Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Few Thoughtz: White

Peace and blessings,

Last we left off, Justin was trying to intervene in the conflict between the scabs and "normal" humans, and as a result was brought up on charges of treason and executed. He eventually rose from the dead, appearing to Thomas and his "patnas." In the "world of the histories," the virus spreads and Thomas is killed in an attempt to stop it. So now comes
  • White (2007),
  • the conclusion...

    In the future world, the possibility of war is ever present, and at least on the scabs' end, inevitable. Realizing that the people and choices of this world is directly connected to those of the world of the histories, he tries to find out how he can come back to life in the other world. He hears about this fabled book called the "Books of History," which is supposed to contain immense power and knowledge. He remembers hearing from someone that the book covers the creation of the world, and that the book has a "living" element to it. To test out this idea, he decides to write a new chapter in it. In this chapter, Thomas did not die in the world of the histories (at least not yet), but survived. And of course, once he wrote the words and tested the book's validity, he woke up in the world of the histories, alive and well. I know, sort of cheesy but bare with me...

    Back in the world of the histories (i.e. the "current" world), Thomas has a second chance to stop the virus. Time is still running out though, as the one controlling the virus is demanding that every national power surrender their nuclear weapons in exchange for the cure (I can't remember if he actually has a cure or not). Furthermore, the virus is spreading ferociously, infecting lives, old and young alike. Convinced that the key to ending the virus in this world is connected to resolving the conflict with the scabs in the other world, he goes to sleep and wakes up in the future world looking for answers.

    In the future world, twelve of his "patnas" (i.e., members of The Circle) get captured by the scabs. In an attempt to try to free them, he offers himself to get taken into the scabs' custody. The scabs agree to let the twelve go free in exchange for Thomas. While there, he becomes a "tutor" of sorts to a scab named Chelise, and offers to help her read and understand the Books of History. While helping her, begins to view her as Elyon (God) sees her, and falls in love with her. She eventually falls for him to, and they escape and plan to marry. Of course this idea of a normal human marrying a scab runs into opposition on both sides, and hence comes more drama. After discussing how they should relate to scabs, and how Elyon and Justin would approach the issue, members of the Circle generally agreed with Thomas that he was doing the right thing (at the very least, they did not stop him). There were doubters and those who disagreed, however, but overall Thomas was supported. The scabs, however, were not as supportive. Thomas and Chelise were eventually captured and sentenced to be executed (with the permission of Chelise's father). Just as they were thrown into the water to drown, however, a couple of members of the circle found the source of the living water (i.e., the water that gives life to those who embrace it, and that Thomas told them to search out once he knew he was going to get executed). The Circle members were successful, and instead of drowning, Thomas and Chelise were given new life by the living water. Most notably, when Chelise came up from the water, she was no longer a scab: she was exactly how God made her. Afterwards, Chelise's father told her that while he now understands that she has a new life, he was unwilling to join her in that new life (She told her father to jump in the water and get "clean" was well, but he refused). Thomas and Chelise eventually get married.

    In the current world, it looks as if all hope is lost. Eventually, however, a solution is found. Dr. Raison discovers that there is something special about Thomas' blood: it cures the virus. The problem is that because the virus has spread so widely throughout the world, they would need all of his blood to have a chance of curing everyone. He willingly agrees, and saves the world through his blood. Sounds Familiar?

    So there you have it. That's how this epic ends (although I just found out that another book, Green, will be coming out soon). In terms of some of the details, my memory recollections may not be fully accurate, so for that I apologize. With that said, I'm pretty confident that I've summed it up pretty well (accurately). I think that the main message of White (and the trilogy as a whole) is that whether it's the proliferation of scabs or a deadly virus, we as humans are in need of a "cure," and that cure is Jesus. In future world it was the sin of pride and disobedience, which resulted in the bats getting loose and turning people into scabs. Then, it was the sin of hatred towards one another that further separated them from Elyon. In the current world, it was the sin of greed and corruption via one's lust for power that almost destroyed the world. These stories reminded me of the use of free will, the power and consequences of our choices (e.g., who we choose to become, how we choose to handle what life throws at us, how we choose to handle doubt and uncertainty, and how we choose to negotiate reason and emotion), and the intimate role God and Jesus has played and continues to play throughout human history...

