The Maze Runner

This past weekend, I finished reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Then my son, Luke, and I went to see the movie. As is so often the case, the book was far better than the film. We both agreed on that. Nevertheless, both were entertaining.

Whenever I read any fiction of watch any movie, TV show or even go to the theatre (rarely, sadly), I’m always on the lookout for connections between the story and the Story; themes which affirm that the one Story which is most profoundly true is still leaving echoes inside human beings, even broken ones. It seems that we simply cannot tell stories without reflecting in numerous ways the deeper reality of who we are, what we need, what we desire, what we long for, why we matter . . . I could go on. And every time I read stories, I’m reminded of how astonishingly vacuous, misguided, colourless and profoundly untrue is the Story given by our culture. I speak, of course, of secularism humanism. Materialism. Atheism. A story so unutterably awful and false, it deserves to be shamed every time it rears its ugly head.

Time plus Matter plus Chance is no Story to hang your hat on. It is devoid of Hope.

What are stories? They are the means by which we discover meaning. That verb I use advisedly. Discover. Filmmakers don’t necessarily think through the deeper themes of what they communicate. Sometimes they do – the Wachowski brothers, the Cohen brothers are exceptions, perhaps – but mostly, they unwittingly reveal Truth simply by reflecting on what makes humans tick, what drives us, what we desire, the forces with which we wrestle. The best ones know instinctively what makes a great story. They can recognize a great script and what is needed to turn it into a beautiful work of art.

And then, of course, there’s just old-fashioned entertainment. Make stuff blow up and male teens are hooked. Let’s call that our baser nature!

So, what connections, what cracked mirrors did I find in The Maze Runner? Here are a few:

Contains mild spoilers.

The boys are sent to a glade in the middle of a giant maze by people called Creators. Captivity is bad. They desire freedom.

The Creators, who have imprisoned them, are considered the enemy. A dystopian vision of the future is a very common theme nowadays.

The boys live in community, each one learning to do a job necessary for the survival of the group. They must work together to survive.

The boys who are sent to the Glade don’t know who they are. They can only remember their names. Loss of core identity causes great pain.

One boy, however, is different. He’s the main character called Thomas. He is a salvation figure, who goes through a process of self-discovery as his memory returns gradually. (Done well in the book, very badly in the film). He is opposed by a boy who’s angry, who blames him for their condition. Thomas has a real-life enemy who’s trying to obstruct him in his quest to save the group.

The boys have a clear purpose: to escape from the Maze. They discover a code – meaning – which helps them work out how to escape from the Maze. The Creators, they discover, have set them a test. Strength, perseverance, working as a team, bravery are the qualities needed to pass the test.

Yet . . .

Protecting the weak is good. In an agonizing scene near the end, our hero, who has led his people to freedom – echoes of the Exodus – is unable to save his friend. It’s a moving moment in the book. Less so in the film.

Not surprisingly, there is the inevitable scene in which one of the boys sacrifices himself to save another.

Drenched with pathos and heart-rending to watch – mirroring as it does the greatest act of love performed on earth – paying the ultimate price for the sake of another will always move an audience to tears.

Which is as it should be.

Purpose. Value. Meaning.

Stories don’t work without this Holy Triumvirate. Characters must have value or we won’t care what happens to them. They must have a clear purpose. They must have a challenge to overcome. Actions must mean something and that meaning is related to the first two, that humans are valuable and we’re here for a reason. It seems so blindingly obvious, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing it down.

Because we need reminding.

All stories contain themes, tarnished reflections of the True Story. That human beings really are valuable. Not just for the purpose of a story, but really, truly valuable. That humans really do have a purpose on this planet. That actions contain meaning. It matters what choices you make because there is order – a way things should be – to the universe and even in our brokenness, we are still able to perceive it, though dimly.

And that’s why Time plus Matter plus Chance is so unutterably awful. No value. No purpose. No meaning. No . . . the way things should be. And of course, no Hope.

And it’s why our Big Story is not just wonderful because it is true. It is wonderful because it makes sense of our stories and our lives. C.S. Lewis once wrote,

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

And every time I read a story or watch a movie, I see the shining lights of Value, Purpose and Meaning, telling me that I’m valuable; I have a purpose, my actions mean something.

Now which book shall I read next . . . ?

© Richard Collins 2014

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I think I heard a whoosh

I think I heard a whoosh.

This is currently my favourite movie quote of the year. Possibly of the decade. It comes from The Lego Movie, 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (leading movie critic website).

