RESPONDblog: Christianity’s Not As Mysterious As You Think

I found myself at Vasquez Rocks National Park this weekend. Actually – this was completely intentional. I was hunting for a shooting location used by the makers of the Original Series of Star Trek from the 1960s. What can I tell you…? I’m nerdy like that.

The episode I was thinking of is called “Arena”; Captain Kirk finds himself facing the war like Gorn creature on the surface of an asteroid with a suspiciously “earth-like” atmosphere. Which is handy. A superior race, the Metrones, have decided that Kirk must fight his adversary to the death. Not so superior, eh? In reality – William Shatner was acting his socks off with a poor guy sweating in a green rubber suit.

I wanted to find the spot where their iconic battle happened. After all…I remember watching the episode as a child.

My strategy on arriving at Vasquez Rocks National Park was to launch myself “Kirk like” into the mysterious and rugged countryside…to explore various trails and various rock formations in the 35 degree heat. “That looks kinda familiar…maybe they filmed it there? Oh no – hang on – maybe it was here? Man…I’m hot.”

After an hour or so trudging around in the oven like heat…I returned to the visitors centre for a rest. I sensed that I hadn’t really found what I was looking for. Walking back to the car…I noticed a big sign that I had driven past an hour ago when I first entered the park. It read, “To the Rocks” – with a big arrow pointing up a well built road to my left.

Genius that I am – I asked myself – “Hang on. Why don’t I follow that arrow…and just drive up that road? I wonder what’s up there?” I jumped into the car…drove up the signposted road…and eventually arrived at a large visitors car park. Exiting the car…I looked around. I was already hot…but I was getting warmer. I recognised these rock formations.

I began chatting on Twitter with my friend Alan. I explained what I was doing and – very helpfully – he sent me an image of the Star Trek episode that showed the location I was looking for. I gulped at the image on my phone screen. Raising my head, I looked again at the entrance to the visitors car park I had just driven through.

Would you believe it?

Star Trek had filmed the iconic Gorn battle scene HERE – within the visitors car park at the end of the road!! Of course. With so much equipment…the lights and cameras transported by truck…the film crew needed a wide space to set things up. It made perfect sense to use the car park. It’s slightly disappointing to me though that the scene was captured…in a car park. This Star Trek episode has lost some of its mystique to me now…

On reflection – I made this trip much much harder for myself than it needed to be. I hadn’t actually rewatched the episode on Netflix before travelling to the location…I was working from memories and assumptions in my head about what the location looked like. Life would have been easier…if I’d just googled a picture first. Worse – when I arrived at the park…I didn’t follow the clear and obvious signage that was provided and staring me in the face! I decided to purposefully wander off into the countryside instead.

In the end…finding what I was looking for was really easy and straightforward. It just required me to look at the source material…and follow the obvious instructions that were available.

It occurred to me as I reflected on these hilarious mistakes, that this might not be too different from how many people approach Christianity. One friend…sceptical of Christianity… said to me recently, “Why don’t I get it like you, Stuart?”

Well – maybe its like me hunting for the iconic Kirk vs the Gorn location without watching the episode first? We’re relying on our half remembered ideas about what Christianity is about…but why don’t we just go back and look at what it actually IS all about? The life of Jesus as documented in the New Testament. How about we actually read what, say, the Gospel of Mark actually records that Jesus said and did?

Further, so many people I’ve spoken to assume that the claims of Christianity are unreliable today. Their starting assumption is that the history of Christianity is very complicated…and so one needs to dig really deeply to work out what actually happened to cause the Christian church 2000 years ago. And frankly – that is too much work for most people. Well – perhaps we are missing the clear and obvious signpost that is staring us right in the face? We’ve dived off into the countryside…and come up with nothing useful as a result. And we’ve probably given up. Instead – why don’t we come back to the starting point and follow the clear signage that has been provided to lead us to what we’re looking for? Stop assuming its hard and complicated – and just follow the road and see where it takes us?

You know, historians have identified that the oldest and so the earliest description of Christian belief is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. There’s an ancient creed written there in this letter that predates all of the layer gospel biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) by decades. The creed itself may date to just a few months after Jesus’ crucifixion…capturing what the first Christians stood for. This is the clear and obvious signage that I’m talking about. What does it say?

