Archive for March, 2012

March 29, 2012

When in Rome…

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A look into the thought process of how I came to write this post.  See if you can follow:

For several years, I’ve been playing fantasy baseball.  For several years, I would make it to the finals of the playoffs in one of my leagues, but always lose and come in 2nd place.

Being a superstitious guy, I thought changing the name of my team would bring a better streak of luck.

Being from Connecticut, I was brainstorming clever names for my team to properly represent my home state.  But because Connecticut doesn’t actually have their own sports franchise, nor does anything rhyme with the name, you can see where my dilemma appeared (to find out what I would name a professional sport franchise from CT if ever given the chance or resources, read post here).

I thought of coming up with a team name affiliated with New York, because that’s where I was born and because I am a huge Yankees fan.  But the only mascot I could think of that rhymed with “Yankees” was the “Crankies,” and I didn’t feel like naming my team after a 4-year old after just having woke up from a midday nap.

I thought of incorporating Boston/Massachusetts because I have been living here for the past five, going on six years.  But because of my strong distaste for Boston sports teams, I couldn’t give in to having an exclusively, Boston-related team name.

I started thinking of names that incorporated all three states.  The New Yorkachusetts.  The Massayorkicuts.  The Reason-for-traffic-when-you-drive-from-NY-to-Boston.  But, as you can tell, nothing stuck.

Then I started looking up what people from each state were called.  For example, if you were from New York, you were obviously referred to as a New Yorker.  Did you know someone from Connecticut is either called a Nutmegger or Connecticuter?  Pretty lame.

While there are many names associated with Massachusetts residents (e.g. Bay Stater, Bostonian, Massachusite), one particular slang term caught my eye: the Masshole.  If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, the name is derived from exactly the word that first pops in your head.  And if you’ve ever been to Boston, or driven anywhere in the streets of Massachusetts, you will understand where that name comes from.

Having been a resident in MA for quite some time now, I will have to admit that I am slowly converting to becoming a Masshole.  Reckless driving, speeding, tailgating, turning without signaling, swerving in-and-out of traffic… the only things missing are the finger gestures and obscenities (some of which, I confess to have muttered under my breath).

Author H. Jackson Browne, Jr. once quoted, “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”  Besides the color and make of my car or my license plate, driving is one of those things that preserves my anonymity.  I can honk at someone for sitting at a green light, or cut someone off for driving too slow in the fast lane, because I know I’ll never have to confront that person face-to-face.  As long as I don’t get caught and can get away with it, it’s easy for me to live up to the name so many Masschusetts drivers merited until this point in history.

My aunt told me you can tell a lot about a person from the way they drive.  This is probably what she meant.

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Gospel Connection:  How are the fruits of the Spirit manifested in your life (Gal. 5:22-23)?  In what ways can you put to death the work of the flesh (vv.19-21)?  Do you look for recognition when a fruit blossoms in your life? Do you hide your identity when a desire of the flesh comes to surface?  How does Christ make a difference in the way you live, even if it is something as trivial as driving?

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
vv. 24-25 

March 15, 2012

Turning tables

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A couple months ago, I was manning the counter of my parents’ dry cleaners (as I usually do when I go home).  It was approaching closing time and I was the only one at the store.  The only thing I had on my mind was closing up shop and making my way home.  An elderly man walks in with nothing about him that jumped out at me, so to me, he was just another customer to get through before I punched out.  But the strangest thing happened when he started engaging with me in conversation:

Man: You must be their son.  Giving your parents the night off, ey? [Hands me his ticket for his clothes]

Me: Yeah, they could use one every now and then. [Retrieves his clothes and rings him up]

Man: What do you do now?  Are you still in school?  [Receives his change and lingers]

Me: I’m currently in grad school.  Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the North Shore of Massachusetts.  [Taken aback by his lingering and awkwardly standing there]

Man: [Smiles] Do you know John 3:16?

Me: [Even more befuddled at this point, stumbling:] … Er, yes.

Man: [Smiles even bigger] Good.  We need more people like you.

Me: [Pretending to do shuffle through the day’s tickets and cash register to seem busy] Thank you.

Man: [Turns to leave and exit the store] God bless you.

If you couldn’t tell from my stage direction, I was somewhat uncomfortable by the entire conversation.  But as I took time to reflect more on the episode in the following days, I began to wonder, “Why?”  Why did that conversation feel so awkward for me?  As someone going into ministry, it shouldn’t have been that unnatural for me to engage in such confrontations.  But there was something very evident about the fact that I wasn’t the one asking the questions in the conversation.  For someone who is used to doing the evangelizing, to be the one evangelized to was new territory.  On top of that, we were away from my comfort zones of the church and/or college ministry setting.  The tables were turned and I immediately felt that I was in a position of vulnerability.

