POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

The Epidemic

A Poem by Kayla Monaghan

He laughs at a short ten seconds

They at the bug eyed bats from a far away land

I stare around at the distracted faces

All of them forgetting...

Forgetting how it feels to hear

How to speak with beauty

How to stand up and lead with civility

Language looks at us sadly and says:

“Humanity loves screens more than me.

Why should I remain, only mocked to be?”

 

Stay! I want to cry

But my tongue has gone mute

And there is only a small sigh

Because why would Eloquence and Grace

Want to come and play

When nobody can say more than “hey”

How sad we have become

Cute cats and big stars suck our time

Through a smoothie straw

Giving us the brain freeze

 

Letters, watches, and eyes

Have been tantalized

Lured in, a moth to a flame

A buzz, a ring, a distant call

Have become far too near

Patience has been kicked to the curb

“We don’t need you anymore”

A tear falls from my eye

As the world becomes individualized

The idea of family stamped in the mud, left years behind

 

I will dig, fingers scraping

Hands frozen as my heart grows warm

I must find that beautiful feeling

Of unity and gentleness

That is only found when we open our mouths

Our eyes must connect

Not just through a text

For a person’s voice can be as tight as a hug

Sweetness seeping in between each syllable

See what beauty comes from a flower like love?

 

The fever is growing worse

Youngsters’ hands are glued to touchscreens

Eyes locked tight and if they can’t have,they scream

Teens have their hearts shattered

In less time than it takes to breathe

Not all evil intents has Technology

Yet still we grow sicker and sicker

Imagination leaking out faster than

The water in a faucet of an old sink

Ears loose the ability to hear hidden messages

Found in those around them

 

What can we do?

It races by at the speed of light

Is wifi crucial to survive?

Identify the temptation

So we can find a vaccination

A dose of smiles and human contact might do the trick

Look around and notice the blue sky

A sight we take for granted because it resides in our minds

But its arms can help those in a fix

And we must be careful not to feed this epidemic

Man Matters

A little over a year ago, I began to process with some friends and mentors the possibility of transitioning out from the church we had planted in New Jersey. Those conversations were littered with questions like, "When is the right time to step away from leadership in a church? "Have I done what I sensed the Lord calling me to do in New Jersey?" "Are things in a position where I can leave things in the capable hands of others?" 

I also asked several brothers what they saw in me in terms of my work and ministry. What are the things they saw as my strengths? What are the things they thought that I must continue to engage in order to be faithful to my calling from God? 

One of these gentleman, my father-in-law, challenged me to continue the work I do with men in and through the local church. He conveyed to me that he felt like I was gifted to communicate to and inspire men towards the Lord and faithfulness in their lives. I simply agreed as I am persuaded that men, particularly young men, need to be engaged with the gospel. Men need to be lovingly encouraged and exhorted to be servant leaders in their homes, in the church and in the city. 

In our day we see plenty of concern for the good work of equality, elevating women and opportunity for all. Yet what is happening among this generation of young men is sobering. I won't go into full detail in this particular blog post, but young men are falling behind and almost every category and attainment. There are fewer male students in college across all groups, fewer men obtaining graduate degrees and many young men lack ambition, confidence and leadership skills to navigate their world. 

Psychologist Guy Zimbardo has infamously argued that there is a demise of guys today where boys are struggling socially and flaming out in school (If you have not seen his TED talk, hit it up, its less than 5 min). Additionally, Samuel D. James recent article America's Lost Boys, highlights the lack of ambition in many men to even work. Rather than pursuing something with their time and gifts, they are filling their time with virtual pursuits of entertainment and sensuality and they are quite happy about it. Literally living the dream off of parents or girlfriend while happily doing a whole lot of nothing. Furthermore, I meet men all the time who feel isolated, discouraged and disconnected from their own hearts and pursuit of God. Guys in our day need to be engaged, inspired and encouraged to be more than passive consumers of amusement and called to impact their world with their gifts, strengths and unique calling as men.

