Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Worthy Passion

What cause could you care about so much that you were willing to push yourself beyond your previous limitations for its sake? What could drive you to grow and labor longer, harder and with more dedication than any pursuit had witnessed before it? What is it that could really incite you to ignore pain and fatigue, fight through discouragement and create unforeseen solutions to gargantuan problems that threatened to keep the goal out of reach? Is there something you could be that passionate about? And would that passion be worthy of your total focus? By this I mean: Is that passion worthy of the sacrifice, pain, growth and change you will undergo in pursuing it?

Some "passions" are not worthy of such devotion. Certain destructive "passions" that we contrive for ourselves degrade our life experience rather than elevate it. One can have a constructive passion for excellence in a given field such as sports, medicine, art or literature. However, we can also have a very destructive passion for fame, wealth or hedonistic gratification. If indeed, though, the focus of one's passion is affirmed by peers and by conscience as a worthy one, it's refreshing to have such focus in life.

As Naomi and I were running this morning, we spoke about the course of our life right now, and how fulfilling it is to have such laser-like focus. While trying to stop short of presuming that God will grant success in my field of pursuit (you're never there until you are), we reflected together on the years of our marriage, seeing it as having a preparatory trajectory up to this opportunity with the U.S. Navy. Even beyond that, it's a pleasure to recall my previous Navy experiences in 1988.

While my time enlisted at the Naval base in Orlando, FL was disappointing from a military view, the triumphs stand out from a ministry perspective. It started when my parents gave me a compact Bible to take to boot camp with me, which was among the few personal effects you could take with you into "boot." Shortly after entering "boot," the Company Commander (CC) was, on a particular morning, assigning responsibilities to various recruits within the company. They appointed an RCPO (Recruit Chief Petty Officer), a Master-at-Arms, plus Port and Starboard watch leaders.

At the same time, the CC demanded to know if any among us was "very religious." Standing at attention in our barracks, I couldn't believe my ears. This was the kind of moment I had heard about in church growing up, but never thought I would witness. Completely intimidated by the CC's intensity, I kept silent for a moment. When he belted out the question again, I heard myself say aloud, "I am, Sir." Though CC Redmond had been at the opposite end of the bay, within a blink he was an inch away from my face. His fiery voice demanded again, "Ott, are you very religious?!" My reply came from a resolve that I do not normally possess, and therefore cannot boast for exerting it then. I answered, "Yes, Sir. I am a Christian." With that, CC Redmond glared at me and barked the order, "Seamen Recruit Ott, you are now this company's Religious Petty Officer. You will find out the religious needs of your fellow recruits, and get them to the appropriate chapel service that they need. You will conduct meetings and devotion times as needed by your company. Is that understood?!"

"Yes, Sir!"

As the Religious Petty Officer, I mustered recruits on time and marched them to the appropriate chapel service for them whether they were Roman Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. I conducted Bible studies for my fellow recruits, even approaching our CC for use of the lounge in our barracks long before we had (as a company) earned the right to use it. In essence, 20 years ago I entered the Navy and was immediately made the "chaplain" for my peers.

In literary analysis, this is called an "inclusio." It happens when a passage begins and ends with the same phrase to serve as book-ends for the literary unit. It binds tightly together the lines and verses in between, forming a unified whole. Psalm 150 is a good example of this in how it has "Praise the Lord!" at the beginning and the end.

In February of 1988 I was appointed Religious Petty Officer for Company C088 in the U.S. Navy. Now, I am candidating for re-entry into the Navy as a Chaplain. This forms a "life inclusio," giving meaning and unity to the 20 years in between. This is cause for great passion and drive toward an exciting calling. It's a worthy passion. Although many challenges and obstacles have been and are being met, with pain and sacrifice requiring endurance, this inclusio fuels a passion that is energizing and fulfilling.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Short-timers Syndrome

"I really don't care about Romans." My comment sent shockwaves through the classroom as students filed in, progressively assembling for the class period (on the exegesis of Romans) about to start. I had timed my burst of spontaneous sincerity to occur before the professor arrived. Also, in all honestly, perhaps I had employed just a little hyperbole to help the effect. I can be quite deviant at times.

Nevertheless, the budding exegetes unfolding their materials and opening their laptops recoiled in horror at such an admission. "You don't care about Romans? How can you say that?" Unable to stomach my defiant declaration, their eyes widened from behind steamy glasses. "Because I don't get my theology from exegesis," I told them. "My theology comes from the Creeds, and the confessions of the tradition I serve in. Do you really suppose that my careful examination of the Greek text penned by Paul is going to result in a watershed breakthrough in the doctrine of justification?" OK, perhaps I was being a little over-the-top, but my sentiments were sincere.