After we’d watched The Lego Movie, this was the one quote which tickled both my children and I more than any other. And believe me, the film was so full of great lines that we were spoilt for choice. However, there was something about this line, I think I heard a whoosh, which touched our funny bones more than all the others. On a side note, there are few things in life which bring me more joy than exchanging amusing movie quotes with my children. They do it a lot between themselves, but when I am allowed to join in, I love it. Absolutely love it.

So, I think I heard a whoosh. What is it about that line which attracted me? I thought for a while and then the penny dropped. Here are some of my thoughts.

First, the word whoosh is pretty funny. It’s onomatopoeic, of course, but so is ‘crash’ and that’s not funny. No, there’s more to it than that. The amusement value surely comes from its use in this particular sentence. In the movie, it’s uttered by Emmett, who is our main ‘regular-guy-hero’ character. He hears something speeding by making what can only be described as a whooshing sound. And so you might think the phrase, ‘I think I heard a whoosh,’ would be expected.

But it’s not. Here’s why.

You see, I don’t think whoosh is generally a word which people say. It’s normally reserved for children’s books and comics. In a similar situation to Emmett’s, we would probably say ‘What was that?’ or ‘What was that sound?’ We wouldn’t say ‘I think I heard a whoosh.’ And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the phrase is funny. It contains a funny-sounding word in a sentence where it would never normally be used.

Why is it there?

I mentioned that whoosh is used by writers of comics and children’s books. It’s used by story-tellers. In addition, whoosh is the kind of word used by children during imaginative play. ‘Whoosh’ declares Tommy as he launches his ‘rocket’ – made of a loo roll and plastic sticks – towards the ceiling. He’s describing what’s taking place in his story. He’s a story-teller. Sure, it’s certainly possible that we might say the word whoosh, but it’s a word which is far more commonly used by story-tellers.

Let’s return to The Lego Movie. It’s a film which uses several well-worn movie tropes. They are used so often, we instantly recognize the formula. For example, it has goodies and baddies. It has a hero who grows in self-confidence, discovering that he can be extraordinary if he believes in himself. Been there before. It starts with a dystopian vision of society. The situation looks hopeless before someone does something heroic which saves the day. Seen all of this many times.

But it also has a trope which I absolutely love and which is tagged specifically by this phrase, I think I heard a whoosh. I call it, ‘story-within-a-story,’ though I can’t find its exact definition anywhere. In The Lego Movie, we discover that the lego world we’ve been watching symbolically reflects a story between two ‘creators’ on the outside. There are two worlds and they are related, although the exact connection between the two worlds is left vague, which works well.

It might even be called a creation motif.

This is when characters self-consciously reflect on the fact that they are ‘characters.’ They are someone else’s creation. This sometimes happens in movies when a character will turn towards the camera and smile or wink. Because this breaks our ‘suspension of disbelief,’ it is done very rarely and it is never done well, in my opinion. In The Lego Movie, on the other hand, it is done quite brilliantly. And it begins with the line,

I think I heard a whoosh.

It is almost as though Emmett is saying ‘I’ll use a word used by story-tellers to indicate that I’m a character in a story.’ Later on in the film, the character Lucy, (his love-interest, AKA WyldStyle) engages in the same kind of language. She’s describing who she is and then suddenly you hear her say . . . blah, blah, blah. Proper name. Place name. Backstory stuff… Excuse me? Backstory stuff? Another indication that she’s self-consciously telling us that she’s a character in a story.

Now, why do I love these kinds of movies so much? Here’s why.

Because I’m in one. And so are you. And the idea that film-makers ‘get this,’ whether consciously or unconsciously, is thrilling to me.

A movie by M. Night Shyamalan called Lady in the Water contains a very similar idea. It’s a film in which characters discover they’re in a fairy tale. A Problem presents itself and they must discover what part they need to play in the fairy tale in order to resolve the Problem. Resolving the Problem brings Resolution and it brings tears to the eyes. The movie had its critics – some justified – but the central idea was fabulous. Think about it. A story about people who have to work out which characters they need to play in order for the story to reach its glorious resolution. A story-within-a-story.

A movie about people who themselves realize they’re in a story.

Wow. A true reflection of our reality.

For we are people who discover that we are in a Story. And we’re called on to discover what part we must play for the Story to reach its glorious resolution. To discover which is your part, you might want to consult 1 Corinthians 12.

