Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Gospel According to Les Misérables




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Les Misérables comes to us in many formats: The Victor Hugo novel, the stage production, and the various movies and TV miniseries. In 1998, I got my first exposure to the story by watching the non-musical film version starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. I was blown away. What an amazing story.  A skilled pastor could base an entire series of sermons on Les Mis.

I recently saw the new version, directed by Tom Hooper and starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe.  It was fantastic.  Here are a few unorganized thoughts:

1. Many have commented on the story and talked gushingly about how it's an illustration of Grace vs. Law, with the logical conclusion that grace is superior. But let's tap the brakes and take a second look. Javert (the police Inspector) existed because society needs someone to uphold the law.

Likewise, both Law and grace are equally important components of the Gospel. God is a just God, and demands justice. If sin is committed, someone’s gonna pay.

We can all watch Les Mis and talk about how God is all about grace instead of justice, but in fact, He’s about both. If He isn’t just, then the Gospel doesn’t have meaning, because we don’t need a Savior.

2. Not only does Javert represent Law and Valjean represent grace, they both actually mention those very words in their final speeches just before they die. Javert identifies himself with Law and order, and then, when Valjean is dying, he mentions the word grace.

3. A little less than a year ago, Steve Taylor, Christian musician and director of the Blue Like Jazz film, posted a blog piece expressing his desire to see the subgenre of “Christian” films come up with higher quality movies than recent examples such as “Fireproof” or “Facing the Giants.” It occurred to me while watching Les Mis that the Sherwood folks have not come up with anything with as clear a presentation of the Gospel as Les Miserables.

4. The 2012 film included a comic-relief scene which featured a quick shot of a prostitute riding a man dressed up as Santa Claus. The motions were pretty graphic. It really bothered me, and to be honest, I felt a little like Javert in saying so.  I'm still struggling with the idea of whether that's a good thing.

5. Although the acting performances were excellent across the board, Anne Hathaway took it to another level. I never choke up when watching films, but I barely kept it together watching her anguish as she sang "I Dreamed a Dream."  It was heartbreaking.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook: The Solution to the One Thing That Caused This Tragedy

Reading about the mass killing of kindergartners at Sandy Hook was heartbreaking for me, as I am sure it was for you. 
 
On a different level, I was also saddened while reading comments on Facebook and at the bottom of news stories, calling for changes to keep such massacres from happening. 

The tone of many of such comments was that they couldn't understand why people couldn't see that the clear cause of these incidents is _______________ (fill in the blank).  Unfortunately, many who believe there is a clear-cut answer to this problem have very different views of what the main problem is. 

Additionally, once you do focus on that one problem, then you find that there are people who disagree very strongly about how to address that one problem. For example, let's take the availability of assault rifles and handguns.  For some, common sense dictates that everyone carry a gun, to either prevent a shooting in a public place, or to stop it quickly once it starts. But to others, the answer is to keep people from being able to legally own such guns at all. 

But what's most striking is that, to both groups, these are the common-sense solutions, and they cannot see why anyone would see it different.
 

The reality is that no tragedy can possibly be so simple. These horrific events always--always--are the result of multiple factors. In the aftermath of this shooting,  the ones I heard mentioned most often:

Gun availability 
Mental illness and our nation's failure to take care of those who suffer from it
A broken world 
An unseen enemy (Ephesians 6:12)
A culture which perpetuates and glorifies violence through movies and video games
Drugs and/or alcohol 
A lack of prayer/bible instructions in schools
Sexual permissiveness (which leads to many kids being raised in single-parent homes) 

...and several more things which don't come to mind right now.


When I engaged in this discussion yesterday, I argued, and still maintain today, that those who choose to focus on just one item in this long list, and expecting that addressing that one item will have a significant impact, are engaging in wishful thinking. 


I'm sorry if such an argument is a problem for anyone. Most of us will look at that list of factors, and one thing sticks out as being the cause of the problem.  Thing is, for each of us, it's a different one.

And that, in itself, says a lot.