is “deeply disturbing, even enraging.”

In space, no one can hear you scream, “Restraining order!” – Kwame Opam

The critics are right of course. How could a relationship ever recover from such a betrayal? It is absurd and unrealistic. The whole premise of this relationship is built on a cruel, self-serving lie.

The mistake the critics make is that this movie is not a sappy love story. It is a forgiveness story. Aurora cannot forgive Jim for how he has betrayed her. She also bitterly realizes that she cannot punish him in such a way that would make this whole thing fair. In the film she says to Jim, “you have taken my life away from me! It’s like murder!” The betrayal has been committed and they are stuck with it.

While no couples you and I will ever know will be intractably stuck on a space ship for the rest of their lives, we likely all know more than one couple that have faced a cruel betrayal that cannot be humanly made right again. When I counsel soon-to-be married couples I warn them that they need to have a plan for what to do when they sin against each other, not if.

Christians should see marriage as being all about forgiveness, and it comes from a proper understanding of the cross and the resurrection. Forgiveness is not just something that occasionally happens in a world where Jesus is raised from the dead. N.T. Wright in his book The Day the Revolution Began, writes

Resurrection and forgiveness belong together. Both are the direct result of the victory won on the cross, because the victory won on the cross was won by dealing with sin and hence with death. Resurrection is the result of death’s defeat; forgiveness, the result of sin’s defeat. Those who learn to forgive discover that they are not only offering healing to others. They are receiving it in themselves. (p. 386)

Forgiveness is hard work and it takes time (much more than 1h 56 min, the running time of the film). One thing that helps with forgiveness is remembering the humanity of the offender, and that is something that Jesus helps us do. Aurora could not forgive Jim, at least not until she was forced into a situation where she can see things the way Jim saw them when he was first stranded on the spaceship.

In the same way, a first step for us when we are trying to forgive is to reflect on the fact that we are valuable because of what God says about us (we are an inherently valuable child of God) and so is the other person in our conflict.

Contrary to what you may have heard, love does not mean “never having to say you’re sorry.” In fact, true love comes only once you start getting good at it.

Passengers Official Trailer

NCW

My Wife is a Minister of the Word

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My wife is a minister of the Word.  What I mean by that is that she is a proclaimer of the Gospel.  She works part-time as a labour and delivery nurse at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital, but it is more than a job for her, it is a vocation.

julieAtWork - CopyA vocation is a calling. It is a holy appointment with God. A job is something you do for money, but a vocation is a job with a biblical imagination.

Julie is a proclaimer of the Gospel. She speaks a word of hope to Moms in the making, who sometimes doubt if they are going to have what it takes.  She proclaims a gospel word to Dad’s who sometimes feel a little disconnected from the miracle that is happening right in front of them. She says, in one way or another, sometimes without a word,“You are enough.  You don’t need to bathe your new little one EVERY day. You don’t need to feed every two hours, at EXACTLY two hours.  I know you have read lots of scary stuff on the Internet, just breathe, take it one day at a time.  God is good.  You are going to be OK.”

Sometimes, when assisting a delivery, Julie is the first human being, besides Mom, to touch a brand new human.  She is humanity’s welcoming committee. She has performed funerals (too many) and has shared tears with heartbroken parents who must suddenly struggle with the hardest questions humans have ever asked.

I am disappointed when Christians spend time debating if women can preach or teach during a congregational assembly while they ignore what we all do the other 166 hours in a week.  Why do we care so much about what happens in two hours on a Sunday morning and care so little about the rest of the week?

Nowhere in Scripture, nowhere, are we instructed or commanded to gather on Sunday morning for a one hour oratory exegesis of the Scriptures.  On the other hand, we have examples of brothers and sisters gathering in houses, on outdoor steps, by the river at dawn, and in gardens.  We read in the Bible about men and women sharing a meal together and loving each other in the name of Jesus.  Some did it poorly (like in Corinth) while others did it better (like in Phillipi) but they all loved Jesus and they sought to live like Jesus, 24 / 7 and they talked about it when they gathered together.  They cared WAY more about the rest of the week then about a one or a two hour gathering on Sunday.  Maybe we should too.

