GREEK ORTHODOX PRAYER FOR GOOD FRIDAY

“Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on a tree.
The King of the Angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped in the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.
He who clothes Himself with light as with a garment stood naked for trial.
He was struck on the cheek by hands that He himself had formed.
A people that transgressed the law.
Nailed the Lord of Glory to the cross.
Then the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
Then the sun was darkened,
Unable to bear the sight of God outraged,
Before Whom all things tremble.
Let us worship Him.
The disciples denied Him,
But the thief cried out:
“Remember me, O Lord, In Thy Kingdom!”

POLITICAL PRINCIPLES

Here are a few political principles that I hold to. These principles necessarily intersect in various ways, and can be used to form a structure for society. Because I am the type to prefer to keep my mind open, rather than closing out options, these are always subject to change.

  1. Individualism. In the political sphere I am an individualist. For me, the individual is paramount over the group or collective. Alongside the common libertarian and conservative refrain “that government is best which governs least,” I’d add that that government is best which governs closest. What I mean by this is that you are the best governor of yourself (i.e. self-government). From there we can expand it out through the levels, but each level is further away than the last and will have less capability and understanding to govern you. This comes with both great freedom and responsibility. The presumption should be for individual liberty. Alongside this is that individualism is the best way to allow for pluralism in society. To try to collectivize a pluralistic society is to strangle it, but individual liberty allows for individuals of various pluralities to flourish in their own unique ways.

  2. Federalism/Localism. This goes alongside the previous point, but what can be handled at the lowest level, should be. For instance, a more effective way for the federal government to engage in education policy, would be to support local solutions in education problems, rather than dictating solutions as one size fits all. A correlative of this is voluntary cooperation/organizations. Part of localism isn’t just local government, but all the voluntary institutions that make up a community. Individualism undergirds this by providing individuals the freedom to form these groups and join them or decline as they wish. These institutions also form necessary mediation between the individual and the state.

  3. Humans are imperfectible. Humans cannot be made perfect, although progress can be made. This means all utopian schemes should be looked at with great suspicion. This doesn’t mean that improvements cannot be made. Violence is on the decline worldwide, slavery is being combatted around the world, medicine has made huge improvements, and technology and science are making leaps and bounds in progress. But we know that no “solution” is perfect and that tradeoffs must always be made both because of human imperfectibility and scarcity. There are limits to what we can accomplish, but this also means that when we do accomplish things, such as the moon landing or defeating smallpox, it is that much more of an incredible feat.

  4. Bottom-up. The best solutions to problems take place from the bottom-up rather than the top-down. This is why freedom and individualism is so valuable and important. It allows individuals, and groups of individuals to try and test new things and see what works and what doesn’t work. This is how progress has been made economically, scientifically, technologically, political policy, etc. Whenever top-down solutions are imposed rarely do they go well. Top-down solutions aren’t able to take into account local variations like bottom-up solutions do.

  5. Rule of law. The rule of law is essential for limiting government, and protecting freedom. Without the rule of law, we are left with the arbitrary rule of men. In the United States, this rule of law takes the form of the constitution, but in other countries, it can take other forms. It is important that any rule of law be general and abstract so as to apply to all rather than targeted toward a few particulars. Part of the rule of law too is recognizing that any rights we have do not come from government, but are inherent to our humanity. Rights to life and liberty and property, are not granted by government, but protected by government, and are not to be infringed upon.

  6. Empiricism. I am not an empirical absolutist, but we need empirical data and studies to fully understand problems and come up with solutions. Empirical data doesn’t care if you are conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. Man-made climate change is an empirical reality, as is biological evolution, and the importance of vaccines and whether or not GMO’s are healthy (studies show that GMO’s are not harmful to your health). As David Hume said, “a wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence.” Alongside empiricism, we must take pragmatism into consideration. It is important to look at the actual results of the policies and see if they work. I am a big believer in aiding the poor, and helping those unable to help themselves. However, if the evidence shows that redistributionary programs don’t work, then we need to either change them to try to make them more effective, or they need to be completely abolished, and either replaced or not. (In my opinion, the best cure for poverty is not redistributing wealth, but economic growth.)

One factor I left out of this is how my faith and politics intersect. I intentionally left this out in order to spend more time on that issue in a soon to come post.


