Is you listen closely, you can hear moms all over the country shrieking in horror as they listen to a Ludacris CD they bought because “he seemed like such a nice young man on that Justin Bieber song.”
Is you listen closely, you can hear moms all over the country shrieking in horror as they listen to a Ludacris CD they bought because “he seemed like such a nice young man on that Justin Bieber song.”
I had an easier time connecting with God in the movie, “Man on Fire” than I did in “The Passion of the Christ.” That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I mean the Mel Gibson movie made roughly 786 gazillion dollars and was loved by Christians the world over. Man on Fire is a bloody revenge film with very little God. How can I write that first sentence?
I think that the God element in Man on Fire was a strong undercurrent that caught me off guard. It surprised me and engaged me in an unexpected way. I enjoyed the Passion of the Christ. I thought it was good. But I went in expecting God and faith and Christianity. So when it appeared I was ready for it. And in communication, one of the ways to grab someone is to show instead of tell. Instead of saying, “this character is cool” in a movie, you show the audience tangible ways that exhibit how the character is cool. That way, the audience gets to write their own story instead of just digesting your story. Man on Fire showed me God’s love, the Passion of the Christ told me God’s love. But that still doesn’t really justify thinking Man on Fire is a better picture of Christ than the Passion of the Christ. So let me explain a little, but please know I am about to ruin the end of Man on Fire.
In the film, Denzel Washington plays the role of Creasy, an alcoholic black ops military man in Mexico City serving as a bodyguard for a little girl named Pita. Pita is a blonde sprite of a seven-year-old played by the ubiquitous Dakota Fanning. Throughout the first half of the film we watch as Creasy hits rock bottom, only to find a new reason to live in Pita. Along the way, we see him spend increasing amounts of time in the Bible.
But because this is at the core a revenge film, Pita is kidnapped after a piano lesson. Creasy is shot multiple times and the doctors say that without a month of rest, he will die. While Creasy is trapped in bed, Pita is executed by the kidnappers. He is devastated, his world collapsing in memories of Pita laughing and playing. He leaves the hospital and decides to track down the killers.
In a hinge scene, the young mother of Pita asks Creasy what he is going to do. His response is simple, “What I do best, I’m going to kill em. Anyone that was involved, anyone that profited from it, anyone that opens their eyes at me.” This statement serves as the doorway to a veritable house of pain and suffering. The violence is shocking in both its graphicness and its creativity.
At this point, my initial idea that I saw the love of Christ in this movie seems impossible. We do not serve a God that would torture a man with a cigarette lighter or plant a plastic explosive inside another kidnapper. Our God is not cruel. I think that’s worthy of argument though, at least from an Old Testament point of view. Would the Egyptian mothers that woke to find their first born children dead in their beds agree that God can not be cruel? Would the residents of Sodom, with flesh ripped apart by sulfur falling from the sky agree that God is not violent? I’m not saying these things were not justified. I just think that maybe we make too light of the fury and might of God.
After cutting a swath of death through Mexico City, Creasy finds the pregnant wife and brother of the villain, simply referred to as “The Voice.” The Voice asks him on the phone, “How much do you want?” Creasy responds by saying “Your brother wants to speak to you, hold on” at which point he shoots off all the fingers of the brother’s hand with a shotgun. “I’m going to take your family apart piece by piece. You understand me? Piece by piece. I don’t want your money. You understand me? I want you!” It’s numbing really, the brother tied up to a pole with a bloody stump of a hand, the pregnant wife wailing. But that’s when grace first makes an appearance. The Voice calls back and says “I will give you a life for a life. I will give you her life for your life.”
The camera spins on a confused Creasy as he struggles with the idea that Pita is still alive. Suddenly the violence, the rage, the wrath of Creasy sinks out of his face. In the final scene, Creasy, Pita’s mother and the kidnapper’s brother drive to an abandoned bridge in the middle of the Mexican countryside. With a bullet ridden body and a weariness that is almost three dimensional, Creasy walks up the bridge. When the kidnappers see him waiting there, they pull a hooded Pita out of the car. They remove her dirty blindfold and with eyes not accustomed to light, she squints toward the bridge. With the sound of a child witnessing an unlocked gate in hell, she screams “Creasy” and runs to the bridge. Creasy, unable to run from all the pain, waits. She jumps into his arms, and with hands dotted with blood and scars he cradles her. This is what follows:
Creasy: “Are you alright? They didn’t hurt you?”
Pita: Shakes her head no.
Creasy: Laughing and smiling in relief, “Hi.” More laughter. “Alright your mother is waiting for
you; she’s right down at the end of the bridge. OK, you go home.”
