Monday, July 19, 2010

A few first impressions on Twilight

...well, I've thought about them a little, but they're still kind of fresh, so not as eloquent as I'd like them to be.

I began reading Stephanie Meyer's "Twilight" series mainly because I wanted to make my own informed decision about the series as it has come up in numerous conversations over the past two years. Main motivating factor though: my own mother decided to read the series (Mom, you never cease to surprise me in your current tastes on pop culture...especially since you raised me in such a "sheltered" environment), and her take on the work (including her first-hand experience of the pop culture surrounding it!) had me curious.

So, here are a few things that have stood out to me:

1) Its incredibly verbose, and not that well written. I was perplexed how this thing got printed for a while, until a friend pointed out that the publisher knew they had a money-maker--a new JK Rowling--so gave the author "carte blanche." My friend also experienced frustration with the "over-dramatics and repetition" of the writing, especially when these things should have been picked up by an editor.
2) Its romantically drippy at several points--to the point that I sometimes feel like I'm reading porn and have to skim a few pages. Yes, Bella, I know that you're inflamed over Edward's body. Thanks for the head's up. Spare me the details?
3) Some of the themes really surprised me. Such as...
a. Edward's high priority on marriage. His idea of marriage may have been "old fashioned" to Bella, who had a hard time joining the concept with her love for Edward, but it was neat to see, at the marriage ceremony itself, how much she ended up changing her mind about it. It began as just a motion to please Edward, and Alice who wanted to plan it, but by the end, she seemed to realize that marriage fit her exact desire to commit to being with Edward (in this case for eternity). The light bulb finally went off that commitment and marriage went together.
b. Bella's pregnancy, and her decision to see it through despite the possible consequence of her death was something that surprised me. While Edward and Carlisle might have done it differently, Bella decided that she wanted the baby no matter what it might cost her. I found it to be a very pro-life stance. Especially when Edward was able to have two way communication with the fetus before birth; that seemed to be quite a case for life in the womb. Even before Bella's pregnancy however, the sacredness of life was an evident theme. Carlisle seemed to be especially attuned to how precious life is, and this shows through in the way he practices his profession as a doctor. His desire to save the surrendered newborn vampire in "Eclipse" from destruction spoke to that.
c. With the culture that has grown up around these books and movies, the themes of marriage as a good thing (and getting married young to boot), and Bella's pro-life stance, don't seem to be present. The whole "team Edward" or "team Jacob" thing is more prevalent. I'd be curious to know if there has been any flare-up from feminist writers/critiques concerning this, since it flies in the face of the ideas concerning pro-choice and marriage-as-bondage (especially since Bella did marry right out of high school).
d. There's a lot of attention paid to eternity, and a transformed bodily state. Bella's own transformation into a vampire and experience as a "newborn" echoed so many Biblical themes on our own transformed state as Christians, and the transformations we have yet to experience. Her awareness of her new agility, strength, sharpened senses, and newfound beauty--yet also realizing that she' still Bella--brought to mind the passages in the Bible that speak about transformed bodies after the resurrection. It made me think of Christ's resurrected body (John 20:19 to 29, and Revelation 1:9 to 17, then 19:11 to 21) and how God will transform our bodies (Philippians 3:21).

So, I'm now on page 525 of 754...things like lesson planning, grant and scholarship applications, and prepping for Nepal, and going to bed at a decent hour will have priority again soon...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thoughts on CJ's messages from Resolved

I've begun to re-listen to the messages from Resolved and go over my notes to think further on the impressions made on me at the conference. So many people have asked me which speaker or message is my "favorite," and I think I've given as many answers as people who have asked me. I don't think I'm being untruthful in giving different answers--I think each of the messages appealed, spoke or convicted me in different ways; in that light which is my "favorite" is kind of an irrelevant question.

