Thoughts on Invictus: Part 6

This past semester I taught a class on “Christian Perspectives in Contemporary Culture.”  One of the themes the class focused on was justice, not justice in the court system but justice in the economic, political and racial sense—the goal is full reconciliation.  I had the class read a work by John Perkins, With Justice for All: A Strategy for Community Development

Perkins has been a pioneer the establishment of justice in rural Mississippi, an area where racial hatred and oppression survives to this day.  In telling the story of his escape to Los Angeles and a better life, his conversion to Christ, and his call back to Mississippi he challenges his brothers and sisters in Christ to take the call for justice seriously as a vital implication of the gospel (a theme which we find prominently in Scripture but which somehow falls pretty much on deaf ears in the American evangelicalism).  Perhaps this is because we think of the gospel in terms of witnessing rather than understanding the gospel as being about the inexpressible love of the Father, Son and Spirit for their creation and God’s passionate heart that has accomplished reconciliation through the person of Christ.

As Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19 NET) or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing.”

More info on Forgiveness and Reconciliation:

Free e-book, “Love Killer Solutions”

Online course, “Freedom to Love Again”

January 29, 2010. Tags: , . Food For Thought. Leave a comment.

Thoughts on Invictus: Part 3

Recently my wife Kay and I watched Invictus, the new film from Clint Eastwood starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The movie tells the story of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black President, and his vision of using the Springboks (South Africa’s rugby team that had functioned as a symbol of apartheid and oppression to the country’s blacks) as a vehicle to unify the severely racially-fractured country in its quest to win the World Cup in 1995. The story itself is historically accurate.  But rather than be a dry description of those happenings nearly fifteen years ago, it brings to life those events in quite an amazing way.  Although some details are added to the story, as is often the case in Hollywood, the story the film tells is nothing short of gripping.

News reporter Alexandra Zavis who was in South Africa during these events writes:

Of all the improbable images I carry in my head from covering those first heady days of South Africa’s new democracy for the Associated Press, this one stands out. The film "Invictus," directed by Clint Eastwood and based on a book by journalist John Carlin called "Playing the Enemy," captures this extraordinary moment when history really was made on a sports field.

LA Times, December 15,2009

As you may know, I love film. In fact I have taught classes in seminary on Theology and Film on several occasions. The power of film is the power of the story to incarnate truth. And Invictus does just that.

Recently I have been studying deeply issues of forgiveness, abuse, injustice reconciliation, and the person of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. As I sat in the darkened theater and watched the images and heard the dialogue I was overwhelmed as these themes wove themselves together as the story unfolded. In a very real sense Invictus became a lens that focused these themes together in sharp relief.  As we walked out of the theatre I turned to Kay and said “I sense the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit are all over that film!”

Coming Up: In my next post I’ll unpack the dynamic truths I’ve been learning as I’ve studied the issues of forgiveness, abuse and injustice.

January 29, 2010. Tags: , . Food For Thought. Leave a comment.

Thoughts on Invictus: Part 5

Forgiveness is something we all talk about as being foundational to Christianity. (Love is foundational to forgiveness.) The first Bible verse that many of us learned, John 3:16, states: “For God (the Father) so loved the world, he gave his only-begotten Son (i.e. His unique and eternal son with whom He was in face to face relationship for all ante-mundane eternity) so that everyone who believes in him will not perish (or be lost) but have eternal life (participation in the very life of the Trinity).”  Love is foundational to forgiveness; forgiveness is vitally wound up in justification by faith alone.  To vastly oversimplify it, we are declared “not guilty” by God because of the sacrifice of Christ—we stand forgiven, totally, forever and unconditionally!

If we are honest, we must admit that while we cling to the fact that we are forgiven, we are ourselves not good at forgiving others.  Oh, we don’t have much trouble brushing off minor offenses but those who have betrayed us and inflicted damage?  Here we do not want to forgive; we want justice, or better yet, revenge.  Yet refusing to forgive, however imperfectly, keeps our souls from healing and perpetuates hatred and violence.