They were born chiefly of general fatigue of exegetical analysis. I'm so glad this is my final semester at DTS. I must confess that seminary has, mysteriously, produced some of the most nourishing and dry spiritual times of my life (simultaneously!). Depending on the subject or the day, the material might spur pious reflection that resulted in devotional praise or it might contribute to a numb apathy toward spiritual matters. The very thing that you scarf down on one occasion might make you gag a day or so later. Therefore, I was not saying the book of Romans holds no value for me ever; just that I'm sick of it right now.

This differs considerably from my earlier time in seminary (sometimes mistakenly pronounced "cemetery"). For the last 5 years I've found interest in almost every class; even the painfully boring ones (yes, they have those too at DTS). I didn't feel like this a mere six months ago. However, six months ago I did not have the end so closely in sight with the good possibility of a ministry career poised visibly at the end of the tunnel.

It was be "short-timers syndrome." That peculiar phenomenon in which the work that one once found fulfilling suddenly has lost its savor. It's as if I pigged out on a favorite food, and now feeling quite bloated cannot endure the smell of it anymore. I have a great desire, and the accompanying motivation, to finish seminary well, fulfilling all requirements. However, honesty must prevail. This means that while I desire the equipping that seminary stills offers, it doesn't mean I have to care about all the material presented. Some things I find more interesting than others, and graduation will offer the freedom to focus on those subjects and less on the topics that surely interest someone else more than me.

Eager to Begin

Today I had yet another interview with a chaplain as part of my application for active duty Navy chaplain. He was a Navy Reserve chaplain serving a Marine unit in Grand Prairie, Texas. Because I have a particular passion for ministry to Marines (at least would like to start off my Naval career with them), it was exciting to enter the base and meet with him. While such interviews (really his evaluation of my fitness for chaplain/officer candidacy) often last for approximately 30-45 minutes, ours lasted nearly 90. Though he must have developed an opinion of me in the opening moments, the longer duration of the meeting was due to my questions for him. There's a great deal I wanted to know, and stories I want to hear.

With the passing minutes the chaplain was gracious and informative, advising me regarding principles of chaplaincy I would do well to remember once in active duty and serving. What he may have sensed, but I tried hard to mask, was my growing eagerness to begin serving with each anecdote he shared. When he warned that a chaplain should not remain behind his desk, but be out among his people in the field, I nearly screamed, "Exactly! I know! Let me out there!"

For purposes of our conversation, it was not the place to leap out of my seat and express all of my pent up enthusiasm. Nevertheless, most likely the greatest challenge I will face in the coming months is not fulfilling the qualifying requirements (those are proceeding well), but patiently allowing the process to unfold. I'm like the dog who bolts for the door when he first hears his chain rattle. He's so eager to go for the walk that he can hardly contain himself. I'm chomping at the bit; straining at the slits; jerking at the chain. I know that the whole application process will unfold in the manner that it should, but in the meantime I'm quite eager to begin.

There's not a moment to lose!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Theological Valentine

In Ephesians chapter 5 husbands are admonished to "love your wives as Christ loved the Church." This somewhat ambiguous imperative often leaves many a mate scratching his head and wondering what in the world that means. Conspicuously absent from Paul's admonishments are specific instructions on buying flowers, bringing her breakfast in bed, helping with the dishes or leaving love notes lying around. Had Paul been married, surely he would have appreciated the need for more detailed procedures. Men have difficulty translating his generalizing into precise demonstrations of our love for our better halves. Some might go so far as to suggest Paul's teaching lacks the itemized bullet-points that husbands, everywhere, need for a check list. Couldn't Paul anticipate such a need as this?

I will contend, however, that Paul knew exactly what he was doing. He directs husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the Church, and then everywhere else gives a very developed and elaborate description of how Christ loved the Church. The "practical" teaching sought by men on how to love their wives is found everywhere Paul is engaged in proclaiming the work of Christ. Christology, ecclesiology and our eschatology will all inform about this wondrous union between the theoretical and the practical. The most elaborate handbook on developing a healthy marriage will spring out of one's theology.