Of course, the movies don’t reflect every aspect of our reality. For example, half way through The Lego Movie, Emmett and two other characters enter his brain. It’s very Matrix-like, consciously so, I think. A huge finger reaches down and we’re given the first clear indication of a Creator character. It turns out that this Creator isn’t good and kind at all. He threatens their future. Yet the very fact that we’re given two worlds, the world of the Creator(s) (there are two of them) and the world of the Lego characters is wondrous to behold.

It’s a welcome reminder that we too are in a Story. And our little stories – our lives – will only make sense when seen in reference to the one Big Story. All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, wrote William Shakespeare. So this idea is hardly new.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller. That’s a great line.

But he would surely have been prouder of this one, had he written it:

I think I heard a whoosh!

© Richard Collins 2014

Believe it or not

My family and I have just finished watching Series One of an ABC show called Once Upon a Time. We’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. The premise of the show is that there’s a small town in Maine (Storybrooke) full of fairy tale characters who are under a curse. They’re trapped there and they’ve forgotten who they are. A young boy called Henry attempts to persuade his mother that there are two worlds: the world of Storybrooke (and the rest of the U.S.) and the world of fairy tales. He owns a beautiful leather-bound book called Once Upon a Time, which contains dozens of fairy tales, which he says are true. In attempting to persuade his mother that the other world is true, the curse is true, that Snow White and Prince Charming are now trapped in Storybrooke, he spends episode after episode pleading with her. Why won’t you believe? Why can’t you see?

His pleading raises the issue of our beliefs and where they come from. Why do we believe what we do? Can we choose our beliefs? In Once Upon a Time, we watch, anguished, as Emma (Henry’s mum) refuses to accept what we can all see right in front of our eyes. We’re privy to the story of the two worlds, but she isn’t. No wonder she doesn’t believe. Would you? If I came to you and told you that a fairy tale world existed with Rumplestiltskin and Pinocchio and Belle and Snow White, what would you say? As you backed away from me and called men in white coats, what would you conclude about my mental health? In The Matrix, we’re presented with a similar scenario. Morpheus tells Thomas Anderson (Neo) that the reality he sees . . . isn’t real at all. It’s an illusion.

So why do we believe the things we do? A little reflection on this matter is unnerving to say the least.

Try this for size. Take a look at something in the room where you’re sitting. Now tell yourself that it’s a pink elephant. Go on. Try hard. Tell yourself that your pen is a pink elephant. Not possible. Why? Because you can’t simply believe whatever you want to believe. You’re constrained. You’re constrained by your genes, your brain chemistry, your cultural background and frankly, by the worldview which you possess. That worldview – your assumptions about reality and your place in it – is itself . . . well, it’s not really a choice you’ve made. Hundreds of different factors bearing upon you have ‘created’ the belief system which you now own.

So we’re not free, then. Help!

Well, freedom is a complex subject. Yes, you are free but perhaps not quite in the way that you had imagined.

I wonder if you’ve ever seen this bumper sticker: Wise men still seek him.

I don’t like it. First, because it implies that Christians are virtuous due to their decision to follow Christ. Second, because it implies that ‘come on, if you would simply exercise some wisdom, you could join us too! And because you don’t, then you’re not wise. You’re dumb.’ Which, by the way, isn’t a very biblical term. Sinful, yes. Dumb, no. (Yes, 1 Cor 1.23 – foolishness to the Gentiles, but notice, the gospel is foolishness to them. It doesn’t say they are themselves foolish. That’s different.)

So if our beliefs are constrained, then what hope is there? Are we simply victims of our make-up and our circumstances?

Let’s leave aside the ‘magic’ of conversion, the moment when a soul is given new life. I urge most people to avoid pressing the M button for as long as possible. But Mystery is written all over that one. To choose Christ while being chosen, well, that’s a wonder to behold. (Keep visiting this blog for a subsequent discussion of free will.)

This post, however, has to do more broadly with beliefs. If it’s true that we inherit them, that they are influenced strongly by our background and surroundings, are we then powerless to choose them? And why does St. Paul include so many exhortations to change behaviour? Since belief and behaviour are so closely related, what hope is there for us?

As it happens, it’s found in the relationship between belief and action.

Many theologians and preachers focus almost exclusively on the way beliefs affect action. The subject is rich and wide-ranging. What you believe is extremely powerful. It affects how you live your life to a profound degree. I raise my children, love my wife, give, share, work, play . . . all based on what I believe about my calling, what I’m here for. My purpose is grounded in my beliefs about myself, God and others. And those are founded upon what the Bible teaches. So my beliefs influence every facet of my life.

But what about the other way round? What about the way action affects belief?

