I dismissed the original Kung Fu Panda when it first came out, but I’ve seen it with new eyes, and partly through the eyes of my children. It’s a delightful movie, not only because of its great animation, top-notch fight choreography, and well-timed humor, but also because it is has unexpected depth. This depth is made manifest the most in the character arc of the cynical kung fu master, Shifu.
The popularity of Stoicism is on the rise, and it’s not hard to see why. It offers some sense of direction and purpose to a generation that is lost and has been taught from birth that everything is meaningless. It speaks some hard truths people are desperate to hear. It calls for responsibility and discipline and is above all a very practical philosophy, with maxims to practice and do.
It also has the advantage of having a large body of literature that is accessible and readable, and the Stoics should probably we required reading for all people of the West.
A pagan could do much worse than Stoicism. Though ultimately, it can lead to despair. Just read up on the lives of some popular Stoics and how their lives ended. Or how they wrote about suicide.
One of the other dangers, I think, is a cultivation of ingratitude. This isn’t unique to Stoicism, but it can fester in unique ways.
Take this quote from Marcus Aurelius:
“Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood. Or making love – something rubbing against your penis, a brief seizure and a little cloudy liquid. Perceptions like that – latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time – all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust – to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.”
If this is the lens you start to see everything through, your life will start to seem rather drab and dreary. True, it will help inoculate you if you ever lose access to the finer things…but to what end? What if the vaccine is worse than the disease?
Better the Christian way. In everything, give thanks. Everything is sanctified through thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4-5). All things are a gift from God. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and either way, blessed be the name of the Lord. It was never ours to begin with. We were just stewards for a time.
Enjoy them, but let them point you to the One who is eternal and never-changing.
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” – Psalm 34:8
“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” – Ecclesiastes 9:7
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” – Isaiah 25:6
“May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” – Proverbs 5:18-19
This is how the Bible talks about these things. Revel in the legend that encrusts them, because the creator of the legend was God himself, and it turns out that when you get through the crust, it’s still legend all the way down.
Stoicism wants us to see things as they really are. But that’s only possible through unrelenting gratitude and the eyes of faith.
A Father’s Day sermon. Cross-posted from Eastland Church of Christ.
Passage: Malachi 4:5-6
This centrality of fatherhood should not really surprise, because the relationship between the Father and the Son is the central relationship of the gospel itself. God the Father sends his only Son, and the Son obeys the Father. The Father gives the Son honor and recognition, while the Son is the perfect image of the Father, imitates the Father, and points others to His Father.
And make no mistake. When I say that the relationship between God the Father, and Jesus the Son is the cornerstone of the gospel, I don’t mean it’s the cornerstone of what we practice here in this building…though it is that. I don’t mean that it is the cornerstone of our personal ethics…though it is that. I also don’t mean that it is the cornerstone of our personal salvation…even though it certainly is that.
When I say that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is the cornerstone of the gospel, I’m saying that it is the cornerstone of creation itself. Of the cosmos. Of the very fabric of reality. The pew you are sitting on holds together because the Father loved the Son. It all goes back to that fact.
The world was created, God spoke us into existence, so that He could send His only Son to be slain. The world was created, God spoke us into existence, so that his Son would be glorified. Reality itself is founded on the desire of the Father to enthrone His Son with all authority in heaven and on earth.
And this Father, who is source of all life, who is the source of all love, gives us, His creatures the same name that He has given Himself. The name that we are taught to call Him in His infinite glory – Father – is the name he requires us men to bear. Just dwell on that for a second.
This is a great privilege. But it also represents a heavy responsibility.
I’ve been watching Trollhunters, a Netflix original series, with my kids lately. We’ve all been enjoying it. It’s well-produced, full of thrilling action scenes that bounce around an epic mythology and a diverse array of characters.
If you’re a fan of the vision of Guillermo del Toro, as exemplified in movies like Hellboy and Pan’s Labryinth, you’re in for a treat. Trollhunters is overflowing with the same colorful, zany design. (And also, Ron Perlman). As such, it can be a bit dark and scary, but this makes it more thrilling when the darkness is chased away.
While I can’t give it an unqualified thumbs up as appropriate for all kids, there is one lesson it bestowed that bears repeating, one that we would all do well to take to heart.
One of the main characters, a big troll named (I kid you not) AAARRRGGHH!!!, is a self-avowed pacifist, trying to atone for his violent past. His principles are tested and reiterated at several points throughout the show. About halfway through the series, however, he violates his pacifism to save the life of Toby, his human friend. He deals a killing blow to a dangerous killer troll.