I have found this to be true on a number of occasions through my marriage to Naomi. Theology informs my best course of action in nurturing the marriage. Take, for example, the time when I thought (it was my perception at the time) that I was the one initiating all intimate encounters between us. I thought our attraction to each other to be unidirectional. Finding this frustrating, in a moment of prayer I complained to God that I was tired of doing "all" the initiating, and declared that I was no longer going to do so. "Let her initiate our encounters," I whined to the Spirit; to which he respond with, "if Christ had waited for you to initiate your relationship with him, where would you be today?" Quickly losing that argument, I decided my attitude toward Naomi needed to change.

Recently, another theological/marital moment occurred just in time for Valentine's Day. Prior to that I had been reflecting on the revealing work of Christ (in the episode above I was in the midst of thinking through the pursuing work of Christ). Throughout the New Testament narratives, we see the work of Christ being progressively revealed to the apostles like a treasure or scavenger hunt. Little by little they receive the gift of the Spirit's work as the Church happens upon treasure after treasure of the gospel to the Jews, the Samaritans and the Gentiles, traveling from Judea to Samaria, and then out to the ends of the Earth. The work of Christ progressively reveals the building of his Church, incrementally showing her the great love she receive from him all at once when he died for her sin and then rose again to bring he life.

It was because of the revealing work of Christ that I was motivated to provide a progressively revealed gift to my wife, demonstrating the love she already has from me. Because of Paul command to love Naomi like Christ loves the Church, it was my pleasure to arrange a Valentine's Day gift to Naomi that would be progressively revealed. It started out by arranging with her employer for her early dismissal from work last Friday. Like Christ took the initiative to find me, so it was my duty to go find her and take the initiative in conspiring with her boss.

After that, I took her to a place she did not know about, nor knew what would happen when we arrived (some things are a given for a married couple on a romantic retreat, but that's none of your business). Nevertheless, she trusted me to lead in a romantic way. The destination included checking into our hotel before proceeding to American Airlines Center to attend a Dallas Stars hockey game. At the game the progressive revelation of my love for her continued. I had previously bought four gifts for her and (coordinating with the AAC retail staff) scattered them throughout the retail locations in the building. Before the game began, I sent to Naomi to go introduce herself at the first location. At each location, they received her with gladness, presenting her with her gift and sending her on to the next station. Her treasure hunt was to be a Valentine's Day present, progressively revealed, so that my love for her was a event with its own story.

After the Stars won, we spent the evening in Dallas, awaking Saturday morning to continue our adventure. This event was for intimacy of our minds: the King Tutankhamun exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. We explored and learned together, sharing in the rich historical and cultural experience. It was not merely for her of me... it was for us. This was a celebration of our oneness. It was a romantic 24 hours of revealing surprises and intimate sharing. It was a celebration of our union. It also gave me great pleasure to express love in this manner.

Such encounters not only grow out of my theology, but also inform my theology as well. Last weekend suggests that Christ must derive great pleasure from revealing his vast love for his Church in surprising, closeness inducing ways. It was a theological Valentine's Day that shows me just how helpful Paul is being when he suggests the tie in Ephesians 5.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ordination

The examination concerning, and subsequent ceremony for, my ordination has now been completed. Therefore, I was able to, this morning, submit my application to the North American Mission Board for the Southern Baptist Convention for their endorsement of me to the Navy Chaplain Corps. The ordination proceedings took place at Gateway Fellowship where I currently am serving as community/discipleship pastor. The event (all aspects) were given the weight they should enjoy.

The board interview primarily wanted to know the story of my journey of faith: from receiving Christ as my Savior at age six, up to ministry in the present day. Throughout the "testimony" I tried to intersperse significant developments of faith that reveal why I minister the way I do today. In addition, I also sought to proactively share doctrinal developments that explain what my theology is what it will remain to be. I know I rambled considerably. No matter how relaxed such a setting may be set up to seem, I was quite nervous nonetheless. When I'm nervous, I talk; and oh boy did I talk. Retrospectively, I'm somewhat embarrassed. However, better that I am embarrassed by having talked too much than to be embarrassed by having choked on a vital question regarding biblical knowledge or orthodoxy.

One part of the board interview that was quite disappointing to me what how poorly I answered a rather basic question. Having gone there prepared to converse on the complexities of theology, ministry or personal testimony, I was ill prepared to answer the most fundamental question of all. No doubt sensing this, my professor asked, "What is the Gospel?" Oh my, how I must have resembled a stammering savant. I stuttered about in my glossary of words concerning the Cross and substitutionary atonement, but left grossly under-emphasized Christ's resurrection. That, in essence, was 50% of a good answer, and my professor pointed that out. I new this to be true, but in my nervousness acted on instinct. I come from a tradition that emphasizes the Cross more than the empty tomb, instead of both equally. This episode made me determined to maintain the dual emphasis from now on.