Pita: “OK. Where are you going?”
Creasy: “I’m going home too.”
Pita runs to the arms of her mother. A red laser scope lands on Creasy’s heart, which he covers with a hand that is covered in scars. He throws up his hands and walks slowly to the kidnappers. He stumbles to his knees as they drag him into a car. Pita cries watching Creasy surrender to certain death. Creasy closes his eyes in the car and dies.
I missed it the first ten times I saw the movie. Missed that I’m Pita. I’ve lived most of my life under the stairs in a dark, dirty cage. But unlike Pita, this is the place I deserve. For although she did not ask to be kidnapped or receive this experience as a consequence of her actions, I did. If this were the story of my life, justice would have already been served. The prisoner’s life is the life I deserve. But God is like Creasy. In Isaiah 30:18 it says “he rises to show you compassion.”
The new life that Creasy finds when he meets Pita is but a glimpse at how God delights in us. And it is this love, this affection that drives Him to rescue us. But is He violent? Is there anything He wouldn’t do to rescue me and rescue you? I don’t think so. To the violence question we need only look to verses like Numbers 24:8 in which the Israelites, God’s people, are said to “devour hostile nations and break their bones in pieces.” That was describing work and battles that the Lord had blessed.
Is that any less graphic than anything that happens in “Man on Fire?” God’s love has no limits. If violence is what it would take to rescue me, I have little doubt that He would be violent. That He would remove an entire planet in a flood to save the righteous family of Noah. And even though He is blessed with the ability to open the core of the earth with His fury, it is love and ultimate surrender that shows us the true depth of His heart. In the movie, Creasy could have easily continued killing the kidnapper’s family. The brother could have been tortured, the pregnant wife and unborn child of the kidnapper murdered. But it wasn’t about revenge, it was about rescue. And when Pita was discovered to be alive, he stopped everything. He surrendered and walked willingly into a certain death.
In his last moments, before the cross, the undeniable power of Christ is revealed one more time as he heals one of the Roman guard’s ears. And yet he denies it. He surrenders to his captors. That’s how I felt about the last scene in Man on Fire. Creasy had just blown off all the fingers of the brother. He had the pregnant wife and a shotgun and a mouth full of loud, angry words. But the second he knew Pita was alive, he surrendered.
I’ve written about it before because the scene really shook me. It made me realize, this is the Christ I serve. Powerful, fearful, able to heal the sick and blind, capable of walking on water itself. But willing to give it all up upon realizing I am found. Willing to pay the ransom with his own life. Willing to free me from a prison of my own design. And whether he’s crucified on a cross or forced to walk across a bridge in Mexico, he’s willing to do it all over again for me. And for you.
p.s. I liked Passion. I thought it was a well done movie. The most powerful scene to me was when Gibson showed the boy Jesus and the man Jesus stumble to the ground. My one criticism is that it felt really full. I like movies that leave me room to climb in and Passion felt bursting at the seams so it was hard for me to engage with it in some scenes.
Yesterday, a young pastor named Clay did the impossible at the church I go to, he found a fresh way to reference the movie Gladiator. As everyone knows, Gladiator is the third most popular sermon analogy movie ever made, following Braveheart and the Matrix. But Clay’s sermon was great, and his movie reference was perfect. How did he do it? He followed the three rules of movie sermon analogies:
1. Weigh the risk and reward of playing the movie clip.
It’s a proven fact that most church sound systems will find a way to physically repel scenes from R-rated movies like Gladiator. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. Pastors are still tempted though. In some ways, I think showing a clip from a movie during church is like having a few minutes access to the world’s largest television. Forget 42-inch plasmas, some pastors have access to 15-foot screens. And we, the congregation, might actually cheer when the clip is done or cry if it’s emotional. But we might also think, “Man, I wish I was watching the rest of that movie.”
2. Don’t pick an obscure movie.
I don’t know if pastors feel this way, but every time I write a Stuff Christians Like List and mention books or movies or music I dig, I feel like I should bust out some crazy obscure artist no one has ever heard of. I get a little nervous that if I admit I read cheesy books, or listen to really obvious dumb music, people won’t think I’m cool or cultured or equipped with separate eyebrows. Or someone will say, “Hey, thanks for the heads up. I wasn’t aware that the Counting Crows album, ‘August and Everything After‘ was good. I’ve been in a cave deep within the earth’s crust for the last 15 years. I appreciate the newsflash.” Pastors should resist the urge to go obscure though, because when they do, we feel like they just googled “Romanian art film sermon illustration,” instead of sharing a movie they really like with people they love.
