The Lamb of God is drawing near, ready to give of himself for our sake.
Today was an awesome day. We woke up early and drove to my hometown, Lebanon, TN. We were able to worship at the College Hills Church of Christ, which is where I grew up. It was great to see some familiar faces (and some new ones!) while also spending time with my sister and her family. After an inspiring hour of worship, we had a fantastic lunch at El Comino in Lebanon. Sunny snapped this picture of our crew after we were stuffed full of tacos and chimichangas!
After lunch, we drove over to Castallian Springs to visit with my Grandmother Armstrong. Grandmother is 95 years old and still lives in the home she’s been in my entire life. It’s always great to spend time with her. We spent the afternoon looking through old family photo albums and telling stories. She had a few to tell the kids about my growing up years! And I learned a few things about Grandmother today, too — like, she was the salutatorian of her graduating class! Pretty cool!
Grandmother was even willing to coach up the kids on how to make a baby blanket!
Spending the afternoon with my Grandmother helps me to feel connected to my past in such a meaningful way. Most of my family got together yesterday afternoon for our annual Easter lunch. Unfortunately, our family couldn’t be there, so we made it a priority to get up to Middle Tennessee today to see Grandmother. One of the things I love about my Grandmother is the way she talks about my mother. Most of the people in my life never knew my Mom, so it’s nice to hear the stories Grandmother can tell about her. We snapped this picture from an old family photo album. I see a lot of Joshua in those eyes.
All in all, we had a great day today. I’m very thankful for my family and the opportunity we had to share a special day together today.
Time for my monthly rundown of what I’m into at the moment.
Augustines by Augustines. In my constant pursuit of great music, I came across this album in late February via an eMusic recommendation. Little did I know how quickly I would fall in love with it. Artistically, Augustines is sort of a cross between Gaslight Anthem and Coldplay: a bit gritty, but arena-ready. With a 2012 debut album under their belt, the band tapped producer Peter Katis (of Boxer and Alligator fame) to helm a follow-up chock full of killer hooks and huge vocals. Highlights include “Weary Eyes”, “Now We Are Free”, “Cruel City”, “The Avenue”, and the song that is destined to go down as my favorite of 2014, “Walkabout”, a jarringly honest rumination on identity, prayer, and the hope of eternity. A must listen.
Bicycling. Last month, I wrote about my desire to run more. I was doing pretty well until the first week of March, which was when Sunny and I decided to purchase bikes so we could go riding with the kids through the neighborhood. And with the spring weather we’ve had, we’ve really enjoyed it. In fact, I biked nearly 60 miles in March alone! I’ve been using the RunTastic app to keep track of my riding. I haven’t given up the desire to run more often, but it’s nice to mix a little bike-riding in as well.
Johnny Cash’s “lost” album. Back in the 80s, this album was put on the shelf when Cash’s record label inexplicably dropped him. Remastered with the help of some backing vocals and new studio players, “Out Among the Stars” was released last week. Of course, I’m a fan, so I’d listen to an album of Cash reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica. As it stands, the album retains it’s 80s country feel, giving it a certain time-capsule effect. Standout tracks include “I’m Movin’ On” (a duet with Waylon), “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time” (a duet with June Carter Cash), and the haunting “She Used to Love Me a Lot.” New Cash music…you know I’m good with that.
So I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but there’s a new movie about Noah. Social media has been abuzz with various reviews; some praising the film as a thoughtful meditation on an age old story, others skewering it as heathen vermin of the lowest kind. I’ve obviously not read all of the reviews; in fact, I haven’t read many at all. But I have seen the movie and several of my friends have asked my opinion so, at the risk of being simply one more voice lost in the fray, here goes.
First, a few disclaimers that are necessary for those of you who don’t know me. I’m a Christian. I have a high view of Scripture and I consider myself to be fairly fundamentalist in my interpretation of these texts. In addition, I serve as one of the preaching and teaching ministers at our congregation. The biblical text and the truth contained therein means everything to me, both personally and professionally.
Because of that, it’s hard not to be disappointed in the Noah movie. As you’ve probably already heard, the film strays quite far from the biblical “script” found in Genesis. In an interview I read a week or so ago, the producer referred to the film as a “midrash” on the Noah story, which is probably a better way to understand it. In Judaism, the rabbinic sages attempted to explain the biblical events through commentary and “fill in the gap” storytelling. If you’ve seen the movie, you can probably see how this definition fits with the film’s plot.
While fundamentalists (like myself) might entertain a certain degree of speculation when it comes to how these stories are interpreted on the big screen, the disappointment comes in places where the biblical text is outright ignored or changed. The filmmakers have publicly stated that they intentionally aimed to make a “provocative” film. To be fair, the film never claims to be a “by the book” interpretation of the Noah story found in Genesis. The movie begins with a statement noting that the film is a dramatic interpretation of the Noah story. All of which is completely within the purview of the producers. However, if that’s your vision for the story, you can’t be shocked when people object when such an “interpretation” glosses over important details in the biblical account.
