Sunday, December 20, 2015

Close Encounters

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11, KJV)

Roy Neary is an ordinary, hard-working, blue-collar guy. He’s out in his truck in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, doing his job, trying to figure out the cause of a power outage. Suddenly, strange things start happening around him and he finds himself in some kind of blinding spotlight from above. The instruments on his dashboard are going haywire, things are flying all around the cab, and the world seems to be shaking itself apart at the seams.

After the light goes away and everything is calm once more, he finds that he has been left with not only a strange sunburn on half of his face, but also a five-note earworm that just won’t go away and a strange compulsion to sculpt cylindrical rock formations out of mashed potatoes. Then, he finds he is one of a number of people who just can’t stay away from a particular place in Wyoming.

Roy’s experience in Close Encounters of the Third Kind is currently shaping my mental image of a group of shepherds in the hills near first-century Bethlehem. They were out in the middle of the night, in the middle of the fields, doing their jobs, when suddenly they were in the spotlight. The sky was going crazy above them, with first one strange being talking to them and then many, many more singing all around them. I imagine that the angels left them dazed, and they must have jumped a mile the first time a sheep bleated in the darkness afterwards.

I imagine also that they had a glorious new earworm and the mental image of a family in a stable, and when they conferred with each other about this, clearly they could not resist the pull to go into town and check it out. They found the family, the baby in the manger, and then they told everyone they met about their close encounter.

My wish is that we may have a close encounter this Christmas. May our ears be filled with the singing of angels and our minds be fixated on the Savior, but most of all, may our feet be compelled to go look for him and may our lips not keep silent but spread the good news everywhere we go.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

The very first word the Doctor says in the new series of Doctor Who is “Run,” and in the following scene we see him leading Rose Tyler down a basement hallway to escape a horde of shop-window dummies who have come to life. It is Russell T. Davies’ way of paying homage to the classic series, where “running through corridors” had become a familiar description of what various characters were often doing through many stories over the years.

In more recent seasons, the phrase “base under siege” has been resurrected to describe another Classic Who story type in which the characters find that the TARDIS has conveniently malfunctioned, leaving them stuck in one place, surrounded by an enemy of some sort and unable to escape until they’ve dealt with the problem.

Too often in my life I feel like I am doing nothing more than running through corridors, scrambling to keep up with everything that I need to do and racing to complete tasks as the deadlines loom ever nearer behind me. Other times it seems more like I am being bombarded from every side with one more assignment to complete, responsibility to take on, or situation to deal with.

I need my “to do” lists - by themselves they’re a highly useful tool, and the structure of a list helps me organize my time and efforts while preventing me from forgetting to take care of important things in a timely manner. The danger lies in letting my to do list become the end-all, be-all. I start out making a list as a plan of attack or a roadmap to a goal but all too soon checking things off becomes the all-encompassing mission and I find myself once again being chased down the corridor by a monster of my own making.

How do I remind myself to stop running, stop fighting? It’s a question I don’t have a good answer for, yet it is important, and needs to be addressed. Do I put “Be still” on my to do list? It’s there already, actually, and I check it off after I spend about five minutes with my eyes closed following my daily devotional reading each morning before I get out bed. It has become one more box to tick, one more step in my race through the day, rather defeating the purpose.

“Be still and know that I am God,” writes the Psalmist, and mostly it’s the “be still” that we have latched onto. But go back and read the whole Psalm - it’s the one that begins with another familiar and oft-quoted verse, the one that says “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” It is reminding us that yes, our base is under siege, but don’t forget that our besieged fortress is God himself and is therefore impenetrable. I pray that I will remember this when the to do list attacks. I pray that I may be able to stop running and to rest secure in the knowledge that God surrounds me whether I get everything done or not.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6: 19-21)

“Home is where the heart is,” the old adage says, and since Jesus said that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” it’s no wonder that so many people set such store on finding a home, being at home, going home.

Going home is a theme in The Hobbit that is particularly emphasized in Peter Jackson’s recent movies. There is a pivotal scene in the first film, just after the party's escape from the goblins, in which Bilbo Baggins finally comes to a realization about the nature of the dwarves’ quest. For most of the journey so far, he has been wishing that he had stayed home. He would like nothing better than to be back at Bag End, reading his books and smoking his pipe and eating his second breakfast. However, at the same time that the hobbit is acknowledging his longing for home, he recognizes the same longing in the dwarves, whose hearts lie in the Lonely Mountain alongside their literal treasure. Seeing this common bond between them, movie-Bilbo then pledges to help the dwarves in their quest.

Bilbo’s treasure is simplicity and comfort - a snug house, plenty of food, pathways on which to ramble and books to read by the fire. The dwarves’ treasure is gold and jewels and the strength of a mighty mountain stronghold. Where is your treasure? Is it on earth, where goblin armies can invade and dragons can make their beds out of it? Is it in a far away land where friends and neighbors can auction it off to the highest bidder because they think you will never return? Or is it in heaven, in God’s presence, in the intangibles of love and family and peace and worship that no one can ever take away? Choose wisely and you’ll always have a place to call home.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Study and Application

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:15)

In Susanna Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, set in an alternative version of early 19th century England where magic exists, the members of the society of magicians in the city of York are described thus:

They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they had never harmed any one by magic — nor ever done anyone the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one’s head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.

Their sole occupation is the study of magic and the great magicians of the past, and to come together periodically to debate, or more likely argue, their various viewpoints. Although the question of why there is no more magic done in England is asked frequently by many people, these so-called magicians would never dream of actually practicing the craft — it is something that is just not done.

In contrast, the two title characters are magicians who actually do magic. Neither man is perfect, and sometimes their motives are entirely self-serving, with the aim of bringing fame and recognition to themselves. Even so, they use their powers to try to help, whether it is by bringing a young woman back to life or by manipulating the weather to give Wellington’s army the advantage over the French. They both study quite a bit, but then they put their knowledge to use.

When I first started reading the description of the “magicians” at the beginning of this book, I couldn’t help but think of the so-called “Christians” who spend much time studying the Bible and going to church but in the end only seem to use their knowledge to argue with others and lambaste those whose interpretation is different. They do not seem to actually practice Christianity by showing compassion or feeding the hungry or caring for the sick. Like the York society they have never done anyone the slightest good, and unlike those scholarly magicians, they might very well have done harm by militantly attempting to force their particular viewpoint on everyone else.

