World Trade Center film zooms in on teams

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dormant strength and courage
World Trade Center, the Paramount motion picture directed by Oliver Stone and starring Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Michael Shannon, helps us remember, not "a day that will live in infamy," but the strength and courage that lies dormant in every human heart, ready to spring into action when summoned.

Narrowing the focus
Unlike several other 9/11 projects, this film does not document the timeline of events from multiple perspectives, choosing instead to follow two men drawn to the scene of the disaster by their sense of duty as Port Authority police officers.

Sergeant John McLoughlin leads his unit of volunteers through the lower concourse just as the first tower starts coming down. A split-second assessment of what is happening prompts him to thrust his team into a side hallway next to an elevator, just as the entire building collapses around them. The rest of the film focuses on the claustrophobic space surrounding the trapped men, their waiting families clinging to fading hopes, and the heroic workers attempting to rescue them.

Finding their place
The common thread throughout the movie is how the human beings reacting to 9/11 coalesced into teams. The police assembled a team to assist in the building evacuations. The firemen teamed up to effect rescues. The military personnel, EMTs, and others formed up to search for survivors. The families came together to offer encouragement and support. Everyone cooperated, finding his or her place in the common effort. And the results were awesome.

At creation, God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). We usually apply this in its original context as the raison d'etre for marriage (its reason for existence). But the events of 9/11 demonstrate the value of developing close relationships--those characterized by mutual regard, friendship, loyalty, and trust.

Experiencing synergy
A team is different from a group in that it has a common purpose or mission. A team is different from a committee by being oriented toward action rather than endless discussions. A team can accomplish so much more than the sum efforts of detached individuals. The synergy they experience stems from their communication--they urge, reorient, motivate, and console one another. They share the burden of the moment, anticipating when they will emerge back into the open air in triumph.

Of course, it doesn't always turn out with such a positive outcome. Only 20 people were rescued from the Twin Towers rubble. Hundreds of other families and their friends formed teams to support their loved ones as they staggered slowly through the grieving process. But even those teams made a huge contribution to diminish the agonizing pain and fill the sudden void--not fill perhaps, but at least share.

Ennobling questions
After a number of films that earned Oliver Stone a "bad-boy" reputation, he has created a memorial to the 9/11 catastrophe that ennobles its audience, not by preaching platitudes to them, but by drawing them into a vicarious experience that prompts them to ask themselves: How would I react to this? Would I be willing to volunteer? Could I hold out when it seems hopeless? Could I find a way to serve that would make a significant contribution? Is my marriage precious to me? Would my kids miss me if I died today? What could I have done differently this morning if it were the last time I would ever see them?

New perspective
World Trade Center is a film you should see, not just for the sake of the 2,563 victims, but to give you a new perspective on the life you choose every day and on the people surrounding you in that life--your team.

Steve Singleton,
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For wholeness, spiritual eyes must be keen

Thursday, August 10, 2006

spiritual eyesSeeing a larger world
The Great Physician seeks not only to heal lameness and leprosy, but also the whole person. Most significant is His operation on the inner eyes, enabling them to observe not only the world of sensory perception, but also the more essential though invisible world of the spirit.

Jesus speaks of this in the Sermon on the Mount:

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, you whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! —Matthew 6:22-23).

Eliminate the "evil eye"
Our Lord said this in a context of the use and misuse of money, drawing on the Jewish terminology of greed as 'the evil eye.' His description of the effect of the eye on the rest of the body certainly has a financial application. How you spend your money is determined by your perceptions—what you see is important and what is trivial.

But there is a broader application as well, and in fact it embraces all of life. You could use people's financial transactions as one indicator of their basic approach to life, as their outlook or worldview.

Spiritually myopic
It's our spiritual insight or blindness that directs how we live, what we do, how we treat other people. If your "eyes" are good, your whole being will be flooded with light. If, however, you are spiritually myopic, too short-sighted to see beyond the here and now, then you are engulfed in a darkness that is both profound and terrifying.

Paul puts it this way:

The natural man does not perceive the things of the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him. Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things. —1 Corinthians 2:14-15a

Only half a universe
In other words, those not enlightened by the gospel to see the world as God sees it live in only half a universe, regarding only the things of the sensory world--what can be measured with the telescope and the transit and the microscope--as being real. All else beyond the empirical is at best an artificial, human construct.

It's as if such a person is a fish in the ocean with no conception of life above the water, or a lizard living beneath the rain forest canopy. How different the fish would see the world if it could jump above the surface if only for a moment! How different the lizard would view the jungle if only it could climb the tallest mahogany tree and poke its head past the highest leaves!