    What do you think? Would you consider reading the trilogy for yourself? Why or why not? Do you think the weight that the trilogy gives to our choices and the consequences of those choices is accurate? Why or why not? Take care, stay blessed, and speekonit...

    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    A Few Thoughtz: Red (Part 2 of the Circle Trilogy)

    Peace and blessings,

    Hopefully you've gotten a chance to read Ted Dekker's Black (2007) since the last post. If not, then what are you waiting for? Anyhow, here are a few thoughts on
  • Red (2007),
  • the second part of the trilogy. Last time, I forgot to share how Black ended. In a nutshell, two things happen that significantly set the course for the other two parts of the trilogy. In the present world, Dr. Raison gets captured by a villain who wants to control the virus and anti-virus (that he's making Dr. Raison develop) so that he can dictate the actions of every nation in the world, therefore ruling the world. In the future world, one of the people breaks "the rule" and in an attempt to face the evil bats on his own, eats the forbidden fruit. This act enables the bats to wreak havoc on the people of the land, turning them into grotesque versions of themselves (referred to as "scabs"). And now for Red...

    In the present world, Thomas is able to convince more and more people that he's telling the truth about simultaneously living in two worlds, and about the virus. He also realizes that he is not the only person who is living in both worlds, and whose actions in one affect the other. However, he's unfortunately too late, as the virus gets released and people get infected, causing a scare amongst countries all throughout the world. In an attempt to stop the virus from continuing to spread, Thomas is killed...

    Although the spread of the virus in the present world seems analogous to the "spread" of the black bats throughout the future world, it is the events in the former that I would like to focus on. Once the bats start turning people into scabs, Thomas and a few others are able to escape and find some kind of sanctuary while on the run from the scabs. Eventually, armies are built on each side (the scabs versus the regular humans not "contaminated" by the bats) and it's clear that a war is on the horizon. However, one of the regular humans named of Justin proposes an idea that in their particular context is extremely radical. He believes that humans should not try to destroy the scabs, but to make peace with them. He told the regular humans that this is the way in Elyon (God) wants them to behave towards the scabs, who, like them, were also made in Elyon's image. As expected during war times, he was met with sharp criticism and branded as a traitor. He urged the regular humans to embrace the scabs and he encouraged the scabs to do the same. He tried to initiate a peace treaty between both groups, but was eventually turned over to the scabs by the regular humans (members of Elyon's council to be specific) to be killed. After he died, he appeared to Thomas and his circle shortly after. Sounds familiar?

    I thought that this was a very creative way to bring in the "Jesus element" of the story, because I'm not going to front, I was very skeptical of Justin's motives in the beginning and in the beginning thought he was a traitor. Why does he want them to broker a treaty with the scabs who are trying to destroy them, and on top of that be all calm, cool, and collected about the whole thing, lol? Once I thought about it, however, I started to think that this idea that seems so radical is not radical at all in God's (Elyon's) eyes. His goal is for all of us to view each other as being made in God's image, and to treat each other accordingly. What Justin was doing with the two armies, as Jesus did with the many different people he ministered to in His time, was bringing us closer to God and showing us the way.

    What do you think? What areas, situations, conflicts can you see Jesus intervening in today? What would this intervention look like? Until next time, stay blessed and speekonit...

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    A Few Thoughtz: Black

    Monica: Thomas? Can we talk on my level, just for a moment?

    Thomas: What do you think I've been trying to do for the past two hours?

    M: You've been talking on your level. Everything you're telling me makes perfect sense to you, but not to me.

    (A couple of exchanges later...)

    T: I don't know how I can be clearer. Either you believe me or you don't. You don't, so we have a problem.

    M: You still aren't talking to me on my level. I'm trying to explain my predicament so you can address me as a real person. A woman who is...confused and frightened by your antics.