In the event that you decide to see the movie, I won’t recount all of the places this happens in the film and there are a couple of reasons for this. One, I’m sure there are other reviews that are already pointing out those sorts of things. And, just as importantly, I simply can’t remember them all. But I will say this: my biggest beef with the movie is the lack of emphasis on God’s covenant with creation. In my reading of the Noah story, that’s the big takeaway. So, yeah, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed with that part of the film.
But I don’t want to imply that the biblical text means less to the filmmakers than it does to me. I absolutely can’t say that. It seems that we simply have different ways of thinking about and understanding the Noah story. And I think it’s important for Christians (and more precisely, Christian fundamentalists) to be clear about that. All too often, we shout our objections from the heavens without seizing the opportunity to also model humility and love.
That being said, there are definitely things I appreciated about the film. The production value is top notch: the visual effects are absolutely amazing and the score hits the mark. The filmmakers captured some of the mystery of the biblical account of both the Flood and the Creation accounts. In addition, the casting was stellar, particularly Logan Lerman as Ham and Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain. (Let’s be honest: when is the last time either of those guys came up in your Bible study group?)
I also appreciated the film’s emphasis on creation care. In American culture, “environmentalism” has been loaded down with so much political baggage that it’s nearly a useless term. To talk about being “pro-environmental” often implies an improper elevation of the preservation of the earth and its resources as an ultimate priority. Most of my Christian friends understandably consider such talk nonsense. Over the last decade, however, I have become quite convicted that the biblical account, particularly the first few chapters of Genesis, have much to say about our role as stewards of God’s good creation. I consider creation care to be a serious theological issue, which has redeemed the whole idea back to me from the realm of left-wing absurdity. As such, I can appreciate the care with which the Noah film approaches this subject. In my opinion, this is one of the places where the producers got it absolutely right.
Another takeaway for me, after viewing the film: I have a much greater appreciation for the courage of Noah. The film emphasizes the opposition Noah faces at the hands of Tubal-Cain and his minions and whether or not it went down exactly like the film depiction isn’t the point. The point is this: Noah was willing to act in faith, even at the risk of extreme ridicule and derision. Even in the latter third of the film, which felt a bit more like Genesis 22 than Genesis 8, Noah is steadfast in his faith. Though the film reaches its uncomfortable apex here, it also forces us to consider the true meaning of faith and whether or not it resides in you and me. For all its misfires, I can certainly appreciate a film that asks such hard, relevant questions.
It was a Saturday. We were planning to go to Nashville that day to see her. She’d been hospitalized there for several days and we’d planned for me to finish up the school week and then go see her on Saturday. I had just finished getting ready when my sister and brother-in-law arrived at the house. We were supposed to ride to the hospital together.
But one look at my sister’s bloodshot eyes and I knew that it was too late.
The date was March 26, 1994. It was the day my mother passed away.
In the 20 years since her passing, I’ve written quite a bit about my mother’s impact on my life. I’ve written about her compassionate spirit that compelled her to a 20-year career teaching inner-city students. I wrote about my embarrassment when, as a 15-year-old, a church member told me I looked just like her and how, years later, the same words became a source of pride for me as an adult. I’ve even written about the perpetual grieving process that becomes a part of you when you lose someone of this magnitude.
Today, on the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death, I want to write about hope.
When I think of my mother, I think of hope. She always seemed to me to have an indomitable spirit about her. My sister and I laugh at this cheesy little saying Mom used to throw around: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” The thing is, Mom really believed this was possible. She believed in the power of choice. No matter the circumstances you find yourself in, you always retain the power of choice. You might choose to wallow in your misery, or you might choose to transcend the present adversity but make no mistake: the power of choice is yours. And this power liberates you; it frees you to truly live in hope.
And that’s where all of this goes from bumper sticker pablum to something much deeper and truer. You meet some people who are brimming with hope simply because they’re naive. They haven’t really lived, and by that I mean they haven’t really suffered. That wasn’t the case for my mother. I could recount for you all the adversities my mother faced over the course of her life but her constant legacy to us is her refusal to be defined by them. Instead, she chose a different path, one marked by hope.
My mother chose to believe in a glorious ending, an ending that makes a difference here in the middle, here in the present. It is a present that we all must live by faith, which is a lot harder than it sounds. But by choosing hope, my mother transcended the challenges of her present: malignant melanoma, aggressive treatment, hospitalization and all. Like Abraham, she “hoped against hope” (Romans 4:18) — even when all evidence pointed to the contrary, the indomitable spirit rose up in triumph, believing in the glorious end residing just over the horizon.
Hers was a glorious ending because it was a hopeful one.
On that Saturday, I never made it to the hospital. As I said, all it took was one look at Tara and I knew.
But I was wrong about one thing: it’s never too late.
Not when you have the power of choice.
Not when you hope against hope.
The sun sets for all men. What defines us is our conviction in the dawning of a new day, just beyond the horizon.
And 20 years in, I’m more convinced than ever that the glorious ending is more like a glorious beginning, when all things are made new.
At least that’s what I hope.