“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born”

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV

It’s not complicated. Its laid out clearly. Just follow the signpost. Jesus was raised from the dead – this fact was widely accepted and assumed by both friends and enemies of Christianity during the 1st century. The first Jesus followers worked to help other people become friends and followers of this Jesus too. He was crucified on a cross, but he’s not a dead, ancient figure of history. He’s a vital and real person who is still alive today.

So why don’t we get this? Possibly because…we think we know better. Can I suggest to you…from experience…that we don’t know better. Christianity is worth “getting”. It really is. And it’s not hard to do. It just requires us to lay aside our wrong thinking…and follow the evidence provided.

As I drove away from Vasquez Rocks and pointed my car to home, I laughed out loud as I joined highway I-14. What did I find funny? You can actually plainly see the Star Trek shooting location as you drive up the highway! It’s SO obvious. It’s clearly laid out for all to see…it’s not mysterious..not hidden away in some obscure spot in the desert.

All you have to do to find what you need…is first not convince yourself that finding it is just too hard. And second, follow those signs that point to Jesus Christ.

RESPONDblog: Galaxy Quest + My Limited Worldview

The movie Galaxy Quest tells the story of a group of washed up actors, tired and bored of living with the enduring fandom around their old space opera TV show from 20 years ago. It introduces us to Jason Nesmith, the actor who played the captain on the NSEA Protector space ship in the space opera. And he’s signing autographs at a fan convention…when suddenly and finally he explodes in a “Shatner-istic, get a life” way. Who does he explode at? Branden – a geeky fan who is asking for an autograph, while also pressing him on a tricky episode plot hole that Nesmith couldn’t care less about.  
Nesmith roasts him.

“It’s just a TV show. You got it?!”

The movie also tells the story of a group of alien beings – the Thermians – who have been watching Nesmith’s old TV Show from outer space…and have come to believe that the stories told in the show are actually real, rather than just hokey entertainment.

Now, in addition to their viewing habits, we learn the peace loving Thermians are facing an oppressive and controlling space gangster called Sarris who wants to oppress them. They fear Sarris…yet are actually quite technologically advanced. So they decide to emulate their heroes on the TV show and build an advanced space ship to fight Sarris…and they make the ship look and behave just like the NSEA Protector.

They make it work in exactly the same way as the ship on the show. So…the computer will only work if the girl on the bridge repeats all the data the computer provides the bridge team. And the controls for the ship’s pilot are laid out just as the actor playing the pilot pretended to fly the ship.

BUT – the Thermians have a problem – they cannot use their cool spaceship technology to defeat Sarris. They are smart enough to build their ship. They aren’t brave enough to use it.

Their solution? They decide to naively travel to earth…find their heroes from their favourite space TV show…and take them back to their planet to pilot the ship and defeat Sarris for them! After all…these guys are their heroes…and have defeated evil many times on the show. They’ve watched it on their equivalent of TV. They think its all real.

And for some cool and interesting reasons – read pride and boredom here – Nesmith and his crazy, LA based actors from the cast say “yes” to the Thermians’ request…and travel to their alien planet to man the new and very real NSEA Protector space ship. What they don’t bank on, however, is the very real jeopardy this puts them in. And so these actors must work out a way to cope in this conflict…and survive.

I’ve been sitting in a class at BIOLA University taught by PhD professor John Mark Reynolds this week. And he reminded me of the coolest part of Galaxy Quest.

What’s the coolest part?

During their conflict with Sarris – Nesmith and his crew find themselves running through the bowels of the ship to find the engine room…so they they can diffuse the reactor and stop the ship from exploding. While doing this, they realise that – in the course of the original TV show run – they never did an episode of the show where they visited the bowels of the NSEA Protector. So – they have no idea where to go to find the reactor to diffuse it. Worse – they have no idea what do do if and when they get there.

That’s a big problem. So what do they do?

Genius idea. They contact the geeky kid Branden that Nesmith roasted during the fan convention at the start of the movie. The kid who had grown up watching the show, who bought and pored over the deck plans of the NSEA Protector. Who knew this show and the ship inside out.