As we invest our lives with Power of Change we hope to impact and influence coming post-Christian generations. This means young men, fathers and those who lead them will be a central part of our focus. Or as I like to say, we desire to serve the three Ps: pastors, parents and church planters

This fall I am doing two men's retreats where my prayer is to call men to servant leadership while encouraging them and exhorting them forward as followers of Christ. Men are in a fight but it is a good fight. God would call us to fight with and for our brothers so that we might stand firm to the end in faithfulness to Jesus and his mission. Man to man we need to be walking together. We need to see older men pointing younger men to the pathways of hard work and faithfulness over time. We need to see younger men inspiring elders with a focus in their passions and zeal. Yet connecting the generations is in no way an easy pursuit. Let me share a quick example.

Photo by Stefano Tinti/iStock / Getty Images

A few weeks back a friend grabbed me after a Sunday worship gathering to talk about his desire to mentor young guys. He also shared some difficulty he has encountered in the past. The young guys are struggling but usually won't ask for someone to mentor them. The older guys feel like nobody really wants to hear from them but they would love to connect with the younger brothers. It's almost a catch-22 of middle school dance proportions. The younger and the older men seem to be standing on the walls on each side of the room knowing they both need to learn to dance. Men must learn to step across the room and tell another guy that you need his wisdom and input. This is particularly important for men who grew up without or are separated from the wisdom of their Dad.

My own hope is to continue to be an influential friend in the journey for other men. To point them to "the man", Jesus of Nazareth, and the joy of following him in their homes, their church and in their city. It is not an easy path today for guys but with other brothers we might find our way forward by faith. I am convinced that the power of change lies within the power of a God who wants to transform men so that they may reflect his goodness and glory. Furthermore, there are some wonderful byproducts of this pursuit. Namely, women will be served and loved and children might flourish under the care of good men. 

The world certainly sees the outcomes of disconnected or abusive masculinity. We have reaped a whirlwind of unguided and unfocused men. The facts of the fatherless are clear and there remain far too many victims of domestic violence. Yet the apostle Paul teaches us something different, "behold I will show you a more excellent way." (1 Corinthians 12:31) We must put before one another the way of love, the way of Jesus and a way in which men use their strength in humility to the glory of God.

That's our story here in our home team family and with Power of Change. We pray that by his power we might be strengthened, protected and kept faithful in and through our work with men. Men matter to God and we want to see them thrive as servant leaders under the headship of Jesus in our day.  We hope many others will work and pray to these same ends.

Thoughts on Missional Innovation

Every so often in history leaders, people, ideas and circumstances come together and dramatic changes take place. Ways of living, perspectives on reality and even our understanding of ourselves are profoundly impacted. We call these convergences of people and ideas, "movements." Every movement displays an interconnected nature as certain ideas coalesce into shared passion and joint action for change. Many times movements are marked by innovation, new ways of thinking and acting as human beings. At times innovations are seen as bursting forth out of nowhere, or as sudden awakenings, yet many historical events build successively into movements. The cumulative action of many leaders and ideas evolve forward or build like a wave crashing upon a seashore with powerful momentum. It is often said that today’s leaders stand on the shoulders of giants; we know this to be true. What is prevalent today was influenced by what came before as the interconnected nature of people and ideas moves us in one direction or another. 

Recently I've been thinking much about some the technological movements of the last 100 years and I've read four books to that end. My undergraduate education was in the science and technology space and I’ve enjoy histories in that area of human work and inquiry. The first work was entitled The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner which focused on the history of Bell Laboratories and its various communication inventions that led into the modern information revolution. The transistor arguably the most important of the technologies that emerged there in the twentieth century. Next up was When Computing Got Personal: A History of the Desktop Computer by Matthew Nicholson, a work on the history of the desktop computer from it's very earliest forms until some of the recent sizes and shapes we see today. After this came Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet  by Katie Hafner. A fascinating read on the invention of this most important of computer networks through the combined efforts of industry, government and academia. I finally, finished up with Moore's Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley's Quiet Revolutionary by Thackray, Brock and Jones. Moore is an unassuming titan of what became our modern Silicon Valley and one of the chief inventors of silicon semi-conductor technology. He was one of the founders of what became the tech juggernaut known as Intel. Incidentally, an Intel chip is currently humming along inside my laptop as I type these words.