    Peace and blessings,

    What is your initial take on the above exchange? Any thoughts as to what they could be talking about? The exchange came from the pages of Ted Dekker's Black: A Graphic Novel (2007). The graphic is one third of the circle trilogy (the other two-thirds are the Red and White graphic novels). More info on this graphic novel and the others in the trilogy can be found
  • here.
  • Since Black is part one of three, I'll only give a brief plot summary of part one.

    The story begins with Thomas, a young man who eventually finds out that he is alive in two different worlds. One world is the present-day world. The other world is a future world where good and evil are more easily identified. Further, the good life (i.e., the "Great Romance" as they call it) is available to anyone as long as they do not eat the forbidden fruit (you probably can see where this is going). He realizes that once he falls asleep, he wakes up in the other world. He is able to carry over his memory of one world to the other world, and soon realizes that these two worlds are connected. Once he realizes that these worlds are connected, and his purpose in negotiating this connection, he tries to convince others, among them is Monica who is featured in the above exchange.

    In the future world, Thomas finds out that his present world (i.e., the "world of the histories" as it's referred to by those in the future world) gets wiped out due to a vaccine that when heated at a particular temperature over a certain amount of time, turns into a deadly virus. Once Thomas finds out from the future world that Dr. Monica De Raison is the person who creates the vaccine (unaware of it's potential to become a deadly virus), he goes back to his present world to warn her. The above exchange is his attempt to convince her that (1) he is simultaneously living to two worlds (2) these worlds are connected and (2) her vaccine will turn into a virus that will destroy the planet. Piece of cake right, lol?

    The above exchange is my favorite part of this graphic novel, although the trilogy itself is one of the best comics/graphic novels I've read period. I like this exchange because in my opinion the "world is going to be destroyed if you don't listen to me" context can easily be replaced by another context: talking to a non-believer or someone who is just "not feeling God right now." Recently, I've realized that when I invite people to church and even at times when I share my faith with others, I do so without thinking about their past experiences with God, Christianity, another religion, or no religion. In other words, I realize that I at times I do not stop and think about how my offer to visit my church or the information I share with them regarding my faith in Christ is being perceived and processed from their perspective. Am I trying to share my faith without first understanding where the other person is coming from?

    Sometimes I feel like my exchanges with others can sound like the above exchange between Thomas and Monica. Moreover, I would go as far as to say that an important reason why we as Christians sometimes fail to bring people to Christ has less to do with what we say and more to do with the perspective from which we say it. Although what Thomas told her was the truth, Monica wanted to hear the truth on her level, not Thomas's. She wanted Thomas to relate to her as a human being, not simply as someone who needs to be convinced of the truth. I know that our own testimony is powerful and we need to use our personal experiences to reveal Christ to others. However, I think our personal testimony will be more effective if it is coordinated with the perspective of the person with whom we are sharing it with. I think Jesus' ministry was full of instances where he shared the good news with them in a way that took their thoughts, concerns, fears, emotions, and needs into account. As we are put in situations where God wants us to share the good news with others, I pray that we first learn about others' thoughts, feelings, concerns, and experiences pertaining to the truth before we try to convince them of the truth. Engaging in the difficult process of the former will better equip us to produce more fruit once we engage in the latter.

    What do you think? Can u recall any times when you tried to tell someone some valuable info you thought they needed to hear, but it fell on deaf ears because you did not take their perspective into account? How important do you think it is to consider others' perspectives when providing them with information you believe they need to hear? Take care, stay blessed, and speekonit...

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Following the Evidence...

    "Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him."

    - Psalm 34: 8 (NIV)

    "'Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.'"

    - John 14: 10-12

    "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, 'We want to hear you again on this subject.'"

    - Acts 17: 30-32

    Peace and blessings,

    Aside from
  • Heroes,
  • my favorite show on television is CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (the Las Vegas team). In fact, CSI has been my favorite show since my undergraduate years, long before "Heroes" entered the television scene. Among the many things I like about the show (e.g., the fact that everyone has a distinct, yet inter-related role to play in the collective whole, the various depictions of man's inhumanity to man, etc.), the bedrock of the show has to do with the high value the team gives to evidence in their relentless search for the truth.