How many preachers does your church have? (Here’s a hint: the answer is way, way more than one)

A Funeral Sermon

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In chapter fifteen, the Apostle Paul is wrapping up his first letter to the Corinthian church by answering a few practical questions. The Corinthian church had been confused about many things, not the least of which is Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. For starters, there were some in the church there who didn’t believe there would be a resurrection at all. If you asked them, they would say that the Christian life is a better life than you would live otherwise, but once it was done, so were you. “One and done, that’s it, you’re good, you’re gone.” Others still believed in an afterlife, but you had to stay alive until Jesus’ return. Jesus was coming back to take you to a place where you would live forever but you had to hang in there until he returned. It was a limited time offer. If you didn’t live long enough to see Jesus you wouldn’t see mansions of glory. Maybe Jesus’ heavenly home was just not big enough for all of us.

Paul kindly, diplomatically, pulls back the curtain in chapter fifteen and expands our understanding of what is to come, and like C.S. Lewis was fond of saying, “it’s a lot bigger on the inside.” Paul says that resurrection isn’t just an important part of the gospel, it’s the whole point. With a memorable phrase he writes,

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised … our preaching is useless and so is your faith … If Christ only provides hope for this world then we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:14, 19)

Paul then moves on to explain how the dead are raised (in v. 35) and he compares it to a seed. A seed must die and be put in the ground for the tree to grow. A tree doesn’t look anything like a seed, but that’s where trees come from. A flower grows from a bulb in the ground but a bulb doesn’t look anything like a flower.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Cor 15:42-44)

There is perishable life and imperishable life. Our ancestor Adam was born, and through sin he exchanged imperishable for perishable, and we have been born in his likeness ever since: temporary, corruptible, and mortal. Jesus himself has come in a corruptible form to give us a glimpse of the incorruptible. Paul continues,

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery:We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15: 50-55)

Now wait a minute Paul. “Where is your sting?” “Where is your victory?” How can you say that? Has Paul never been to a funeral? Where is the sting? It’s right here! Tears from loved ones, the sorrow of saying good bye. We’re all feeling the sting aren’t we?

I was standing next to the casket at the visiting yesterday and I found it interesting how people would say goodbye. There are some who come right up to the casket (most of them were about 4 years old). But most keep an awkward distance. Some quickly moved to the other room. There are, of course, many who won’t come to a visiting at all. The sight of a loved one in a casket is too frightening. I suppose that a minister probably shouldn’t even speak of such things.

If we’re not careful, the victory of death can seem absolute, permanent, and final. Even to us who know better, the loss is profound, the sting is everywhere. Is Paul a fool? Why would he say such a thing?

In 2001 we invited Grandma to join us on a trip to Prince Edward Island for the first week in September. I was on a break from teaching at Great Lakes Christian High School and I needed to be somewhere other than home for the first week of school. Grandma paid her own way, but that holiday was the best money I ever spent. We had such a great time, we drove the country rounds across the island, we did a tour of Confederation Hall, saw the beach (though it’s not exactly beach weather in PEI in September.)

GGrandma2001d cropOne of my favourite memories was visiting Green Gables. It’s a property that was once visited by L.M. Montgomery. She based her “Anne of Green Gables” stories on her experiences there. The property is nearly considered sacred ground for anyone from PEI, and people from all over the world come to tour the farm. Now I’m sure all of you know that Anne is not real right? The farm is just a place where Lucy Maud Montgomery based the books. She actually lived in Ontario when she wrote the most of the books. I imagine that the farm is full of Canadians during the summer, but in September the tours are full of Japanese tourists and old people (Grandma’s words, not mine.)