3. Don’t mess up the quote.
If a movie reference hinges on a quote, pastors shouldn’t try to memorize it. They might never use notes. They might think having a sermon outline in a Bible is for wusses, but trust me, pastors should read the quote instead of reciting it. For starters, when they read it, they’ll be less tempted to out it act. I know that public speaking is dramatic by nature but no one needs to have an imaginary sword fight with the pulpit while they act out a scene from “The Princess Bride.” Second, if they get the quote wrong, if your pastor builds up the suspense and gets the crowd hanging on their seat, only to say, “Luke, I am your farmer,” it’s going to be a big let down. Clay printed out the quote from Gladiator and read it. And I promise you, every one still had goosebumps.
I’ve talked a few times about God and movies on this site. I shared how Man on Fire is probably my favorite accidental cinematic Christ scene, but I’ve never asked you what movie sermon analogies you’ve heard? What have been the best? What have been the worst?
I haven’t seen the new Batman movie yet, but unless I weep during the entire time at its brilliance, am served a bottomless bag of cotton candy and get to take home my own live bat, I am not sure it can live up to my expectations. I know I will like it, there’s just been so much hype that I think it will be difficult for it to be as good as I think it should. The same thing happened to the movie “Facing the Giants.”
That’s a tough expectation to live up to. Unless the movie is called “A preview of how Jon Acuff will die in a bear accident” and then I watch it and learn some moves against that exact bear that was going to kill me, I’m not sure most movies will radically change my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I think movies can change our lives or at least impact us in powerful ways. I wrote a piece about how I felt like I saw more of Jesus in the movie “Man on Fire” than I did “the Passion of the Christ” and that meant a lot to me. But when it came to Facing the Giants and the faith sculpting exuberance people had described it with, I felt like there was no way it could deliver.
And then people started disclaiming it. Any time I asked about the movie someone would say, “It was just a youth group movie. They made it for a nickel and shot, edited and packaged the whole thing in 17 minutes.” That made me feel like when I watched Facing the Giants there would be people playing multiple characters by wearing mustache disguises and that microphones would be hitting people in the head and that the soundtrack would just be a hobo mournfully humming.
But there wasn’t. I thought they did a great job with what they had. I thought it was a great example of Christians trying to do a lot with a little. I thought lots of people were touched and challenged by that film and that’s a really cool thing despite my desire to be a Christian culture snob. Was it the best story I ever saw or the best acting? No. There were a few scenes where they didn’t take the time to let the rhythm of life develop and instead would say things like “the roof is leaking, the car is broken, I’m infertile, you’re losing your job, the football team keeps losing and the mongoose is back.” I added that last one but you get the point. I spoke with my friend Daniel Millican, who directed “The Imposter,” about this and I don’t think I’m crazy for thinking the story needed more time to unfold.
But writing a movie is difficult. I’m working on a script right now and it’s challenging. So I thought it might be good to suggest a few Christian movies we could make that would have more serious scripts. Movies that are deep and interesting, heart wrenching yet ha ha funny too. So I took some popular movies and tried to “God them up.” Here is what I came up with:
1. Samson vs. Goliath vs. Predator
The “Alien vs. Predator” movies seemed to do pretty well so why not make a movie where the strongest people in the Bible fight to the death. What’s that you say, “The Predator wasn’t in the Bible and didn’t live in ancient times?” That we know of friend, that we know of. (In case you are wondering who will win, it will be the Predator. He has a rock shooting device on his arm and then shaves Samson bald with a laser beam. Whole thing takes like 30 seconds. It’s a short movie.)
2. Red Gideon
“Red Dawn,” a tale of the high school students fighting Russian soldiers that invade America, was probably the greatest movie ever. I watched it approximately 900 times growing up and even writing these sentences makes me want to yell, “Wolverines!” So what if we combined the story of Gideon with the movie Red Dawn? That would be beautiful. During the scene where Gideon has to eliminate his men, God would say, “Take half the men and only one member from the brat pack. You can’t have Charlie Sheen or Thomas C. Howell but I will give you Patrick Swayze.” Goosebumps, gang. Goosebumps.
3. Jonah & Jaime
What if instead of the remake they did of Starsky & Hutch we made a movie starring Jonah and the whale that swallowed him? By the way, that whale is named “Jaime.” They would have to be fighting crime in San Francisco because the whale needs water every now and then. It would be awesome. When they’re fighting bad guys Jaime would open his mouth and Jonah would send a roundhouse kick out from his belly. And can you imagine how majestic it would look to have that whale doing those big jumps that they do in car chase scenes through the streets of San Francisco? Wow.
