Category: Culture Critique

Foolish Marines: The Imago Dei (The Image of God) is Basic to Integrity and Leadership in the World

There have been a few embarrassments over the years for the US Military, but the recent video of young marines in Afghanistan urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters has me reeling in utter disgust. As a citizen of the United States, this harms every one of us, opens the world up to more conflict, and burns the bridges of authenticity and goodness that the majority of our leaders and people have been trying to accomplish!

It showcases how these young men have no value for the dignity of all persons.

Gen 1:27–28

And God said: Let us make mankind in our image/b’tsalmeinu, as our likeness/kid’muteinu. And they will have dominion over [the animals]…․And God created humankind in His image /b’tsalmo, in God’s image/tselem He created him, male and female He created them. And God blessed them and God said to them: Be fruitfull and multiply, and fill the land and occupy it, and have dominion over the sea’s fish and the skies’ bird and every animal crawling over the land. (source)

If one desires to have positive outcomes in life, if one wants to live in community with people in our own neighborhoods and in the world, if a person wants to have true respect for anyone other than oneself – recognizing that all humans are children of God, and that even our enemies (especially after death) deserve to be given back to God and given the treatment we would want.

In the Old Testament, King David had people in his court who disagreed with how well he treated his enemies.  Then King David had a man unethically and despicably placed at the front of the battle lines to steal the man’s wife.  David’s General saw this and from that point forward treated their enemies more brutally and David had lost the authenticity that would have been an argument against doing harm to others.

Every time individuals make bad unwise destructive vulgar decisions that obviously devalue the humanity of all persons, we slap our allies and friends in the face who are trying to work with us towards stability and peace in the world.

What kind of punishment does this deserve?  When they discover who did this, I hope that it makes a statement that this is never okay.  I hope that it comes from someone who can keep the military accountable and on their toes with some authority, and I hope that the response comes not just from disgust, but from a deep sense that all human beings who die in battle could be treated with respect and buried without desecration.  We would be more than disgusted if it had been the other way around.

We are a nation that is both strong, and good.  These four or five do not represent the Marines, or us.

Actual Video Link Below (Caution: Vulgar Image)

CNN Commentary:

Washington Post Article (Click)


Two Movies on Spiritual Leadership – Cromwell, Book of Eli


It is always an impressive feat when a movie delivers amazing production, high quality acting, action, a deep underlying philosophy to undergird the plot AND a deep spiritual underpinning.  

Two movies, one recent and one older in origin, stick out in my mind as great works that inspire the spiritual person to greater discipline and leadership in one’s own life.

The older movie is Cromwell, 1970, starring Richard Harris and Alec Guinness.  The story chronicles Oliver Cromwell’s opposition to a King who does not listen to the will of the people through Parliament.  Alec Guinness, as Cromwell, does an amazing job delivering faith filled speeches throughout the film.  Not only does his belief inform his leadership of an army rebelling against King Charles’ unjust actions concerning land, and the changes to the Church of England.  While Oliver comes off a bit self-righteous at some points according to modern standards, it is nice that he has standards and justifies them.  He is also the archetype of the leader who does not want to lead.  He is thrust forward by circumstance and despite the desire to retire to a common life, Oliver is thrust into history by great events.  Though the movie and its costumes are all 1970’s level, the underlying principles are solid and the acting is superb.  The musical score is beautiful as well, full of tones denoting the importance of the time period.  For anyone who is persevering in a leadership role and trying to integrate their faith into everyday life – this is highly recommended.  And great for retro appeal. Modern movie goers may recognize Alec Guinness as the Emperor at the beginning of the film Gladiator, or the first Dumbledore in the Harry Potter Series.  

The more recent film is The Book of Eli, 2010 film by the Hughes brothers starring Denzel Washington.  The film is about a post-apocalyptic world of the future after a supposedly religious war that ends in nuclear obliteration of civilization.  Eli is a man who is traveling west to the California coast, despite warnings that there is nothing out there, to preserve a King James Bible, which he received supernaturally after being lead to it by a spiritual voice.  The main antagonist is Carnegie, the leader of a town with a clean water supply and a small military force, who wishes to expand his townships and create a small “kingdom” (my words, not the movies).  He is a literate man but is basically a dictator in the tradition of Musselini, Hitler or Stalin.  He wishes to have absolute power by any means possible and desires the Bible for the words in order to control the hearts of the people.  Having watched this a couple times now, there are many twists and turns – it is incredibly gritty (expect a high level of violence, alluded to cannibalism and basic survival battles).  But Eli acts much like one would expect a person of faith to behave. He makes mistakes, but keeps moving.  He prays, he teaches others the word of God if he sees their receptivity, and he survives when he needs to.  The rise of Eli and the degeneration of those who do evil is a pervasive theme in this movie.  For anyone who wishes to watch a film of spiritual perseverance even in times of great evil and survival ethics – this is a film to watch.  