In my reading I observed that time and time again there was an interconnection between ideas that lead to innovation. Technology built upon the gains of the past and the previous generation’s hard work, problem solving and creative thinking. The innovation that took place in our technological revolutions was not in any way magic. It took place under certain cultural and structural circumstances that made the movement possible. I will outline a few of these in the final section of this essay below. As I looked at technological innovation I also saw much to be gleaned for the innovation needed in gospel mission in every generation.

What I want to do in this essay is to first look at the necessary restrictions and freedoms for innovation to flourish. I will do this under the header Context for Innovation. From there I want to draw some parallels between technological innovation and missional innovation for church planting movements before closing with a reminder of the type of innovation needed in the church in our time. 

Context for Innovation

It may be surprising but some of the modern technology and correlated free-flowing creations were actually driven by some imposed parameters and restrictions. Physicists and engineers are constantly encountering problems that cause them to think outside of the box precisely because they are working within one. What do I mean? Our scientific work does not bend or break the laws of physics. Our work will either conform to or be defeated by them. Reality shapes and constricts our efforts. Innovative thinking comes to bear in trying new ideas as we necessarily stay within the bounds of the created space-time reality. Learning how things actually work and how they work best is essential for our creation and innovation in technology. So the technologist is not some magician pulling a white iPhone out of her hat, but she is learning how things work within the system she has been given. This does not mean she is a traditionalist who only accepts the answers of the past. Yet she must see many past failures and go forward with things that work as she moves towards new solutions to problems in the future. It is not some terrible requirement to have to conform to the laws of Physics; there is no other way to cross technological hurdles. When a technology does not work because we did not understand the nature of reality, we have simply hit a restriction that sends us quite literally back to the drawing board. The restrictions are no enemy. They help us head off in fresh new directions that may prove more fruitful in the end. 

This brings us to a second necessary parameter for innovation to flourish. The technologist must have the freedom to try new things to solve problems. Otherwise we will be stuck in the past's failures or remain content with the status quo. The technologist simply cannot accept a current technical hurdle as the final defeat but must seek new ways to overcome it. This constant tension between the laws of physics and problem-solving creativity creates the spark of movement that can become a stunning wave of innovation. Both the restrictions and the freedom are necessary interlocutors that create momentum. Failures and success both drive forward the wave. 

The same can be said for the work of the church in every generation. First, there must be a firm anchor and reality to which we conform our efforts. This must be the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to us by God in history and Scripture. Just as creation itself is no hindrance to technology and science, sound doctrine and theology is no hindrance to missional innovation. We must have rails within which we are faithful, otherwise we won't build anything that actually "works." Without the bounds of revealed truth and the historical verities of our faith we can run the mission aground on the rocks of heresy and false teachings. The truth must be the raw materials with which we move forward in mission. Secondly, we must also grasp the freedom necessary to encounter people in every generation with the gospel. We must contextualize the good news of Jesus Christ to a changing world without denying or changing the laws of our theological “physics”. Yet we must have freedom while engaging with our inherited past, to question whether or not certain practices flow from human traditions (Mark 7:13-23) or from the revealed truth of God. This means there is a “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), and there are new horizons and new expressions of that faith needed in every generation.

The parallels between technological and missional innovation are not difficult to find. I will close with a look at the process of innovation and its necessary ingredients gleaned from various histories of technology.