There is a lot less written about this, because it’s a subject which parts of the church have disregarded for too long. When I look at my beliefs and I desire to change them, develop them, deepen them, I’m immediately aware of how limited my freedom is. Like Henry’s mum, I can’t simply choose to believe merely through the force of my will. However, I can fill my mind with truths which come from sources which I know to be reliable. So, the first step is that I can make it a priority to read books which point me towards God and of course, the one Book which contains more truth than any other.

However, that’s not enough. Because while it’s good to assemble as many correct beliefs as possible, as a follower of Jesus, I want to go further. I want to live consistently with those beliefs. I want those beliefs to be buried deep inside me, so that they change my behaviour.

And to do that, like the heroes in our stories, I can take action. I can fight. I can struggle.

Action affects belief. Action affects the intensity of belief. Action can bring beliefs to life, so that they emerge from the closet and are put to good use. It’s not enough to believe that God is able to bring about holiness in us if we do nothing which brings us before him regularly.

By action, I mean spiritual formation. Can you choose your beliefs? To a limited degree, perhaps. But you can choose to fast. You can choose to pray. You can choose to be quiet before God. You can choose to meditate on the Word. Take a look at that pen. Choose to believe it’s a sandwich. Not possible. Now pick up the Bible nearby. Choose to read it. Regularly. Study it. Meditate on the psalms. Worship. Trust. Love. Those are things you really can choose to do.

That’s where your freedom lies.

It’s a mystery why we sometimes believe the things we do. But it’s not a mystery why we don’t act. It’s indiscipline. It’s a heart which is seduced by other things. It’s a life in which God is not the priority he should be. And that we can choose to change. Gradually. One decision at a time.

Because when you take action repeatedly, you gain a habit. And when you gain a good habit, your beliefs are developed and strengthened and you gradually become the kind of person who loves and gives and resembles your Saviour.

Beliefs affect action, yes. But action also affects belief.

To embrace, deepen and strengthen your beliefs, take action.

Good advice? You better believe it!

© Richard Collins 2014

Something rather than Nothing

From my last post, you may remember that I mentioned a series of Youtube videos called How (movie title) should have ended. I expressed my strong dislike for such videos. To be more precise, there is one in particular which I watched and from which I recoiled with horror. I’m the emotional type!

So, here’s why.

The Youtube video is called How Lord of the Rings should have ended. Just below the screen, the user has uploaded this strapline:

Gandalf forgot a very simple option when the fellowship decided to destroy the ring.

The video contains cheap animation and lasts just over two minutes. It has over 23 million views. The gist of it is this: While Sauron is distracted, Gandalf and the four hobbits are carried by a huge eagle to Mt. Doom. As they fly over, Frodo drops the ring into the lava which swirls deep in the mountain thereby destroying it. Sauron is defeated. As the ‘victors’ fly away, their dialogue goes like this:

-Well, that was incredibly easy.

-Yes, it was.

-Can you imagine what it would be like if we had walked the entire way?

-Ho ho, don’t be so ridiculous. (They all laugh)

One of the posted comments:

I always thought LOTR was padded. Three hours per movie? Why not just have Sam and Frodo FLY to Mt. Doom instead of walking the whole goddamn way?

So, what is so objectionable about this video? Isn’t it just a bit of fun? Well, of course it’s ‘just a bit of fun,’ but underneath, there’s a subtext which concerns me greatly.

If there’s struggle, if there’s pain, we don’t want it. Indeed, if it can be avoided, it should be.

You’ll notice, first of all, the use of the words ‘simple,’ and ‘easy’ in the Youtube users’ remarks. If an easier option is available, it must, by definition, be preferable. Why tramp over those jagged rocks, scale the mountain, do battle with Shelob . . . why have anything to do with Gollum if you can fly over the mountain and solve your problem in one easy move?

If you found that you didn’t have an immediate answer to this question, then well, I think that’s a problem.

The writer, Tim Keller, in his excellent book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, makes this superbly observed point: Modern secular humans lack any useful resources for coping with suffering.

Given the Story they propose, which ends with extinction, suffering is devoid of any kind of value or purpose. When you only have one life, suffering is always a hindrance, an obstruction to personal happiness. And personal happiness is the only goal worth pursuing. There is no silver lining, there is nothing to be gained from going through adversity. The tragedy is that Christians are deeply influenced by this aspect of our society’s zeitgeist. Indeed, when confronting the existence of evil and suffering, Christians are often left shrugging their shoulders, unable to offer any kind of meaningful answer. So, let’s address one of the most basic questions regarding human existence.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Whoa, that came from out of left field (If you’re a UK reader, that’s a baseball reference!) Let me explain.