4. The Disciplinators
In this movie, there’s been a translation problem in the Bible. Someone wrote down “Glove your enemy” instead of “Love your enemy.” So a gang of disciples, calling themselves “the Disciplinators” goes around slapping everyone they don’t like in the face with gloves. It sounds slow, but I think that a glove slap is kind of the polite equivalent of seeing someone get hit in the groin with a wiffle ball. I promise, it would not get old. We would slow the slaps down, like the Matrix, and you’d be able to buy an official glove on our website.
If you are wealthy and would like to produce any of these movies, please let me know. I’m not going to lie to you, we might lose a few whales during production but there won’t be a dry eye in the house when in the final scene of Jonah & Jaime we watch Jaime do battle to the death with the whale from that movie, “Free Willy.” As the credits roll, we’ll play “Friends are Friends Forever” by Michael W. Smith as Jonah sells Jaime’s heroic corpse to a seafood restaurant. I mean, he was a whale after all.
In the movie “Anchorman,” Will Ferrell’s news anchor character always signed off the air with the same phrase, “You stay classy San Diego.” I thought that was funny and recently my friend Stan reminded me that sometimes we do the same things with our prayers.
Have you ever done that? Instead of just closing a prayer with “amen,” you throw in a little spice? A little flair? Like putting a big loop in your signature when signing things, whoomp, there it is!*
I know what my prayer sign off is, “Lord, thank you for this day and everything you blessed us with.” A pastor I’ve heard of likes to end his prayer with, “May your grace, mercy and peace be with each and every one of us, both now and evermore. Amen.” I like the addition of the word “evermore” because it feels a little medieval to me, like maybe I should be holding a sword when I say that word. Is there anyway I could punctuate my sign off with that? Would it look weird if when I prayed I said,
“Lord, thank you for this day and everything you blessed us with. Evermore.”
That’s cool, right? Maybe not, but I had a few other thoughts on this topic.
1. Context doesn’t matter.
One of the things I love about prayer sign offs is that what you said immediately before the sign off doesn’t matter. Regardless of the topic of your prayer, you’re signing it off with the same phrase. That’s like ending the movie “Saving Private Ryan” with ten minutes of comedy from that dude Balki on the show, “Perfect Strangers.” You’ll throw a fancy sign off on the end of a prayer about a pig winning a blue ribbon at the state fair or a casual sign off at the end of a tragic hot air balloon mishap. It makes no sense.
2. Here comes the end.
The great thing about having a favorite prayer sign off is that your friends know that once they hear that, you’re about to stop praying. As you ramble about the verbal countryside, throwing out the word “just” and repeating God’s names a million times, they can all wait for those magical words that mean, “he’s done.” (That was a test. If you laughed at that you should be ashamed of yourself. For a real Christian there’s no such thing as a “too long prayer.” That’s an oxymoron.)
3. Sometimes that’s all you’ll say.
There are times at our house when my two daughters are already trying to eat their chicken strips (roughly 87% of the food they consume), the phone is ringing, the dishwasher is running and all manner of chaos is breaking out. I admit, I’ll go right to my sign off. Instead of praying, I’ll just start and finish with the sign off. I didn’t really realize I was doing that until today. That’s like writing a letter that only has a “p.s.” in it. I am such an awesome Christian.
It’s weird how many prayer posts are on this site. If someone asked me what I thought was funny about the church, I doubt I would say “Prayer. Prayer is hilarious.” But there it is, prayer sign offs are something funny we do.
Mine is pretty boring, but I would love to hear what you do or hear one you’ve listened to before at church.
*That’s right, I said it.
Tag team back again. Check into wreckin, let’s begin. Party on party people let me hear some noise, DC’s in the house jump, jump rejoice. Says there’s a party over here, a party over there, wave your hands in the air, shake your derriere. These three words when you’re getting busy, Whoomp There it is. Hit me.
When I sat down to write the follow up to the first super hero post, I was surprised at how many pastors there are that deserve to be inducted into the Stuff Christians Like Famous Pastor Super Hero Hall of Fame, or SCLFPSHHOF.
And I don’t want these entries to run on for miles and miles of text. So today, I thought it would be good to induct six more people.
(Please note: I never said these were comic book heroes. I said super heroes. And some are not technically pastors, but they are still famous Christians that deserve to be compared to Wonder Woman and what not.)
Erwin McManus = Wolverine
I don’t know Erwin. I did write him a long, “I think you’re amazing” email once, but his ninja like secretary was able to kung fu block it. Well played madam. Well played indeed. But despite no personal connection with McManus I feel pretty confident with comparing him to Wolverine. Just look at the cover of that book, “The Barbarian Way.” Can’t you see him whipping out some claws and cutting some fools up? And he’s not afraid to jump into a battle. When a speaker before him at a conference said that we should be careful about innovation because the people that eat the mushrooms first often die, Erwin scrapped his entire planned script for his presentation and basically said, “Call me a mushroom eater.” That is a bad man right there. That is Wolverine.