The Pharisees were the gentleman magicians of Jesus’s day, all study and no application, and these words of warning can be applied still. Woe to any of us who fall into the trap of endless study without practical application of our learning! Like Norrell and Strange, our actions will sometimes have unintended consequences and we may not always do them for the right reasons, but it is far better to make the attempt, heeding the words of James to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015


I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

Tristran Thorn is on a journey. The protagonist of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust promised anything in the world to the girl he thinks he loves, and she asked for the star that they had just seen fall from the sky, so Tristran takes off into Faerie in search of this treasure. When he reaches the place that he knows the star landed, he finds not a lump of molten rock and metal as he expected, but a beautiful girl in a sparkly dress whose leg was broken in her fall from the heavens.

He claims the star and begins to take her back to his home in the village of Wall, but she is not very pleased to be captured. When at one point she escapes, he fears he will never find her again, especially when sheer exhaustion forces him to sleep beneath a tree. When he wakes, he finds that the tree is talking to him and offering to help him, but having been warned to be wary of everything in Faerie, he is sceptical.

The tree rustled. 'Why don't you tell me your story so far,' said the tree, 'and let me be the best judge of whether or not I can be of help.’
Tristran began to protest. He could feel the star moving further and further away from him, at the speed of a cantering unicorn, and if there was one thing he did not have time for, it was the recitation of the adventures of his life to date. But then it occurred to him that any progress he had made on his quest so far he had made by accepting the help that had been offered to him. So he sat on the woodland floor and he told the copper beech everything he could think of…

I think the same could be said of everyone — we get by with a little help from our friends, to borrow a song lyric, but help is not always easy to accept. Pride gets in the way sometimes, or maybe, like Tristran, we fear the ulterior motives that might be lurking behind the seemingly kind gesture. In the end, though, we have to realize that we will never make any progress unless we accept the help that is offered to us — from family, from friends, from complete strangers, and ultimately, from God. We will never catch our fallen stars without it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Who Am I?

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:4-8)

The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Miss Saigon, Oklahoma!, Evita, Ragtime, Once On This Island, Sweeney Todd...these are some of the musicals whose soundtracks and sheet music grace my shelves. I enjoy these shows and so many more, but I always come back to Les Misérables as my most favorite. I have seen it on Broadway, in Atlanta, and in London. I own the soundtrack and can sing all the parts. It’s not the familiarity or the music that gets me, though. The thing I love most about “Les Mis” is its message of grace.

The main plot centers around two men, Jean Valjean, who finds that life as a parolee is not much better than prison, and Inspector Javert, who makes it his life’s mission to capture Valjean when he manages to escape from the eyes of the law. Both men experience grace and mercy in the course of the story; what fascinates me is how differently they respond upon receiving these gifts.

When Valjean is caught stealing the Bishop of Digne’s silver, the cleric insists to the police that it was a gift and gives the ex-con more valuables with which to start a new life. Valjean feels guilty when he is given this reprieve, this moment of grace. He takes what is on offer, however, determined to make good on the priest’s instruction to use it to better his life. He becomes a respected and wealthy businessman, and for a long time he is able to hide his true identity from Inspector Javert, who doggedly searches for the escaped convict. He stays out of trouble and helps the destitute Fantine by adopting and raising her daughter, Cosette. Just when Javert thinks he has found his man, Valjean steps forward and reveals himself rather than letting another man take his punishment.

Of course, he escapes again after this, and Javert continues to hunt for him. This chase becomes his singular purpose and drives every move he makes. When he finally catches up with Valjean, there is a revolt in the offing. He disguises himself as a participant in the fight at the barricade where Valjean has gone to keep an eye on Marius, the would-be lover of now-grown-up Cosette, but eventually the fighters figure out who he is. They offer Valjean the chance to kill Javert, but he refuses, offering instead the same mercy and grace that the bishop had shown him years before - he gives the detective his freedom rather than the death he probably deserves.

Where Valjean accepted the priest’s compassion and turned his life around, Javert cannot accept that not only did his quarry escape yet again, but that the hunted did not kill the hunter when the opportunity was presented to him. Instead of accepting the gift Valjean gives him and finding a new, more positive focus for his life, he sees only his failure to accomplish his goal. Ultimately, he chooses to commit suicide as an alternative to having to live with his failure, rather than seeing Valjean’s actions for what they were--a precious gift and a chance to change.

We were all given precious gifts on a cross two thousand years ago, the gifts of God’s mercy and grace, and we have the choice to accept them or not. We can be like Valjean and repent, seeking to better ourselves and others, or we can take the death that we deserve for our sins as Javert did. Which one will you be? Given the options, I have to say (or rather, sing), “Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean!”

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Big Picture

This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I am doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Jeremiah 29:10-11, The Message)

Thirteen dwarves and one hobbit have been wandering around in Mirkwood forest, seemingly in circles. At their wits’ end, the hobbit, one Bilbo Baggins, being the smallest and lightest of the company (as well as the burglar under whose contract such tasks might fall), climbs a tree to try to get a handle on their location and the direction they should go. His head bursts through the leaves at the top of the tree into blessed sunlight and a flock of black butterflies, and as he looks around he sees…

Well, what he sees depends on whether you are watching the movie or reading the book, and out of all the changes and additions that Peter Jackson made when adapting The Hobbit for the big screen, this minor difference in the second film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is one of the things that bothered me the most. In the movie, Bilbo becomes excited because he can see the Lonely Mountain in the distance. He can then tell the dwarves the correct direction to go and that they are not far from the edge of the forest. It is a moment of hope after the despair of Mirkwood.

In the book, there is no such hope for Bilbo. It turns out that the tree he climbs happens to be in a low spot and all he can see is more trees on every side, even though they are actually quite close to the edge of the forest and all is not nearly as hopeless as it seems. What Bilbo lacks is the ability to see the big picture at that moment.

