I'm rather happy to say that I was one of a privileged few who got to see the new Batman movie two days early in a PR screening. Thanks to 'Heroes and Villains' in Tucson for helping to put it on. Batman Begins is a great movie by the way and gets a high recommendation from me. Forget the other four, they were practise, this is where the saga starts. Nothing wrong with this movie at all, so if you've been waiting a long time for a movie that you can sit down, watch and at the end come out feeling you've had an enjoyable time with no regrets, go see it. When I see it for the second time it'll be some of the best $9 I've spent at the movies in a long time. I'd leave younger kids at home though, even though there's no sex, cheap lusty thrills or language to contend with, fear and justice are two main themes, and there are a number of startling and scary scenes that might leave younger viewers a bit haunted.
Anyway, what I wanted to write about this time was something I picked up in the movie. As soon as I heard it come from the lips of Rachel (Katie Holmes) I was struck hard and knew there was a message in her words that would see me at this keyboard soon enough. 'Begins' is about Bruce Wayne's ascent from a troubled youth into the avenging detective, and dark knight, Batman. Part of the struggle he faces in finding his place in the world is how to balance being both Batman and Bruce Wayne. On the one hand, Batman is the hidden, deceptive character who strikes from the shadows whilst Bruce is unmasked and out in the open. On the other hand, life as a billionaire often seems the more two-faced way of living, and the straight to the point, deal with the issue actions of Batman far more open and plain faced. There comes a point in the movie - I'm not ruining anything here, don't worry - where in Bruce comes face to face with Rachel just after a party. He's soaking wet from swimming in a fountain and he is being escorted by two young females, also wet, in robes. As they meet the two girls go on ahead and jump in the waiting car. Rachel and Bruce talk briefly about the work of ending corruption (Rachel is a D.A.) and Bruce, obviously embarrassed about being seen in such a state - the playboy millionaire - tells Rachel that this isn't who he really is.
"Rachel, all of... all this, it's not me. It's... Inside I am... I am more."
She smiles gently, "Bruce, deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it's not who you are underneath...It's what you do that defines you."
As soon as those words came out of her mouth I immediately thought Church. This is a message that the Church needs to hear. It's amazing how many thoughts can run through one's mind in a split second. One word or sound can bring back a thousand memories and the mind leaps effortlessly from point to point so that instantly you just so something though you can't explain it all.
I'm not one for constantly complaining about the Church. I try to see what's right about it and focus on what things can be done to bring change rather than complain about the bad things. As such, I don't like writing too much about things that might come across as a rant. Rants never get anywhere. On this one though I'd like to offer a challenge.
It seems to me that too many of us in the Church are living our lives like Bruce Wayne. The 'spiritual' things we do, we do to satisfy our minds and hearts that deep down we are more. To keep that 'same great kid underneath' alive and know that we're still in touch with him. We tell ourselves that the new creation within us is still alive, full of hope, and we dream about all the possibilities of the future. We look at that inner picture and are satisfied about how much we 'more' we are. We know that 'deep down' we are everything we want to be and are content therefore, because that is who we 'really' are.
The things is, we deceive ourselves. 'Deep down' is where that aspect of us remains. The 'great child' always remains so - a child; with all the promise and potential strength of youth. And then we go on living our lives in ways that do not have anything to do with that inner person. We can know all the truth about relationships, about being an honourable person. We build up in our minds and hearts all the right notions, yet at the same time, we go on doing things that contradict all of that. 'Deep down' we know that we are good people, new creations, and that we would never do anything to hurt someone else. Then we go out and do things, and do not even see ourselves becoming abusers, or doing the all the things we said we wouldn't or couldn't or shouldn't.
"I mean, that's not what we're doing, that's not our motive. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. The really bad people are the ones who are such 'deep down'. We're the Christians, and 'bad people' are something other than what we are."Our whole thinking, our world, is tied up with believing that deep down we are 'more'. The thing is though, that it truly is what we do that defines us. Take the current debate with the Muslims. So many preach that Islam is a religion of peace. How does one prove that? Religious texts? They debate them back and forth. The reason so few believe that Islam really is peaceful is because so many awful things are done by Muslims and in the name of Allah. As long as there is a majority of Muslims doing awful things, or perhaps, as long as the states and people where Islam holds the most sway remain corrupt and unjust no-one is going to believe them. What Islam is in its behaviour, and its attitude towards it's own actions, is what will define them. If some other part of one's group is betraying the faith, then the other part or parts must say so and must fight for change. They must do something. Who they are on paper isn't worth a jot when who they are in the world, in action, is something else. Can someone quote James to me?
"Show me your 'faith' without doing anything, and I'll show you my 'faith' by WHAT I DO."My actions define who I am and they define my faith.
Muslims, show me your faith by what you do, not by who you are 'deep down' or what your writings say. And you Christians, you too. Who you are is not who you are deep down - that may be a root of it; deep within may be a work of grace, a work of Christ's love - but that doesn't mean anything to me. You say you're something 'more'. Well then, show it to me, or else shut up. Stop talking out of your rear end.
You know I don't think a lot of the non-Christian world would mind, or be too affected by, Christians 'making mistakes' if 80% or 70% of the time we were getting it right. Instead though, I think it's more like 20% of the time we hit the money, and there's the problem.