    Typically the idea is that everything is guided by evidence, therefore regardless of how good an idea sounds or how plausible a theory appears to be, the final arbiter of truth is the evidence. It determines who did what, with whom, where, when, how, and why. Of course there are those rare occasions when "the evidence doesn't add up," and cannot provide the full answer to a particular questions (there have been episodes when this has been the case). Despite these rarities, however, the general consensus among the team is that the best path to take in the pursuit of truth is the one that follows the evidence.

    In my opinion, one of the prevailing misconceptions about Christianity is that to have faith in Christ means to believe "all things Jesus" just because the bible says so, or because someone was told that they have to if they want to go to heaven. Even those who can clearly and cogently defend their faith in Christ are at times perceived as crazy, irrational, and close-mined. Even as a Christian, there were times when I held similar views. How much of this "Christian stuff" is really valid? Do I truly understand why I believe what I believe, or is my "assurance" just a cover for what it really is: speculation with conviction? Furthermore, does being a Christian mean that my relationship to the truth is devoid of evidence as it is used in non-Christian contexts?

    Thankfully, God has and continues to work with me as I pose these questions from time to time. Through speaking to me personally and through other people and life experiences, God has provided me with answers to these questions that I needed to hear. One of the more recent answers came from a sermon I heard by Bruxy Cavey of the
  • Meeting House.
  • While talking about the misconceptions that atheists and Christians have about each other, he used the example of Doubting Thomas to illuminate a misconception that atheists often have about Christians: that to be a Christian is to not value evidence. He said that Jesus' decision to ask Thomas to touch him so that Thomas would believe is not only proof that Jesus Himself was not against the use of evidence, but that evidence has a role in Christians' pursuit of truth. We believe not because faith is what's left when evidence is lacking, but because our faith is a result of us getting our "CSI" on and following the evidence. Whether it's the works of God (as the above scriptures refer to), present day miracles, prophet dreams, fate encounters, unexplainable coincidences, answered prayers, physical, mental, and emotional healing, or seeing the bible coming alive thousands of years later, the evidence is abundant for the believer.

    As Bruxy noted, Jesus could have responded to Thomas' "I have to see dude to believe he's alive" orientation by rebuking him for not believing, but he didn't (although he did bless those who believe without seeing Him physically). He have Thomas the evidence he needed, and allowed Thomas to follow the evidence to his own conclusions. Regardless of what type of evidence we may need (e.g., physical, spiritual, relational, mental, financial, etc.) God is faithful to meet us where we're at. I encourage everyone who may be unsure about this God thing to ask Him to provide you with the evidence you need to believe in Him, and then follow where it leads...

    What do you think? For Christians: What is your evidence that Jesus Christ is Lord in your life? For non-Christians: What type of evidence would have you consider/seek God more? Take care, stay blessed, and speekonit...

    Process - Oriented

    "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

    - Romans 5: 3-5 (NIV)

    Peace and blessings,

    A month ago my pastor preached a message from this passage, and the focus was on what it means to have hope for Christians. Although I've read the passage before, this time it's like I saw it in a different light. Whereas in the past I interpreted this passage as encouragement during difficult times, now i interpreted it as describing a developmental process that we experience through in life, the outcome of which depends on the choices we make at each stage. In addition to it being a developmental process, In some way I think it is a reoccurring process as well. Reoccurring in the sense that I think that we constantly developing in the areas addressed in this passage, and the choices we make during these processes determine the extent of our growth in a particular area.

    The process described in the above passage is as follows: suffering - perseverance - character - hope.

    My interpretation of this process is the following: problem - persistence - purpose - and perspective. When we are faced with a problem, we have a choice to dwell on it and let it be the reason that we remain in the state or situation that we are in, or to work to solve and overcome it. Next, we are faced with two choices that determine whether or not we really want to address the problem. We can either persist until we overcome the problem, or we can persist for a while and then throw in the towel, succumbing to whatever it is trying to hold us back. Next there is the purpose aspect of the process, where our choices determine the character traits that we will make salient and strengthen in the midst of the problem we are facing. We can either sharpen traits that will strengthen our character, or we can feed those traits that dampen our character. Lastly, we come to a point where we must choose how we want this experience to contribute to how we will view similar problems we may face in the future. We can take on a more negative perspective and view future obstacles primarily as burdens, or we can take a more positive perspective and view these same obstacles as opportunities for personal and spiritual growth.