While a hopeful scene of seeing the goal and the way out makes you feel better in the midst of the movie drama, I think I like the book version better because it is much closer to how things work in real life. The truth is, we don’t see the big picture when we are suffering or making our way through a difficult situation. In fact, when I wrote about the book scene several years ago during my “blog through The Hobbit,” I too was near the edge of the forest but could not see it from my vantage point. I had spent two years looking for another teaching job with another summer of searching ahead of me but few prospects in sight. The only sign of hope was the sale of my house a few months prior, allowing me to expand my job search parameters, but even with new job listings to watch I didn’t know how much longer it would be. I did not know then that later that summer, I would have an interview with a principal via Skype. I did not know that, having chalked it up as one more interview without a job offer, I would be travelling five hours for a face-to-face interview the next month. I didn’t know that less than a week after that I’d be moving to another state and starting work (barely two days before the students started themselves) and living in a hotel while I tried to get a classroom set up and find an apartment!

So I hope you’ll excuse me if I’m not impressed with the touchy-feely, “oh look, there’s hope!” scene in the movie. I have been in the same position as book-Bilbo, looking around and seeing nothing but trees rising all around me, hoping that maybe the edge of the forest was somewhere just beyond, even though I couldn’t see it. And it turns out, in hindsight, that I was exactly in book-Bilbo’s position, and the edge of the forest was quite close, but the tree I looked from was still down in the valley and not up on the ridge. It turns out that it’s never as hopeless as it seems, for Bilbo or for me. I have learned through my experience that sometimes you can’t see the end, but it doesn’t mean there’s no hope, it just means that you cannot see the whole picture. It means that you have to trust. I pray I may never have to be in the same situation again, but at least now I know that there’s always hope, even in the most hopeless-seeming situations, and I won’t give up just because I can’t see what’s out there.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:11)

In addition to being a SF geek, I am also a musical theater nerd. I love to see live shows, but since that doesn’t happen very often, I do just fine with soundtracks; I can sing all the parts along with the best Broadway or West End cast, especially when I am in the car or doing some cleaning. Musical theater is traditionally seen as a happy genre - people would not be singing and dancing so much otherwise - so this article listing a number of “Surprisingly Depressing” musicals drew my attention when I came across in my Facebook news feed the other day.

First on the list, not surprisingly at all, is Rent, which is about people dying of AIDS and overdosing on heroin and living in squalid lofts. It is followed closely by Les Miserables, which, just as it says on the tin, depicts the struggles of some miserable people in 19th century Paris. Miss Saigon and its doomed love story in the middle of the Vietnam War, check. Chicago’s cast of homicidal women prisoners, yep, they’re in there too, just as you’d expect.

What I didn’t expect was to see shows like The Sound of Music or Fiddler on the Roof or Annie, all three of which appear on the list as well. While it is true, as the article reminds us, that they involve Nazis, antisemitism, and poor mistreated orphans, respectively, these are never prominent enough themes to label the musicals as blatantly depressing, unless, of course, you’re an internet writer who needs to fill in the gaps in your latest click-bait top 10 list.

It’s the music that makes it better, isn’t it? When the latest in a long line of governesses makes dresses from the drapes, covers for you instead of turning you in when you sneak in after spending time with your boyfriend in the gazebo, and teaches you and your siblings to sing while roaming around Salzburg, you know that everything will be alright even if you do have to sneak away from the Nazis in the middle of the night. When being a poor milkman in a poor Russian village is all you’ve ever known, you may sing about your wish to be a rich man but you also quite contentedly celebrate the ordinary milestones of life with your family and friends. And when you are living a hard knock life, at least you are able to sing about it as you scrub the orphanage floors with the hope that hard knocks aren’t all there is and life will get better one day.

This also holds true in the most depressing shows on the list.  The truly horrid conditions you’re living in don’t seem nearly so bad when you give your lifestyle a French name and sing about the best parts of it while dancing on a restaurant table surrounded by your friends. Likewise, the fact that you most likely won’t survive the night defending the barricade is insignificant next to the strong feelings of camaraderie and friendship between you and your compatriots as you sing with such conviction about the cause you all believe in so deeply.

It’s not a new idea, this desire to sing in order to lessen the effects of an otherwise depressing situation. In the Bible, Psalm after Psalm repeat a theme that goes something along the lines of, “I have enemies on every side and the outlook is really bad right now, but despite that I sing praises to God because I trust him and have hope that he will take care of everything.” It is a good lesson to heed, whether we take it from the Psalmist or our favorite stage actor: even when my soul is downcast and disturbed, I will yet sing, in praise my savior and God and to remind myself that life is never all bad.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. (Jonah 1:1-3)

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. (Jonah 3:1-3)

Joss Whedon’s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer begins where the 1992 movie left off, as Buffy Summers and her mother move to the town of Sunnydale to start over after her vampire-slaying antics got her kicked out of school in Los Angeles. She starts out working to fit in at her new school, making new friends and attempting to leave her Slayer days behind her.

Buffy finds, alas, that her dream of being a normal high school student is not to be, because Sunnydale also happens to be the site of a Hellmouth, where vampires and other demonic creatures can (and frequently do) cross to the land of the living. There are also people around who know about her past as a Slayer and keep at her to return to vampire-hunting. Being a Slayer is her calling, and try as she might, Buffy cannot escape from it.

Like Buffy, Jonah tried to run from his calling. He went to great lengths to go anywhere but Nineveh, and it took spending three days inside a whale to convince him that God meant business. I guess it just goes to show, when you are called to do something, you can run but you can’t hide. You might as well embrace your calling, trusting God to equip you for the job, and face it head on.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15)

As usual, the TARDIS has plopped the Doctor, Donna, and Martha down in the midst of significant events - in this case, a war between a group of humans and some aliens called the Hath. Part of the human contingent’s processing of the newcomers consists of taking a tissue sample from the Doctor. His DNA is then used to create a clone, in the form of a young woman (later dubbed “Jenny” by Donna) who is fully grown and already possesses the necessary military knowledge to join the other soldiers in the fight against the Hath.

At one point in the midst of all the running through corridors, Jenny prepares to stay behind and shoot at their pursuers in order to give the Doctor and Donna a chance to escape. The Doctor argues with her over her plan - despite the fact that she’s trying to protect them in what she sees as an “us or them” situation, he is vehemently against killing anyone. “We don’t have a choice,” Jenny tells him. “We always have a choice,” replies the Doctor.

