Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why I Don't Believe in the Occult

Conservative Christendom has long criticized films, books, TV series, games, and other media that have anything to do with witchcraft or the occult. The argument is that it lets in the demonic and exposes people (especially young ones) to dark forces. I've never been convinced of this. In fact, I've very much enjoyed several of the criticized franchises, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Harry Potter, and Hocus Pocus.

I've more recently realized why I probably have never felt threatened by this media. They all rely on formulaic interventions to impact how the powers that be work in the world. I don't believe God or the spiritual world works like that. God doesn't fit in the IFTTT (if this then that) workflow. He's far more relational.

Would potential dark forces work in a more formulaic way, then? Perhaps. But I don't see much evidence of formulas ever being the way things work in any Christian sacred texts. And I don't think gathering a few specific items and saying an incantation in a particular way would automatically please some dark being.

Magic like this just doesn't exist in this world. Magic from the perspective of awe, imagination, and wonder (as in Disney magic) is very much real, but that's a totally different arena.

Maybe Screwtape has pulled one over on me, and I'll quickly fall because l don't see the threat of the occult. But I frankly see no evidence that the spiritual works on formulas. Frankly, very little of the world, especially when involving humans, is truly as formulaic as these representations of the occult.

Sometimes I wish the world were more formulaic. It would be far easier to predict behavior and how things would work out. In fact, I think it is the human desire for clarity and confidence that leads us to try to find regular causal connections between things. If we can identify clearly defined formulas, then we have more control over the world (even the Divine), which soothes any anxiety we have about the ambiguity of life.

Because I don't believe the world, especially the spiritual world, operates on formula, then entertainment involving any form of magic is just that--entertaining fun. It's not a threat because it's not real. Frankly, I find the greater danger is believing that we can control ourselves, our world, and even God through rituals.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Too Positive

I realized I have experienced a decent variety of congregations. Some uber-casual, some more formal. Some "therapeutic," some more legalistic. I have generally agreed with more positive theology, focusing on transformation rather than hell, fire, and brimstone. At the same time, I've become increasingly uncomfortable in settings where everyone always seems so happy and the goal seems to be happiness.

I do believe that God ultimately wants us to be happy, but that's not the ultimate goal. I would argue that being filled with love (received and given) is much more of the goal. While love can make us happy, it can also cause a lot of pain and suffering. Too much focus on needing to be happy, and we can invalidate the negative emotional experiences that are natural in life.

Some would argue that we can simply choose to be happy. I'm sorry, but that's just plain wrong. Emotions are rarely chosen. Our behaviors can be, and we can influence our emotions. Some people have a biological tendency to be less likely to be triggered toward negative emotions. Blessed are they. But telling others that they can simply choose to be happy can be quite damaging and short sighted. The invalidation can actually lead to greater negative emoting.

We need to be aware of how our best intentions can hurt others. I actually believe the "therapeutic" church has a lot of good to offer people that is straight from God. But we can't miss the need and beauty of sitting in the suffering and muck. Solely discussing the positive side of emotions and life is often used to help us regain hope. However, I have also seen it do exactly the opposite, shaming people into feeling like they're not good enough because they're not happy.

Finding the balance of looking toward the ideal and hope while sitting in the valley is a challenge, especially on a congregational scale. My hope and prayer is for all of us to continue to try to be aware of the different places people are coming from and use our more global voices to be sensitive to this diversity.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Star Trek v. Wars

I have long loved Star Trek. In fact, I wore a Star Trek uniform for my 4th grade school pictures (TNG is the best, by the way). Recently, my wife and I have been going through the Star Wars films again (I own them all :) ), and I was reminded how much I really love Star Wars, as well. I saw a comment elsewhere that we have to remember that many people are fans of both Trek and Wars (but Trek is better).

It's been getting me thinking about the true differences between the two, not just the surface difference of more action in Wars than Trek. For some reason, it just recently hit me that the titles really reflect a lot of the fundamental difference (duh :) ). Trek really is about exploration and the journey of development. Wars is about... war. So it makes sense the latter has more action while the former is more focused on science. I think this is why Trek is such an enduring deeper interest for me. I'm not interested in the elements of exploration and development than just action and adventure.

In watching the special features for Episodes 1-III of Star Wars, it's so clear how visual George Lucas is. It makes a lot of sense why the Wars films have so much action. He actually explicitly stated that some scenes are all about visual storytelling, not the dialogue. In contrast, Ben Burtt (the sound designer for both the Wars films and the JJ Trek) talked about how his first exposure to TOS was just hearing audio recordings of the first several episodes. Because the dialogue, descriptions, and sounds were so good, he could visualize everything that was going on. Others often commented in reinvigorating Trek recently that Trek battles were more like "submarine warfare"--slow and dialogue-driven. That's what Abrams has been trying to change a bit. While I like traditional Trek, I really appreciate the revamped Trek, as well.

In some of the special features of the 2009 Star Trek film, JJ Abrams and others commented that Trek is about our future, while Wars is "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." Roddenberry had an exceedingly positive view of humanity, and Trek is all abut optimism and building hope for developing a strong future for us. Wars is more a great saga about something that might have been.

I think these elements together really help to explain why Trek can actually become a way of life for some people (if you aren't familiar with this, watch either of the Trekkies documentaries--fascinating). I haven't heard of Star Wars fans taking things to that level. Trek has inspired scientists and encouraged real-life growth and development.

For me, Star Wars is a lot of fun, but it doesn't necessarily leave me with deep, lasting impacts. I love the moral and ethical dilemmas posed regularly in Star Trek. I find so much more to dialogue with, especially when applying spiritual values. There's definitely some of this in Wars (particularly the Jedi philosophy and traditions), but it just doesn't feel as rich to me. I think it's for this reason that Trek seems better in a serialized TV format, allowing for a slower pace, while Wars is more appropriate for the big screen. Both have done well in both arenas, but we'll see how it goes as JJ becomes a sci-fi uber-god, having a major hand in bringing back both franchises!

I'll always enjoys Wars and will definitely see the new ones in theaters (heck, I did a midnight showing for Episode III), but Trek will always have my heart. Who's with me?! ;)


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).