Nesmith contacts Branden…but before he can ask him for help finding the engine room…Branden stops him. Not realising the very real jeopardy Nesmith is in, Branden blurts out…”Look. About the convention. I know its just a TV show. I understand completely that’s its just a TV show. There is no ship…I’m not a complete brain-case…you know?”

And Nesmith responds with three words that transform Branden’s life.

“It’s all real.”

And without hesitation…and with a whoop of confident delight…Branden explodes. “I knew it. I just knew it!!!”

Here’s what’s cool about this scene. It poses a question to us.

What if my settled view of reality…actually is more about me just settling for a narrow perspective…the little bit that I understand. And dismissing the notion that there is so much more to know! Right now – I simply don’t fully understand everything that could be known about life and reality. But there’s a future awaiting me…

Further – what if that future reality is bigger…and more amazing than I could understand today. What if it truly is bursting with goodness, with truth and beauty in a way that I’ve yet to know on this planet…so its greater than I can fully comprehend right now. So much so…that when I finally DO experience it…I might just go slack jawed…and then burst with something like…

“I knew it!! I just knew it.”

Just like Branden.

And maybe then we will reflect back…and remember. We had a suspicion that there was more to life than just this one…we had this inner sense of it…maybe from our time as a child. But we’ve grown up since then. We’ve allowed other people to convince us otherwise. We’ve cooperated as others have systematically robbed us of our hope for ultimate goodness, truth and beauty.

What a shame that has happened.

One day – we will know. We will know it for ourselves in a fresh and wonderful way. And we’ll just exclaim, “You know what? I knew it!”

I’m looking forward to the day when I begin to really experience the full wonder of creation. In the here and now…I’m living in just a fraction of it…I sense that that’s true. But there is SO much more to come in the reality that’s to come.

Why do I think that? Well…because there’s this person in history called Jesus who transformed the world with his goodness, his beauty and the truth he brought to this planet. His beauty…in what he did and said. And it all culminated in his defeat of death and his invitation to join him in the bigger reality that is to come. This points to a future reality, a bigger sense of knowing reality as it truly is in all its goodness, its truth and its beauty…in a sense that I can only imagine today.

What a shame so many of us have been duped into thinking that our narrow view of the world is the right and only one…when we haven’t given ourselves the chance to consider that there is so much more that is awaiting us.

Do you know what? My anticipation is rising…there’s going to be a whoop of delight that’s going to burst out of me that day when I see that which I confidently expect to see in the reality to come with Jesus.

I knew it. I just knew it…!

RESPONDblogs: It Hurts Because Each Of Them Matter So Much

washed_ashore2

The heart rending pictures of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi, washed ashore this week on a Turkish beach, have hit us hard. It is almost like the death of that little boy has brought the plight of the thousands of European migrants into sharp focus. Enough – something must be done about this!

 

Why? Why must something be done to help these suffering people? It hardly needs to be said. We intuitively sense that what is happening is wrong. It is wrong that these poor people should be hounded from their homes and native countries by violent Islamic fanatics, war and poverty. It is wrong that they are being forced to make a treacherous journey by land and sea. It is wrong…and unacceptable that hundreds of people are drowning in the Mediterranean.

 

No more.

 

There has been such an impact, that even the hearts of the politicians have been touched. David Cameron has honestly spoken out and said that Britain will do its moral duty on behalf of these suffering people. Thank goodness for that!

 

Why? Why am I relieved, why is the British Prime Minister doing an about turn on policy at the sight of little Aylan on the beach? Sure – he feels the pressure of public opinion. By what is causing that pressure? Why do so many cry – no more?

 

It’s because human beings are of incalculable value. When it comes to the safety of people, the stakes are high! Sure – saving endangered animals is an important moral issue for us. We feel it is our duty to steward the beautiful nature that we enjoy on our planet. But when it comes to protecting people – there seems to be a greater moral imperative at play. Our reaction to the suffering of human beings – somehow defines us AS human beings. We sense that…were we to continue to look away and ignore their plight…we ourselves would somehow be diminished as people.