    I'm not justifying the existence of all problems on the basis that we can benefit from them. I truly believe that there are some problems that are "placed" on us and that we place on ourselves, that should have never existed. However, Jesus teaches us that we will face trials, and thus we need to be prepared. How we handle our problems influences who we become, and who we become influences how we view the world and our relation to it.

    What do you think? Stay blessed, encouraged, and speekonit...

    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    Random "Why" Question of the Moment

    In the midst of Washington D.C.'s national budgeting priorities, and my theory that the current Governor of California is turning Cali into Gotham City, the following question is current at the forefront of my mind:

    "Why is education not a priority in this country?"

    Marvel-ous (Throwback): X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (1982)

    Peace and blessings,

    I wanted so share a few thoughts on my favorite comic book story as of yet, and arguably one of the most significant comic book stories to date:
  • X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills.
  • For those of you who are familiar with the X-Men, you know that the main themes their comics address are prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance. The X-Men are humans who were born with special abilities, abilities that typically manifest during adolescence. The X-Men's goal to achieve peaceful co-existence between mutants and humans. Their pursuit of this goal is often met with three types of opposition, two of which are external and explicit, and the third type is internal and more subtle. The external opposition comes from humans and mutants alike, with many humans fearing and hating mutants, and some mutants who are either (1) bent on world domination (2) view the X-men as compromising sell-outs to the mutant race or (3) agree with the principles the X-Men stand for, but disagree with their method. The internal opposition, although less often and less prevalent, is a result of striving long and hard for a dream and ideal that often seems unattainable. Many members have left and came back, and many have left with no intent on coming back. Even those who are longstanding members have times where they doubt whether or not their work is really making a difference. I doubt that there is one person who has not experienced at least one of these types of opposition...

    Ok, so on with the story. It starts off with two children (they look African American), a little girl with her older brother, being chased in a playground at night. They are eventually caught by their pursuers and are basically told that their birth justifies their death (i.e. because they are mutants, they do not deserve to live). Amidst the children's crying and pleading for their life, they are shot in cold blood and hung from the swings in the playground...

    It would take too long to describe the entire story, but the opening pages lets you know that this is no "fun-times, slapstick" comic. In a nutshell, the story is about a man named William Stryker (a human) who, after finding out his wife (also a human) gave birth to a mutant, killed the child and wife, and covered it up. Shortly after wards, he claims to have received a calling from God telling him that his purpose in life is to eliminate the mutants from the earth, and to let them know of their wretchedness. He then becomes a minister and creates this multi-million dollar world-wide ministry organization to achieve those ends. His foot soldiers (a group of vigilante humans who "enforce" Rev. Stryker's hate doctrine, and who killed the two children in the opener), are called the Purifiers (yes, that's their name). Rev. Stryker eventually hears about the X-Men and believes that they are not God's children, and are actually the devil's children. After the X-Men eventually thwart Rev. Stryker's attempt to destroy them, they have a debate on national television about whether or not mutants are God's children.

    This comic not only resonates with me as an African American, but as a Christian. As an African American because historically and in many ways presently, we have been treated like those mutant kids at the story's opening. As a Christian because historically and presently, "faith" and "conviction" can be the driving catalysts in developing a "Purifiers-type" mentality. Historically, groups such as racial minorities (Africans, Indians, etc.) have been brutalized and dehumanized under the umbrella of "Christianity," while presently homosexuals, those of other religions, and atheists are viewed as "ungodly" (and treated as such) by people operating under that same umbrella. Now I'm not pointing fingers, and I know that I personally have to work on being too judgmental towards others. I believe that as humans, we are all capable of distorting the bible and Jesus' teachings to achieve our own selfish ends. However, I also believe that we need to learn from the mistakes learned in the past, and how these learning experiences can be used to more accurately represent the scriptures and Jesus' teachings in our present day relationships,communities, and spheres of influence.