  1. I would also like to add to Empiricism, that facts don’t speak for themselves. We necessarily need theories to both put facts together, and then interpret the facts (i.e. data).

REFLECTIONS AFTER PALM SUNDAY

Photo by adcreech/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by adcreech/iStock / Getty Images

Yesterday was Palm Sunday and I wanted to share a few thoughts at the beginning of Holy Week. At the very end of the service at our church, the organist played a tune called “Gothic Suite.” The playing was marvelous, and yet what came to my mind was a sense of foreboding that the music carried. All of Israel, and Jewish pilgrims from all across the Roman Empire are converging on Jerusalem for the Passover festival, the time when Jews celebrate their deliverance from slavery and oppression in Egypt. For the Jews of that time period though, the celebration was paradoxical. They were living under what they would have considered to be their oppression under Rome, and they were constantly anticipating the time when God would return to rescue them and restore the temple and the nation of Israel to a greater glory than that of King David. They longed for a king who would lead them to victory over the pagan forces that dominated them. This is what they were celebrating and asking of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Hosanna means “save us”. They were asking Jesus to be the one to deliver them. The celebration is ecstatic, as anyone can tell reading the chapters of Jesus’ triumphal entry.

However, that triumph quickly turns sour, as Jesus enters the temple and declares God’s judgment on the temple, and shortly thereafter, he prophesies that the temple would be destroyed. He challenges Israel’s authorities at every turn. Jesus is bringing God’s purposes to bear on the people, and it is not what they either wanted or expected. By the end of the week, the crowd is shouting “crucify him” instead of “hosanna.” By the end of the week, Jesus is crucified and placed in a grave.

Often times in pageants put on by churches, Jesus is smiling and enjoying the crowd as he enters Jerusalem. However, I am inclined to think that he was actually sad. He knew what the crowd truly wanted, and he also knew that that was not what he came to offer them. Jesus did come to inaugurate God’s kingdom, but it was not a kingdom of the style that originates in this world. It is a kingdom of the meek and lowly. Where the last are first, and the first are last. Where the servants lead, and the leaders are servants. Where people love God, and love their neighbors as themselves. A kingdom of peacemakers rather than warmongers. A kingdom of the persecuted, who love and forgive rather than seek revenge. A kingdom of people who turn the other cheek rather than striking back. Kingdom people who love their enemies rather than hating and fighting them. He brought a kingdom of sheep who serve God by serving the least of these. This was not what Israel wanted, and this is not what most people want today.

The interesting thing is that Jesus suffering on the cross is dependent on the Jewish population being in exactly that position. If the Jewish people were set on following Jesus, then the cross wouldn’t have happened, because Jesus was only delivered to be crucified after Pilate provided the crowd with the option. One could easily paint either the crowd, Pilate, or the Jewish authorities as the key ingredient historically in Jesus’ death. My focus on the crowd is to indicate the dynamic in the change from the shouting of hosannas on Palm Sunday, to the shouts of crucify on Good Friday.

How does this affect our thinking on the atonement? I’m not sure. I subscribe to no one theory in particular, and I think they all have something to contribute to our understanding. In Eastern Orthodoxy, as I understand it, the closest thing they have come to a theory is Christus Victor, and beyond that they are content to live in the mystery of how the cross works theologically. The word atonement itself simply means “at one with”, and I think this is perhaps the best take. On the cross, God and humans are reconciled and brought together in Jesus. There are profound depths to explore here, and a blog post is completely inadequate for the task. Maybe for now, we can continue to think through and plumb its depths, and stand in its mystery as we continue on through Holy Week.

PALM SUNDAY PRAYER

In your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ

to take upon him our nature,

and to suffer death upon the cross,

giving us the example of his great humility:

Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering,

and also share in his resurrection;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

THE COSMOLOGICAL WEAKNESS

The Cosmological argument generally goes something like this, whatever begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause. This post is not about the weaknesses in that argument. What I want to do instead, is address the weakness in this approach to apologetics. It has long been the case, at least since the Enlightenment, if not long before that), that Christians have thought they can prove the Bible, and consequently, Christianity, if only they can prove that the universe has a creator. Many apologists make the argument as if they have proven Christianity true by making such an argument. There are other arguments that are often used, especially by trying to argue using specific features of the cosmos like, design, etc. However, they couldn’t be more mistaken. Instead, you end up arguing for a generic god. I have tried many times on my own to connect these arguments together, and have never been able to make the connection logically. At best, you have a general theistic god, at worse, a deistic god, it could be the God that Christians worship, but not necessarily. This is not to say there is no good that can come from natural theology. Natural theology is an excellent project, especially by scientists who are also theologians, such as John Polkinhorne. A doctrine of creation is important too, within a Christian context once we already understand Jesus and the implications for the world and the cosmos.