"The mind of Christ"
Paul says Christians have been granted that perception, not as an achievement of human endeavor, but as a gift from a gracious God. "Who can know the mind of God?" he asks, confidently expecting the answer, "No one." Then he adds, "But we have the mind of Christ." And that makes all of the difference.

Steve Singleton,
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Lamech's Revenge: Israel Pursues Ancient Strategy

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Audio version (06:51): 

The strategy the modern nation of Israel is pursuing may seem contemporary, but it is one of the most ancient. It is the strategy of school yard and prison yard. "They shove you, you belt 'em one! They knock you down, you knock 'em out!"

It is the strategy, in fact, that first occurs in the Book of Genesis, before the Great Flood. It is known as "Lamech's Revenge."

The Lamech of Cain's line told his two wives:

    I have killed a man for wounding me,
    A young man for injuring me.
    If Cain is avenged seven times,
    Then Lamech seventy-seven times (Genesis 4:23-24).

Pay them back 77 times more than their offense! This seems to characterize Israel's long-term strategy. But take a look at how the unfolding will of God revealed itself through history since those brutal, antediluvian times.

Stage 1: Tit for tat
The Law of Moses moved the ancient nation of Israel from Lamech-like revenge when it limited vengeance to "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise" (Exodus 21:23-24; see also Leviticus 24:17-20; Deuteronomy 19:21). We tend to think of these as harsh commands, but compared to Lamech's Revenge, it was a giant leap forward toward true justice.

Stage 2: Lex talionis
Not only was this the justice meted out in an Israelite court of law, but it was also the kind the Israelite people prayed for from the court of heaven. It's the vengeance we often refer to as "poetic justice": pay them back in kind for the wrong they have done.

If they rolled boulders down on the unwary, may boulders roll down on them; may they fall into the pit that they themselves have dug (see, for example, Psalm 7:15; 35:8; Proverbs 26:27). The command to hang Haman on the gallows he built for Mordecai (Esther 7:9-10) resonates with an ironic justice. The step forward here is that the people are not taking vengeance themselves, but earnestly pleading for God to do it in their behalf.

Stage three: Refusing vengeance and acting kindly
Under the New Covenant we see grace and forgiveness triumphing over resentment and bitterness. The Apostle Paul commands, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil.... Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." Then, in v. 20, Paul adds this amazing command, which is actually a quotation from Proverbs 25:11-12:

    If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
The meaning of burning coals is obscure, but it may mean you will make him burn with shame at his unfounded enmity.

Stage four: Unlimited forgiveness and restoration of relationship
Jesus the Messiah Himself urges us to love our enemies and to let our love prompt us to action. He counsels a ready forgiveness so that if our brother offends seven times in a day and seven times says, "I repent," we forgive him (Luke 17:4).

We forgive, the Master says, not seven times, but 77 times (Matthew 18:22), exactly reversing Lamech's Revenge. And, if the offense remains unrepented, Paul's command means that we still do not take vengeance into our own hands, but defer to the "Judge of all the earth."

Analyze the results
Does this offer the prospect of a better outcome than the one the Israelis can anticipate with Hezbollah or Hamas? The potential for transformation exists, as unlikely as it seems to jaded analysts and pundits. But what potential is there for Lamech's Revenge? Only the ringing warning of a Savior who found His victory on a cross: "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). We should not disregard or diminish the significance of the word 'all' in this verse.

At best, Lamech's Revenge can offer only an escalating tit for tat — an endless blood feud that ever threatens to burst beyond national borders. Mercy and forgiveness offer a new start, regenerated hearts leading to transformed attitudes, helping actions, healed relationships.

What about closer to home?
It's easy for us to remain comfortably detached and criticize what seems to be the intentional, long-term strategy of modern Israel. It's much more of a challenge for us to detect the identical strategy in our own country's foreign policy. More difficult still is the process of diagnosing the very same tendency to yearn for Lamech's Revenge on a personal level.

Wherever it turns up, Lamech's Revenge has the same devastating effect. It destroys both its object and its subject. Christ's forgiveness has the potential to heal both. Yet, even if its object remains unresponsive or even violent, Christ's 77-fold forgiveness keeps the subject's heart spiritually healthy and attuned to God's will. It qualifies us to be peacemakers, in imitation of the Prince of Peace.

Although the short-term effects of this strategy may mean carrying a cross, if we can lift our eyes to look over the short-term, we can be confident that in the end, both we and the world will be better for rejecting the one upsmanship of "I don't get mad; I get even." Revenge comes from harboring of resentment, which is like concocting a deadly poison you intend for your rival, and then drinking it yourself.

When Lamech's Revenge is at long last laid to rest — and good riddance! — then perhaps, by God's blessing, "the meek will inherit the earth."

Steve Singleton,
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