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We got so many good stories that day. Grandma showed Devin how to milk a cow, we walked the property, toured the house, and in the lawn outside the house there were beautiful gardens full of cosmos, gladiolas, sunflowers and zinnias – all past their prime and heading into fall. Now Grandma is a practical woman, and we were all looking for souvenirs for our visit. What would be cooler than seeds from the garden that good old Anne might have planted her very self, right? And they’re free! Unlike the $15 letter opener and $12 tea cosy for sale in the gift shop. I gave her the nod and Grandma casually reached out to dead head one of the zinnias growing along the fence while we waited in line. A zinnia head, that’s dried up, is full of seeds and looks like you could easily break it off, but the stem is a fibrous thing. Those zinnias are a sturdy lot. But Grandma was fully committed now. She had reached out to get this head and it wouldn’t quite break off. She kept turning and turning it – the line had moved up now – and it wouldn’t break. The sight of Grandma, on the sly, trying to break this head off was funny, but the look of abject horror on the faces of the tourists behind her was priceless. The stories these Japanese seniors must have told back in Tokyo of the white haired Canadian infidel that desecrated the sacred gardens of Anne…

It’s a good thing they weren’t checking purses on the way out. When we got back to the cottage that night, Grandma dumped her purse on the table, full of seeds.

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Every night after Devin and Jacob were in bed, we would watch the sunset over Northumberland Strait and talk about our day and hear some great stories. Grandma said she missed Grandpa, but these past eight years had been great and if she had to die tomorrow, that would be OK too. “It’s been a heck of a ride!”

That was September 10th, 2001, which I have heard some anthropologists call, despite what a calendar might say, the last day of the 20th Century. The next day everything changed.

“The sting of death is sin.”

The next day everything changed, didn’t it. Our flight back home was steered out of American airspace, and nearly diverted to Pearson airport, before we were sent back across Lake Ontario to Mount Hope Airport in Hamilton. We climbed down a set of stairs that were wheeled up to the exit door and left our plane right on the tarmac, next to a gigantic Air France wide-body 747. (I didn’t know Air France flew out of Mount Hope?) We had no idea what was happening until we got back to the car and listened to the radio on the way home. Grandma’s first thoughts were about Mike and Roger, two grandsons who were connected with the American military. She was worried about them. Who knows, with the stress of that day, or maybe it was going to happen anyway, she had her first heart attack the next day.

Grandma has struggled in these last few years. The burden of blindness has rested heavily on her and she has compared her oxygen hose to a leash more than once, at least to me. It is said that youth is wasted on the young, but I don’t think the young could handle being old. She handled the struggle of growing old with dignity and grace, but those of you that have known her these last few years have seen it – she has been restless, unable to settle.

She has struggled to find a place to settle. Five different homes over these last few years. It’s as if she remembers, unconsciously, deep in her bones, that she wasn’t made for this. In the days after September 11th people called this “the new normal,” and for Grandma, at least these last couple of years, it didn’t fit. These feet were made for walkin’ and these eye’s for reading, and she just didn’t feel right. If death could finally take these things from us forever, then maybe resurrection was important after all.

So where were we Paul? You were saying that death has lost? The fallacy of death’s victory is finally exposed in the cross. Those who live without a hope of resurrection live in fear, and those who live without faith in Christ’s return are overcome with despair. But Paul says the perishable are clothed imperishable. The mortal have cast off corruption and put on immortality. Death is undone by the cross.

Paul says that at a funeral, what we are observing here is not just something tragic that has ended but something beautiful that is just about to begin!

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15: 55-58)

Beyond Betrayal

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“Hosea and Gomer” by Cody Miller.

Hosea 3:1-5

1 The Lord said to me, “Go, love your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a half of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.

In the book of Hosea we see a heartbreaking story: the prophet Hosea is invited –instructed no less – to love a woman who would break his heart.  “Go marry a promiscuous woman,” (Hos 1:2) God says. If the phrase is proleptic, it implies that Gomer became a prostitute after they were married.  Perhaps she began in faithful union, but later wandered.  If not, she was already involved with other men, loved by others, and now Hosea too.  Either way, this heartbreaking story is told in parallel with another love story between God and his people Israel.  God’s love, and Israel’s response is described in various places in the Scriptures, and each with different effect.