    It seems to me that Jesus was showing us how to live above the tendencies that have so often plagued us since Adam and Eve sinned, and that were so clearly on display in Chris Claremont's "God Loves, Man Kills." The more that we as humans start looking at each other as children of God, as having a creator who gave each creation His imprint, then I believe the better equipped we will be to face the challenges that face us in the present, as well as those we will encounter in the future. As we move forward, let's choose the capacity of God's love over our capacity for sin, because nothing good ever came out of fear and hatred for those who are different (e.g., with regards to ethnicity, point of view, life experiences, etc.).

    What do you think? Have you read "God Loves, Man Kills?" If so, what do you think? If not, any general thoughts? Take care and speekonit...

    Political Stategy 101

    Peace and blessings,

    Nov. 4th, 2004. I can remember it like it was yesterday. A couple of weeks prior, I had watched two of the preseidential debates between John Kerry and George Bush. With regards to the issues, it seemed to me that John Kerry won both debates hands down. His ideas seems to make more logical sense, and his rhetoric was more coherent. Although he wasn't dynamic or charismatic, I didn't think that come Nov. 4th, that would matter. I was wrong. The way John Kerry got "smashed" by Bush told me that I knew little to nothing about American politics. Granted I've never taken a political science course, and I typically do not pay much attention to political news, I naively thought that when it's all said and done, what's most important is the issues. While I feel like Kerry was on point regarding the issues, Bush spoke with a confidence and conviction that in my opinion connected more with his supporters, making them feel more comfortable with keeping him in office another four years. What I also remember about Nov. 4th 2004 was the morning after, when my boss (who was very disappointed in the voting outcome), asked me if from my opinion, what accounts for Christians' support of Bush (She knew I was a Christian). I first told her that Christians are a diverse group, and therefore we are not homogeneous when it comes a variety of issues, political views included. I also told her that as a Christian, I (and most of my Christian friends) personally disagree with Bush and do not think he should be leading the country.

    Unlike the 2000 and 2004 elections, I find myself not only more attuned to the candidates' positions, but I'm actually excited about this political season. It seems like the differences between the two directions our country can go in during the next four years could not be more clearer: either we're going to try to handle things at home and abroad differently, or we are going to continue to "ride things out" as they are. In addition, I am also paying more attention to the amount of strategy involved on both sides. The example I want to talk about here is each candidates' VP pick.

    McCain and Palin: When I first heard about who McCain chose for his VP, I was thinking about how "smart" the choice was in a political sense. Although she doesn't have much experience in vital areas, she has something else in her favor. She seems relatively young, she's a woman, and she's snappy/hip. In other words, she's everything that Republican candidates are usually stereotyped not to be.

    Obama and Biden: When first heard about Obama's choice for a running mate, I didn't think much of it. I mean I knew it had to be a well-thought out choice because Obama strikes me as someone who is very methodical. However, in terms of political strategy, I thought that McCain's choice represented a more "out-of the box" choice than Obama's. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that Obama's choice was just as politically strategic as McCain's. While on the surface it may seem kind of "suspect" that Obama would choose Biden, someone who in the past has said that he does not thing Obama is ready to lead, a closer reveals otherwise. Aside from Biden's experience (the fact that he has more than McCain was surely a factor in his choice), I think that Biden's initial uncertain of Obama's readiness for leadership is the reason why he was chosen as a running mate. Why? Because having someone who didn't think you had enough experience is consistent with Obama's overall message: that people can out aside differences and come together on principles.

    So there it is. Two politically strategic choices for two (seemingly) different reasons. McCain wants to give off the notion that he and the republican can embrace significant change when necessary. Obama wants to give off the notion that at the core, people have more commonalities than differences. I personally think that it's the latter reason that is going to be more important come Nov. 4th.

    What do you think? Take care and speekonit...