CJ's messages caught my attention first because he chose passages and subjects that have been part of my own journey in many ways. Take the story of the demon possessed man in Mark 5 for example. I'm more familiar with the story from Luke 8, as I was studying that Gospel when my family was in the process of moving back to the States during the winter of 2000-2001. This process brought to the forefront my struggle of locating "home." In a nutshell, my passport said I was an American citizen, yet I had spent my formative years outside of United States culture. My experience of America, being an American, even what I thought of and how I viewed the Church and Christianity, was different than my peers in the United States. Yet, I was not Nepali--my skin tone proved that at a superficial level; my movement in and out of Nepal and preclusion from experiencing the same social and familial pressures as Nepali friends was another. This struggle to identify "home" is one that all of my MK friends have dealt with, to different extremes. While I did not feel isolated in my struggle, the process and outcome for any of us would be unique, since we all had different cultural backgrounds and experiences in Nepal.

When I was going through Luke's Gospel, I was--no joke--asking God why He was sending my family back to such a heathen land as the United States. He was asking me to leave the comfort and support of my church family (the Nepali church we had been a part of our entire time there), the missionary community, and living in a familiar culture in which I was comfortable maneuvering. Why the heck would He ask me such a thing?! (the irony of these questions not come to my mind until several months later, when I realized that these were the questions many Western missionaries ask when they are called to another country). My answer came in Luke 8: 39, where Jesus tells the now released man, "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." The response of the man was one I stared at for a long time: "So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." This was the beginning of widening my concept of missions and the Great Commission: contending for the Gospel is something we do no matter where God calls us to live, or whether we're on a mission board or not. Its the essence of our Christian walk on earth. While God still had much to do in this area, I was able to return to the States with the comfort that God had not altered my calling, just the location and context in which that calling was to be lived out.

The closing statements of CJ's message were apt: such passages as Mark 5 (or Luke 8 in my case) don't just exist so we can rejoice in what God does for us, but to provoke us to tell others at home what God has done for us. We are to tell it humbly, not self-righteously, and invite others to discover the same saving Gospel.

CJ's second message was taken from the book of Jude; his purpose in preaching this was to prepare us for "re-entry" into the real world. Ok, so within that first minute of preaching, CJ had not only picked a book that had been instrumental in introducing me to reformed theology, but had decided to use a term that is much used in missionary circles. "Re-entry" is used to describe the return to live in one's "home" culture. In my case, it was returning to live in the United States. While "re-entry" is often a very traumatic process for MKs (I can attest), it is trying on adults as well, especially if they're returning to the place where they lived and worked before going overseas. People expect them to be the same, but changes have inevitably occurred, and they often don't view things or live the same way as before. In an ironic (and self-righteous) way, returning "home" can feel like "living in the world, but not of it." As much as you may give presentations and talk about your experience of being a part of God's work in other parts of the world, etc, others (including other Christians) may not "get it."

CJ's thought on using this term was to give us some practical ways to apply all that we had learned that weekend. He divided the book up into four parts: verses 1 and 2, where sovereign grace is on full display; verses 3 to 19, to contend for the faith; verses 20 to 23, to contend for the faith in our own heart; and verses 24 and 25, the confidence in the kindness of God. In the course of his talk, CJ highlighted the fact that we need to keep ourselves in the love of God, and we do that by saturating ourselves with the Gospel. Yet, in living in the "real world," we can be confident that, though we experience trials, we will be brought home and kept from stumbling--"finish well"--by the grace of God. It is He who ultimately sustains us. CJ's chat about "spiritual sinkholes" just before ending his message was a good example of this: God's love is fixed and remains, even though we may have failed in a variety of areas, and is ever under us, holding us up. God only knowns how deep some of my own sinkholes have been, and His love has been there every time.

In short, CJ's messages were continuations of subjects that I have been thinking about for a long time. It was good to "revisit" these passages and concepts, and see how far God has developed my thought on them. At the same time it was a reminder that I'm still a work in progress, that I still have much to learn when it comes to the Gospel, God's character, being part of the body of Christ, and what this all looks like lived out day-to-day in the "real" world. I was encouraged however to keep pressing onwards..."further up and further in" as CS Lewis says.

For those interested in listening to these messages, they can be found at the Resolved conference website: www.resolved. org