The following ceremony was incredibly special. It was rather sobering how such an event has echoes of a "living funeral." The gathering comprises many who God has given me the privilege of ministering to. Nevertheless, it's slightly uncomfortable to so be the center of attention. Having said that though, I was significantly touched by all those in attendance. Classmates and colleagues from Dallas Theological Seminary, personnel from Fate Fire & Rescue and my recruiters for the U.S. Navy were present as well. I felt incredibly supported and loved.

In large part, what makes such an event so significant in the life of a minister is how it raises one's awareness of the seriousness of the calling. A solemn charge is not only spoken by leaders in attendance, but is delivered from God. With the various people on hand to witnesses the event, the responsibility to "do right by them" is also accentuated. Certainly it was important to get a certificate of ordination from it, but the memory of its emotional and religious impact on me will remain forever.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I want to Break their Nose

In the 2006 movie "The Guardian," Kevin Costner stars as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer who has spent many missions at sea pulling people out of mortal peril. In the course of the story, he has to perform a tour of duty at the rescuer swimmer's school, training the next generation of this elite brand of heroes. One student in particular struggles with the training, and it is revealed that he has failed out of the school before. An especially challenging part of the qualifying process continues to defeat him; that being, a simulated rescue scenario in which he must jump from an elevated platform (simulating jumping from a helicopter) into a pool, take control of the victim and pull them to safety.

What makes the exercise so hard for him is that the supposed victim also is an instructor who will simulate the panic many victims in the water demonstrate. The "victim" climbs onto the rescue swimmer, trying to elevate themselves out of the water by pushing the rescuer down in the water. Many a lifeguard has been drowned in this manner. Therefore, a key component of the exercise is the ability of the rescuer to take control of the victim. The candidate has failed this exercise repeatedly up to now because he cannot gain control of the panicked "victim," nearly drowning on some occasions. Finally, he is able to pass the exercise victorious because of a tactic that perhaps may shock the viewer. When the "victim"/instructor grabs hold of the candidate in a simulated panic, and attempts to drag him down below the surface, the student struggles with him for a moment but then elbows him in the face, breaking his nose. Far from being angry with him, the instructors (including the one with the new nose bleed) are proud of him. (view clip)

The lesson is simple: get control of the victim or the rescue will fail. If the victim is allowed to "help" out the rescue, not only will the rescue fail, it's likely you'll have two victims now. The student had to take the extreme measure of striking the "victim" (rendering them totally dependent on the rescuer) in order to save them.

Our salvation in Christ is so similar its uncanny. When we are being rescued by Christ, if we try to "help," we screw up the rescue. We panic. We flail our arms and try to "save" ourselves. Usually this just results in trying to push Jesus under us in order to elevate ourselves out of danger. It doesn't work. We botch the rescue because we didn't give the Savior total control of the rescue. Yet many a safe and secure "victim" sits thankful on Christ's vessel, expressing gratitude while sporting a bloody nose.

Martin Luther knew that our attempts to help Christ's saving work out with our effort totally screws up the rescue. That is why he was so passionate in his opposition to Rome in the 16th century.

Yet we still see this everywhere today. Religious constructs form whole systems out of attempting self-rescue. In Christianity, the temptation to add "victim" effort to the rescue of Christ is rampant. Although Christ is the hero, I want to break their nose so that they will go limp and allow him to simply "save" them. In addition, I get so incensed by systems encouraging victims to flail about in panicked attempts to self-rescue. People must be saved from the perils of a broken world, from terrifying consequences of our own making and from the effects of drifting in the turbulent seas of our ongoing rebellion (called "sin"). We're treading water in 30 foot swells. Our boat has sunk, and our clothes are starting to weigh us down. However, the very thing weighing us down we won't strip off because we think it keeps us warm. Into our seas jumps the Son of God, fully immersed in our experience, ready and able to rescue. I don't care if he breaks my nose and takes control at this point. Do you?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Indulgences and Grace