During the past several years I have been confronted with injustice and oppression in an up-close and personal fashion as I have ministered in Bulgaria.  We as Americans think of racial oppression in terms of the Black-White divide in American culture (or maybe the apartheid of South Africa).  I have witnessed the oppression of the Roma people (gypsies) in a manner reminiscent of the ghettos in which the Jews were for centuries placed in Europe.  Jewish ghettos in Europe were not an invention of the Nazis; rather they were instituted centuries ago during the Renaissance by Christian political authorities who marginalized Jews because of their non-Christian beliefs.  The Gypsy people too are historically non-Christian who migrated westward from the Indian sub-continent about a thousand years ago.  As a people group they settled mainly in Eastern and Central Europe and remain unassimilated to this day.  The song “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” popularized by Cher in the early 70’s reflects the majority population attitude toward them to this day. 

In Bulgaria, under Communism, the government erected walls around gypsy communities to further separate them from the larger population. The Roma people in Bulgaria are largely illiterate to this day, and it has only been in the past couple of decades or so that the gospel has begun to penetrate these closed communities. Bulgaria specifically and eastern and central Europe generally stand in need of racial, cultural, and economic reconciliation and justice. 

The problem runs deep in that culture, and in a sense, in every culture. Fortunately I have seen a few glimmers of hope in Bulgaria, largely through the ministries of Care For All.

Coming Up: In my next post I’ll share about an exciting pioneer in the establishment of justice in rural America.

January 27, 2010. Tags: , . Food For Thought. Leave a comment.

Thoughts on Invictus: Part 4

Over the past several months I have been heavily involved studying and reflecting anew on the person of God. I became convinced over 20 years ago that our western understanding of the trinity had departed from the understanding articulated by the early church at the Council of Nicea and the explication given by Athanasius and the three great Cappodician theologians: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus. 

It was they who unpacked the implications of the pre-incarnate Son being homoosias (of the same substance/being) as the Father. Contrary to the Greek concept of God as a passionless, detached “unmoved mover,” the early fathers understood that the Trinity stood at the center of any Christian understanding of God and that the three persons, Father, Son and Spirit were in a dynamic relationship of love.  Some of the fathers spoke of this relationship as a magnificent divine dance.  God is fundamentally tri-personal existing in a life of self-giving love.  As the Apostle John flatly states, “God is love.”  And while it may be self-evident, I will say it anyway: “Love, by definition, demands relationship!”

I am heartened by stirrings of the reassertion of this reality within evangelicalism. Within the past couple of months the book The Misunderstood God: The Lies Religion Tells Us About God, by Darrin Hufford was released.  Hufford’s thesis is that if indeed God is love then the apostle Paul’s exposition of the nature of love in 1 Corinthians 13 should give us some profound insight into the nature and being of God. (A corollary of this would seem to be that God in his Trinitarian fullness is the source of love seen in his creation.)  Similarly Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church explores related themes from a slightly different perspective. Both of these books are written on a popular level rather than in technical theological jargon.

Coming Up: In my next post I’ll discuss the challenge of our own dishonesty when it comes to the issue of forgiveness in our lives.

January 25, 2010. Tags: , . Food For Thought. Leave a comment.

Thoughts on Invictus: Part 2

In my last post I wrote about Nelson Mandela and his belief that the way to healing was not through revenge, but through forgiveness. This type of forgiveness is not conditional on apology, for an apology would never be offered.  It is an act of free unconditional grace, where revenge is foresworn and the damage is borne by the one who has been hurt.  We say that grace is free and unconditional, but there is also a pain in grace.  In his latest blog entry Baxter Kruger speaks of the “pain of grace.

“To be gracious is to hurt,

for it is not merely to wink at a problem,

but to enter into it and bear it personally,

to endure it, in love and mercy and patience.”

Mandela personified grace, healing and reconciliation.  He practiced what he preached.  As a result of his example and influence South Africa set up the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in an attempt to heal the abiding wounds of Apartheid.

Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.

The TRC, the first of the nineteen held internationally to stage public hearings, was seen by many as a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa. Despite some flaws, it is generally (although not universally) thought to have been successful. [Wikipedia, s.v. “Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa)”]

Coming Up: When a political leader models grace and reconciliation it is a rare gift to a country. In my next post I will talk about the recent film Invictus and how the story of the movie brings themes of forgiveness to life.

January 20, 2010. Tags: , . Food For Thought. Leave a comment.