Thoughts on Innovation

Innovation comes from passion

Innovation comes from a strong desire to learn and then solve problems. Those who seek new, faithful ways to reach people with the gospel are driven by a similar desire. A desire to engage the problem of a world in need of Jesus and to use all possible, godly means to bring the good news. They are willing to connect with people far from God in various cultural and societal settings because of their love for God and people. It is their passion and love that compels them as they are convinced that Christ died for sinners and communicating this truth is essential. Apologetics and missional thinking help us to overcome the hurdles that prevent thoughtful engagement with people in culture. Missional innovation must be driven by passion: love for God and love for people.

Innovation flows from proper freedom

One of the observations I made in reading about technological innovation is that smart people were given the time, space and funding necessary to do their work. Freedom in research must be funded with exploration and even failure as an aspect of the way forward. In missionary work, space needs to be created in, by and through local churches for similar efforts. Church planting provides the freedom for both faithfulness to gospel truth while engaging in some exploration and experimentation in methodology. Even those who hold to some form of the regulative principle may still maintain space for variation in style within a given culture for gospel life and ministry. Even if you have the conviction that we can only preach, sing psalms, pray and observe the sacraments in a church gathering, how a church goes about such things, language, style, aesthetics, etc. can still be a subject of exploration.  Furthermore, there is a wide open field of ministry through church members, smaller communities, missional groups and parachurch work that can flow with innovation even for highly regulative churches.

Innovation comes from people who dared to try and have some talent

The status quo can trap us. As people, we don't always like change even when change is what we desperately need. There are churches that will demand their own death and extinction rather than change out carpet or switch up musical styles in worship. Church planters are willing to accept the dare of the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus outside of the camp to the lost, beginning new works that might connect the gospel to those far from God and his church. Innovation comes when there are people who take "risks" for the sake of the gospel putting their hearts, souls, mind, strength all in with their God given gifts and talents.  

Finally, innovation comes from systems demanding attention and constant improvement

One of the striking driving forces for technological innovation in the 20th century was the growing complexity of telephone networks. The problems that emerged in expanding and maintaining such a complex network drove innovation because there were so many problems to solve. Necessity, quite literally, was the mother of many inventions. The place where many inventions were made was within the actual telephone system itself. The same might be said of the technology that was invented within the 20th century context of the cold war. There were secret groups of smart, dedicated, well-funded and focused people (see Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed by Ben Rich) meeting serious military problems with life and death implications. Will some Soviet or US military advantage lead to our mutual destruction? Let’s get to work on solving this or that technological hurdle so that no one gets nuked into oblivion. This has striking parallels to our work in church planting. New ideas for the mission must emerge from the necessity of the mission itself. In the middle of the messiness of ministry we must solve problems which arrive from the streams of providence and the shifting of cultures. A world broken with sin and death while facing coming judgment should bring an urgency of action and missional innovation from God’s people.  

Let me conclude with one final thought about "innovation" in and through the church. It is not innovative to simply copy and ape a worldly culture and society. I once heard Nancy Lee DeMoss say that the world is not aching for a "religious version of itself." What did she mean? I think we must see that the lost world around us does not necessarily need a sermon series called "Soulflix" with a perfectly mimicked Netflix logo all the while preaching messages from this or that movie. As fun as this might be, it is neither innovative nor really creative. What we do need are churches that can passionately preach the great gospel truths of the book of Ephesians to people that watch four hours of Netflix a night. That task will require both creativity and innovation in thought. It will require the bounds of the truth and the freedom to innovate in our styles, modes and communication. It will require us to be faithful and daring. It will require prayer and the dynamic leadership of the Holy Spirit in our day. After all, our goal is not simply to innovate in missionary methods for the sake of doing new stuff to make a church seem “cool”. Our goal is to bring people to Jesus through the preaching of the gospel and that means we must care about the methods we use to connect and communicate in THIS or THAT time and place. 

The Double Pain of a Sports Injury

Over the past week our family has been hurting a bit. Our oldest, Kayla, a.k.a. Kayla Joy, a.k.a Joy, a.k.a. baby duck suffered a devastating injury on the football pitch. After a feet first tackle by the opposing goal keeper she was left with a tibial-fibular fracture and a level of physical trauma that was quite shocking. With the excellent work of a top surgeon along with a fantastic titanium nail from Smith and Nephew, the team has put our girl back together again. Though the road to full recovery is long, we are now taking the first steps in that journey.