Both of these films hit me in a deep way. I’ve watched them both several times and find new facets each time.  Each time I am inspired and come to it differently (because I have grown a bit and bring more to the interpretation of the film) than before.  These are great films to watch on your own, or with a group of theological/philosophical friends who would converse deeply afterwards.  A religion and leadership club in college would do well to discuss these films.   Enjoy.

The Book of Eli: Practicing Faith Rather Than Using Religion

God can be trusted even during hard times

Published Monday, December 12, 2011
‘Book of Eli” is a gritty film, set in a post-apocalyptic world full of brutal scavengers, cannibals and ruthless leaders. The main character, played by Denzel Washington, is named Eli. He’s a rare literate person and appears at the very beginning to be carrying a precious book.

I hope this won’t spoil the movie for you, but the book turns out to be the King James Bible. The book is at the center of the film’s tension because the villain, Carnegie, who manages a tough town, wants that book so he can use the words to control people. In his mind, the religious texts are practical tools to bend people’s wills to his own. In an imperialistic vein, he wants to establish other towns, and he needs to use religion to his advantage.

This practical use of “religion,” rather than the actual practice of faith, riles me to the bone. Carnegie doesn’t care if the faith contained in the religious words is actually true. He just knows that when people are inspired, they do great things. His goal is to harness that power for his own gain. Eli is a powerful hero because he protects the word from this illegitimate use, and tries to bring it to a place where people will protect it and find wisdom from it and share with others for God’s will in their lives.

From the book of Corinthians, Paul tells ministers that Scripture is greater than a tool of manipulation; it is to be plainly spoken and received by rational people:

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

I believe that practical religion, the religion of Carnegie, is a common thing. I have done it, when I have prayed for something I really wanted. I remember praying for a video game system when I was younger. These days I would probably pray that things go well at work. We all have things we would like to see made real for us.

The problem with practical religion is that it places God in a box. It says, if God isn’t working for me, then what good is God? It is the same mentality one might have in a court case if the judge does not act on behalf of a plaintiff or a defendant. One person in a case will lose, even though both of them may have asked for a win. If the judge acted fairly and honestly dealt with the facts, one can still trust the legal system. It is even more so with the creator of the universe. God can be trusted even when we don’t get our own way; even when the world seems to be falling apart.

There are people with absolutely nothing but the faith they have and the joy it brings them. They bring peace and joy to everyone they meet. I hope this Christmas, you will rediscover your trust in God, and that your happiness will be dependent on God’s goodness, despite how much we have under the tree this year.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Read his blog at Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.

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Showing People Unfiltered Love Regardless of Our Imperfect World

Loving People in An Imperfect World

By Daniel Griswold

(Shortened and published in The Island Packet)

No matter how many times I promise myself that I will not look into the comments section on “Religion” articles, I always end up meandering down to those nether-regions for a look, though it is more like a journey.

In my Google News aggregation of articles I have specific sections for “Religion”, “Theology”, and more specifically “Christianity”. Often articles from smaller papers across the country come up and are mostly opinions, and I tend not to read those. But when the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, or our local Island Packet has a topic in Religion, I often bite and seek other’s perspectives on faith. These articles are often well thought out, but like all things internet, the final word goes to the conversation below the article – and that is where things get messy. Interesting? Maybe. Explosive? Often.

I’ve noticed certain strands of arguments being played out in culture are mirrored in the comments and they tend to take the same form on every article though combined in different ways depending on the commentators.

One person types, “We’re praying for all the people in the hurricane.” A second person responds, “Don’t bother praying. There is no God.” Another person posts some scripture, maybe John 3:16, then an argument breaks out about The Crusades and how Christ’s followers haven’t been loving enough.

