Posted by Taylor Beard on Mar 7, 2014 in Blog | 1 comment
Show me a culture’s art and I will tell you what that culture values. My history professor in college would say something along these lines and then show how certain pieces of art reflected the cultures that produced them. Similarly, if we have a desire to put a finger on the pulse of our own culture, it may be best to start the process by looking at the art we produce, or better yet, by looking at the art that is said to be the best of what we produce.
That’s where the distinguished members of the Academy come in and decide what should be considered the “best”. And, whether you take their word for it or not, when our great grandchildrens’ history professors look back on our culture, they will likely look to the Academy of Arts to tell them the ideas we valued most and held to the tightest. In regard to this year’s Oscar winners, you can almost hear the historians of tomorrow, human or otherwise (bearded either way, one would think) saying that the men and women of our age were trying desperately to atone for the sins of previous generations. They may look to our films as the reparations we never paid except in concepts and ideals, the pleas for forgiveness that received fame and riches in return. I suppose that’s the risk Brad Pitt took in producing 12 Years A Slave, a film that rawly portrayed the atrocity of slavery in America. For years the pundits will claim that he did not atone for slavery but instead exploited it for Best Picture accolades. After all, the Academy loves films that portray atrocities. They’re always favorites. Maybe Pitt was just working the system for a golden statue?
Whatever his motives, the fact that his film was awarded Best Picture says something about our culture. We love a cause. We love fighting against injustice and atrocities, especially from the comfort of the theater (because that’s not so risky). We love charity, especially if we can buy a pretty pair of shoes or a cup of coffee for ourselves in the process of being charitable. We love atonement and redemption, especially if we can atone for and redeem ourselves, for this is the greatest form of self-promotion and independence.
“The themes of personal redemption and transformation are too strong and we can’t get enough of that as a culture.”
Case and point: take a look at the winners for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, both great stories of redemption in and of themselves and both receiving Oscars for their roles in Dallas Buyers Club. Both had to undergo extensive physical transformation for their roles and both had to separate themselves from the places in which they had landed, McConaughey as the perennial male lead in romantic comedies and Leto as the promising young actor turned mediocre musician. The combination of these factors was simply too much to go unawarded by the Academy. The themes of personal redemption and transformation are too strong and we can’t get enough of that as a culture. And, best of all, these gentlemen pulled themselves up out of the mediocrity we expected of them and did something worthy of being called great. They redeemed themselves.
Or did they? McConaughey’s acceptance speech seemed to state otherwise. He was thankful as only a man who feels unworthy can be thankful. It’s not as if he isn’t proud of his work, but he understands that he has been given opportunities others have not. He is more aware of what he has been given than of what he has earned. If McConaughey’s Oscar is a story of redemption, he would say that he did not redeem himself but that redemption was provided for him.
“We are only truly redeemed when something outside of us steps in and does the redeeming.”
And if we, who claim to be the redeemed, have a point of agreement with our culture, it is that we all value redemption and atonement. However, we would differ from our culture insomuchas we believe we can not provide such things for ourselves. In fact, if the lovers of redemption in our culture are to enjoy the fullest expression of what they love, we would say they must first jettison the belief that they are responsible for gaining it by their own power and will. We are only truly redeemed when something outside of us steps in and does the redeeming. We only gain the redemption we say we believe in when we accept what we don’t want to believe in, namely, that we are helpless to save ourselves.
Brad Pitt’s film may possibly have been an attempt at self-atonement, but the story he produced portrays a different view. Solomon North is a free black man living in New York who is abducted and sold as a slave in the south. At the end of the film he returns to his family after 12 years in slavery and inexplicably asks that they forgive him. Despite being a victim, Solomon has spent more than a decade living with the self-inflicted guilt of abandoning his family. Despite his innocence, he still craves atonement, and the only people who can grant it are those he feels he has wronged. He cannot forgive himself until he has been forgiven, and that is true of all us, guilty or innocent. You have nothing to be forgiven for, his wife tells him through her tears. And that is what we all long for in an ultimate sense: to listen to eternity’s final verdict on our souls and hear, You have nothing to be forgiven for. Is such a thing even possible? Could we as human beings, responsible for atrocities global and personal for which we can never atone, ever hear such words said of us? We are the redeemed. We not only believe it could happen, we believe it has.
- Jonathan Allston
Posted by Taylor Beard on Mar 6, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments
Photo Credit: Washington Post
Ukraine. A country most people don’t think about on a regular basis, but one that has a storied. Recently, however, Ukraine has been making headlines in the midst of escalating political turmoil, violence, and uncertainty.
After a few news cycles, it is not difficult to see how interconnected our world is today; turmoil in Ukraine means Russian involvement, Russian involvement means US interests are threatened, all of a sudden protestors, burning tires, and cities we can’t even pronounce are affecting our lives and the lives of those we love. So, how should Christians respond to the situation in Ukraine?