Toby looks in shock at his friend. “AAARRRGGHH!!! Your oath!”
And AAARRRGGHH!!! says, “Your life more important.”
This highlights a profound truth. It is found everywhere in Scripture. Some principles are greater than others. Jesus says that there are two commandments that are the greatest. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. When he says these are greater than the others, I take it to mean that they are greater than the others.
And the character of AAARRRGGHH!!! understands the “love your neighbor” part more than most.
If we don’t put “love your neighbor” in its proper place, then we descend into self-righteousness, similar to the Pharisees. They would tithe from their spice rack, and declare that all they had was to be given God…and then neglect their own mothers. It sure looked and sounded great.
If my family is assaulted, I can sound high and mighty, and act superior by citing verses like “turn the other cheek” or “love your enemies,” and use them as a cover for cowardice while sounding extra holy and pious. If I fail to do something, what I’m really doing is hating my family. Hating the neighbors God has put directly under my charge.
This is one reason why the Bible has such a nuanced view of deception. The Hebrew midwives, when commanded to kill all the baby boys, lied to Pharaoh. To be honest in that situation would have been hating their neighbors. And God blesses them for their dishonesty.
Our principles are just something else we can end up boasting in, puffing ourselves up. But we should be careful to boast only in one thing.
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14
We are called to lay down our own lives. But we don’t get to choose to lay down the lives of others. Those are the very lives we should be cherishing more than our own.
This can play out in many different ways in our modern world as well. We are susceptible to the language and rhetoric of compassion, all the while harboring a hatred and contempt for our neighbors. If you have offered support for taking care of the poor or taking in refugees…and then “volunteer” someone else’s time, resources, and/or money, you are guilty of this.
Likewise, a friend should not seek to hurt another friend. But in some cases, the loving thing to do is to deliver a properly timed wound. “Niceness” isn’t necessarily a Christian virtue, and coddling can be just as hateful as a knife in the back.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6
“On these hang all of the Law and the Prophets.” Your neighbors life is more important than the letter of the law.
“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6
Discerning the correct path in a given situation isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, it requires a lifetime of practice (Hebrews 5:14), of honed wisdom. If it requires a quick decision, it becomes even harder.
But maybe AAARRRGGHH!!! the troll can can give us some valuable insight.
How do we engrain a love of our neighbors so that it becomes habit, engraved on our hearts and minds?
Luke 2 has at least two potential structures that its stories are organized around, and neither are mutually exclusive. Both are supported and framed by the mentions of hearts, most notably Mary’s.
First, we have a conventional chiasm:
A - Mary treasures and ponders things in her heart (2:19) B - In the temple - Simeon (2:20-33) C - Rising and Falling - thoughts of hearts revealed (2:35) B'- In the temple - Jesus (2:41-50) A'- Mary treasures things in her heart (2:51)
The center is about the rising and falling of many in Israel, and of a sword that will pierce Mary’s soul. The secret thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
All of this happens during Jesus’ ministry, and it is just exactly when the pondering inside of Mary’s heart would come to the forefront, the whole reason Mary is keeping these treasured moments. When what Mary stores up is revealed, so are the hearts of many others. See also Romans 2:16.
The second structure is a set of three parallel sequences:
A - Trip to the manger (2:16) B - Message given to Jesus' parents about the child (2:17-18) C - Mary's heart (2:19) A - Trip to the temple (2:22-27) B - Message given to Jesus' parents about the child (2:28-33) C - Thoughts of hearts revealed (2:34-35) A - Trip to the temple (2:41-47) B - Message given by Jesus' to his own parents (2:48-50) C - Mary's heart (2:51)
Some interesting comparisons come up. The manger (and the child) is in place of the temple. Jesus will be the one who makes clean and forgives sins, and so will end up being the true temple, so this makes perfect sense. We should be expecting it.
And then Jesus himself is in place of the messengers. Others have been speaking about him, but now he speaks for himself. The Word made flesh is not only the consummation of the Law (the temple being the prime symbol), but also the Prophets. God now speaks through his Son (Heb 1:1-2), and we should listen (Luke 9:35).
The replacement hinted at begins to take place in the very next chapter, with John the Baptist’s imprisonment and Jesus’ anointing.
There might also be structure in the progression of reactions to the various messages from heaven. People wonder about the message (2:18). Joseph and Mary are amazed about the message (2:33). Finally, Joseph and Mary are confused about the message (2:50).
This tends to follow the same trend as Jesus’ ministry. People are amazed…but then also get very confused.