Then it gets interesting – this is the gold that I look for – even as my stomach churns at many frustrating jabs back and forth, eventually people start telling their personal stories. These stories are the identities behind the anonymity and the reader sees why people believe or do not adhere to a faith. Hurts from the past surface, abuses of religious folks on the powerless in childhood are told, frustration and anger with institutions bleed to the surface in what is hopefully a cathartic experience for those who have harbored stories of injustices.

The arguments continue but between the heated posts, those with positive experiences explain why they believe. Often personal experiences of God’s presence, or His overwhelming love are shared. Stories of broken people being brought into a good faith community and being restored to wholeness through peace, love, mercy and the overflow of hope – these folks find fulfillment in God’s arms and contrast to the darkness that others tell. The joy is apparent, but it is clear that those who tell these faith stories wonder about other faith communities that would allow harm.

Both types of stories build a narrative that show how while some are healed in faith communities, others have found continued hurt and pain. The question from both sides is “Why?” If God exists, then why do we still hurt? Why do we hurt each other? Is this God’s fault? Is this our own making? Who’s going to fix this mess? Who is going to fix me?

Whether online or face-to-face, people seek justice. There is a basic human desire to bring about a balanced scale for all people despite the forces that bring about evil in the world. The Egyptians called this sense of the good “ma’at”, and the Pharaohs, like all, would be expected to live holy lives without lies and deceit. An unjust king could bring about famine and war, but like all people, errors happened.

One reason I love reading the Old Testament in the Bible is that the Israelites wrote down their experiences with God warts and all. Other cultures struck out the bad stuff, especially personal failures of leaders. One story that fascinates me is of Moses, a murderer redeemed, who never entered the Promised Land himself because he himself had moments of doubt in God’s power.

Their stories showed the imperfections of people and how easily even the best hearts can become corrupted – bringing hurt on those around them, even loved ones. They knew a few things about religion and desired to be perfect like God is perfect, but messed up big time– and still wrote it down!

Perhaps the reason I keep reading the chaotic comments is that I see the back and forth of my own faith in those words. My conversations with God often mirror the questions I see, because there are mysteries that remain mysteries, and people in and out of religion continue to act badly.

As people of faith, we can continue to fight evil in ourselves, in the church, other institutions and in the world, to live out Isaiah’s call to “Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed,… (Isaiah 1:17a),” living holy, good lives so that all people see Jesus Christ for who He is without any filters, just glowing with God’s eternal love.

Daniel Griswold
Director of Youth, Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC
twitter name: dannonhill

I just got hit by a comet – and that comet was composed of a Japan Anime-ized NSYNC on Facebook, Makeup, and Girls on the Internet – What?

My bud Matt ( @Wiatt  ) shared this video by the boy band “Heart2Heart”.  The visual style of the young guys seems to be an anglicized version of female Japanese (Anime like) pop bands. It is awefully bad.  So bad that I had to wash down the video with this Japanese boy band, which was much better because I have no clue what they are saying.  I’m hopin that this doesn’t catch on.  As you can see, this new video is just about as popular as Rebecca Black’s first video – and as Matt said in his FB post – this isn’t an SNL video, its for real:

Sacrificial Love Wins

Genuine love of others a key ingredient to stronger


Published Monday, September 5, 2011

Why do we love and care for others? Some would say that love is just part of the process of evolution: Someone once killed his neighbor, and because others did not want to be killed as well, they banded together and punished the murderer. People saw this punishment and deduced that killing is wrong and that the tribe is a stronger unit when people look out for each other.

This is a hypothetical but plausible scenario if we look at how things work today and use our intellect to explain what happened eons ago in human history. The problem is, though, we weren’t there.

As a person who studies religion and is a follower of Jesus Christ — which, believe it or not, is a choice I made after rational inquiry and finding satisfying evidence that God is acting in the world even today — I have spent much time reading through the many millennia-old written document of humanity’s interactions with God.

There are two strands that I always make light of when learning about the history of love as recorded in Scripture. First, I look at what humans were doing, and second, I look at what God is doing. The two are often very different. Human morality, even in the Bible, is very relative and focused on the self — and, in this view, the account of morality as hypothesized in evolution is probably true.

In fact, in Canaan, when the Hebrews began moving into the promised land, the cities were independent states, engaged in trade, alliance or war.