Joshua had taken over leadership of the Israelites from Moses and had seen the people safely into the promised land and living prosperously for a number of years. He brought everyone together as his time in charge neared its end and reminded them that, in the words of the Doctor, “we always have a choice.” He laid out their story, enumerating all the things God had done for them, and declared that they should continue to worship this God that had brought them out of Egypt and through the wilderness and into such prosperity in this new land. But, he told them, they didn’t have to. They had a choice, and they needed to make a decision.

We still have a choice, and we are still asked to make a decision. So, whom will you serve this day?

Sunday, July 5, 2015


The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. (Psalm 24:1).

In last week’s post, I looked at Denethor as an example of a poor steward in The Return of the King, and how Gandalf brought this state of affairs to his attention. He didn’t stop there, however, continuing instead with a description of his own actions, which we recognize implicitly as the way Gandalf thinks that Denethor should have responded:

But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward.

Gandalf demonstrates good stewardship of Middle Earth not in the way he treats the environment per se (although he does tend to be most friendly with the agrarian Hobbits and nature-loving elves and opposes the more industrial efforts of evil beings like Saruman and Sauron), but in the way he cares for the beings that inhabit it. He is friends with Hobbits, Elves, Men and Dwarves alike, and strives to help whichever race he is currently involved with make the best and wisest decisions. He protects whomever falls under his care and seeks to banish evil.

Last week I spoke of stewardship in the sense of caring for the environment. Often when stewardship is spoken of in church, it is in the context of making sure the congregation will be able to meet its budget for the upcoming year. But do we, like Gandalf, ever think of ourselves or our churches as stewards of people? I didn’t before I started working on this post. Gandalf’s example stands out to me as what the church ought to be, first and foremost.

“The earth is the Lord’s,” the Psalmist says, “and everything in it...and all who live in it.” Being good stewards means taking care of the house, including all the people who live there. It means being “fishers of men,” certainly, but also (and perhaps most importantly), it means loving our neighbors, seeking justice, showing mercy, protecting the weak and powerless, and helping the “least of these.”

I asked this question last week, and I ask it again now: We as the Church are stewards - keepers or guardians of this planet we call our home and all the people who live here. What will it take for us to really be true to that name?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Stewards or Kings?

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die. (Genesis 2:15-17).

The third volume in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is titled The Return of the King, referring to Aragorn’s assumption of the throne of Gondor once the ring has been destroyed and the evil of Mordor vanquished. Up to this point, Gondor has been ruled by a man named Denethor, who holds the hereditary title and position of Steward of Gondor, the one who oversees the running of the kingdom and keeps it going on behalf of the king. When Gandalf arrives on the eve of battle, it is clear that the Stewards have been in power so long - it has been many centuries since a king last sat on the throne - that their true purpose has been forgotten and they have all but become out-and-out rulers.

Gandalf calls Denethor on this: “Unless the king should come again?...Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see.” Gandalf deliberately uses his title, Steward, which comes from two Old English words meaning “house” or “hall” and “keeper” or “guardian” (as Tolkien well knew and most certainly had in mind). Yes, Gandalf knows something that Denethor does not: Aragorn, Isildur’s heir, the rightful King, is on his way. Still, that should not make a difference - Denethor should be doing everything in his power to preserve Gondor and protect it from the forces of evil so that there is a Gondor left to turn back over to the king, whether he shows up tomorrow or in another several centuries. Instead he is exploiting his position of power and has become a king (and not a very good one, it seems) in all but name, taking on all of the trappings and privileges and power without also taking on the responsibility of caring for the people.

Unfortunately, the example of the bad steward seems to be the one that humans have been wont to follow as long as we have walked upon this earth. Not even Adam and Eve fulfilled their duties as stewards of the beautiful garden into which they were placed. They took it upon themselves to do whatever they wanted instead of what God asked them to do, and because they thought they knew it all, they ate from the one tree he said to leave alone. We have been exploiting our home ever since, oftentimes more concerned for our own comfort and wealth than for leaving something worth having for the generations that will follow us.

We are stewards - keepers or guardians of this planet God has given us to call our home. What will it take for us to really be true to that name?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Perspective II

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

From the very beginning of Falling Skies, one of the worst things about the invading alien force is the way they kidnap human children and attach “harnesses” (actually creatures from somewhere they had taken over previously) to them in order to control their actions, basically turning them into mindless slaves. In the early episodes of the show, one of the great accomplishments of the human survivors is figuring out how to remove the harnesses without killing the children.

By the third season, the humans have allied themselves with another alien race that had also been enslaved by the invaders, and one benefit of this alliance is the access to technology that lets them remove harnesses completely and safely from children who had been captured. It also allows them to take out the spikes left over in the backs of those who, like Ben Mason, had their harnesses removed before this advanced technology was available.

In the episode “At All Costs,” Ben must decide if he wants those spikes removed or not. On the one hand, he would really like to be a normal teenager again, with nothing that makes him stand out from the crowd. On the other hand, having the harness remnants gives him certain “superpowers” - superhuman strength, for one, and the ability for potential alien allies to speak through him and communicate with the humans. These abilities make him feel needed, like there is something useful he can do. He is no longer just a kid who is in the way and has to follow the directions of the adults. As Ben tells his younger brother, being harnessed was a bad thing, but the harness remnants allow him to do good.

In thinking about this situation, I find myself returning to what I said about Paul in a recent post about perspective in the novel Ender’s Game, but I think Ben's dilemma here is an even better parallel with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and how it affected his ministry. I don’t believe God causes bad things to happen to people. I do believe that he gives us the strength to carry on as we walk through those dark valleys, and also the ability to learn from our trials and put that knowledge to use once we reach the other side. Paul learned that weakness made him strong by forcing him to rely on God’s grace, just as Ben has learned that having the spikes gives him a greater purpose in his community.

We all have thorns of one kind or another, and negative circumstances are never easy to deal with. I can only pray that we will let God change our perspectives in these situations and help us to see the good we can do in spite of it all.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Bilbo Baggins’s mission is to break into the dragon-guarded mountain and take back the dwarves’ treasure.

His nephew Frodo’s mission is to carry the One Ring to Mordor and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom to destroy it, and Sauron’s power over Middle Earth along with it.