 

Why is that? The typical atheistic worldview is scratching its head there. Life is all about survival of the fittest for so many people. If you don’t make the cut…then I’m sorry…but “them’s the breaks”. And yet…even for the Darwinist…the intuitive uncomfortable feeling continues. Why do we just know that the value of human beings is a universal law, a universal constant that presses in on us however much we choose to ignore it.

 

It’s because human beings have dignity, a dignity that is not manufactured or earned or achieved by us. The newest baby has it….so does the oldest grandparent. Our dignity is there because each human being carries around inside of them the image of God. Our dignity is God given. We are made with his imprint inside of us.

 

Is there evidence for this…beyond just an intuitive feeling that some of us agree with and others ignore? Yes – I believe there is. Consider this for a moment. There are all sorts of people inhabiting our planet. People that I personally might relate to well, others that would be very different from me. Some will be smarter than me…others not so much. Lots of people will be better looking than me! Some people are athletic, others of us are couch potatoes. Some are active social reformers, others are active social takers. Yet we all have something in common. We are all different in so many ways – but despite our differences, we are all equal. We share in our human dignity.

The equality of people and the rights of the individual have driven so many movements in our world. Dr King’s African American Civil Rights movement, the work of feminists who seek to rightly challenge engrained chauvinism in our culture…every Gay Pride March calls out for human equality whatever the sexual orientation…the list of movements underpinned by human equality goes on. Why does this argument work? Why is there truth in every human call for equal rights? Because even though we are so different from each other…we actually share a crucial common component to our humanity. We are equal…we are each given dignity by the God who created us.

 

What does that dignity point to?

Well, imagine for a moment that the worst happens – your house goes up in flames. And as you are shepherding your family out of the front door…your eye is caught be two items in the hall way. On the side table there lies a paper pad with old, crossed out telephone messages on it. And on the wall beside the door is a painting your Grandfather did years ago that has been in the family for years. If you were to save one of those two items…which one would it be? I’m guessing that most of us would choose the painting. Why? Because we assess the value of the painting as higher than the value of the paper pad. The painting and the pad are unequal in value. The painting has more value than the pad. So much so that, were someone to choose the pad over the painting, we could be justified in saying to them…why on earth did you do that?! That sounds really dumb…because the painting is worth more.

 

Here’s my point. People are different. Yet I don’t know anyone who would admit that some people are more valuable than others. Unlike the painting and the pad – choose two human beings at random from our world’s 7 billion population…and their value will be the same.  God has clothed us in that dignity.

 

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place— what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:3-5, NLT

 

Bear in mind that merit is a different thing from value. I might do no studying for a test and get an F, while you might prepare well for the test and achieve an A. Rightly so…you merit an A and I merit an F on that paper. Our level of merit is different. But if someone walks into the exam hall with a machine gun and starts shooting…moral outrage is levelled at this act. Because you and I share a common level of value…we have equal rights to be permitted to live our lives safely, even if we merit different final marks on our exam papers.

 

Philosopher J P Moreland comments that atheist lawyer Joel Fineberg, in his book Social Philosophy, argues for the moral imperative of human equality. Yet he cannot justify it. He can’t explain it[1]. How do we justify human rights? If we do not have something like the image of God baked into each and every one of us….it’s hard. So hard that many people will just stop there and say…human dignity is just the way it is…it’s the right thing to do. Well I am going further…and I agree with Fineberg. Equality rests on our common design component…we incorporate the image of God inside of us. That’s why.

 

So what?

 

Well – because we are all equal in our God given value,  that makes it morally wrong to sit back and watch children being drowned in the Med as they try to escape the horrors of ISIS in Syria. I can’t defend a decision just to sit back and watch that. I wouldn’t even try! NO – these people are as immensely valuable as I am. So I am morally obligated to do something to help. Hey – I agree with David Cameron here. Human beings deserve equal rights. However privileged…however under privileged. However rich and however poor. Whether they are comfortable in their home…or whether they are migrating their way through Europe.

 

So what can we do to help?

 

My church, Kingfisher, is planning a project to do just that. More details to come soon!

 

 

[1] J P Moreland, Arguments For the Existence of God, Biola Christian Apologetics Program, Biola University.