 First steps and back on our feet  

First steps and back on our feet  

The injury has me thinking about and meditating on the nature of pain. And a pain in two kinds. First and most obvious is the physical pain of having you leg bones crunched in the storm of a violent collision. We have good meds for that in 2016 but the physical pain is still a shocking and present reality. Furthermore, as bone breaks go, the larger the bone the more painful when it breaks. The femur is supposedly #1 (do follow that link if you need a laugh) and the tibia is a close #2. It's hard to watch someone you love go through such things.

Yet there is a pain of a second kind that rapidly descends upon an athlete in the aftermath of injury. It arrives upon the tracks of loss and uncertainty.

Loss

Many high level athletes have literally played their sport almost their entire lives. Though only 14, our Kayla has literally played the game of football/soccer in an organized fashion for two thirds of her life. If you add in kicking balls around from a very young age, soccer had been a part of her story as long as she has literal memories. When a leg breaks part of your story breaks of suddenly as well. The regular training sessions, the games, the travel, the tournaments and the constant presence of teammates all comes to a sudden and grinding halt. It's almost as if part of you is suddenly gone. The loss is painful and the physical pain that lingers reminds you of the loss. It's no wonder that when a player is seriously injured that teammates rally to that player. The empathy and understanding of what is lost is grasped  by all. And as an aside, thank you to the coaches, teammates and supportive leadership of FC Copa Academy in this time. 

Uncertainty

Along with the quick realization of loss another fear visits the soul. The doubt and uncertainty about the future. Life is suddenly changed. You cannot walk on your own.  Sleeping is difficult and you have to get to the bathroom over and over and over again. With such sudden change you also begin to ask the questions: Can I come back from this? How long will it take? Will I be my old self? Will I come back better? What about my future dreams for the game? Are those in jeopardy? Who am I, really, apart from these things that I do? The spectre of uncertainty does not wait to visit the soul. That deranged spirit just lands upon you without delay. It brings a certain aching to the heart. 

My wife and I, both former athletes, also feel these emotions and psychological difficulties vicariously because we have walked in these shoes. The memory of losing my final year of collegiate wrestling to a labrum tear in my shoulder comes rushing back even now. As parents, watching the physical pain and knowing the turmoil inside my girl just breaks the fatherly heart a bit. 

The Christian athlete faces all of these issues and perhaps some theological questions related to providence and the sovereignty of God. Yet the Christian athlete, like my daughter have many great benefits.

  • She has the great benefit of the constant grace and care of a good, good Father.
  • She has a present help in the time of trouble and a strength to face fear. (Psalm 46).
  • She has the great Helper (John 14:25-27) and High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16) walking with her in deepest times of need. 
  • She has the church family encouraging her along the way (John 13:34,35; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11),
  • She has presence of God ever with her to strengthen her heart (Isaiah 43:1-11; John 16:33; Hebrews 13:20,21) and
  • She has the knowledge and contentment that "we can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13. Here it can appropriately applied to sport)

As I wrote earlier, youth sports is a great place of need for mission and the gospel; it is also a great arena for sanctification and life change. Even, no especially, in the seasons of double pain. 

Love you Joy! With you #everystepoftheway  

 

Youth Sports - Part 2

Good morning friends. Yesterday I posted an article about engagement with youth sports. That essay was edited by my brilliant 14-year-old daughter who is a great writer in her own right. 

Later yesterday afternoon that same sweet girl suffered a crushing injury on the soccer field snapping both her tibia and her fibula in her lower right leg.