Ben Kenobi’s mission is to disable the Death Star’s tractor beam so the Millennium Falcon can get away.

Luke Skywalker’s mission is to fly his X-Wing Fighter back to the Death Star and drop a proton torpedo down an exhaust port about the size of a womp rat.

The mission of the starship Enterprise’s crew is “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

What is your mission? Is it to travel to another country on the other side of an ocean to build houses for widows or lead camps for women who have been victims of human trafficking? Is it to go to another state and help with Vacation Bible School for refugee children? Is it simply to be the best likeness of Christ that you can be to the people you interact with as you go about your business in your own city or town?

Where your mission takes you is really beside the point - whether at home, to the ends of the earth, or anywhere in between, it’s all covered by Jesus’s charge to us. What does matter is that you share his love and make disciples wherever you go. That is your mission.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

Adam Mitchell first meets the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler when they pay a visit to the vault of alien technology belonging to Mitchell’s boss, American billionaire Henry van Statten. At the end of their adventure there, Rose convinces the Doctor to let Adam travel with them in the TARDIS. They go far into the future, to the year 200,000, and visit Sattelite Five, the news hub of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire.

As usually happens, the Doctor discovers that something fishy is going on, and while he investigates, Adam is left to his own devices for a time. The temptation of access to vast stores of knowledge about this future universe, along with an unlimited credit stick and Rose’s mobile (specially adapted to allow her to call home no matter where they are in time and space), prove to be his undoing. He goes for the deluxe package, an information port that opens up in his forehead at the snap of a finger and allows data to stream directly into his brain, and then he uses his new hardware to send information back to his parents’ answering machine in his own time, planning to decrypt it and use it to his advantage once he returns home.

The Doctor does not think very highly of Adam’s upgrades, especially after they allow the bad guys to access information about the TARDIS and the Doctor’s true identity. As punishment, Adam becomes the first companion to get kicked out of the TARDIS. The Doctor takes him home, destroys the answering machine, and warns him to lead a quiet life lest his information port open at an inopportune time and cause him to be dissected.

Adam’s story is meant as a cautionary tale - reminding us what not to do if the TARDIS ever lands in our backyard and the Doctor invites us along for a ride. It’s also a good reminder to heed God’s instructions and not to let our own selfishness blind us to the consequences of our actions on our own journeys through time and space. May we be the kind of companions remembered for our actions on behalf of the universe, not the ones who got dumped by the wayside.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Controlling the Horizontal and the Vertical

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture….We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.” So begins the old science fiction television show The Outer Limits. I was reminded of these words a few weeks ago while walking the labyrinth set into the floor of a local church.

A labyrinth is different from a maze in that there is only one path in and out, with no decisions to be made about which way to go and no chance of getting lost in it. It is symbolic of life’s journey, with its twists and turns and surprises, with a goal that sometimes seems so close only to have the path turn away from it and go in a different direction, and that sometimes seems so far away yet is only a few more turns from the center.

Walking a labyrinth is about giving up control and following a line that someone else has put before us. People set so much stock in being in control, even those who don’t usually label themselves as “control freaks.”  But the labyrinth reminds us that we are not in control at all. We are only following the path set out for us by God. We may feel like we’re in a maze when we come to a fork in the road or a decision to be made, but ultimately every twist and turn leads us exactly where God intended all along. It’s a liberating thought if we allow it to be - the labyrinth frees us from worry about what to do, because all there is to do is put one foot in front of the other along a set path. It frees us to listen, to pray, to rest, to really observe what is going on within and around us.

If we continue to listen to the television show’s opening, we are admonished to sit back and relax because we were no longer in control and then we are told, “You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to The Outer Limits.” Again, how fitting those words are. Walking a labyrinth can indeed be a great adventure, discovering with awe and mystery everything from peace and calm to great spiritual truths that normally can’t find their way through the noise and chaos produced by all the things we do to maintain the appearance of control. And outside of the labyrinth, life certainly is an adventure.

I pray that I may remember the lessons of the labyrinth more often. I need to do more listening, more looking, more following, and less trying to be in control so that I don’t miss the awe and mystery that God puts before me every step of the way in this amazing journey.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Not Lost In Translation

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:5-8)

The ability to communicate is an essential need not only of humans, but of many other creatures on earth as well. It is also assumed that if aliens exist, then we will need to communicate with them too, as shown by the wide variety of translation mechanisms in the worlds of science fiction. From the TARDIS’s Translation Circuit to Star Trek’s aptly-named Universal Translator to the Babel fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, people always want to be able to understand what is being said around them, and the ability to overcome barriers to communication is generally seen as a good thing.

Fifty days after the first Easter, God had a message that needed to be communicated to the world, but there was not a translation device to be found. Fortunately, no technology was needed - just the Holy Spirit, coming down in the most spectacular, fiery way. When the flames settled on those that were gathered, they received not only the ability to go out and spread the good news, but also just the right words to say, in just the right language for each person within earshot to be able to understand clearly.

Technology today has advanced to the point where there are few barriers to communication any more - not even time and distance. We can send out whatever messages we want to whomever we want to hear them, and chances are it will arrive virtually instantaneously. It is usually not impossible to find some way to get a message across language barriers, either. God’s message still needs to be communicated to the world; may the Spirit enable us to use our resources wisely to send it to the ears that need to hear it.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Are You Listening?

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  (Matthew 25:37-40)

The Ood are a race of aliens who almost always appear in New Who as, at best, servants to humans, and at worst, their slaves. The Ood themselves seem to be a peaceful people, but when the Doctor is around, things are happening that make them aggressive. He and Donna Noble find themselves in the middle of one such event on Donna’s first trip to another world when they land on the Ood Sphere in the 42nd century. 

The Ood have a kind of hive mind, and they are all mentally connected to one another through a central brain. Although regular humans like Donna cannot hear it, psychically aware beings like the Doctor can listen to their communications through song. It’s not a nice tune to listen to, however; it is a song of captivity. After the Doctor tells her about it, Donna wants to listen also, so he does some kind of Time Lord mind meld to her. Just as quickly, however, she asks him to reverse it because she can’t take the heartbreak she feels while listening. The Doctor complies, but afterwards she asks if he can still hear it. “All the time,” he says simply.