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Gospel Connection: As Christians, we are all called to follow both the Great Commandments (Exod. 20; Deut. 5) and Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20).  The growing concern I’ve seen in the Church, and something I struggle with myself, is an overemphasis on the former over the latter.  Many Christians are comfortable with their faith because they’ve privatized it to their relationship with “me and God.”  But there is a distinct difference between a “private” faith and a “personal” one.  While everyone’s faith walk is personal in their own unique ways, it does not merit us to keep them private.

The beauty of the Church is that it is a body of confessing sinners.  Men and women of different cultures, from different background, and in different circumstances, can come together to worship the one true, living, and Triune God.  Despite what sins we may struggle with in our “private lives,” the Great Commission enables believers of Christ to be outwardly-minded and not inwardly focused.  My encounter with the elderly man helped remind me of this.  I was uncomfortable with his exposing my faith and wanted to hoard it for my own.  But what he did was show me the self-centeredness of my sin, and conveyed his own faith in utter humility and compassion.  Even as a future pastor, my own heart needs to be preached the Gospel every now and then (in most cases, everyday).

With the inceptions of iconic Christian figures like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin into modern society, it has been easier for younger believers to step forward in their faith.  But we must be careful not to claim our allegiance to such influential figures of popular culture, and see Who it is that they are pointing to themselves.  What is personal about your own spiritual journey?  In what ways are you “un-privatizing” your relationship with Christ within the Church and beyond?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Romans 1:16-17 

March 5, 2012

Not so prestigious

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A couple weeks ago I was able to watch the movie The Prestige, starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman.  Though I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie here and there, I was never able to enjoy the whole film in one sitting.  Before hitting play, I was eager to be deceived by plot twists, wow’ed by magic tricks, and taken on a compelling mystery-ride.  But by the end of it, I was left quite a bit disoriented and somewhat nauseous.  While all the elements of screenplay were extremely satisfactory (acting, directing, writing, cinematography, etc.), it was the underlying theme of the movie that leaves the audience disconcerted.  Let me explain.

The Prestige opens with Michael Caine narrating the sequence of any magic trick.  Said tricks occur in three stages: 1) “the Pledge” consists of the magician introducing his/her illusion by showing the audience something ordinary (e.g. a bird); 2) “the Turn,” and aptly named so, shows the magician then doing something extraordinary to his ordinary object (i.e. making the bird disappear); but making something disappear isn’t enough, because the true twist in the act is found lastly and most importantly in, 3) “the Prestige.”  Only when the magician makes the bird reappear will the audience applaud.

The story centers around the rivalry between two magicians (Bale and Jackman), and the entire movie is sequenced with attempt after another to outdo the other magician.  Primarily fueled by revenge and pride, both characters will do whatever it takes to come up with the better illusion.

SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this post will disclose the ending of the movie, thereby spoiling it for those who have not and still plan on watching it.

Most of the movie deals with an illusion called the “Transported Man,” whereby the magician is instantaneously transported from one part of the stage to another (see clip here).  While both Borden and Angier (Bale and Jackman’s characters, respectively), can successfully pull of the act as an illusion using doubles of themselves, they both strive to make the trick a reality.  Angier’s life-long quest focuses around having a machine built for him that would do just this.  When it is finally made ready, he is able to pull off the greatest illusion of all time… or so it would seem.

Amidst many layers within the plot, the audience is revealed one cruel secret at the end of the movie.  Instead of having the machine transport the subject to another space, what it actually does is duplicate the subject.  So, viewers are led to believe that while Angier successfully performed this trick ten’s of times in front of live audiences, he was hiding a significant part of the Prestige of his act.  As opposed to teleporting Angier to the top balcony, as his audience is made to think, the machine clones him.  Then, the apparatus is configured so that one of the clones is shot down a trap door on stage and entrapped in a locked water tank left to drown, while the other carries out the Prestige as the audience is meant to see.  In essence, every time Angier performed the “Transported Man,” he was killing a clone of himself.

In a chilling dialogue between Borden and Angier during the closing scene, the latter states in a composed manner, “No one cares about the man in the box.”

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Gospel Connection:  We would kill ourselves over 100 times to get what we want.  For the sake of revenge, in the name of honor and a good reputation, and even if it means harm to those around us- loved ones or enemies- we would willingly give ourselves to wages of sin and death.

The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus already died that death.  And He only had to do it once.  In that single act on the Cross, after he cried “It is finished,” all the glory and honor we could ever want or need was given to us by the only one who could pay that price.  So now, we can live in the victorious triumph of the Resurrection and have a hope that withstands all adversity.  Christ died so that we could live, and humiliated himself so that we could have prestige.