Faith and Film (prt. 2): The Mission

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By Joe LaGuardia

When I was in high school, my sister Gina and brother-in-law Frank invited me to join them for dinner in Manhattan with one of Frank’s clients. Frank was a personal trainer and this client had meant a great deal to him; the client, a Jesuit priest whose name I’ve since lost, had become a sort of mentor and father figure to Frank.

I don’t remember the fine details of our conversation over dinner, but I do remember enjoying the priest’s explanation of Catholicism and the Society of Brothers, commonly known as the Jesuits. I, an evangelical mostly reared in the south, had certain assumptions of Catholics that this particular Brother sought to correct. He did a good job, and I’ve respected Catholics in general and Jesuits specifically ever since.

One other thing I remember clearly is that the priest recommended I watch the 1986 movie The Mission, staring Robert DeNiro. He thought it might be a good historical primer on the work that Jesuits had accomplished over the centuries.

In The Mission DeNiro, a Portuguese conquistador and slave trader, warred with the Jesuits and their work in converting South American Guarani natives. DeNiro ends up killing his brother over a love triangle and runs away to the Jesuits. Father Gabriel, played by Jeremy Irons, takes him in as a sort of disciple.

Much of the movie focuses on DeNiro’s transformation from warrior to wounded servant. The journey he takes is one of redemption, and–as any good epic goes–a discovery that his biggest enemy is himself. God forgives him, but he cannot receive it because he cannot forgive himself.

In one of the most powerful scenes of the movie, DeNiro made a long climb up a waterfall to reach the mission with a band of priests and natives. He is hauling his armor in a sort of net knapsack, and after climbing all the way he falls in exhaustion and pain. A native grabs a knife and cuts the chords to the knapsack, and the armor plummets down the mountain. DeNiro finds liberation. His past, now behind him, no longer enslaves him. The natives accept him as one of their own.

For years and years, I have spent much of my Christian walk trying to figure out what baggage I keep bringing along with me in my ascension towards Christ. What is it that I am holding onto? Where do I need the fresh waters of the mountains and the salty tears of my soul to bless and baptize me? Where do I need Christ’s liberation and permission to forgive myself for all of the stupid things I’ve done and continue to do?

These questions haunt me, and the images of The Mission still ring in my imagination. Its amazing how one Manhattan dinner with a stranger who happened to be a priest made such an impact on my life. I can see–as I realized back then–why this man was so important to Frank’s life.

The last I checked, Frank lost contact with the priest, so I am unable to contact the priest and tell him how much that conversation meant to me. I am unable to convey (on this side of heaven, at least) how his wisdom, grace, and movie recommendation changed my life.

I was a born again evangelical when I met with Gina, Frank, and that priest over dinner so long ago; and I feel I was born again a second time after I walked away from that dinner.

Five qualities of a church with Vision

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This article is curated from EthicsDaily.com. 

By Matt Sapp

I attended a few weeks ago Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit at Wieuca Road Baptist Church, a satellite host site for the summit in Atlanta. The unofficial motto of the summit is Bill Hybel’s repeated reminder that “everyone wins when a leader gets better.”

That’s the goal of the summit: to make leaders – and particularly Christian leaders – better at what they do. This year’s theme was “A Grander Vision.” As the challenges we face get bigger and as the rate of change around us continues to accelerate, it takes big vision and big courage to keep up.

One of the things I wrestle with almost daily is how the church can adapt to rapidly changing cultural and social contexts.

What I sometimes forget, though, is that it’s not just the church that’s having to adapt. Everyone – every institution and every individual from every walk of life – is having to adapt to the pace of change, too. – Read more at EthicsDaily.com

They say, “Peace, peace,” when there is none to be found

By Joe LaGuardia

This Christmas Eve, as Trinity and so many other churches gather for candlelight services to celebrate Christ’s birthday, we will likely sing about the peace that accompanies Christmas.

The song, “Silent Night, Holy Night,”will woo our beloved baby Jesus to “sleep in heavenly peace.”  And “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” will encourage us to rightly “hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.”

The next morning, as my children open their long-awaited gifts and I cook my lasagna for the mid-afternoon meal, it will be a memorable time of celebration and joy.

Yet, in the midst of such celebration, we cannot forget that we live in a world ridden with conflict.  In fact, many Christians around the world will not enjoy the same kind of Christmas experience as we.

Take Nigeria as just one example of a place in which hardships are facing Christians.

Nigeria is a diverse nation that has long enjoyed some semblance of peace among neighbors and inter-faith communities.

One of the largest Christian communities there is the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa of Nigeria (EYN), a contingent of the Church of the Brethren (a small, Germanic-born Protestant movement as old as the Reformation).

For years, the EYN have opened grade-schools, seminaries, clinics, social service organizations, and other relief communities.

In the last year, however, the EYN, among other Christian and Muslim communities, have come under attack by the radical Boko Haram movement, which made the news recently for kidnapping some 200 school girls.

According to the Church of the Brethren website, some 500 Brethren women and children have been kidnapped, over 3000 members have been killed, and nearly 100,000 have been displaced.

According to another report, Boko Haram seized the EYN headquarters and a partnering seminary as of October.

Many refugees are finding solace in Jos, Nigeria, the location of one of our local missionary’s place of ministry (missionary, Melanie Martin, once taught at nearby Honey Creek Elementary School) .  They are regrouping there in search of relief, shelter, and medical supplies.

This means that while I am figuring out how to perfect my lasagna on Christmas day, thousands of families will have nothing to eat.

No one likes getting bad news on Christmas.  Even relief organizations in our own country provide “the least of these” with enough resources to have a blessed Christmas.

And we should.  But we also should not deny that our privilege as a people sometimes blinds us to the needs beyond our borders.

We don’t know what its like to have our children kidnapped or our families displaced.  We don’t know what its like to lose our land and make a pilgrimage across country without adequate drinking water.

The birth of the Prince of Peace in our lives does not deny this fact.  Rather, the Prince of Peace’s birthday shines a spotlight on the plight of humankind and confronts our response to it.

God gave us Jesus to have life, but God also gave us Jesus to provide light and life to others who are in need.  Unfortunately, we spend so much time complaining about what we don’t have or what we want, we forget that much of what we do have is taken for granted.

This Christmas do not neglect the needs of people around the world who have yet to experience true peace.  We may sing about it, but it will take a commitment from all of us–be it through giving money or serving overseas–to make peace a reality where peace is hard to find.

In related news: Praise God for Discover Point Church and so many other churches who are providing meals to needy families in our county this season.  DP is feeding hundreds of families on Christmas day, challenging volunteers to spend Christmas serving others rather than serving themselves.  We are proud to partner with DP in providing kitchen facilities necessary for accommodating the crowd.

If you are interested in helping with the Nigerian Brethren crisis, please contact Roy Winter at rwinter@brethren.org or visit the Brethren website for more information on how to serve or to give.