Christian apologetics has to start with Jesus, who is the center of our faith. To get into a debate based on creation is to miss the central point. If all you wish to do is establish that there is a god, then debate away, but, logically, you will then not be able to make the connection to Christianity.

CHRIST IN FILM

Throughout our faith journey, we encounter Christ in many ways. Through church, through prayer, through family, friends, even strangers. One place I’ve encountered Christ that’s had a huge impact on my life is the movies. I really don’t think I’d be where I’m at today without it. That might sound a little odd but I think the visual and aural medium that is film can speak to us and perhaps enrich our lives in a way that is truly surprising and unique.

These cinematic encounters I’m talking about don’t necessarily come from movies centered on Christ either. Christ-figures are prominent in films, whether it is in the superhero genre or in more dramatic pictures like The Shawshank Redemption or Braveheart. There is something about Christ and what He represents that even in a medium mostly associated with worldly affairs, His example can shine through.

For this first part, I’d like to start off by focusing on some films that have Christ figures or symbolism. I believe it gives a nice picture of how Christ influences story and imagery in the movies.

Superman (1978), Superman Returns (2006), Man of Steel (2013)

There’s no subtlety in the Superman films when it comes to portraying Superman as a Christ figure. Right at the beginning of the 1978 film, this symbolism is made clear. Jor-El’s (Superman’s father) goodbye to his son was intended to be as if this was God sending Christ to Earth. The Christian belief that God the Father and God the Son are one is heard in this scene. The parallels continue throughout the movie with Superman being raised by ideal earthly parents, leaving his home in Kansas to spend time in the arctic wilderness reasoning with his father before beginning his heroics, just as Jesus was raised by Mary and Joseph and spent time in the wilderness in prayer with His Father before beginning His public ministry.

The 2006 release of Superman Returns further cemented these parallels, an intentional choice on the part of the director. In Superman Returns, we learn that Lois Lane, Superman’s love interest (no Jesus parallels there conspiracy theorists), wrote an article titled “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman.” She tells him that the world doesn’t need a savior. In a beautiful scene, Superman takes Lois high above the world and tells her, “I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.” We see this earlier in the film when Superman flies above the Earth to hear the cries of the world, remembering the words of his father about humanity: “They can be a great people Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you…my only son.” Think of Jesus saying “I am the light of the world” and the numerous references in the New Testament of God sending Jesus, referring to Him as His “only Son.” There are even more parallels to Jesus’ earthly ministry in Superman Returns, such as Superman being stabbed in the side, falling to the Earth in the form of the cross after making the ultimate sacrifice, and disappearing from his hospital room in a reference to the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection.

In 2013, the Superman film series was rebooted and a new origin story was told in Man of Steel. If there was a time to make a clean break from the Superman as Jesus motif, this was it, but to my surprise the parallels were drawn again, some in familiar ways to the 1978 film. In one of the early scenes set on Superman’s home world of Krypton, Jor-El says that Kal-El will be a god to humanity. When Superman is learning how to fly, we hear Jor-El telling him: “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” As it was in the 1978 Superman, he is once again the light we will follow. Also reflected here is something Paul writes numerous times in the New Testament, that the human pursuit to be more like Jesus will not be perfect. In a very not-so-subtle moment (but in a good way), Superman goes to a church to talk to a priest about what he should do since the villain, General Zod, demands the Earth give up Superman or face destruction. Superman’s remark to the priest that “If there’s a chance I can save Earth by turning myself in…shouldn’t I take it?” is made all the more symbolic due to the stained glass window behind him depicting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where He made the decision to willingly be arrested and go to the cross.

The last parallel I want to discuss from Man of Steel is when Jor-El tells Superman that he is to be the bridge between two peoples, think of Christ reconciling humanity with God. Furthermore, when Jor-El tells Superman he can save all of humanity, Superman flies away in the shape of the cross. In a twist on typical cross imagery though, Superman strikes the cross pose not in a moment of sacrifice. It is used to suggest a promise instead, that Superman is willing to suffer and die to save the Earth.

