Posts Tagged ‘redemption’

Gran Torino Redeeming the American Icon

January 24, 2009 Leave a comment

dirty_harryClint Eastwood, like John Wayne, embodied the American icon. From the mysterious cowboys to the gun-toting Dirty Harry, many of his characters embodied traits that Americans readily identify: loners, anti-establishment, rebels, smart, pragmatic and intentional or unintentional redeemers of the downcast. In his recent, Gran Torino, Eastwood plays yet another loner, Walt Kowalski.

At the beginning of the film, his wife just died and he obviously has no relation with his children. Mr. Kowalski, as he prefers to be called, relates better to his dog than to other humans. He lives in a neighborhood that has gradually become home to a predominant minority Hmong population. His unflinching expletives and racial comments seem funny because they are so over the top, much like a Don Rickles performance.

Early in the film Kowalski gets caught up in a conflict with a gang that is harassing his neighbor. And in strange twist of events, this supposed racist becomes a savior for the Hmong family. Up to this point, Eastwood is playing the icon exactly according to the American mythic narrative.

We as a nation would just as soon keep to ourselves. We get in wars only when forced. We don’t want to be a part of some big global cooperative. We’d prefer to go it alone. And yet, we dream that we are really the world’s savior. Whether our mythic values are truly lived or not, Americans consistently reflect variations in our icons.

But then something odd happens. Kowalski is changed by the Hmong family. A Hmong shaman speaks the same words of wisdom that Kowalski’s priest has been trying to teach him. On multiple levels the family enters his life and begins to soften his heart and teach him how to life. Since he knows a lot more about dying.

Spoiler alert: As Walt softens, he can finally enter into relationship with other people including his priest. He is becoming more human. As he begins to live, he offers something Dirty Harry was incapable of offering. He loves. In his love, he is willing to die for the relationship, so that the Hmong family can really be helped instead of a temporary fix through an act of violence and vengeance.

In one act of sacrifice, Walt becomes father to the Hmong boy, judge to the gang, healer to the Hmong family and possibly even a prophet to his own family. Eastwood connects with the American icon but then challenges us to enter into relationship and to learn that sacrifice may open doors that power and violence cannot.

As I dream of what America could be, I am going to keep thinking about Walt Kowalski and the power of modeling the cross, laying down my life on behalf of those I love. And if I follow the rhythm of the gospel, this means loving my enemies as well as my friends.

Sabbath and Adultery

March 31, 2008 Leave a comment

I think the 10 Commandments reveal God’s wisdom for living in the land. Jesus fulfills the 10 words and then through the cross makes a way for the 10 words to be written in our hearts by the grace of the Holy Spirit. I am thinking that we can look through these commands and begin to see God’s wisdom at work on multiple levels. For example, We can look through two commands at once to find interesting implications about how the blessed life looks.

We are commanded to take Sabbath, 6 days of work, 1 day of rest and remembrance. Rest is rooted in the 6 day creation and 7th day of rest (enjoyment). Remembrance is the discipline to remember God’s provision for delivering His people from Egypt (slavery through wilderness to Promised Land). So we have two rhythms: 6 days of work, 1 day of celebration; and Egypt-Wilderness-Promised Land (or Death-Burial-Resurrection).

Now think of Sabbath in relation to the command, “Do not commit adultery.” This is the blessing of covenantal relationship. The slave mindset moves from relation to relation without the capacity to enter into permanent relationship. The free man can enter into covenant with another free woman for covenantal love.

Sabbath can shine light on fulfilling the covenant. 6 days to create and then celebrate. God creates and then enjoys the creation. In particular, He creates a world for His special love: Adam (and Eve) created in the image of God. So he works for 6 days to prepare the relationship and then takes a 7th day to celebrate.

We work to form and maintain the relationship, but we also must pause regularly to rest/enjoy/celebrate the gift of relation. This might be a meal, a day, a weekend. Time set aside to rest and enjoy. But also to remember. Sometimes the relationship goes through testing (wilderness). During the wilderness, we rest and remember the gift of covenant.

This rhythm of work and rest/remember is in contrast with adultery, which is work with no rest. It goes from one romance (working to create) to another romance (working to create) to another romance. Some people confuse romance for enjoyment, but romance is actually a precursor, a developmental stage for the long-term enjoyment (sabbath) of covenantal relationship. Those who move from romance to romance to romance will never know the fruit of covenantal love that blossoms after years of slow growth.

Meditation on the Law

March 28, 2008 Leave a comment

I preparing for a retreat on the Law (and the Ten Commandments in particular). I am looking at law through a variety of lenses. While many of these overlap, there are nuances worth exploring that makes it helpful to create distinctions. Here are the lenses I am thinking of right now. If anyone has other lenses that might helpful to consider, I’d love to hear them:

  • Law Expression of Love
  • Law as Creative Power (Creation of Adam/creation song)
  • Law as Restorative Power (redemption song)
  • Law as Covenantal Gift
  • Law as Glory of the Lord (intimate)
  • Law as Charge to Enter into Promised Land (Deuteronomy parallel with Hebrews)
  • Law as the Root of the Fear of God
  • Law as the Seed (Growing up into Psalms, Wisdom, Kingdom Rule)
  • Law written in Stone/Law written in Flesh
  • Law fulfilled in Jesus (entirety of Word enfleshed in Jesus)

I’m poor, naked and helpless

July 5, 2007 1 comment

Listening to Sinead O’Connor‘s song “Something Beautiful” helped remind me why I am Christian. While I love to read and think and engage spirited discussions on the nature of faith and personhood and our postmodern milieu, I readily confess that I’m really poor, naked and helpless. Faith in Jesus has come to me as a gift in my own desperate weakness.

Sinead captures the voice of the aching soul encircled in God’s love,

I couldn’t thank you in ten thousand years
If I cried ten thousand rivers of tears
Ah but you know the soul and you know what makes it gold
You who give life through blood

Then she confesses her desperation in language that highlights for me my own faltering steps that stumble even when moving toward the love of Christ:

Oh I wanna make something
So lovely for you
‘Cus I promised that’s what I’d do for you
With the bible I stole
I know you forgave my soul
Because such was my need on a chronic Christmas Eve

The idea of encountering the loving grace of God through a “stolen bible” pictures the wonder of redeeming love for me. All of us are thieves seeking to steal the gift our sweet Savior so graciously offers in his broken body and shed blood.

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