Make no mistake. All the evil in the world was foreseen by our Creator. I wonder if you’ve ever heard this one? The world isn’t as God intended. When Adam and Eve fell, the world stopped being the one that ‘God intended.’ Words are powerful things, aren’t they? They alter how you see the world. Think for a moment. What kind of God doesn’t always get what He wants, doesn’t get what he intended?

Let me be absolutely clear about this. The God of the Bible, the real God, the one who exists eternally and in glory, always, always gets what he wants. Always. God isn’t God unless his power is omni- and his knowledge is omni-. So yes, that means that the entire history of the universe is known to your Creator. And mine. All the good stuff and all the bad. Before it happens. That means that this world is the one which God planned from within his timeless existence (it’s okay, not even the brightest philosophers know how he does it either – you’re not alone!) And it means this is indeed the world which God ‘intended,’ if by ‘intended’ we mean the one which he foresaw and which he created. And of course, there is only one of those and you’re living in it.

In another post, I’ll address how his intentions can incorporate the Fall but right now, let’s apply this to the problem of suffering. If God knows that the Holocaust will take place, or the Hundred Years War or the 1918 Influenza pandemic, then why, oh why, did he choose to create in the first place? When he chose to write the Story, why didn’t he choose an easier option? Why didn’t Christ die a couple of weeks after Adam fell? Why go through this lengthy trawl through Israelite history (hiking up mountains and fighting huge spiders)? Why not sort things out nice and tidily at the beginning?

The first answer to this question comes from the book of Job. As you might imagine, this book informs a lot of my views on pain and suffering. In chapter 38, God finally gives his response to Job and his ‘friends.’ We’ve waited for 37 chapters, remember, and we sit with baited breath to hear what the Ultimate Authority will tell us. And his response is a description of divine power. What?!? Yup. I’m God and you are not. That just about sums it up. It’s beautifully written but that’s about it. I made a lot of stuff and . . . you haven’t.

But once you think a little deeper, you realize that God’s answer makes perfect sense. It’s more than an assertion of his power, a reminder that we are puny and he is our creator. It’s a category distinction and that’s immensely important. This particular category distinction makes all the difference. To tell a creature, ‘you wouldn’t understand’ or ‘you are not privy to such knowledge’ is one thing. But it’s so much more than that. Just read this verse:

Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

If you are not humbled by it, then . . . well, you should be. You ignorant modern man, who wishes for things to be made easy, who thinks that an ‘easier option’ is even available, who hasn’t bothered to think through the ramifications of your criticism, be still and listen to the One whose knowledge not only surpasses yours infinitely but whose knowledge is in a category which you don’t occupy, for it is Divine Knowledge and you are NOT divine.

Why is the problem of pain and suffering so hard to understand? Because we’re human. We’re not God.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Because God deemed it right and good to create a world in which evil and suffering exist, because in his infinite wisdom, he is at work to achieve his purposes, which are right and good. If you think you know better, then you are simply asserting knowledge which you do not possess. And that’s ignorance; it’s not knowledge.

The second reason that I dislike those Youtube videos has to do with the issue of greater goods. Greater goods are the benefits which arise from struggle, pain, difficulty, suffering. Let’s summarize the unintentional wishes of our naïve Youtube friends.

Let’s get rid of the profound and deeply touching friendship forged between Frodo and Samwise Gamgee. Let’s eliminate the courage displayed repeatedly by both of these hobbits. Let’s do away with that perseverance which Sam displays when Frodo is unable to walk the final steps up Mt. Doom. Let’s cancel out the grace which pours out of Sam all the way there, when his friend, Frodo, believes Gollum instead of trusting his friend from childhood. Let’s get rid of all these benefits and while we’re at it, let’s delete the rest of the cast, whose friendships and courage and love and goodness shine like stars in the darkness.

In the face of greater goods, our response ‘suffering hurts so it must be stopped immediately’ surely appears misguided. And yet, when your child is suffering, ‘stop it now!’ seems the only natural response. We are too small, too inward-focused to appreciate what is taking place. We think we know better, when we are ignorant of our own ignorance.

In the New Testament, you’ll notice that there is a lot written about suffering. Peter, in particular, references the suffering of the saints a lot. Where does he write that they should pray for it all to go away? Nowhere. Greater goods are nowhere more in focus than in those numerous passages from Peter and Paul on perseverance and patience and most of all, trust in God.