Joyce Meyer = Jean Gray of the X-Men
In the X-Men movies, Jean Gray eventually becomes her alter ego character, the Phoenix, a woman of immense power and fury. That was why I picked Joyce Meyer. On her book covers, she looks like a nice, smiling lady. Happy, peaceful, la la la. But when she gets on an issue, one that she is passionate about, she mutates into this powerful force with words that are capable of knocking down buildings and false belief systems. I realize the Phoenix tried to destroy the world and that I am aware of, Meyer has not attempted a similar move. But I think, despite her detractors, she does try to destroy old thought patterns and I really liked her forcefulness in the book “Approval Addiction.” So for me, Meyer is Jean Gray.
John Piper = Daredevil
You will not be struck with fear when you see John Piper the first time. He’s a mild mannered looking fellow that one could think is an accountant or project manager for a small software firm. The same goes with Daredevil. Despite that miserable movie, he’s one of my favorite super heroes. I have about 250 of his comics in my garage. (Remember, I did not date in high school much.) And one thing they used to always do is have random street thugs try to attack Matthew Murdock when he was not dressed up like Daredevil. You see, he’s blind and looks like an easy target. But beware, he will break you down. Same goes with Piper. The chokehold he puts on prosperity ministry was impressive. Check it out:
Tim Keller = Professor X
Professor X is the mastermind of the X-Men. He is the brain behind the whole outfit and his known for his intelligence. I look at Keller the same way. He loves an intellectual challenge. He’s constantly wrestling tough issues and wasn’t afraid to take on Manhattan. And the world is noticing. The New York Times said, “he hardly shrinks from difficult Christian truths, [but] he sounds different from many of the shrill evangelical voices in the public sphere.” That is what I liked about Professor X. He never seemed to get that out of control excitement that heroes like the Thing struggle with or. He was calm, cool and ready to throw down if that’s what it took. Same with Keller.
Bill Hybels = Hannibal from the A-Team
I know this might bend the rules of the post a little, but at the end of the day, it’s a completely silly post that can’t be held to rules. (Besides, shouldn’t we be arguing about tattoos?) Hannibal is the cool headed, cigar smoking, always in charge leader of the A-Team. He was the man in control. He made the plans, changed the game and was not afraid to blow everything up if that’s what the mission took. I think Hybels is similar. Can’t you see him doing that Bono interview, with a cigar in hand, and all the sudden saying: “Oh yeah, I hear ya Bono. One time me, Ortberg and Piper, or the ‘P-Dog’ if you will, were locked into a warehouse at a book signing event. I built a bomb out of a toothpick and a piece of gum. Good times.” Plus, Hybels is willing to blow everything up if it’s not working. Here’s what he said about Willow Creek, “Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much.” Wow, that is some A-Team action right there.
Louie Giglio = the Green Lantern
You wanted me to call Louie Robin, because he came up in the game with Andy Stanley. But Robin is a sidekick and Louie is a lot more than that. The impact of his Passion Conferences is immeasurable and he’s touched a lot of lives in his own unique way. That’s why, to me, Louie is the Green Lantern. According to Wikipedia, the Green Lantern possesses a ring that gives him control of the entire physical world, depending on the strength of his will. The stronger his drive, the stronger his powers. Louie is like that too. His desire to rock our misconceptions about God is amazing. If you see him speak you can’t deny the burning desire and passion that overflows in his messages. And I could see him saying the Green Lantern’s catch phrase, For the dark things cannot stand the light, The light of the Green Lantern!” Plus, the Green Lantern was all about some outer space action and Louie did a whole series on space called “Indescribable.” And the Green Lantern had a hip outfit and Louie is a hip dresser. And the Green Lantern has dolphin mind control, which Louie also has, so there’s that. On top of it all, Louie is starting his own church in Atlanta. There are roughly 99 million churches in Atlanta and to start one now shows Louie’s Green Lantern like will to do God’s work. (Louie, if you’re reading this I live five minute from your office. If you haven’t staffed the “Director of Sarcasm” at your new church, please let me know.)
I promise, I will eventually stop writing about super hero pastors. But I have to cover Francis Chan, James Dobson, Bryan McLaren and a few others before I retire.
If I ever own a Christian bookstore called “Stuff Christians Buy,” I already know what my first bestseller is going to be. I’m going to package the movies Braveheart, the Matrix and Passion of the Christ together. It will be called “the fight, the future and the father.” And the headline on the posters will say stuff like, “It’s not a trilogy of movies, it’s the trinity of movies” or the simple but powerful, “Buy God’s favorite movies.”
