God is doing more than we know,
but here is what we know God is doing.
as a taste, here is the cover letter from Pastor Andrew:
Dear Oakland Family,
I believe Jesus is behind every story. Every great story is great because it echoes the One Great Story. The Gospel of Jesus is truer than true and more beautiful than beauty. All goodness, truth, and beauty point to the beautiful, true, and good One.
Most Friday during COVID, Claire, Jack, and I make a fire in our firepit, a Earl Corbett-custom. Then we put a TV on a wooden bench and watch a movie around the fire. It’s not high class, but its magical. We take turns picking movies based on the season or important dates. On Juneteenth, MLK Weekend, and after the murder of George Floyd, we introduced Jack to our country’s racist past by watching movies like Remember the Titans, Glory Road, and My Friend Martin. On Labor Day, we watched Newsies. At Christmas, we watched The Star and The Grinch. Claire and I love to show Jack our childhood favorites like Mary Poppins, Old Yeller, and The Love Bug.
Last week, we watched Onward, a Disney-Pixar movie that debuted right when COVID shut down all the movie theaters in the land. Onward blew me away with a story about emotional longing, ethical criminality, unrecognized blessings, and a society that has traded magic for technology. We’ll save the personal longing and family dynamics for another article, because I was blown away first by the social commentary at the start of the movie.
The movie begins with images of wild Pegasus herds running free, mermaids frolicking in a lagoon, and pixies sprinkling laughter, while the narrator recounts, “Long ago, the world was full of wonder! It was adventurous. Exciting. And best of all, there was magic! And that magic, helped all in need.” We see a string of scenes in which, magicians perform a few epic feats to defeat evil and thousands lots of small tasks to alleviate practical needs like lighting cook fires and providing light inside homes. Then as the narrator continues, “But, [the magic] wasn’t easy to master,” we watch a magician apprentice attempt a simple task of creating a torch, fail and electrocute himself. The narrator continues, “And so the world found a simpler way to get by…” and we see a long string of scenes in which magic lamps are replaced by electric lightbulbs and conjured cook fires replaced by gas ranges and remote-controlled gas logs. Then the degeneration escalates quickly as we see a female centaur playing a video game called Prance Prance Revolution, a mermaid talking on a smartphone while lounging in a kiddie pool behind a cookie-cutter row house, an airplane full of winged creatures, a highway of cars filled with once fleet-footed creatures, and finally unicorns eating garbage out of overturned trash cans like modern raccoons. And the narrator sighs, “Over time…magic faded away.”
It was shocking to see the glorious mythical creatures like unicorns, Pegasi, griffins, and minotaurs reduced to trash eating, technology junkies who’ve learned to wear pants, live in suburbs, and Facebook, but who’ve forgotten how to soar or gallop or frolic. My heart broke for them.
But not just for them, more for us. In this myth like all myths, we see ourselves as in a mirror. The world God created and longs for is thick with Spirit and spiritual power and spiritual possibility. Trees dance, mountains shuffle, and rocks cry out in praise. Human beings are full of the same Spirit and Power that raised Jesus from the dead – they hear the voice of God and angels. This Spirit at work in them empowers them to address every practical need in the world from food, clothing, and shelter in seemingly mundane acts. Further the Spirit miraculously uses them to heal illnesses, cure conditions, and do justice. Still more, full of the light of Heaven, this army of saints defeats epic powers of darkness in demonic possession, demonic lies, and demonic oppression.
But this life in the flow of God’s Spirit is not easy to master. It takes years of apprenticeship to Jesus via Jesus’ apprentices. It takes countless hours of disciplined practicing faith – disciplines like honesty, hospitality, intercessory prayer, listening prayer, meditation, fasting, simplicity, silence, community, confession, amends-making, celebration, feasting, generosity, and singing. It takes repeated failure and perseverance; courage and discomfort; joy and grit.
But people wanted light-switch spirituality, cruise control Christianity, 5-minute meditations, and social media post piety. And so, the world thick with Spirit was inebriated by technology. Spiritual maturity was replaced by technical expertise.
In C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, Lucy encounters a once noble creature so reduced, and she asks, “Wouldn’t it be dreadful if someday in our own world, at home, men start going wild inside, like the animals here, and still look like men, so that you’d never know which were which.”
Horrifying isn’t it. Have we become unicorns scavenging in trash cans?
Maybe we have, but God has not. Onward does not end in despair, because the Gospel does not end with condemnation but redemption. In Jesus, we see a life magically alive with the Spirit, and Jesus uses his Spirit-filled life, death, and resurrection to not only forgive our self-degradation but also to completely renovate us into homes of the Spirit at home in a Spirit-filled material world. And so once again, we’re invited to embrace the magic, even if it’s hard to master. If we do, we’ll relearn how to soar, to gallop, and to frolic, and how to be of help to all people while doing it.