As I've grown in my theology and understanding of church history, it has tempered some of my former excitability regarding certain topics. While I have developed a distinctly Protestant view of the church, I no longer lob nasty rhetorical bombs at Roman Catholics like I used to. I've learned to disagree with the Roman tradition on grounds that I find more legitimate than when I was younger. For example, using the popular refrain taken from Ephesians 2:8-9 ("For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast."), I used to declare that Roman Catholics were teaching salvation BY works instead of the orthodox salvation that does not require work. Later in life, I realize that this would not be the Roman argument, but instead that they would argue more that the "works" they prescribe are only made effective by faith. In some ways, I have become somewhat of an apologist for the Roman church, trying to give the benefit of the doubt in matters I did not understand. I have even gone so far as to suggest that the Reformation possibly could not occur today because Rome is not infested with the same corruptions and abuses that lit such a fire under Martin Luther in 1517. "Heck," I would concede, "it's not like they're offering indulgences for absolution anymore."

Hold the phone! The New York Times has now reported that indulgences have been re-introduced back into Roman Catholic practice. In many ways I have attempted to understand Roman theology and progression, reading some of Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas (not extensively, but samplings). However, the indulgence seemed to mark a low point in Roman thought and practice when St. Peter's Basilica needed construction funding in the early 16th century. It was his disgust over this practice that motivated Martin Luther to write the 95 Theses and nail it to the front door of the cathedral in Wittenburg. The ensuing schism (creating the Protestant movement in Europe) would later move the Roman Catholic church to outlaw the sale of indulgences for monetary gain, when the Council of Trent recognized the abuses that had ensued. So in essence, indulgences have never completely vanished from the Roman collection of rites. They have merely been suppressed, or de-emphasized until now.

With the reemphasizing of indulgences within the Roman tradition, Protestants should also reemphasize why the schism not only took place in the 16th century, but remains important to this very day. Attempts at ecumenical agreement between Protestant and Roman leaders have been somewhat laudable, desiring unity among the traditions naming Christ as their head. However, these overtures are ultimately flawed in that they cannot get around the deep seated differences won centuries ago: (1) that Christ has NOT delegated his authority on earth to the Pope - solus Christus, (2) that the Bible remains the highest measure with which to evaluate and calibrate faith and practice, NOT the papacy - sola Scriptura, (3) that salvation is NOT procured by means of my or any saint's merits, but by God's arbitrary grace - sola gratia, (4) that assurance of heaven is NOT appropriated by the practices of rites and sacraments, but is received only by faith - sola fide, and (5) that God has not stooped down to save me because of my merits, but for the sake of his own glory - soli Deo gloria.

While I sometimes have needed to tone down my rabid reformationism in order to work closely, and agreeably along side Roman Catholics (chaplaincy often requires a kinder, gentler Aaron), such news about indulgences only fans my flame regarding Reformation pillars.

On a semi-related note, I recently was conversing with an old friend about their religious tradition. They are no longer in that tradition, but they related an experience in which the religio-cultural dynamics were quite restrictive. Because the religion taught a form of salvation that required certain behaviors and "works" to be assured of not only proper living now but a favorable afterlife, it lent itself over to a very controlling environment. The control of this religion had evolved into a process that my friend found abusive and demeaning. At some point in the conversation I felt it started to sound rather familiar. A religious tradition that had developed a "works based" redemption to the point of controlling people's lives. The shackles firming attached in the name of religious structure.

Oh man, was I mad. [Parenthetically, if you really want to know someone find out what truly ticks them off.] They couldn't hear through the computer (it was an online conversation; is that an oxymoron?), but I slammed my fist on the table in anger; for Jesus' words were explicit: "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32), and only a couple of lines later he emphasizes, "so if the Son sets you free, you will be really free." The truth is not supposed to be strangling, but liberating. The truth is that grace cannot be bought. It cannot be earned. It cannot be controlled. It cannot be used for shackling people with stifling regulations.

A line in the NY Times article even stated that, "You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one." You cannot "buy" one, but you can "earn" one through charitable contributions combines with other acts?! This is still salvation for sale, regardless if St. Peter's Basilica needs any renovating.

Many men find that their great passion is fighting a battle of some kind. They may be warriors who fight a literal battle, but for most of us it is a metaphorical battle against an ideological "enemy." For me, the battle is against the human propensity to enslave ourselves and others by means of religious assumption and intricacy. This explains my love of theology and the Holy Scriptures, for it is the irresponsible use of these areas that enslave people. Therefore, it will always be necessary to liberate people by means of these pursuits, for it is their intended use anyway.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Body and the Spirit

Today I passed my physical fitness test for my application to the Navy Chaplain Corps. My push ups, sit ups and run were all within acceptable limits, collectively contributing to a medium score. It was not the best someone could do, nor was it the bare minimums to pass either. While my performance was sufficient to pass the test, it is not where I want to remain. On the contrary, continued development in my fitness is needed as part of my preparation for ministering to warriors.