One of the things we Christians like is famous pastors. I’m talking about the pastors with big ministries, big books and every now and then, big teeth. But I think it’s getting harder to keep them straight. There are so many. That’s why, in the vein of the GI Joe Bible guide, I decided to do a superhero guide to famous pastors. I’m sure someone has called Rick Warren “Superman” before but I sincerely doubt anyone has compared Beth Moore to Wonder Woman. Let’s begin:
Joel Osteen = Iron Man
According to the show “60 Minutes,” Joel Osteen can bench press 300 pounds, which is slightly more than I can. But that’s not why I think he’s like Iron Man. If you haven’t seen the movie, Iron Man is an incredibly rich, confident man named Tony Stark that develops a suit that helps him fight crime. Unlike almost every other superhero, he holds a press conference and actually tells the world he is Iron Man. I kind of feel that way about Osteen. Not that I have anything against him, but I don’t think he hates being on the cover of books and magazines and television shows. He seems like someone who, like Tony Stark, is not afraid of the spotlight. And he also has a giant iron world that spins behind him on stage, which seemed to be a perfect tie in to the Iron Man reference. Plus he got a $13 million advance for his last book so he’s rich like Iron Man.
Beth Moore = Wonder Woman
My mother in law would leg drop me if I ever said anything negative about Beth Moore. But regardless of that imminent danger, I don’t have anything bad to say. I just think she’s kind of like Wonder Woman. My wife is doing a Beth Moore Bible study right now with some other girls. Every now and then, when Moore ignites a passionate idea or a thought, her voice raises up from our living room like Wonder Woman. In my head I imagine Moore banging her wrists together like Wonder Woman. Scattering lies and Biblical confusion aside like so many bad guys and then climbing into her invisible plane and flying back to Texas. What? I’m the only one that thinks that? Fine.
TD Jakes = The Incredible Hulk
Why the Hulk? OK, which African American superhero would you have picked? It’s not my fault that there aren’t any good African American superheroes. Blame Marvel Comics and Stan Lee. I happen to think this one works though. Have you ever seen TD Jakes? I am pretty sure he could snap me like a twig. He’s a big, imposing dude. And the Incredible Hulk is no weakling. Plus, look at the titles of TD’s books, they sound like the name of Hulk movies, “He-motions,” “Overcoming the Enemy” or “It will come out in the fire.” (Spawn was African American but kind of creepy.)
Craig Groeschel = Spider Man
Groeschel is the lead pastor at Lifechurch.tv, what many people call the most influential church in America. I chose Spiderman because the one time I saw Groeschel speak, he was incredibly animated. He told a story about getting an electric shock while doing some plumbing. (Spiderman got his powers from being bitten by a radioactive spider. Groeschel got shocked. Both stories involve energy, coincidence?) He put his whole body into the story, virtually swinging about the stage as he told it. It was great, and reminded me of Spiderman.
Andy Stanley = Batman
Batman does not have any super powers. His strength lies in being incredibly prepared and incredibly smart. Andy Stanley is similar. If you look at him, he doesn’t physically look like the super pastor he is. He’s not that tall, he doesn’t have over tanned glowing skin or big teeth that blind you with their whiteness. He doesn’t look like Tony Robbins or someone famous. But like Batman, he seems to accomplish superhuman things. And Batman also had an established father in the city of Gotham, a widely respected man named “Dr. Wayne.” Andy has an established father in the city of Atlanta, a widely respected man named “Dr. Charles Stanley.” Batman had Alfred, a faithful employee that made the bat cave run. Andy has his secretary who is amazing and makes that office run. I could go on and on but I don’t want to play favorites.
Rob Bell = The Green Arrow
You are not like me. You probably dated instead of reading comic books in high school. So let me enlighten you about this one. The Green Arrow was a fancy superhero. He had a little green hat with a feather and the world’s most well manicured goatee. Does Rob Bell have a goatee? No, but you can’t tell me he’s not a little fancy. In some of the Nooma videos he has frosted tips/bleached blonde hair. As someone that once had highlights that brought out the dark charcoal nature of his eyes, I declare that to be fancy. And he’s single handedly started a trend with those glasses. Plus, the Green Arrow was a communist. He was known for having progressive ideas and stretching the way we think. Rob’s certainly not a communist but regardless of what you think, there’s no denying that he has some progressive ideas floating around in that head.