The needs are so great all around the world and here in our own backyards. On TV and online we hear heartbreaking stories of natural disasters, war, poverty, and governments that are either oppressive themselves or seemingly powerless to stop those that are terrorizing and oppressing other people. In the face of so much suffering, it is all too tempting to turn off the news and refuse to listen lest it upset our comfortable lives. 

What if we, like the Doctor, couldn’t turn it off and ignore it at will? What if we were always hearing, always seeing? Maybe, if all these needs were clamoring for our attention all the time, we might be better able and quicker to find solutions to all of these barriers to social justice.  Maybe we might be able to alleviate more suffering. Maybe we might even see Jesus.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


“So now, go. I am sending you to Pharoah to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:10-11)

Yoda really doesn’t want to take on Luke’s training when the kid shows up on Dagobah looking to become a Jedi. For starters, he is too impatient - he can’t even sit and enjoy a meal first.
“He will learn patience,” comes the disembodied voice of Ben Kenobi’s Force ghost.
“Much anger in him, like his father,” is Yoda’s next argument.
“Was I any different when you taught me?” says Ben.
“He is not ready.”
Luke himself valiantly protests this one, though it is hard to argue with someone who has been training Jedi for 800 years.

After a brief tirade in which he accuses Luke of being a daydreamer and adventure-seeker (“A Jedi craves not these things,” you know), Yoda comes up with a new item for his list: “You are reckless.”
Ben steps in once again: “So was I, if you’ll remember.”
“He is too old to being the training.” Yoda is grasping at straws at this point, trying to come up with any excuse to get out of doing this task that he clearly does not want to do.

Yoda’s list of excuses reminds me a lot of a similar list that Moses made when God asked him to go back to Egypt and free the Israelites. He didn’t really want to go back - he had found a wife and a good job tending his father-in-law’s flocks there in Midian. Not even hearing the voice of God coming from a burning bush inspired enough awe to obey without questioning.
“What makes me special enough to do this job?” Moses asks.
“I will be with you.”
“Well, what if the Israelites ask me what I’m doing here? Who do I tell them sent me?”
“Tell them I AM…” and God proceeds to give a list of other descriptors Moses can use as well. In fact, he gives Moses an entire script to follow when speaking to the elders and a fairly detailed description of what will happen.
“But, but, but...what if they don’t listen to me?” asks Moses, at which point God gives him three signs involving his staff, a snake, leprosy, water from the Nile, and blood that he can perform for any doubters.

Now Moses is grasping at straws: “But I’m just not a good speaker - I have this lisp and I never know what I should say until I’ve already said something stupid. You really need to send someone else.”
“Fine,” says God, who is now fed up with Moses’s backtalk. “Your brother Aaron will go with you and speak for you. No more excuses. Now go!”

Both Yoda and Moses remind me of myself sometimes when I’m asked to do something I just plain don’t want to do. But what if, instead, I think of Luke who, despite his immaturity and whininess, really does want to learn? Or the Israelites oppressed in Egypt who would be happy for anyone to come along and be their champion, however imperfect? In the face of that, those excuses seem mighty small and petty. I pray I may remember to look at the bigger picture the next time I’m tempted to start my own list.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Enemy's Gate Is Down

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

In last week’s post, I noted that Ender Wiggin found success because his perspective was different, and more effective, than everyone else’s, not only in the Battle Room but also before; it was in the ship that brought them to Battle School from Earth that Ender first realized that directions like “up” and “down” were fluid in a zero-gravity environment.

I find it notable that when Ender’s perspective is different from his peers’, it is because he is already looking ahead toward the goal rather than staying where he was to begin with. Just as in the shuttle to Battle School, where he orients himself towards what is ahead rather than continuing to hold on to “up” as the same direction it was when they entered the ship on Earth, in the Battle Room he thinks of directionality as it relates to his goal - “the enemy’s gate is down” - while others define it relative to the hallway from which their team entered.

 I have heard it said that the “seven last words” of a church are “But we’ve always done it that way.” Yes, by continuing to act as in the past you may in fact win the game, but at what cost? By focusing on the goal instead, and by thinking out of the box when developing a plan for getting there, how many more people could the church reach, with how many fewer burnouts along the way?

The church needs more Enders: the people who look at things from a different perspective and focus on where they are going rather than where they came from. Even more than that, it needs people like Ender’s friends Alai and Bean, the ones who recognize and support outside-the-box thinking and who are willing to listen and learn and give the new ideas a try for the sake of ministry rather than tradition. May we strive to be like them, or at least, not to hold them back.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corninthians 12:9-10)

The first time Ender Wiggin experiences a war game in the Battle Room, he quickly picks up on something that no one else does - perspective is the key to success. He watches everyone else remain oriented to the entry hallway in the zero-gravity environment, then he does something radically different. “The enemy’s gate is down,” becomes Ender’s mantra. Without gravity to define direction, Ender is free to define direction for himself, and by doing this he finds he has an advantage over everyone else.

This was not a change that just occurred suddenly the first time he entered the Battle Room, either. When the spaceship from Earth arrives at the orbiting Battle School, Colonel Graff notices that, unlike the rest of the new recruits who continue to think of “up” and “down” relative to the ship’s position (and their position in it) when it left Earth, Ender has already oriented himself relative to the ladder out of the ship and into the artificial gravity of the space station.

In his letters to various churches, Paul never gives details about the “thorn in the flesh” that he had, but it certainly seems to have impacted his daily life. It wasn't something he wanted to have - “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me,” he tells the Corinthians. He didn't let its continuing presence ruin his ministry, however. Seeing that God wouldn't take it away, he chose instead to change his perspective. God used Paul’s weakness to show His great power, and Paul recognized this and came to accept it.