First, we must realize the extensive, complicated, and intertwined history of Ukraine, Russia, the former Soviet Union, and all former Soviet Republics. For us, the violence and tension have escalated quickly, but for Ukrainians (and Russians) the tension has been bubbling for some time. As Americans, our history extends less than 300 years – a drop in the bucket compared to families living on the same land for 1200 years. Our memories are short and our attachments weak to this land we love. It is not a part of our identity. We talk of a heavenly citizenship without feeling the overwhelming weight of our identity as Americans.
To be Ukrainian is to be a part of a rich history, remembering the golden age of the 10th and 11th centuries, to suffer in “the Ruin” of the 16th of post World War 1. To be Ukrainian is to survive, to fight, and to continue the legacy of those who’ve carried the name “Ukrainian” before you. Tensions arise when for some, to be Ukrainian also means to be Russian.
Second, as Christians our primary and premier identity must not be to a nation, United States, Ukraine, Russia, or otherwise. To be Christian is not to be American, nor is to be American to be Christian. Our identities must first be found in who our Creator says we are. We are aliens and ambassadors on this earth. Our first allegiance and loyalty is to our heavenly kingdom. As many Ukrainians in Crimea long for Russia, we must long for our true home in Heaven. Our identities as men, women, marrieds, singles, fathers, mothers, athletes, doctors, teachers, or musicians all pale in significance when compared to our identity as Christ-followers. We are image bearers, soldiers, ambassadors, sons, daughters, sheep, and jars of clay.
As Americans, we may not fully understand the political significance of joining the European Union, the economic impact Russian economic sanctions, the necessity of a warm water port, or perceivable Western agendas impacting local politics, but how do we respond when someone questions our parenting skills? Is my identity as a parent greater than my identity as a Christ follower? Do I respond in the same manner if someone questions my loyalty to Christ?
Lastly, but also firstly, we must pray. Pray for wisdom of the leaders of nations whom God has appointed in this hour. Pray for the people of Ukraine and Russia who face great uncertainty. Pray for us that our identities will not be found in the temporary roles of this world, but will be found solely in Christ.
There is much uncertainty in the days and weeks coming, but we can take courage our God is faithful and He is in control. All rulers, principalities, and nations are subject to Him-He will make nations rise and fall all in His timing. (Psalm 33:10-11)
For more information on the crisis in Ukraine, see the video below
Posted by Taylor Beard on Feb 14, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments
The Upstate of South Carolina recently survived our 2nd snow storm of the year – quite a feat for those of us who don’t always see snow each year. The 2nd time around we were all ready – bread, milk, and kayaks for sledding!
Admittedly, I was a bit of a party-pooper when the snow first came. I wasn’t thrilled about layering up and enduring the cold, but once I saw my roommates racing down the hill outside our house in a kayak I had to join in. Which leads to my first thought…
1. Have Fun – fun leads to more fun (and relationships)
As soon as I saw how much fun my roommates were having, I couldn’t resist going outside to join them. Snow days allow us all some freedom to let loose, be a little crazy, and have fun – who doesn’t want to be a part of that?!?! Soon after, we were building a snowman in our front yard and 3 kids on our street came over to join. One girl had been sitting in her driveway playing by herself until we asked if she wanted to come over. Do you want to build a snowmaaaan? We were no longer the unknown girls down the street, but the neighbors building a snowman. After building the snowman we had a fierce capture the flag/snow ball fight. (My team won, for the record) Fun leads to more fun.
2. Be willing to lend a hand
As 4 single, southern women we did not have any snow tools, like shovels, to take care of our driveway. We saw our neighbor shoveling his driveway and asked to borrow his shovels leading to at least 2 conversations to borrow and return tools. While we were shoveling our driveway a car got stuck going up the hill in front of our house – we got to meet 3 more neighbors while we all tried to free the car! Sure, my feet were frozen by the end – perhaps shoveling snow in rain boots and no socks was a poor choice, but hey! at least I still have all my toes…
3. Go Outside
Yes, it is cold and yes, there will be lots of loads of laundry in the dryer, but a great way to meet people in your neighborhood is to walk around. Most people go a little stir crazy after 2 days inside and when it’s not icy, people will opt for walking around the neighborhood, even if they don’t normally do so. This week, I found out one of my friends from college who graduated a year before me was living around the corner from me and I never knew until we saw her in the front yard!
4. Cook warm food
What’s better than 2 days off of work/school to play in the snow?
Hot chocolate and soup.
After a day of fun together where you all lose feeling in your fingers and toes, why not warm up with some hot chocolate or soup? Even if you’re playing with kids and they may not be able to come inside, a mug of hot chocolate to go is a great way to say thanks and create a favorable impression.
5. Make plans for later
You’ve just had a great day, but every one is tired and heading home. Be sure to make future plans to hang out – be it dinner, coffee, or a time to return tools. Take advantage of your time together to continue the relationship. You’re no longer the unknown neighbor – you’re the guy (or girl) who helped shovel snow in rain boots. Don’t just be snow-day neighbors, but find ways to meet throughout the year.
You’ve heard my ideas to meet your neighbor, what are your ideas?