Friday, December 23, 2005

On Christians And Lions

The office is closed on the Eve of Christmas Eve, and a bunch of us are going to the movies instead of working. Based on the reactions of "those in the know," I'm banking that the Chronicles of Narnia will be pretty good.

Christians seem to really be excited about this movie, largely because Disney has spent big bucks making sure that we know about it, are talking about it, and - most importantly - spending our money on it.

This excitement is easily generated because of the message C.S. Lewis incorporated into the story: Aslan, the talking lion, gives his life in substitution for another, resurrects from the dead, and as a result, saves the world.

I have no doubt that the parallel was intentional, but I just don't get as excited as some do about the hidden gospel in movies. Some people seem to be able to find Jesus in every movie, which is an extremely annoying habit when they tell me about it. "Did you get that Darth Vader is a picture of the antichrist? And Obi-wan Kenobi is a typology of the Holy Spirit!"

"This movie would be a great witnessing tool," they assert. "It's a great illustration of God's love, Jesus' sacrifice, miraculous intervention, etc. "

I personally don't see the point. I kinda think that the gospel is a great witnessing tool on its own.

If you don't see or understand the allegory of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," numerous books have been written on the gospel message to be found in it. I don't want to belabor the point here. Especially since I find that my thoughts this morning are drifting elsewhere.

What I'm actually thinking about is that it seems to me I've seen lots of talking lions in the movies.

(You've just come to the realization that I am a simple man. Good. Now we're getting somewhere.)

There's definitely been a bunch (or more accurately, a pride). I'm pretty sure I can come up with quite a few, just off the top of my head. And so, my noble pursuit today is to try and come up with a list. ("Noble" was a feeble attempt at a lion pun. That was the mane reason I used the word. No doubt you're roaring with laughter. Now back to the list...)

I've already mentioned Aslan, the mysterious and powerful character in Narnia.

And of course there's the gimmee: The Lion King. This movie featured lots of talking lions: Nala, Simba, King Mufasa, Queen Sarabi, Sarafina, and Scar. (Lest you think I'm some sort of obsessive freak, I used the Internet Movie Database for three of those six names.) (Then again, in defense of my obsessive freakiness, I just noticed that "Nala" is "Aslan" spelled backwards with the "S" removed. Maybe this is intentional, but "Nalsa" sounded too much like Mexican dip.)

The Wizard of Oz's Cowardly Lion spoke, albeit in an annoying Yogi Bear sort of way. (Say, "Put 'em up" and "Mister Ranger, sir" in the same voice. You'll see what I'm talking about.)

Prince John was a talking lion in Robin Hood. I remember having a crush on Maid Marian after seeing this movie. (Keep in mind it was 1973 and I was five - even taken individually, those are two valid excuses for falling in love with a cartoon character.)

I believe King Richard also showed up in that movie as a lion. At very least, he would have been lion-hearted, so I think that counts.

This is where things begin to break down for me. I thought I remembered a lion in "The Jungle Book," but it was a false alarm. Through drawn almost identically to Robin Hood's Prince John, Shere Khan was a tiger. And the guy in "Beauty and the Beast" resides in my brain as a lion, but he's just... well, a beast.

I enjoyed "Secondhand Lions" quite a bit, but the movie's one lion didn't actually talk. She could barely roar.

So this isn't going very well at all. Suddenly, my huge list hasn't materialized, and I now seem to be at a total loss.

Since there wasn't much participation in the Christmas Wish List contest (translation: zero entries as of this writing), may I propose another venture? (Don't worry, this one's free - no purchase necessary.) Tell me what other talking lions you can think of. If none come to mind, then I'll accept entries of any large jungle cats in general, just so long as they have speaking parts.

There's no prize for this one, other than the obvious: The twisted sense of self-satisfaction you'll get from outdoing me.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Time For Giving... And A Contest!

There are over six billion human beings on the planet, yet as of this writing only three have sent me Christmas gifts. (This low number does not include senders of Christmas cards, you understand. There are lots of those, but I'm going for the sympathy vote here, so I've chosen to leave them out of the picture.)

I know you feel badly. Really.

But what am I here for, except to help you feel a little better? That's what I'm going to try and do. Not to appease your conscience... but simply to help you fulfill that earnest desire to make atonement for your neglect.

You may feel condemned that you've put it off too long. Let me reassure you: it's not too late. A quick internet shopping spree, a tip of the hat to UPS's three-day air service, and you'll make it. I know you can do it...