Changing our perspective isn't something that happens automatically. It is something we have to choose to do. If we make the choice, however, to let God work through us in even the most negative of circumstances, there is no limit to our strength in his power.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Waiting for the Harvest

Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55: 7-8)

Much of the third season of Falling Skies revolves around the strange things that are happening to Tom and Anne’s daughter Lexi as a result of her hybrid alien/human DNA, the most notable of which is the fact that although she is only eighteen months old, she looks like a young adult. In the episode “Door Number Three,” we find Lexi in a cocoon, metamorphosing into who knows what, while the rest of the community debates what to do about her. Many think that she should be destroyed lest she emerge with tremendous power and the ability to destroy or enslave the humans once and for all. Tom tries to be, if not the voice of reason, then the voice of compassion and love. For the sake of his child, he has to convince everyone else not to do anything rash and out of fear. He wants them to wait and see what comes out of the cocoon - there is a chance she might come out completely on the side of the aliens, but they have no way of knowing this for certain.

In Matthew, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who plants some wheat, but his enemy comes along and sows weeds in the same field among the farmer’s good crop. When both wheat and weeds start sprouting, the farm hands want to pull up the weeds. After all, it would be irresponsible to let the weeds grow along side the wheat, taking the nutrients from the soil that should be going only to the good plants. They want to make a preemptive strike, get out the Roundup, get rid of the potential threat before it has a chance to do something bad.

God, like the farmer in the parable and Tom Mason, says, Stop! Wait! Don’t do something stupid that you can’t reverse! You need to wait for the plants to grow up so you can be sure of the difference between them or you will pull up the good plants along with the weeds. You need to wait for Lexi to come out of the cocoon and find out for sure what has happened to her so you don’t kill her for no good reason.

May we always love people and have compassion for them, never writing them off as irredeemable, never trying to do God’s work for him - only God can tell for certain what a person will become and only he can make the determination of Wheat or Weed.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). (John 20:15-16)

Sarah Jane Smith is investigating the strange, sudden rise in test scores at a local school following a mysterious UFO sighting. So is a handsome stranger in an ill-fitting suit. One night they are both prowling the halls of the school looking for answers when Sarah Jane makes a discovery in a storage area: a familiar blue police box. Backing away from it, she walks past her fellow investigator and realizes just who he is. She has never seen this face before, but yet...she does recognize him. And he, of course, recognizes her. “Hello, Sarah Jane,” he says, and instantly she knows it’s the Doctor.

Mary had come with the other women on the first day of the week to complete the burial rituals that there had not been time to see to when Jesus died just before the onset of the Sabbath. When they arrive, however, the tomb is empty. Frantic and upset, she pleads with the gardener to tell her where the body has been taken, but it turns out he is not the gardener. “Mary,” he says, and once he says her name she looks up and immediately recognizes her teacher and friend.

Sarah Jane wasn't expecting to see the Doctor when she began investigating the school. “I waited for you and you didn't come back and I thought you must have died!” she tells him. Mary was expecting to see Jesus when she went to his tomb, but not in a state where he could stand there talking to her. We have the benefit of history and hindsight, so we are ready to see the Risen Savior on Easter morning, but there are other times that we are surprised to see God in our lives because we weren't expect to see him there.

Jesus was right where he said he would be three days after his crucifixion, so why were his followers so surprised to see an empty tomb? Not long after that, he said he would always be with us, so why does he have to call our names before we actually look around sometimes? My Easter prayer is that we might expect to see God in every situation, right where he said he would be.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Do You Think That I Care For You So Little?

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

The Clara Oswald we see in the recent Doctor Who episode called “Dark Water” is in a very dark place. Traumatic events in her life have caused her to lash out at the Doctor, seeking his help in the most destructive of ways. She tosses spare TARDIS keys one by one into the lava from the volcano she has convinced him to visit, thinking that the Doctor will never agree to her plan unless she threatens both of their lives.

She soon finds out, however, that she was wrong. There’s nothing the Doctor wants to do more than help her find her boyfriend. Clara still finds it hard to believe, after everything she did, that he would want to do anything other than take her home for good. “You're going to help me?” she asks, incredulously.
“Well, why wouldn't I help you?” replies the Doctor.
“Because of what I just did, I...”
“You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I've ever stood for. You let me down!”
“Then why are you helping me?” Clara finally asks.
“Why? Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

Peter, seemingly one of the strongest disciples, denied knowing Jesus, yet Jesus never stopped loving him or putting his trust in him as a leader of the fledgling Church, even going so far as to entrust him with the keys to heaven. Although none of the Gospel writers tell us about the first meeting between Peter and Jesus after the resurrection, I imagine the conversation went something like the one between Clara and the Doctor:
“Why are you even speaking to me after what I did?” Peter might have said.
“Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

It’s the same conversation I imagine each of us could probably have with Jesus, many times over, and praise the Lord that we would get the same response.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

If It Saves The Earth

Just as people are destined to die once, and and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)

The plot of the Doctor Who episode “The Stolen Earth” is basically what is says on the tin: the Earth has been stolen, right out from under the TARDIS, by the Daleks. While the Doctor and Donna try to figure out where it has gone, the humans stolen along with their planet must deal with their new pepper-pot overlords and figure out how to get back to their rightful location in space and time.

Former Prime Minister Harriet Jones becomes the one who marshals the Doctor’s forces in his absence. She uses a piece of alien technology called the sub-wave network, which allows her to contact everyone who might be able to get in touch with his tenth incarnation: Captain Jack Harkness in the Torchwood hub, Sarah Jane Smith, Martha Jones, and Donna’s grandfather, Wilf, who just happens to have Rose Tyler with him. All efforts to reach the Doctor have thus far been unsuccessful, but together they concoct a plan to boost the signal and get all the phones in the world to call the Doctor’s number at the same time.

There’s a problem, however. All that signal-boosting and transmitting will make the sub-wave network visible to the Daleks, who will promptly find and exterminate them. Yes, Harriet acknowledges, they would see it, but they would trace the signal back to her, thus protecting the others. “But my life doesn’t matter,” she tells them, “not if it saves the earth.”

In the end, the Daleks do find and kill her, but the heroes’ plan is successful. The Doctor finds them, the Daleks are defeated, all of the stolen planets are returned to their rightful places, yada, yada, yada. Harriet Jones’s death helps to save the earth and the day.

At least Harriet Jones was killed by an actual, fearsome enemy, and not by the very humans her sacrifice was meant to save.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

He Chose to Die

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

John Smith, the slightly odd new teacher at the Farringham School for Boys, is not who he appears to be. He is actually the Doctor, but not just in any old disguise - in order to hide from some aliens chasing him and Martha Jones across space and time, he uses the chameleon arch to change himself into a human, single heart and all, with nothing left of the Time Lord but a fancy pocket watch and strange dreams about adventures in a magic blue box.