Billy Graham = Thor
Thor is a Viking superhero that seems to have been around for centuries. He’s incredibly powerful, feels at home in the mountains and is respected by all. Thor floats above the silly squabbles and was doing all of this when most other superheroes were still in diapers. Same with Billy Graham. He’s one of the founding fathers of famous pastors. He’s been at this for decades, calls the mountains of North Carolina his home and is respected by all. If I had accepted Lord of the Rings’ characters into this post he would have been Gandalf, but for now I feel good about Thor.
Rick Warren = Superman
Batman calls Superman “the boy scout” because he’s so good natured and humble. I feel the same way about Warren. I love that he didn’t insist on having his picture on the cover of his wildly successful book “The Purpose Driven Life.” I love that he gives 90% of his salary back to his church. And I love that even in the face of some serious family health issues he stands strong. Does Warren have the full head of hair that Superman has? Maybe not, but some days, I think he is indeed the man of steel.
Ed Young = Captain America
Captain America is like apple pie, Betsy Ross, eagles and everything else that represents America all rolled into one. I feel the same way about Ed Young. Hailing from Texas, which I personally do not mess with, he seems like the quintessential famous American pastor. He’s got this big, magnetic personality that seems to fill a room. He’s got a massive church and a ministry that is growing like wildfire. And he carries a round shield like Captain America that he throws at people he catches sleeping in his sermons. (OK, I made up that last part.)
Mark Driscoll = Hancock
Wow, how timely is this one. Hancock is the superhero movie Will Smith has coming out right now. In the film, he plays a reluctant hero that is rough around the edges and grittier than most other superheroes. That’s Mark Driscoll to me. He seems to be a little more raw, a little more direct than some of the other pastors I know. And he makes mistakes, which he admits and airs pretty openly. Which I dig. Plus, like Rob Bell, he tends to elicit strong emotion in people. You don’t feel OK about Mark, you love or hate him. And I think that’s a good thing. I don’t want middle of the road superheroes.
Am I wrong? Did I miss someone? Should Erwin McManus have been Wolverine? Hard to tell, but I hope this helps you distinguish between fa
mous pastors and that some day Andy Stanley will wear a Batman utility belt when he preaches. Is that too much to ask for?
Update: Of all the posts, this is the last one I expected to need to explain. I chose TD Jakes as the Incredible Hulk because TD Jakes is big. The Incredible Hulk is also big. TD Jakes wrote a book called “He-motions.” That sounds like something the Hulk would yell after throwing a Cadillac through a building, “He-motions!!!” Also, the Black Panther, Steel and War Machine are not well known enough. I have read comics for 20 years and never heard of War Machine. In the last ten years, has there been a single movie that made $100 million and gained worldwide fame in which a comic book super hero that was African American was the star? Technically, the movie “Blade” did come out in 1998, but have you ever looked at TD Jakes and thought, “Wow, he totally reminds me of Wesley Snipes?” And that I am aware of, Jakes has not supported the elimination of vampires as part of his ministry. I chose Hulk because it’s recent and fresh and people would know instantly what I meant. If they had recently released a movie called “Steel,” I would have compared Jakes to him. And it’s interesting that no one has raised a question about me comparing Mark Driscoll to an African American hero. I mean if the issue is that I didn’t get the race right, let’s argue about that too. I am not saying that means anything, but it is interesting. And Billy Graham technically does not have long braided blond ponytails or carry a war hammer like Thor. Underscoring all of this is that this is a silly post in which I say Beth Moore flies in her invisible plane back to Texas.
The other day, I went to Wal-Mart to purchase the Matrix DVD. I couldn’t find it, so I had the following conversation with the elderly gentleman running the movie department:
Me: “Do you have the move ‘The Matrix?'”
Wal-Mart Guy: “Is that a new movie or an old movie?”
Me: “It’s old. It’s been on television 900 times and is probably on TBS right now. It’s matrix with an ‘M.'”
Wal-Mart Guy: “Hmm, Matrix. Never heard of it.”
That was no big deal. He was not a fan of the movie. I was completely fine with that conversation except that it forced me to deal with my nemesis, Blockbuster. Why are they my nemesis? I’ll tell you.
When I was a freshman at Samford University, I won a “year of free movie rentals” from Blockbuster. As a fairly not rich college student without a car, that was close to a dream come true. I had this vision of me walking into Smith dorm and just making it rain movies. When I claimed my prize however, I quickly realized that Blockbuster and I have a very different definition of what a year of free movie rentals means. I thought it meant rent as much as you want. Blockbuster thought it meant here’s a coupon for one free movie every month for a year.
That’s when the hatred started and to be honest, it only got worse when they emailed me last year. Their email to me opened by saying, “we hope you’re enjoying your Blockbuster Online Membership!” They then proceeded to tell me why I was about to not enjoy my membership.