This too has taught us much about God, his kindness and some terrible pain and utter sadness. Yesterday as we rode in the ambulance she asked me to read her the Psalms so her heart would be drawn to the Lord and her heart at peace in the midst of the pain and the crazy. I read to her the 63rd Psalm: 

1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

- Psalm 63:1-8

My little girl is a beautiful soul. Today we will have some reconstructive surgery where a rod will be placed into her tibia. Please pray for us in the days ahead and all of those who surround us…church, family and our soccer community. We are all praying that the Lord would use everything to express his grace and glory to many. 

Love in Christ, for the Monaghan Home Team

Reid  

Guardians of the Galaxy and a Mirror to our World

This review and commentary first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Well Thought. The thought journal of Jacob's Well in North Brunswick, NJ. It was a collaborative writing project between myself and the inimitable Simon P. Clark

This summer, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy became a box office smash, grossing more than $650 million worldwide as of September 2014 – and all this despite the relatively obscure fictional universe that Guardian of the Galaxy is based on. While DC Comics’ Batman and Superman are household names and Marvel’s string of Avengers movies brings together a string of already beloved heroes, Guardians of the Galaxy is, for all intents and purposes, an enigma. How did a movie with no widely established international fan base, whose heroes include a genetically modified talking raccoon and a tree get so big so quickly? The answer may lie in what it says about our own culture, rather than those of other worlds.

First, let’s make one thing clear – we are both huge fans of this movie (and Reid can boast that he was a fan of the comics long before the leap to screen). It’s a space epic that relies just as much on witty and engaging characters as it does on a complex, high-stakes plot. It’s also a movie that, despite being based on comic books  (or perhaps because of it) deals with some decidedly PG-13 stuff. Guardians of the Galaxy has it all: explosions, danger, snappy dialogue and relatable characters. More than anything, it’s a movie that speaks about one thing: being human.

Guardians of Humanity

Who doesn’t want to be a hero? We all dream, as kids and as adults, of being special, being placed in a situation that demands something extra and stepping up to save the day. This isn’t anything new. What do Star Wars, Star Trek, Spider-Man, Iron Man – in fact most action movies – have in common? Family and friends are in danger, there is fracture and loss, a mission to overcome a threat, and the promise of a newer, safer community as a reward. Guardians gives us all of this while managing never to lose the characters’ individual human touches – something with which many great movies struggle. Groot, a sentient tree, has time to give a single flower to a child as a simple act of kindness in a world that’s falling into chaos. Gamora, adopted daughter of Thanos (which is, let’s not forget, Greek for ‘death’), turns her back on a life of cruelty and subjugation in search of freedom and heroism. They may be aliens, but they’re aliens that audiences can relate to and root for. It’s this relation – between audiences and the characters of Guardians – that’s the true secret to the movie’s phenomenal success. Guardians’ heroes, you see, are far from perfect. Instead, they’re just what people want most in the 21st Century: murderers, assassins, thieves, and bandits ... with good, even noble, hearts.

Guardians of the West

‘Be good ... but not too good’ is, arguably, one of the most prevalent messages in our culture today. The rebel with a cause – the gentleman thief – seems to speak to something in modern Western civilization that’s never quite been here before. When did it become a bad thing to be too good? At Guardian’s heart is its protagonist, Star-Lord – a thief with a conscience, who has no problem breaking rules. That’s why Guardians works: it’s managed to present its main character in the perfect sweet spot between do gooders and baddies. We’re told increasingly by society that the best place to be, morally, legally, and even spiritually, is in the middle: rebels who act nicely, but are happy to break the law. We’re told to be our own persons, as long as we temper our bad sides with a little charity every now and then. Guardians exemplifies and glorifies this world view (and does a fantastic job of it). The movie ends with perhaps the most succinct summation of this philosophy: Star-Lord defending himself in the face of his obvious flaws, explains that while he “may be” difficult, he’s “not 100%” selfish. Well, he uses some language that is a bit more salty than this. Is that a good thing? Is it better to openly be a bit of both, good and bad, than to strive to follow a path that is good, right and true? In the Guardians universe, the answer’s a resounding yes. In our universe, things aren’t so clear.