Lacking clever gift ideas? Again, no worries... my wishlist is just a mouse click away (over there... on the right). Currently featuring ten items guaranteed to make my life better, which by default may make your life more fulfilled. Or at least allow you to live with less guilt.

Strapped for loads of Christmas cash? Better hurry, 'cause the cheaper gifts are going fast. At least in a manner of speaking. (The manner of speaking that they call "lying.")

The first (and only, I might add) gift given to me from my wishlist was a set of little rubber feet to replace those which fell off my Mac PowerBook. Five tiny round rubber bits with sticky stuff on one side delivered in a colorfully-wrapped box with a bow. And I'm happy as can be. What a great reminder that cheap gifts are welcome when they're requested!

But as I said, those inexpensive items are disappearing at an alarming rate. (Translation: I'm alarmed they're not disappearing at much of a rate at all.)

Now, in a few minutes, I'll be headed out to a Christmas party. I do expect to be coming home with a present from this event: the infamous "white elephant" gift.

I've never been the recipient of a genuine albino pachyderm - those rare and sacred symbols of royal power. No, it's usually a regifted item. Sometimes, it's something quite nice. Other times, it's a crocheted hat or something equally laughable.

I'm sure you'll be interested to hear what I get.

Really interested.

Is it eating at your very core now? Good. What a great carrot to hold in front of you as an added incentive to buy me something!

So, here's the deal: you send me something on my wishlist, and I'll e-mail you a jen-yoo-ein photo of my white elephant gift in GIF or JPEG format.

But wait, there's more! In the interest of sparking a bit of friendly gifting competition, the person who sends me the item with the highest retail value will receive in return THE ACTUAL WHITE ELEPHANT ITEM! (Make sure to include your shipping address. Allow six to eight weeks for me to get around to it.) Remember, this gift is yet a mystery, even to me. It's a veritable recreation of the "Lucky Grab Bag" ad in the comic books... "A big surprise awaits you! Imagine what you'll receive!"

Now that the game is in play, you're probably desperately wondering where to ship these benefactions. ("Benefaction" is a fancy old word for "gift." I just got tired of using the same word repeatedly.) Just send 'em to the church address (9209 Ridge Road, Cheyenne, WY 82009) to my attention. I'll be sure to get them there.

And, come to think of it, that'll be a good place for me to be anyway, since all this coveting probably warrants a bit of repentance.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

6 Degrees Celsius And Separation

It was minus six degrees Celcius this morning. Never having excelled in science, I never discovered why exactly we need both Fahrenheit and Celcius. Seems like one would have been victorious over the other in the popularity battles, in the same way that the clearly inferior VHS format ousted Beta in the late 70's. (I'm still upset about that, so don't get me started.)

Of course, we Americans haven't submitted to the obviously superior metric system, with its ease of use, and uniformity among length, weight, and volume measurements. For some reason, we prefer doing the math of eighths to inches, twelfths to feet, thirds to yards, and 1,760ths to miles. Yeah, WE'RE brilliant.

In metrics, you just move the decimal around, and learn a few prefixes like "kilo" and "milli." But this is America, so most of us shut up and don't complain, fearing that someday the Craftsman wrench people will come after us.

All that is to say I don't expect 21 degrees Fahrenheit is going to be won over by -6 degrees Celcius.

Speaking of six degrees, there is a popular theory called "the Six Degrees of Separation." This is the idea that anybody on earth can be connected via relationship to anyone else through no more than six links.

It probably doesn't work out mathematically for xenophobes who live in the Montana woods, hunkered down in cabins surrounded by razor wire. But surprisingly, ever since the theory was proposed back in the 1920's, research has proven it out.

And this morning I've been thinking about how one might make the chain much smaller.

Schmoozing lots of people would help, certainly.

Additionally, certain actions can be beneficial for lessening the degrees. Take, for example, the Arkansas man who scaled the fence of the White House lawn six days ago and was arrested by Secret Service agents. These men have undoubtedly interacted with the President, who knows a lot of famous people. Suddenly, the guy's got two or three degrees of separation from just about everybody who's noteworthy. (Of course, he's also now in a psych ward, so that might prove a deterrent from actually interacting with any of the aforementioned celebrities.)

But I think the best way to shorten the chain is to get married, especially to someone outside of your current sphere of influence. Without doing the math or research, I'm guessing that action alone probably cuts the numbers cleanly in half.

Case in point: I discovered at a recent family-in-law reunion of sorts that I am related to a popular actor. One of his movie credits includes "Lenomy Snicket's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'", which then places me just one degree of separation from Jim Carrey. Mr. Carrey starred as the Riddler in the movie "Batman Forever." And Batman is the object of adoration of one of the employees here at the church.