Jeremiah laments that Israel has been like an unfaithful spouse. (Jer 3) Despite being loved by a faithful love, a perfect love, Israel has descended to unimaginable depths.  Worse than being paid for sex, Israel has sought its own lovers, and paid them for their time. Ezekiel describes Israel as an abandoned infant who is adopted, embraced, loved, and nurtured back to health, only to betray and reject her loving parent. (Ez 16) Isaiah says that Israel is like a flock of sheep who have gone astray. (Is 53:6)  Impossibly, despite being the object of an eternal love, a perfect love, with a deviant will and with malice of forethought, we have been loved with a perfect love and yet we’ve walked away.

God grieves for his beloved, but is received, not with hostile rejection, or contempt, but with apathetic indifference. In Malachi God says, “I have loved you, but you say, ‘How have you loved me?’ ” (Mal 1:2)

After repeated betrayals Hosea’s marriage is ruined.  In chapter two we read the formulaic charge of a rabbinical divorce ceremony, “She is not my wife.  I am not her husband.” (Hos 2:2)  Human relationships are fragile and delicate.  Easily broken, and not easily repaired.  There is only so far a man can forgive a woman.  There is only so much that a woman can forgive a man.  Hosea’s marriage is ruined, his home is shattered.  Perhaps it was he who raised their three prophetically named children.  God-Sows, Unloved, and Not-Mine, raised in a single parent home.

But God surprises us –shocks us– in chapter 3.  It’s over and done–too far gone– but God says “Hosea, go love your wife, though she is loved by another… Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites.” (Hos 3:1) It doesn’t seem possible!  How could God do that?!  After the embarrassing betrayal, being openly rejected in favour of another lover, How could God ask this?

The situation may be even worse than we realize.

Hosea writes that he took her back, he bought her back!  15 shekels and a homer and an half of barley, the going rate of a slave. In the ancient world buying your own wife is a purchase that is as absurd as you can imagine.  To 21st century sensibilities it is offensive to talk like this but in their culture, a wife was thought of as a husband’s property anyway.  To reconcile with an unfaithful wife was foolhardy, but to redeem your wife was absurd!

The shock and gruesome spectacle of this story might distract us from one fact that might otherwise escape our notice.  What God is commanding here is illegal!  Deut 24:1-4 commands that a man cannot remarry his wife, once he has divorced her.  How can God ask Hosea to do something that is prohibited in the law?  Once he has divorced his wife, he cannot go back and remarry her.

But if we’re not careful we might be guilty of asking the wrong question here, for although law shapes and forms love, love precedes law.  God loved Israel before he gave her the law.  “While we were powerless,–God loved–Christ died for the unlovable.”

Love comes before the law. If the law took pre-eminence – if the law came first – there would be no gospel in the Old or the New Testament. It’s important to understand that Hosea is not being asked to break the law here. He is being asked to go beyond the law in the pursuit of love, rather than uphold the law. Hosea demonstrates God’s purpose in love which transcends (rather than violates) the law.

If the law were the only criterion, God could not have sent his Son to redeem the world, any more than Hosea could have gone out to remarry Gomer.  But divine love is a force that knows no bounds.  Law may follow love to give it shape and direction, but it can never have pre-eminence.

A Messiah dying on a cross was impossible to imagine. It was even more absurd than a man buying his own wife, but it testifies to the depth of God’s love for his people.  “I am not just your King, I am not just a shepherd, I am more than a Father, I am your husband.  I love you.”

Here in Hosea 3 we see a love recovered but we also see a love discovered.  God says “I love you; I have always loved you. Not because you are more beautiful than the others, not because of what you can do for me, not because of what you bring to the relationship.  I love you, just because I love you.”

God’s love is illogical.  It isn’t logical for a man to buy his own wife.  God’s love is not just illogical, it’s extra-logical; it is hyper-logical.  It doesn’t contradict human logic, God’s love transcends human logic, it precedes logic.

In human figuring, betrayal marks the boundaries of love.  I love you “if.”  I love you “when.”  I love you “until.”  For human love, there are boundaries to what we are able to put up with.  There are limits to what we are willing to endure.  But God loves with a love that goes beyond betrayal.  God’s love doesn’t not stand limited by the beloved’s compliance, or faithfulness.  God’s love transcends the limitation of human categories.  God loves not because we are lovable, or faithful, or compliant or true.