Basically, Blockbuster started an online program similar to Netflix. Since Netflix lost a court case and had to admit that they deliberately slow deliveries of your movies down if you rent too often, a process known as “throttling,” I decided to switch to Blockbuster.
The best part was that whenever I brought back an envelope with a DVD in it to the store, Blockbuster would mail it back to their distribution center and give me a free rental on the spot. It was a great deal and was their attempt to win back customers from Netflix. Since they don’t have stores, Netflix can’t compete with this business model. And so I switched to Blockbuster and for $9.99 a month enjoyed unlimited movie rentals. It was awesome.
But now that enough customers had returned to Blockbuster, they’re not concerned about Netflix anymore. That means, programs like unlimited rentals are no longer necessary to generate consumer loyalty. So now, instead of unlimited movie rentals every month, I have the ability to rent 2 per month. My plan went from infinite to 2. I’m not a math whiz, but that’s got to be a 99.999999% reduction in quality of service.
Needless to say, I hate Blockbuster. The interesting thing is that I think a lot of times I assume God is going to treat me just like they did. Right now, on the side, I’m writing some ideas about how nonsensical the story of the prodigal son feels. (He spends all his father’s money on hookers, comes home expecting punishment and instead receives a party.) Our world just doesn’t work the way that story does. When someone gets what they need from you, they tend to change the way they treat you. People are always more interested in your jokes when you’re interviewing them for a job. Car salesman treat you like the most important person on the planet until they close they deal. Advertising agencies win new business with their best creative talent but then often make their B-teams do the client work once the client has signed on so that the best and brightest can focus on finding new business. Blockbuster woos you with unlimited rentals until their main competitor is weakened and you don’t have another option to choose.
I worry that God is the same way sometimes. I know He forgave me and it was a big deal when I came back, but now that He “has me,” it can’t be the same can it? That probably sounds stupid, but I honestly struggle with that. I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog, but sometimes I find myself with an uncomfortable sense of fear. I feel like someone in a horror movie thinking, “this is quiet, too quiet.” It seems to good to be true. I keep waiting to get Rocky Mountain Tick disease or get fired from work unexpectedly.
But I don’t think that’s how God works. At the bare minimum, it’s not how his word reads. Here’s something I have written about in Psalm 126: 1-3:
1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,we were like men who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,our tongues with songs of joy.Then it was said among the nations,“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,and we are filled with joy.
I love those verses, in part because I don’t think there’s enough focus on laughter in Christianity. But more than that, I love that there’s not a “but” in there. It’s not “the Lord has done great things for them, but once He knew He had them He moved on to focusing on finding new people.” It’s not a one time event, joy is a life change. And, in an idea I hope to continue exploring, I have a sneaking suspicion that the welcome home party God throws us in the prodigal story, isn’t the last party. It might not even be the loudest.
Because unlike life and Blockbuster and almost everything else we’ve experienced growing up, I don’t think God’s love has limits.
Whoa, look at us being topical, conversing about a movie that is premiering this week.
I know some Christian ladies that like the show “Sex and athe City.” They watch it and laugh and secretly wonder what it would be like if the character “Mr. Big” ever became a Christian. (“He’s so dreamy and could totally take Patrick Dempsey’s character from Grey’s Anatomy in a fight.”) They are cool with the show. But if I ever asked them to watch the DVD version, they would slap me square in the mouth and say, “How dare you, how dare you indeed! Good day, sir.” (In my head, I have very fancy sounding friends.)
They don’t like the HBO version, they like the version the television station TBS plays. That one has a lot less nudity, adult situations, swearing etc. It’s like they dialed the Samantha character back a few degrees from “skanky” to “flirtatious.” And when they announced a movie version of the show was coming out I could see my friends quietly thinking, “I can’t wait to see that in three years on TV! Please, please, please TBS play an edited version.”
And I don’t blame them or judge them. I like when they show movies like Fight Club on television. I feel a little better about myself and think that God is up there in heaven saying, “What is that, 37% less swears? Good, yeah that’s good. Go ahead and watch that.” OK, He’s probably not saying that. I imagine He might be saying, “Less swears? I’m a swear monitor now? You’ve turned me into the FCC? Come on Jon. I’m bigger and wilder than that. I don’t ask you to not look at stuff like that because I’m a stiff. I ask you not to because what I’ve got for you is even cooler. And when you fill your head with other stuff it dilutes how much mental space you’ve got to enjoy my stuff, which I promise is sick.”
That’s what I think anyway.
Jon Acuff is the New York Times Bestselling author of four books including his most recent, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average & Do Work that Matters. Read More…