So you see, by getting married I was able to reduce the six degrees of separation between me and one of my employees down to just four. Isn't that amazing?

I just figured you'd like to know that today. Now go do something productive. I know I need to.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Big World, Big Mistake

I made a grievous error on vacation this week. One which I expect will have ramifications for years to come, if not for the rest of my life.

We had decided to skip the standard tourist Florida fare and be a little unconventional. Staying at the Hard Rock Hotel, surrounded by such rock 'n roll memorabilia as Elton John's platform boots and Spinal Tap's Flying-V guitar, we seemed to be off the beaten path.

We bypassed Epcot and Disneyworld, choosing instead a Jazz Club and the Orlando Science Center.

Wanting to see alligators, we chose a wildlife preserve instead of one of the many "watch-the-crazy-man-stick-his-head-in-the-gator's-mouth" places.

I felt pretty good about the choices we'd been making. However, I did want to go snorkeling. Although that activity seemed pretty touristy, I felt that it was adventurous enough to be acceptable.

At dinner, while surrounded by family members who were unknown to me mere hours before, I mentioned my intentions. Most nodded in agreement, but one outspoken second-cousin-in-law told me I'd regret the choice.

I was pretty certain I wouldn't, but she pressed the issue. She said that snorkeling was largely unsatisfying. That it was voyeuristic, distant, and - worst of all - non-interactive. "Scuba diving," she said, "is what you should be doing."

The idea was tempting. But then reality set in. "I'm not certified," I protested. "I wouldn't be allowed to go."

She explained that there are many places in Florida that offer crash courses. A bit of training, and - before you know it - you're in the water.

She went on to describe the ocean as a doorway to another world. That scuba diving was like being Superman, flying weighlessly over the terrain of an alien planet. That it was incomparable to anything else I'd ever do.

Intrigued, I acquiesced.

Back at the hotel, I found a place and made the call. I was booked for private instruction on Sunday afternoon. After some training, I would be exploring a coastal reef and a century-old shipwreck.

This I did.

I don't have any desire to try to articulate the experience. But I do need to focus in on one disastrous moment, an instant when something happened which can only be described as terribly costly.

In about 20 feet of water, while examining fish of inestimable number and infinite variety, something hit me hard.

It wasn't the shark which I'd see several minutes later.

It wasn't the boat, anchored high overhead which had struck me.

Was it an embolism? A case of the bends? A coronoary infarction? No...

It was an addiction.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Esteem And Association

A lot of people tell me they're reading my blog now. And most of them tell me they wish I'd write more. I've tried to use the excuse that I can't think of much to write about, but in reality, that's far from true.

You see, the problem is that I can think of lots to write about, but that much of it would be just a little bit too "human" for those who come to this page because it's written by "Pastor Ron."

Oh, I understand the situation they're in. For years, pastors were my heroes. Chuck Smith, Chuck Missler, Jon Courson, Raul Ries, Skip Heitzig... the list could certainly go on much longer. I really was in awe of them. And the last thing I wanted to discover was their fallibility. That they could make mistakes, have a bad day, be prideful, foolish, sinful, or stupid was beyond my comprehension.

I didn't want human pastors. I wanted heroes.

Incredibly, there are now quite a few people in the world who view me in that same light. But, in spite of having been there myself, I simply cannot wrap my brain around it. From this other side, it is a total mystery to me.

Someone asked me the other night how it felt to have non-Christian family members who don't acknowlege my teachings and vast Scriptural knowledge. She asked if I was surprised that they didn't view me as someone special, as an important individual.

I told her that I really did understand her perspective in asking the question, but that in my mind, I'm honestly surprised that anybody listens to me at all, much less respects me!

I'm pretty sure she didn't believe me, though I was being completely sincere.

So I've been wondering lately, "How human is a pastor allowed to be?" It seems to depend on the person viewing them. Some who've seen too much of me say they're happy to know I'm a real guy. Others freak out and find another church, trashing me as unholy to as many people as they can along the way.

This sort of pedestal-placing has gone on for a very long time. Back in the first-century church God was using the apostles in pretty powerful ways.

"At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people... But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem." - Acts 5:12-13

They were held in high esteem, and people were afraid to hang out with them.

Sounds a bit too familiar to me.

All of that is to say I'm not sure how much hair I'm going to be letting down around here. This post itself may have already pushed the envelope too far and alienated some. But, if you're still reading, then I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts...