Category Archives: Culture War

The Greatest Showman: The God Who Is a Dreamer of a Million Dreams

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All truth is God’s truth.  Great Christian thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, all believed it.  Whether it is spoken in Scripture or found in a Hollywood movie, truth is from God.

Recently I learned some truth from Hollywood.  I have to admit, I absolutely love the movie The Greatest Showman.  This soundtrack has replaced the Rocky IV soundtrack as my favorite.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I made such an emotional connection with this musical.  I’m the kind of guy who would rather watch Die Hard, American Sniper, and baseball than musicals.  Yet, I cannot remember any other movie that I paid money to see in the theaters three times!  What is it about The Greatest Showman that makes me want to see it again and again?  Is it the tremendous vocals, the catchy tunes, the inspirational songs?  Is it the storyline and characters with which I identified?  Is it the triumph of love over tyranny?

Yes, yes, and yes.  But, my fascination with this movie goes beyond all that, beyond the celebration of the human experience that Hollywood was offering with this film.

Believe it or not, this movie, this product of Hollywood, an industry that is committed to secular humanism, helped me see God in a million ways, the Greatest Showman who created the greatest show just by speaking it into existence (Genesis 1:3) and breathing life into His dreams (Genesis 2:7).  Though it was probably not the intention of the director or producers, in each scene I found a little piece of an infinite God, a God of endless possibilities, a God who is a Dreamer of a million dreams.

ecclesiastes-3-11“He made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:11

I know there will be some super spiritual theologians who will point out the humanistic messages in this movie, like family is most important, or we can create our own worlds and improve ourselves through our own efforts, or that my comparisons of some of the characters to God breaks down.  I certainly do not elevate this movie to the level of Scripture.  But, even God used a donkey to convey a message (Numbers 22:22-35), and a wicked king to prophesy (1 Samuel 19:18-24), so He can certainly use Hollywood to speak His word.

Even the parables Jesus used broke down theologically at some level. For example, in the prodigal son, God is represented by the father who is a man, but a man is a singularity, not a Trinity (Luke 15:11-32).  So, the image of God in the parable of the prodigal son is incomplete.  Like Paul did at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34) in using creations of men to point to God, with this article I am gleaning truth from Hollywood to point to God.

We were created in God’s image with the ability to “create” as well, and we were given a cultural mandate to take dominion over creation. So, in a sense, we do get to live in a world we design, under God’s sovereignty of course (Genesis 1:27-31).  Unfortunately, the dreams mankind has dreamed for himself has created an ugly, selfish world.  We no longer dream God’s dreams.

A Million Dreams
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be (Genesis 1:1-2)
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make (Genesis 1:26)

In the scene where the young Phineas dreams of a life beyond his poverty, he sings my favorite song from the movie “A Million Dreams.”  (To get the full effect of the impact this movie had on me you have to read this article while listening to the movie soundtrack.)  Ithe greatest showman young barnum imagined God singing these lines as a child who is excited about the possibilities of the future.  Before you think I’ve fallen into the heresy of “open theism,” hear me out.  I know God is infinite and that He knows the outcome of every possibility.  Yet, like a child, He still exults in an outcome He already knows is certain!  In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton wrote

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, G_K_Chesterton-208x300therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.[1]

I connected with this film in a million ways because I identified with several of the characters.  With the older Phineas Barnum because I have been pursuing my own dreams for my own sake, and the dreams that came true in front of me were never enough.  With Phillip Carlyle because I am conflicted between wanting the comforts of my own world, but yet wanting something that brings joy.  With theatre critic James Gordon Bennett because I cannot seem to find joy in the role that I play in this life.  With the freaks and oddities of the Barnum Circus because I feel ignored and kept at a distance, not invited to the party.  With Mr. Hallett, Phineas’s father-in-law, because I tend to be someone who is interested in killing people’s dreams instead of being a dreamer myself.

amilliondreamscharity.jpgI am a cynic. A realist.  A pessimist.  Even, perhaps, a fatalist.  I tend to just resign myself to endure God’s will rather than embrace it with joy because it is the best thing for me.  But, every time I watched this movie I found myself wanting to be like Charity who longs for the dreamer to carry her along with his dreams.  This movie drew me to the Dreamer whose plans were for Israel’s good (Jeremiah 29:11), whose dreams are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), who can do anything (Matthew 19:23-30).

However big, however small
Let me be part of it all
Share your dreams with me
You may be right, you may be wrong
But say that you’ll bring me along
To the world you see
To the world I close my eyes to see
I close my eyes to see

These few lines from “A Million Dreams” have become my prayer.  They sum up why I so emotionally connect with this movie.  I want to be swept up in God’s dreams.  I want to share in them, whether my part in it all is big or small.  My realism does not seem to be real anymore.  I have been living in a gloomy fantasy world of my own design.  This movie helped me see that I am tired of my pessimism and now I long for something real.  Just like Phineas, I have been dreaming my own dreams for my own glory.  I am finding out, like Phineas, that these dreams will never be enough for me because I’m dreaming the wrong dreams.

I want to hope in something bigger than my own dreams.

The kind of faith found in Hebrews 11 is about an irrepressible hope in God’s dreams for a world that right now we close our eyes to see!  I may not know what God is doing. (You may be right, you may be wrong.)  What he does may seem right or wrong to me, but I trust that His dreams are the best, and that He never makes mistakes.  I want to be likehebrews11-6-1 those listed in the Hall of Faith, trusting that God will fulfill all that He promised even though I cannot see it. (To the world I close my eyes to see.)  “…for we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7.  Walking by faith is not about blindly going through life avoiding evidence.  Faith is about trusting in Someone who is trustworthy, who will do all that He promised.  With man, salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

For fame and fortune, Phineas creates a show to shock his customers, something that’s hyperbolic.  A show that isn’t real but brings joy to the dull, even banal lower class life.

The Greatest Show
Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for
Been searching in the dark, your sweat soaking through the floor
And buried in your bones there’s an ache that you can’t ignore
Taking your breath, stealing your mind
And all that was real is left behind

He even compares himself with a preacher who hoodwinks congregants to believe in something not real.  The comparison of religion to fantasy is troubling, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.

It’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open
It’s a preacher in the pulpit and you’ll find devotion
There’s something breaking at the brick of every wall it’s holding I’ll let you now, so tell me do you wanna go?

Phineas succeeds, but his success is not enough.  He wants to gain acceptance in the upper crust of society.  The only way to do that is to bring the social elite something phineas jenny share stage“real.”  He pursues this dream of joining the upper class, but he walks over all those who helped him succeed.  Phineas ultimately discovers, after all his success burns to the ground, that family is all that is true.  This “truth,” however is incomplete.  We might find contentment in family, but family will never satisfy us because God has placed eternity in our hearts.  We will never be satisfied until we become part of His family.  C.S. Lewis affirmed this principle when he said in Mere Christianity “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[2]

I saw a song of redemption and reconciliation in “Rewrite the Stars.”  The Groom wooingrewritethestars His bride, declaring His desire for her.  The bride feeling hopeless and unworthy.  The Groom gently reassuring His bride that she is His destiny if only she would believe in Him.  He has given His all for her, and wants nothing less than all of her.

Rewrite the Stars
All I want is to fly with you
All I want is to fall with you
So just give me all of you
[Bride] It feels impossible
[Groom] It’s not impossible
[Bride] Is it impossible?
[Singing together][Bride sings] Say that it’s possible [Groom sings] See that it’s possible

This movie awoke something in me that made me come alive.  Dare I say “resurrected” something in me?  After years of praying for a tender heart, watching this movie made me realize how long I have been living for my own dreams.  Chasing accolades from my vocation and my writing, estimating my value on the number of Facebook “likes” and favorable blog stats.  I’ve always lived in the future, always seeing my life as a stepping stone to something else.  Never satisfied with where I am at.  Never giving all of me in the moment because I have been saving some of me for the future version of me.

My dreams for me, I realize now, will never be enough.  These temporal dreams cannot fill the longing for eternity.

From Now On
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for

My pessimism made me believe that everything I wanted for my life would satisfy.  I just had to keep worshiping myself, reaching for more for me.  This movie made me “remember who all this was for.”  And from now on, I want to be all in, through the highest heights to the lowest lows.  I want to give my all to God because He has given all to me.

And from now on
These eyes will not be blinded by the lights
From now on
What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight
It starts tonight
And let this promise in me start
Like an anthem in my heart
From now on

God’s dreams come true over and over again (Lamentations 3:22-23).  This theatrical encore of God’s dreams makes me want to stand and applaud, wanting more.  This movie drew me towards this Greatest Showman that I just can’t help but worship.

We were all created to worship.  All of us.  The secular humanist along with the most devoted Christian.  All of us have eternity inside of us, a longing for Someone that nothing in this life can satisfy.  The following video is a good illustration of this point:

We were all created to worship.  When the music picks up in the video above, the ensemble in the room couldn’t help but do what they were created for.  Something in them was stirred when they sang about coming back “home.”  Worship is infectious!  Didfromnowonworship you see how even those who were not there to sing this song just wanted to be part of it too?  Did you wish you could have been there, too?  They all may not have known that they were worshiping or whom they were worshiping. They may not have realized that the “eternity” God has placed in their hearts was yearning to worship the Greatest Showman who dreamed each one of them into existence.  But, they worshiped with gusto, longing to “come back home again.”  Deep was crying out to Deep, longing for the world for which they were made.

How much more, we who are redeemed should worship because we know of whom we worship and why we worship!  We know of the world we were created for that is promised to us, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We know where home is, and we know He is enough!

Like a child that exults in the monotonous, I want to watch this movie and listen to this soundtrack over and over again.  Never tiring of dreaming of God’s dreams that keep me awake!  So, thanks to Hollywood, I have awoken to the dreams God has for His world, a world more real than the one we see with our eyes, and His dreams include me.  I’ve renewed my covenant with God and it sings like an anthem in my heart.  From now on I want to exult in the million dreams God has for me.childexultinmonotony

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[1]
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: John Lane Company, 1908), reprinted (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 65-66.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1952), reprinted (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 136-37.

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The Illogic of Atheism

What is more illogical, the existence of free will, or a determinist who is open to having his choice to believe in determinism changed by the evidence?

But, if determinism is true then I guess George had no choice but to hold an illogical position.

God’s Not Dead 2: A Movie That Scores on Its Own Net

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God’s Not Dead 2 is the second installment in the popular Christian films series.  The first film, God’s Not Dead, hit theaters in 2014.  The plot of that movie featured a Christian college student who accepted a challenge from his atheist professor to convince the class of God’s existence.  The third film, God’s Not Dead 3, is scheduled to be released in the Spring of 2018.

God’s Not Dead 2 (2016) depicts the persecution of a Christian public school teacher who was sued because of her mention of Jesus in the classroom.  Grace, a dedicated history teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial High School, taught a lesson on how Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi both used non-violent methods to effect major social change in their countries.  A student asked whether Jesus’ statement to “Love your enemies” was similar.  The teacher agreed and mentioned how Martin Luther King, Jr. was heavily influenced by Scripture.  She was disciplined by the school board, and sued by the ACLU for violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  This storyline resonates with Christians in America where bakers, florists, photographers, and the like, are losing their businesses because their convictions clash with the popular secular humanist ethics of the day.

The movie has a few side plots to go along with the main story.  A female reporter/blogger, Amy Ryan, a former antagonist to Christianity, discovers her cancer is in remission.  (See God’s Not Dead for more on this storyline.)  Now, she is struggling with godsnotdead2athoughts that her new-found faith was merely an emotional response to her cancer.  She begins a journey to explore this faith now without the interference of that crisis.  This subplot of a miraculous cure for cancer after conversion and prayer has the tendency to perpetuate the thinking that prayer will always be answered the way we want, and that all you have to do to be healed is to believe hard enough.  As any Christian who has been tested will tell you, that is not the case.  (Here is an example of what I mean from my own life experience.)  The subplot, however, is not too over-the-top with Christian emotionalism that leaves sound doctrine in the shadows.  The movie awkwardly gets free-lance reporter, played by Trisha LaFache, involved in the lawsuit when her niece, played by Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, asks for her help.  Her role was supposedly to get the word out that a Christian school teacher was being persecuted for her faith.  This part of the movie has no real flow, or believability.

Pastor Dave Hill, played by David A.R. White, seems to be going through a slump.  He stubs his toe at breakfast, has iced coffee spilled down the front of his shirt, and he inadvertently dumps his coffee when trying to unlock the church office door.  The slump continued with the mail: bills, bills, bills, junk mail, and, to top it off, a jury summons.  In his rut, he seems to be questioning God’s purpose for his life.  As the lawsuit moves on, that purpose is to be Juror No. 12.  He is a pastor with a cynical outlook on life, as portrayed by his reading the newspaper instead of paying attention to his online jury orientation.  He figures, as 1 of 300 jurors summoned, he has a better chance at getting godsnotdead-davidarwhitestruck by lightning than being assigned to the jury, so why should he waste his time.  (Incidentally, according to National Geographic News, the odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. are around 1 in 700,000.  So, Pastor Dave would be incorrect that his 1 out of 300 odds to be paneled on the jury is a longer shot than being struck by lightning.)  Instead of lightning, he is struck with acute appendicitis while in the courtroom.  He again wonders what the purpose for his jury service was.  He saw the opportunity to make a difference for God by being on the jury, but now he is in a hospital, recovering from surgery.  His friend encourages him to have faith, God’s plan is at work.

God often orchestrates events that do not make sense to us.  We can see only partly.  We do not have all the necessary information to understand events or motives.  But “[W]e know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.  Do we really trust God?  That is what faith really is about: trust.  Not believing hard enough that something is true.  Faith is about trusting what God said, even when our circumstances tell us otherwise.  (See my post A Celebration of Life.)  Our approach to our faith in God is often with the same cynical nature as Pastor Dave.  (I am looking me straight in the mirror.)  We come to expect disappointments from God because he seems to so often answer our prayers with “No” or “I have something else for you.”  But, this cynicism really stems from both ingratitude and mistrust.  We are ungrateful for what God does give us and we do not really believe God’s plan for us is for our good.  God does not always orchestrate our healing from cancer, or our winning court cases against secular humanists that seem to permeate all levels of government.  But, trust God we must.

The central struggle in this movie is certainly plausible.  An anonymous tip to an anti-Christian organization brings a team of angry atheist lawyers against a school teacher or school policy.  Organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU all are antagonistic toward God, and therefore to his family.  We have seen them persecute Christian bakers in Colorado and Oregon, a florist in Washington, photographers in New Mexico.  The list doesn’t stop there.  Military personnel, monuments, high-school coaches, college students, government mandated abortion coverage.  I could go on.  So, the plot in God’s Not Dead 2 is not only believable, it is already a reality.

Despite the plausibility of the plot, the storyline really has some glaring problems from a legal perspective.  Although the case is styled as a civil lawsuit, Thawley v. Wesley, it comes off as if Grace is a criminal defendant.  First, she is the only defendant.  The school gods_not_dead2courtroom1district is not on trial.  While this is not unusual for a state employee to be personally liable for violations of the Constitution, a lawsuit almost always includes the “deep pockets” as a defendant because that is how lawyers make their money.  In the movie, however, the school board attorney stated that the ACLU was not interested in suing the school, only the teacher.  This point is later contradicted by the ACLU attorney, but a second lawsuit against the school board may go nowhere because the plaintiff’s failed to join the necessary party for the first lawsuit.  A second reason the case comes across as a criminal trial stems from Grace’s first meeting with her union appointed attorney who was hired from the public defender’s office.  She insists to him that she is not a criminal.  Her attorney said “Don’t be so sure about that.”  Third, when Grace is called to the stand she questions the judge whether she is required to testify, as if a civil defendant has the same Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as a criminal defendant.  Fourthly, after the examination of Grace as a witness, the judge asks her attorney if he would like to change her plea.  He answers “No, your Honor. I say she is innocent of all wrongdoing” which sounds a lot like discussion about a criminal defendant.  Several aspects about this script make the nature of the case unclear.

Without getting into an esoteric discussion about the dynamics of the way voir dire (jury selection) was conducted (eg. attorneys do not object to jurors in front of the jury), or the fact that the godsnotdeadvoirdirelawyer for the defendant went straight into closing argument while his client was still on the stand, this trial scene was hard to watch as an attorney.  It makes for good theatre, but the movie script was very sloppy surrounding the trial.

More problematic for this movie than the sloppy script was the huge violations of the rules of professional conduct by Grace’s attorney.  Let’s start with their first meeting.  Grace meets with her new attorney in the non-confidential, public place of a coffee shop.  According to Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6 (c) (the setting of the movie is in Arkansas) states “A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”  By meeting in a public place where anyone could overhear their discussion, the lawyer might be violating this rule.  Also, he may lose the claim for Attorney-Client Privilege for the discussion in the coffee shop because the communication was not kept in confidence.

The most egregious violations, however, occurred when Grace’s lawyer put her on the stand.  First, in putting her on the stand against her will he violated Rule 1.2(a) where a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation, and, as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued.  Rule 1.4(a)(2) requires the attorney reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished.  By surprising his client with his antagonistic tactic, he failed to consult with her on the objectives of the representation.

Second, in his questioning of his client on the stand he asks her to apologize and to admitgodsnotdead2perjury she made a mistake.  She told the court that she couldn’t do it because she did not believe she did anything wrong.  Her attorney then said “As your attorney, I’m advising you to do it anyway.”  By advising his client to lie under oath, he violated Rule 1.2(d) “A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent….”  Perjury is a crime.  Advising his client to testify to the court something that she believes to be a lie is counseling her to commit a crime.

Third, he revealed confidential communications of his client to the court without consulting her in violation of Rule 1.6(a) “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted….”  Grace had told her attorney that God had spoken to her when she encountered a church sign that read “Who do you say that I am?”  In his witness examination of her, he revealed the existence and nature of that conversation to the court.  Thus, revealing information relating to the representation of his client without consulting her.

godsnotdeadlawyerGrace’s attorney is more of a clown than an attorney.  He comes across as incompetent when it comes to the rules of conduct he must uphold (which would violate Rule 1.1).  His behavior would certainly warrant disciplinary action from his state bar.

The most disappointing part of the movie was, however, the whole trial strategy employed by Grace and her attorney to transform the case from being about religious expression in the classroom to merely a discussion on what is or is not historical fact.  Grace tells her attorney “Listen, this isn’t about faith.  This is about history…Their whole attack is about me preaching in class, but I didn’t do that…We can separate the history based elements of Jesus’ life from the faith based element.”  No longer was that case godsnotdeadvoirdire2about her being persecuted for expressing her faith in school.  It became a trial on whether Jesus Christ existed.  Who is even arguing that Jesus never existed?  I suppose for a movie called God’s Not Dead, the existence of God the Son would be central to the plot.  However, the movie portrays her as a martyr who was persecuted for her faith, when in the end her defense was simply “Nuh-uh, I didn’t express my faith in the classroom.  I simply talked about an historical figure.  See, Jesus is an historical figure just like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.”  The implication is that expressions of faith still do not belong in the classroom.  The movie pretends to champion religious liberty.  But in the end it just reinforced the “separation of Church and State” myth by making the case about history instead of faith.

For a Christian movie, it was rather disappointing.  If this movie sought to inspire the own goal giffaithful to endure such persecutions, this movie was a dud, a swing-and-a-miss.  In fact, the true metaphor for this movie is to compare it to scoring on your own goal.  Instead of slaying a giant (the prohibition of religious expression in the classroom), the movie settled for knocking down a straw man (that Jesus Christ did not exist as an historical figure).  In doing so, this movie perpetuates the myth of separation of Church and state.  (And there goes the ball into our own net.)

I hope God’s Not Dead 3 is better.