God is far more interested in developing human beings who trust him than eliminating suffering at every turn. Indeed, perhaps heaven itself is not fit for beings who have avoided suffering at all costs. I believe that God’s development of virtue in the human being is one of his most important objectives in writing our Story. In LOTR, Samwise Gamgee reflects on the story of which he is a part and on stories in general:

It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

What if the development of the soul – crafted in the crucible of pain and suffering – is essential to its ability to appreciate the wonders of heaven? What if souls thrill to the glory of God, seen most clearly in the crucified Christ . . . only when they have undergone a measure of deprivation and agony themselves?

Maybe when that new day comes, souls who have learned to trust, who have persevered, who have sacrificed, are the ones who possess perfected vision.

They are the ones who can truly see that the sun really does shine out the clearer.

© Richard Collins 2014

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 Well, that was rather heavy. If you feel the need for some light relief, click here.

There’s nothing wrong with watching movies

NOTHING WRONG WITH WATCHING MOVIES

(Started over ten years ago – hence the term VCR – and completed today)

‘There’s nothing wrong with watching movies’ I said to myself as I switched off the VCR and TV after watching a rather gruesome thriller a while back. Not only did I feel dissatisfied with my argument but the movie had left a bad taste in my mouth.  I had a sense that I ought not to have been watching it, that it had damaged me inside in a way I couldn’t readily identify. I felt dirty. The after-effects of watching the movie I could not change, but my poor argument, ‘there’s nothing wrong with watching movies’ demanded more attention. How many times had I used this line of argument, confidently tossing it out there as though it were some kind of faithful talisman that would protect and justify me?

The argument is weak primarily because it denotes a defensive posture. It smacks of Garden of Eden, hand-in-the-cookie-jar reasoning. ‘You didn’t say we couldn’t …’, ‘we thought you might have meant …’ etc is relayed with the look of someone who knows they’ve been caught red-handed and is valiantly trying to justify bad behaviour. Arguing ‘there’s nothing wrong with ..’ simply reveals the inherent guilt that lies within such a person. Why? Because if there were ‘nothing wrong’, then the issue wouldn’t arise in the first place and we wouldn’t be backing into a corner. In addition, it is the argument of the person who is quite simply asking the wrong question about life. Let me explain.

In Matthew 25: 14-30 we read of the three servants who are left various talents by their master. Two of the servants use their talents well, investing their money and earning a return. One buries his. The parable teaches a number of lessons but one is to do with intentionality.  If we are asking ‘what can I do without getting into trouble?’ we are asking the wrong question. This is the position of the foolish servant who said, ‘I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground’. No, we should be asking a different question altogether. It’s found in the name of a famous book by the great Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer: ‘How shall we then live?’ That is the question. The master in the parable wasn’t looking for excuses; he wanted to know what his servants had intentionally done with the gifts they had been given.

Now, I have to confess right now, that I simply love the movies. And there’s nothing wrong with watching movies. You see? I can’t stop using that phrase and I’m the one writing the article! But the place of entertainment in a believer’s life requires careful thought. There are two aspects to this which require attention. First, we need to learn to watch movies (and TV for that matter) with a careful eye to its effect on our thinking. I’d recommend a book by Steve Couch and Nick Pollard called ‘Get more like Jesus while watching TV.’ (Try to ignore a horrible use of the word ‘get’ in that title). Entertainment is saturated with worldviews (ways of interpreting the world) and learning to watch wisely requires a little effort. In some cases, a lot of effort.

Second, if we’re honest, most of us probably watch too much while creeping behind the statement ‘there’s nothing wrong with . . .’ The point isn’t that watching is wrong, it’s that we’ve lost our focus. We’re not here for very long. We’ve been given work to do. And often, we’re not doing it. No no, don’t feel guilty. Take a look in the mirror and ask for strength. Strength to make good choices. Those choices involve balancing the need for relaxation and yes, entertainment with the call of God to do his work – love others, serve, care, teach, whatever God has called you to do. And of course, prayer. Self-discipline is not just for uptight people, though the uptight keep a better eye on their use of time than others. (They’re often more judgmental too, which balances things out ;)). The fact is, we’re accountable for our use of time before God.

So, this weekend – this is posted on a Friday evening in the U.K. – go ahead and watch a movie. Watch it wisely. But be careful to evaluate your life and the gifts you’ve been given and lay them before God for his service. Most especially, ask for his help in achieving balance – the need for relaxation and the call to give yourself up for your God and others. He will give you the strength to make wise choices.