Despite these precautions, the aliens do find their way to England in 1913. When they threaten the school, Martha makes the crucial decision to tell Smith of his true identity and encourage him to revert back to his true self in order to save the day. There is only one complication: John Smith has fallen in love with the school’s nurse, Joan Redfern. He doesn’t remember anything about this Doctor character, but he’s pretty sure that his other self won’t have the same feelings.

As it turns out, the feeling is mutual. Joan doesn’t want this other man that John Smith has become, even though the Doctor assures her that John Smith’s essence is a part of him. She rejects his offer to become a companion because he is the one who brought death and destruction to Farringham - the school wouldn’t have needed saving at all if the Doctor had not tried to hide from the aliens in the first place. Instead of facing the threat and dealing with it, he hid from it, and Joan calls him on it: “He was braver than you, in the end, that ordinary man. You chose to change, but he chose to die.”

Jesus was braver than all of us. We choose to change our minds and hearts back and forth all the time to and from the right path. We choose to hide from the things we should do, and to do the things that bring death and destruction even when we have the best of intentions. He chose to die to make up for it.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

My Lord Gave His Life

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

The Doctor and Martha Jones spend most of the episode “Gridlock” in cars that are stuck on the motorway of New New York, where the traffic jam is endless and drivers spend decades literally going nowhere. Eventually, the Doctor learns that a virus wiped out the upper city and the  motorway and undercity were sealed off to save the people there from the same fate. He also discovers that the apparent savior of the undercity is none other than The Face of Boe, who has wired himself into the power system in order to keep the undercity’s automated systems going.

Although the people of the undercity were saved from the virus, their existance is not what you would call a good life. The Face of Boe, knowing that his death is at hand, asks the Doctor to help save the people once again by freeing them from the motorway. The only problem is that to unseal them would require much more power than what is available. Finally, in one last monumental effort, the Face of Boe pours out every ounce of energy he has left in order to open the gates and allow the cars into the sunny upper city at last. “My lord gave his life for the city,” remarks Novice Hame, the Face of Boe’s caretaker.

Lent is a time to reflect on sacrifices. Some people give up something for the forty-day period because it helps them remember Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice, which opened the doors that trapped us in our pointless, smog-filled existence away from God and let us out into the light. It also gives us cause to proclaim, “My Lord gave his life for the world.”

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Paved with Good Temptations

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:1-3)

The One Ring gives its bearer great power over everyone and everything in Middle Earth, so the central characters of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring set out to destroy it once and for all before its evil creator, Sauron, can regain control of it. Frodo Baggins is the ring bearer, but not by his own choice. He has inherited the job from his Uncle Bilbo, and twice he attempts to give the ring to someone more powerful, more important, more fit for the job than he.

He first offers it to Gandalf, but the great and wise Wizard quickly and vehemently rejects the offer, saying, “The way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength.” He would use it with the intent to protect people like the Shire-folk and to keep evil at bay, but the very nature of the ring would give him too much power and ultimately make him no better than Sauron.

Frodo tries again later, just before the Fellowship leaves Lothlorien, to give it to the Lady Galadriel. She, too, admits that she is tempted to accept, and has in the past thought about what she might do if she were to obtain it. Like Gandalf, she recognizes that it would give her too much power and ultimately end just as badly for all concerned. When Sam tells her he wishes she’d take Frodo up on his offer, to “put things to rights” and “make some folk pay for their dirty work,” she recognizes the truth of the matter: “I would….That is how it would begin. But it would not stop with that, alas.”

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We want to do something, we want to help people, but we don’t always go about it the right way, or else our real motives are not as pure as they appear to be. We are tempted to take matters into our own hands, we are tempted to say something, we are tempted to take action without thinking ahead to all of the ramifications. Sometimes, like Jesus, we are tempted to take the quick fix for our hunger or the easy way out. When we are tempted by the seemingly good or innocuous path, may we, like Jesus, Gandalf, and Galadriel, be wise enough to recognize the consequences and strong enough to resist the temptation to be in control, in power, or in the spotlight.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7)

Something strange is happening at Deffry Vale School. Staff turnover is at an all-time high, as are student IQ scores, and cafeteria food has never been more irresistible. All this has attracted the attention of two outsiders who realize they have much more in common than a desire to figure out what’s going on - the intrepid reporter the Tenth Doctor meets in “School Reunion” is none other than former companion Sarah Jane Smith.

What’s going on, they discover, is that the new headmaster, Mr. Finch, is actually an alien. The Krillitanes are trying to use the power of adolescent minds to unlock a source of incredible power. When Finch and the Doctor come face to face and Finch realizes that the power of the Time Lords is within his grasp, he tries to tempt the Doctor into joining them. In addition to god-like power, he promises the Doctor that he will have the power to save civilizations (including his home Gallifrey, whose destruction in the Time War he is still grieving), immortality for his companions (whom he always leaves in the end so as not to see them grow old and die while he stays the same), and the ability to save everyone (which he always tries to do, but is often not successful). Finch knows exactly which buttons to push with the Doctor, and it is only when Sarah Jane reminds him that pain and loss shape who we are just as much as happiness, and that everything ends eventually, that he is able to resist the temptation and defeat the menace to the earth.

The forty days of Lent remind us, among other things, of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism, when he was tempted by Satan. Like Mr. Finch, the devil knows exactly which buttons to push. You haven’t eaten for over a month - you could turn these stones to bread. Look at all these kingdoms you’re entitled to rule - worship me and I’ll make it happen. More people might flock to you if you give them a dramatic demonstration - go ahead and jump so they can see the angels catch you. Jesus doesn’t need anyone to remind him of the important things, however. He counters every offer with God’s own words and is able to win the day.

We encounter temptation every day, perhaps even more so during Lent if we have chosen to give up something for the season. We are fortunate because we can look to God’s word to help us resist, just as Jesus did. We are doubly fortunate when we have friends and companions on the journey who help us overcome temptation by keeping us grounded and reminding us of what is truly important.