The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003)

In The Fellowship of the Ring, the wizard Gandalf the Grey sacrifices himself to save his friends, falls, and dies. As he falls, his body forms like the cross. You could also make an argument that Gandalf is struck in the heel by the Balrog, which would be, if intentional, an incredible reference to Genesis 3:15.

In The Two Towers, Gandalf returns as Gandalf the White after having been resurrected. It is worth noting that the author of the Lord of the Rings books, J.R.R. Tolkien, was a devout Catholic, so it isn’t surprising to find this type of symbolism in his great work of fantasy.

The Matrix Trilogy (1999 – 2003)

The Matrix films have a good amount of Christian (and non-Christian) symbolism. In the first film of the trilogy, the main character Neo (also known as The One) dies and comes back to life. In the second film, Neo brings his love interest, Trinity, back from the dead. In the third film, Neo gives his life to bring peace to a world at war with machines. He is in the shape of the cross when he dies and the words spoken by the machines at that moment, “It is done,” obviously reference one of the last words of Jesus on the cross.

Gran Torino (2008)

In Gran Torino, the main character Walt Kowalski, after spending most of the movie as a racist and downright nasty person, makes his peace with God and gives his life to save his neighbors. The blood trickling down his hand adds to the symbolism of his death in the cross pose.

Braveheart (1995)

The winner of the 1995 Oscar for Best Picture, Braveheart, has many moments of symbolism drawn from the life of Christ. Everyone knows the symbolism at the end when William Wallace is executed on a cross, but other parallels can be found, including how Wallace is betrayed three times in a moment when he needed those who betrayed him. Robert the Bruce is like Peter in that he repents after his betrayal of Wallace and takes up his sword in the end, just as Peter repented after denying Jesus and led the early church after the ascension.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne is incarcerated for a murder he didn’t commit. He shows others a different way of living in an imprisoned world and escapes, literally taking on the waste and filth of the Shawshank prison population, and is washed clean in cross-like imagery. The prison guards discover Andy’s cell empty – a reference to the empty tomb. For further commentary, I highly recommend reading Father Robert Barron’s reflections on this incredible film.

So what we see here is not just imagery but also story showing the example of Christ. There are other films as well that do this like The Chronicles of Narnia films with the Christ-figure of Aslan, a lion, who sacrifices himself and is resurrected. There’s also E.T. which features a friendly alien that miraculously heals people, who dies and comes back to life in white robes and ascends to the heavens. The Hunger Games film, Catching Fire, also features obvious cross imagery in one of its last scenes, equating the main characters sacrifice with Christ’s.

Obviously with this imagery, we are encountering Christ on some level while watching a movie. But for many of these examples, there’s nothing else in the characters or stories that point to Christ, other than the momentary imagery of the cross. So that then raises the question, why use that imagery to begin with?

I think the answer to that is because society equates the cross with the ultimate sacrifice, of putting others ahead of one’s own interests. This is universally recognized symbolism that even non-believers would recognize and even appreciate on some level. But most of these examples don’t really lead us towards Jesus – it’s just neat imagery. It doesn’t cause us to examine our own faith or make us want to dig deeper into the scriptures. I’m not saying they should and I don’t think that’s the point of these movies, but it really is incredible when you experience a movie that changes you, that impacts your faith, that leads you to God’s Word, and results in an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Amistad (1997)

One film I want to delve more deeply into relating to a cinematic encounter is the 1997 historical drama Amistad, directed by Steven Spielberg. For those of you unfamiliar with Amistad, it tells the story of the intense legal battle that followed the capture by the United States of African slaves who had taken control of the slave ship they were imprisoned on, La Amistad, in 1839.

I’m going to focus on one scene in particular from the film, but first, a little bit of background for what has happened leading up to this scene. The Africans are in prison waiting for the verdict on whether they will be recognized as free. The question before the court and for the judge to decide is “Were they born in Africa?” If they were, then they are free since the international slave trade was prohibited at that time. But there are other parties involved in the case who claimed otherwise – that the slaves were born in Cuba, and should remain as slaves. Earlier in the movie, while on their way to the court house, one of the Africans, who is called Yamba, takes a Bible from a Christian man who wants to pray for him. It’s not necessarily the most amicable encounter between two cultures, but Yamba keeps the Bible and looks through it. In the scene we are about to watch, we witness Yamba and Cinque, who is the main character, looking through the Bible. This is intercut with the Catholic judge, who is presiding over the case, praying over the decision he has to make. Click here for the scene

What I love most about this scene is that it is essentially a gospel presentation in the middle of a movie about a legal battle. It speaks to the universality of the gospel message and how the story of Jesus has spoken and continues to speak to all people and cultures. These slaves do not understand English but they witness the gospel through images and encounter Jesus through it.