Christianity is a faith of action. It's a faith of doing things. Who you are is defined by what you do. So stop pretending you're a hero whilst swimming in pools with girls, throwing your money around, slacking off your work, making idle promises, and instead be the person you say you are 'deep down'. Be more. Be honorable. Be a gentleman; be a lady. Be hardworking. Don't whisper the gospel in a girl's ear whilst your hand creeps over her chest. You know what that makes you? You're not a Christian, you're not even just a fornicator (to use a nice Bible word). You're a womaniser. At least a playboy, who admits that's what he is, is honest. Yet you, because you see yourself as being okay...because you're 'more' deep down, you use the promise of hope and God and being a good person to behave like a bad one. Nor you, who speak of the gospel and of hope and the love of God and the worth of your hearers to Him, don't then go around talking about others, bringing them down, spreading news of their faults and problems around. You're not just a gossip or being 'catty'. Again, that would be honest if you were plain about it, instead you sit in the place of God and cast down your judgements saying who or who not is worth anything. You raise yourself to a higher plain and scatter others down before you.
Why is it that many of us seem to be looking more and more at that ethereal light within, and focusing intently on it, whilst slipping further into the darkness? It may sound harsh, but I think it may be the case that because of who Christians are supposed to be, or who they say they are, when they behave badly, they are worse than when many other non-Christians do it.
It applies to almost every avenue of life. Take the much lighter example of exercise. I think every guy knows that 'deep down' he is a strong, muscular, fit and sexy man. That is, the potential is there, and he knows that it would only be a matter of a few weeks or months, and he'd be in peak condition. 'Buff' is just an exercise regime away. Yet most guys never get there. Most guys never do it. The cost of doing the exercise is high, and so they are happy to content themselves with knowing that 'deep down' they are muscular, that there are people in worse condition, and that being amazing is only a short distance away. Just look in the mirror, suck in your gut, tense up and BOOM, there he is!
How about punctuality?
"You know, the past three year's I was late for church and work? Well perhaps only five times was it my fault. If my ride had been on time, if something hadn't got lost, if the traffic hadn't been so bad, if whatever it was hadn't crept up, I would have been there. And besides, I've only been a few minutes late. I was nearly on time. It's just a matter of getting up a few minutes earlier...making my lunch beforehand...etc. etc. You see, 'deep down' I'm a punctual person. It's just some other stuff that gets in the way."Are you a hard-worker? Where? Deep down, or if I asked your work mates, what would they say? Generous? Clean? Patient? Forgiving? Something we are, some things we know we're not, but there are those things we believe we are deep down and when we take a look at our performance we have to suck in our gut, tense our muscles, and then we see what we are deep down and content ourselves; looking away from the mirror and walking out of the room before relaxing.
You know, when we say that we will DO for God, and we will give to God, and we will seek God - it's the same way. Have you ever planned out a new exercise regime or bought a new piece of equipment. We pour out some money into that new things, and we spend a couple of hours one evening putting it all together. We plan it all out and then at the end of that day we are satisfied because we know we are on the right track. The way forward is just ahead. We are so near to where we know we are supposed to be. Then the week comes and something pops up and we'll start tomorrow. The tomorrow comes and "Oh! I'd forgotten about that!" Soon enough, the equipment rusts, or the plan gets filed. Perhaps you do make a start, but within a week or two, things dissipate.
Anyone see any correlation to what so many of us Christians call our 'spiritual life'? We go to church on Sunday; if we're good we become open and honest and see what needs to change. We write out our spiritual exercise plan for the week or year or whatever, and then we rest content. We've come and kneeled and with some worship and prayer, and we wrote out some tickets to God, promising to do this or give that and once we made that sacrifice we hear inside the voice of that 'great child' calling out. We hear that sweet voice and we smile because we know he's still alive... and then we leave it there. Reality check - all the giving you talk of and the sacrifices are not just some invisible, untouchable thing that happens on a spiritual plain somewhere that day. They happen every day after that, through the week and year. That's when you give and sacrifice, if not, truly all you are 'giving' God is IOU's. I wonder how many sacrifices God is going to collect at the end of the world? How many post-it-notes with promises are sitting on that altar?
There comes a time when you begin to hate making resolutions. Whatever the number is, you reach the point where you decide you're not going to make any more, and for many people, that's it, they just give up. You know what? Christianity isn't about making resolutions. It's not about saying the right thing. It's about doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God. Sometimes some advice and a plan is necessary. There are things to be cut off, things to be avoided, other things to add. However, if we make those things, thinking about how good we are 'deep down', instead of making a decision to just do them, whatever the cost, it wont work.
God doesn't care about who you think you are 'deep down'. He cares about who you make yourself to be, who you define yourself as, by your actions. Now there may be some here freaking out about what I'm saying. Please note, I'm not saying there's no need for God's grace and work in our lives. I'm not denying the inner work of Christ within us. I'm not saying you have to work for God's approval or love, or forsaking the practice of believing by faith that God has taken you as you are and saved you. God loves you and He gives grace, gives strength. He saves and He transforms and builds faith. Without Him it would all be impossible. However, because of Him it IS possible, our efforts are effective, and we do have to make an effort. We have the power, given by God, to choose who we are going to be. God enables you to define yourself. He gives you a precious gift of grace be 'more' - not just deep down, but in reality.
On the 15th of June 2005, Batman began. He didn't just begin in his head or deep down. He began in action, and Gotham felt it. The Church needs to quit living in the land of the ether, denying its actions in the body, and it needs to start being. What you do defines who you are, it's not who you are 'deep down'.
And you - whether it's 'The Servant of God Begins' or 'The Servant of God Returns', will the world feel your presence? Will it see only a damp millionaire spending money, playing games and occasionally talking about something 'deep down' or will it know that you are?