Conclusion

Towards the end of the film, after clear acts of heroism and virtue, some of Guardians main characters engage in some witty and fun dialogue. Speaking to a police officer-type, Rocket Raccoon asks about a new moral dilemma he faces: "If I see something someone else has, and I want it really bad, can I just take it?" The cop, of course, answers that no, that would be stealing. Rocket, stuck on this line of thought alone, goes further: "But what if I want it really bad and much more than them?"

Similarly, Drax – one of the more muscled fighters of the Guardians – asks: "If someone says something irksome, can I rip out his spine?" The answer? "No, that would be … murder." It's all goes to show us that now that the characters are good, they really don't want to be that good.

Years ago, the French philosopher Simone Weil made an astute observation. In her book Gravity and Grace she wrote the following:

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”

                                                                                                         ― Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 120.

What she wants us to see is that while evil in the fictional world can be exciting and fun, in the real world it is terrible and inhumane. Too much goodness in our books and movies gets boring, while our world is greatly starved of bold, courageous virtue.

Guardians of the Galaxy is just a movie, of course, so we don’t have to worry about the victims of the thieves and the assassins we’re told to love. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. You can love Indiana Jones without worrying that he doesn’t follow international treaties for the removal of antiquities. You can love this movie without worrying that it glorifies violence and law breaking. It’s worth thinking about, though, how different things in the real world might be if, in place of self-justifying rebellion, sacrificial love were the basis for community. This is what we strive for in the church: clear and compelling love and an embrace of truth and goodness. In fact, this sort of sacrificial love and goodness is what forms our rebellious guardians into an actual family on a mission.

We see Drax thanking his friends for forgiving him his many blunders. We see Groot have his only line in the film, "I am Groot," turn into "we are Groot” precisely at the moment where he is giving up his life for his friends. In Guardians of the Galaxy we see a group of misfits and losers formed into a new family -  one that lives out a bold mission. How does this happen? It is not through selfish, rebellious and evil-doing behavior. It is sacrificial love that forms their community.

One of the rallying scenes towards the end of the film shows the Guardians coming together to undertake an impossible task: deciding why they should give their lives to save the universe. Star-Lord, going beyond his earlier reasoning that they should save the galaxy because they are part of it, says this: “I look around and see losers. Life has given us a chance to give a #^&*...” His friends know that his call to action may very well mean a call to die. Drax’s reply is simple: "You are asking us to die? I would gladly die among my friends.”

Such sacrificial love, and real communities of friends built upon it, aren’t hard to find in this world. Jesus himself said there was no greater love than to lay life down for his friends. In Jesus we see exciting goodness, clear truth and compelling beauty. In his leadership and sacrificial love, we see a new community emerge with a glorious mission and hope.  Jesus’ call to us is to die to ourselves as we live out his mission among friends. In fact, he already died for his friends and showed himself to be the greatest leader this world has known.

We have been called to be guardians of the galaxy, in a sense, because we have indeed received good news. No misfit is too far away or too far gone to receive forgiveness and grace from God. The good news is that Jesus takes a bunch of screw ups, puts them together as a new family, calls them to give their lives for others so that many will be saved and join the team of redemption throughout the world.

In our world today following after God in true righteousness might just be the greatest rebellion there can be. Is it possible that we can be bold and bad by truly joining a revolution for good? The late British journalist and literary critic GK Chesterton says this so well:

In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the Orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, a rabble band of misfits from various backgrounds, stories, skin colors, sizes and shapes sought to restore peace to a war-troubled universe. We bring a higher call to the table as we seek to see people restored to peace with God and one another. This is the precise reason that Jesus has a people.

On seeking comfort

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Seeking our own comfort is built in. We want to avoid pain and find the happy place in the world. But there is an attendant danger in seeking only comfort and not truth and even finding our duty. I ran across this quote this morning from the CS Lewis:

In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth--only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, book 1, chap 5, para 6, p39. Quoted in The Quotable Lewis ed Martindale and Root.