“I love you because I love you.”  God loves with a perfect love, an eternal love.  And God calls us to love each other the same way.  How could God do that?  How can God ask this of us?  God asks us to love the way that he loves Israel.

God asks us to love the churches that don’t appreciate our talents or gifts.  God asks us to love the people who don’t trust us.  God calls us to love beyond rejection.

God calls us to love churches that are apathetic toward our leadership, and unmoved by our preaching.  God calls us to love beyond the lack of a reciprocal response.

God calls us to love the person who has been receiving support from the benevolence committee for two years running and just sold the grocery store gift cards you gave them last week so they could buy smokes.  God calls us to love past being taken advantage of.

God calls us to love churches who have hurt us, and wounded us and our families.   God calls us to love stingy people, bitter brothers, and unrepentant sisters.  God calls us to love beyond betrayal.

So love is not the boundary condition for discipleship: “Love like I do or else.”  Love is not the minimum standard for continued blessing.  God invites us to love like he does because his love is like a broad place, an open space. There is freedom when we love like God does. We are freed from calculated proportional responses: loving others in the manner we have been loved.

We are freed from an endless attempt to secure a reciprocal response.  We are delivered from bitterness and strife when we love like he loves. He invites us to exceed a bondage to balanced equations: tit for tat, and wrong for wrong. Now, in these “last days” we love because we are loved by the one who is love.

NCW

The Power of Monogamy

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BWThe Globe and Mail published a review of a new book (pretty good summary here) out next week entitled, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, by Ottawa clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson, not to be confused with famous Toronto sex educator Sue Johanson. In it, Johnson argues that clinical research shows that monogamous relationships provide a meaningful emotional benefit to those who are in them.
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(Quick sarcastic aside: If you are a Christian and want to shut down any meaningful conversation you might have with friends who aren’t believers, make sure to mention this book and then go on about how the Bible has been talking about this for centuries. Even Jesus didn’t like know-it-alls (Mark 3:5) so I won’t do that here. Instead of nagging people with this knowledge, use it to help people who are struggling to make shallow relationships work.)

This book is helpful because the prevailing position in secular circles these days is that monogamous relationships are a left over practice from a by-gone era dominated by religious superstition. Secular thinkers would say, “the church has always wanted control of people’s lives so they pushed monogamous relationships on the general public because they are easier to monitor and control.” Popular secular humanist thinkers like Richard Dawkins say that humans are genetically predisposed to infidelity in order to spread their genetic material as widely as possible (see The Selfish Gene, p. 164) . What Johnson says in this book is that it isn’t that simple. There is more to sex than “spreading your seed.”

92657349Her thesis, based on decades of neuroscience research into human emotion, is that just like the bond parents have with their offspring, monogamous love makes sense as a survival code. She writes, “We’ve understood so much about the power of adult love relationships, how this emotional bond creates a safe haven for us in life, allows us to grow and function on an optimal level, as well as how emotional isolation and disconnection are extremely costly to us as a species.” Things like pornography, the friends-with-benefits culture and attention dividing technology all threaten healthy relationships.

I’ll say more about this book in future posts but for now I’ll say this. What is refreshing about this perspective is that here we have clinical research telling us that casual sexual relationships are far more expensive than anyone previously thought.

Johnson is saying that in the same way that parenting and babysitting operate at different depths, casual sex and long term relationships are not just slightly different; they emotionally operate at radically different depths. If you treat parenting like an endless babysitting gig, you rob yourself of the rich relationship that is possible with your own children. In the same way, serial casual sexual encounters emotionally numbs you, and trains your heart to not make lasting rich connections. This makes it very difficult to form lasting relationships later in life.

God created us and he wants rich relationships for us. God isn’t keeping you from true enjoyment, he is trying to lead you to it. Clinical research agrees that waiting to have sex with a permanent committed partner leads to a life that has the most enjoyment, and the most emotionally stability.

NCW