Another thing I love is the first question Cinque asks Yamba about the story – “Who is he?” That’s the question we are all faced with when we encounter Christ and it is a question Jesus asked those who encountered him – “Who do you say that I am?” Yamba obviously doesn’t know Jesus’ name but as we see, Yamba identifies with Christ. Cinque tells Yamba that Jesus had to have done something wrong to merit punishment and Yamba replies, “Why? What did we do?” Yamba sees his own suffering in Christ and is drawn to the Jesus story because of it. After showing Cinque the crucifixion, Cinque says to Yamba that it’s just a story. Yamba tells Cinque, “But look,that’s not the end of it!” Yamba sees the hope that is in Christ, in the one who did nothing wrong dying and ascending into heaven. Yamba believes in this story and in the hope that comes from the suffering Christ on the cross, the resurrection, and eternity in heaven. He believes he will go to the place Jesus went to after ascending. That all may sound like a stretch, but I don’t think it is. Look at the point being made at the end of that scene with the Bible. Yamba returns to the page with the crucifixion and then flips to the page with the empty cross. What if the story just ended at the crucifixion? What is the cross without the resurrection? There is no hope in that. It is simply the end – you die and that’s it. “But look! That’s not the end of it!” Yes we die, but that’s not the end of our story. The cross is empty – symbolizing the hope that comes from the resurrection. This is the hope that Yamba recognizes.

It is through an encounter with Christ through suffering that this truth is revealed. After that scene with the Bible, Yamba and the others approach the courthouse and there are many people holding crosses and making the sign of the cross. Yamba especially focuses on 3 ship masts which remind him of the 3 crosses on Calvary. He is holding the Bible, which I believe symbolizes the faith he his holding onto. The judge, who heard of the horrors the slaves endured while crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the scene before this, prays before the suffering Christ. The judge too sees that truth and identifies the plight of these Africans with that of Christ. He draws a parallel between their trial and Jesus’ trial. In his meditations before the cross, the judge decides the innocent cannot die this time. He declares them free and Yamba celebrates and holds up his Bible, seemingly giving thanks to God for saving them.

More of course happens in the movie and the Africans’ case ultimately goes before the Supreme Court of the United States where they are declared free. But what we see here shown in his brief scene from Amistad is the story of the Christian faith – the truth and reality of it. That Jesus Christ came down to us, not to take away suffering or magically make our lives perfect, but to fill suffering and all things with His presence. That we have hope and confidence because of His resurrection.

AXIOMS OF FAITH

I highly encourage everyone to read this. Even if you are sound in your faith, these are at the very least interesting thoughts. If you are struggling or questioning faith, these can give you a scaffolding to rebuilding your faith. If you do not believe in God at all, they are at least interesting. The axioms do not represent orthodox Christian faith, but are a way to approach Christianity if you are outside the faith or really trying to build your faith back up from the bottom.

These are my axioms of faith. An axiom is a premise so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy (according to Wikipedia). To that note, everything on this list is something I can support with mainstream science. This is a form of faith for empiricists and skeptics–the people who need evidence to support any belief.

And just one of the axioms for a taste…

God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace, and empathy for others.

MOVIE REVIEWS

Photo by Creatas/Creatas / Getty Images
Photo by Creatas/Creatas / Getty Images

Starting in the next couple of days we will have recurring movie reviews from Paradoxical contributor David Willard. Here is is bio:

David Willard is the film critic for Paradoxical. Mr. Willard developed a love for movies growing up through watching the films of Steven Spielberg, and today enjoys writing about movies and the impact they can have on our lives. Mr. Willard’s writing interests also include the impact of music in film, as well as the intersection of faith and film. Mr. Willard is married, a proud father, and currently resides in the Mid-Atlantic.

David is an excellent writer, and I am really glad to have him on board. Look for his first post here soon!