The city-states had kings. Codes of laws were variously applied so that each person did what he or she thought was right, and when that infringed on another it was up to the king and his governmental officials to bring balance and fairness. It was an imperfect system, however, so long as people continued to look out only for themselves.

God’s interaction with this economy was devastating to the local way. At Mount Sinai, Moses received the Commandments. These 10 precepts shifted focus from the human self to two others. First, love of God; second, love of others. It was more than just tolerant refrain from stepping on toes. It was a way to change the human heart toward a more divine economy. God’s words united the Hebrews, and God’s strength helped them as they left Egypt and assimilated the warring city-states.

Humanity constantly has to relearn this basic principle, and it is something each of us has to grapple with every day. Will we love ourselves and only contract with others toward a peaceful truce? Or will we give up our rights and give ourselves 100 percent for God and for others?

Christians look to Christ and see this sacrifice made completely real. The cross is a symbol of God showing us the way. Reclaiming the world by inserting light into the darkness and showing that selfishness will not prevail.

John says: “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth.”

In the four gospels we see the son of God give up a stable life, devote himself to healing the sick and feeding the hungry, become betrayed by a close friend for money and then willingly accept an undeserved punishment to turn the tables of justice toward grace and forgiveness rather than legality and containment.

For those with and without faith, God’s economy has huge lessons with an efficiency that can only come when people genuinely love.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Read his blog at Follow him on Twitter

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Exponential Growth of Technology is Owed to Growth in “More Good People”

Technology is amazing … but then again, so are people

Published Monday, August 22, 2011

The rise of technology and its integration into everyday life during my own lifetime has astounded me.

When I was born, the Internet did not exist. When I entered elementary school, I learned how to move a green pixelated turtle on a screen using complex computer code. Later I learned how to find my favorite video game magazine on the newly founded World Wide Web when I visited my dad at work. In middle school, I took computer study skills and learned how to manage life through typing and computations. By high school, I was using Adobe Photoshop for graphic design. Now, I study the Bible using tools that incorporate texts going back millennia, which have been digitized and placed within a program to do what the Library of Alexandria must have done ages ago.

This progression only took a few decades.

Some people react to the rapid changes in culture with fear, others accept it wholeheartedly and find their identity in the mobile devices and electrons. Most people, though, just wait until something becomes useful to them and then buy products that are easily explained and implemented. This is probably the reason the iPod and iPhone from Apple have been so successful and why other platforms are catching on to the importance of ease of use. You use your finger and have access to your contacts, can make a phone call, listen to music, watch a video, browse a website and level a shelf all using the same device. The buttons are easy to press, and things happen.

If it works in everyday life and business, then it’s a winner.

A friend of mine brought all this to my attention a few years ago, exclaiming that life has completely changed all because of technology. I thought about that for a bit and something occurred to me that really changed my thinking on the inanimate world of silicon.

In our world, what is the most changed factor in the growth of technology? Likely, the first response would be knowledge. Knowledge and ideas make advances possible, and the Internet spreads knowledge to the ends of the Earth.

But there is more.

The most important ingredient to progress and change in the world is not these inanimate things written down or placed in a plastic box with a screen.

In our world, the center of all our advances and growth has come from one thing and that is this: There are more people living on our planet now than have ever been. There are more people thinking about solutions to problems than have ever been. As minds are freed up to tackle issues, and brilliance is allowed to flow like water — the real ingredient to our advance as a species — more people do more good things.

Ideas flow as a river from the many centers of human thought. Without people, there would be no technology.

In the first book of the Bible, God makes two people and tells them to multiply and become rulers of all living things. In the first and second chapters of Genesis, humans are caretakers of the Earth and the resources within it. Later Abraham, the father of the Israelites, was promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashores (See Genesis 15-17). He took that as a blessing and held on to that promise.

As the Earth reaches 7 billion people, we have challenges concerning food distribution and our proper relation to the environment. Many face starvation across the globe.

The promise to Abraham inferred that they would be a light to the nations and a blessing to all the peoples of the Earth. If we have been given the blessing of more people and knowledge increases exponentially and our devices have become more and more entertaining, we have wasted our promise if we do not take our responsibility as a growing humanity to help solve the problems of homelessness, hunger, disease and lack of education.

The only real technology is more people, and the best way to make that a good thing is to make sure everyone has opportunities to contribute to the greater good.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Read his blog at Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.

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