As I have prepared for this day (getting up early to run, regular calisthenics, etc.), I reflected on the spiritual preparation also necessary for entering into this career. Because of the nature of military occupations, particularly at wartime, the environments in which sailors, marines, airmen or soldiers often work can be considered spiritually "dark." The question of adequate spiritual preparation for ministering in such an environment can make or break the invading chaplain. Therefore, one had better spend time getting ready for such "gritty" ministerial work.

For this reason, I find that the physical preparation and spiritual build up have run parallel with one another. This should not be surprising since I have learned, theologically, of the internal integration of people (mental/emotion, physical and spiritual aspects all being integrated together). However, my build up to a fitness exam developed into a distinctly spiritual enterprise. Consider the mental hurdles that are overcome just in the process of running. If the goal was a three mile run, somewhere around the end of the first mile my body desired to slow and walk the rest of the way. If I was timing myself for a 1.5 mile run, typically I ran it with such speed that half way through my body set about to convince me to walk the rest of the way. The physical exertion was always a mental battle - every time.

Therefore, every workout has contributed to mental fitness along with physical fitness. Now considering how much spiritual health is integrated to mental stamina, running has been of great spiritual benefit. This is not to say that ministers who do not exercise are retarding their spiritual development. However, it does explain why Dallas Theological Seminary enrolls full time students automatically in the local gym. This suggests that the typical trappings of pastoral preparation and spiritual development may include the desk, the journal or the prayer rug; but it also will include the running track, calisthenics and the weight room. The sweat of the brow contributes to the conditioning of the spirit.

According to Richard Foster, one of the classic (though non-standard) Christian disciplines is physical labor. Historically, that labor might have been used in pious service, but I now see that the labor of it had its own value regardless of what was the product of that labor. Was the Christian discipline that one labored to build a shed or a barn? Or hoe a row of radishes? I suggest here that the Christian discipline (activity meant for developing the spiritual life) of labor was meant to simply tie spiritual development to physical exertion. Through preparing for the Navy, I have learned more (and am learning more) about the integration of the body and the spirit. I suspect such lessons will continue to build over the coming months and years.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fatherly Tenacity

Last night Jessica and I went for a "date" (father/daughter time). We saw the new movie "Taken" with Liam Neeson. The film is not really a story woven together with character development and plot twists. It accomplishes two other things though: (1) it's a fun action flick [a worthy reason to go sit in a theater to be sure], and (2) it invites the viewer to identify with the father's unshakable tenacity to rescue his daughter from a living hell [the Albanian sex trade industry]. The critic in me has to admit that one will find James Bond to be more multidimensional than Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills. However, if the view is willing to perform a little bit of the work of injecting greater depth into the character than was demanded by the director, the result can be an interesting emotional study.

When we see an interesting film, Jessica and I have developed the tradition of asking each other, "So...What was the argument of the movie?" In other words, did the movie have an overall point to make of message to convey in story form? Going beyond that, we may even explore how that message points toward truth we know as Christians. The assumption is that all stories, in one way or another point toward things we already know to be true. In this way, any given movie can be a shadowy reflection of truth previously revealed by God.

In "Taken," the father is willing to turn the world upside down (and is quite capable of doing so) to find his abducted daughter before she disappears forever into the sex trafficking underground. At times, the viewer may be a little shocked by the tactics Neeson's character employs to follow clue and get information. Our anti-torture liberal sensibilities might bristle at one scene wherein vital information is gained. However, we're invited to suspend judgment of the father for such tactics (and we do) because of his great love for his child. Fathers watching the film will be tempted to say to themselves, "I'd do that to rescue my daughter." Daughters are invited to ask themselves, "Would my Dad go through all that to save?"

For our discussion, we found this to loosely parallel to Jesus' parable of the lost sheep. If the Father will set aside the ninety nine to go find the hundredth lost sheep, how much more so will the Father scour the world to kind a lost child? "Are you not more precious to God than a sheep?" I asked Jessica. In like manner, if a fictitious father on screen will lay a swath of destruction in pursuit of his lost child, how much more will your Father in Heaven use all means to find you? When found, will you find relief in salvation akin to the daughter in "Taken?"