Wednesday, April 22, 2015
a Mystery Science Theater 3000 generation
the restaurant review that Anton Ego reads aloud (in the deliciously haughty voice of Peter O’Toole) at the end of Brad Bird’s Ratatouille. Ego is too often mistaken for an Addison DeWitt-type critic-killer, but in truth he is an aesthete of the highest possible seriousness who is all too aware of his own inability to create and thus profoundly respectful of those who, possessing that power, use it to the fullest. It is inexpressibly moving to hear him confess without self-pity that “the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so,” and more moving still when he praises Remy and Colette for having cooked “an extraordinary meal…that rocked me to my core.”
Anton Ego is, by film's end, revealed to not be the adversary at all. Skinner is the real adversary, while Ego, whose pitiless criticism of the things he finds sub-par is dreaded, turns out to champion the greatness of Remy's work even at the expense of his own career. Ego is, in other words, the critic who regards criticism as its own art form but a necessarily dependent and subsidiary art form. Artists and art critics don't live each without the other. Those who would make history cannot long make do without any historians.
What's also worth revisiting is that the food Remy and Colette prepare for Ego is "a peasant dish". If Remy's culinary art is beset by no false modesty it is also presented as having no pretense. The peasant dish, if well-made, is no inherently or in any way lower than the formally fine cuisine.
It can seem as though my generation has been one that grew up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. We have a culture in which making fun of badly made movies is a niche market. It could still in all seriousness (if with a little tongue-in-cheek) be said that the efforts that went into making movies so terrible they ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 were greater than the effort it took to make fun of the film. The show's creators must no doubt understand this and so, you could say a distinction is made between a group of possibly over-ambitious types throwing together a rickety film that doesn't hold up and a massive Hollywood-funded stinker. To whom much has been given much will be expected.
Looking back on about fifteen years of Mars Hill, it's hard to shake the sense that for those of us in the middle-aged end of things, we're a Mystery Science Theater 3000 generation. We may have optimistically thought we could do better, and chuckled or laughed at the failures of previous generations (as it seems every generation is doomed to do) and then decades later, we'd best confess with Elijah:
1 Kings 19:4
while he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."
We are no better than our fathers. It may be most dangerous for us if we imagine that we are, no, are certain that we are better than our ancestors. After all, it was those who assured themselves they would not make the mistakes their ancestors made that someone challenged.
Matthew 23: 29-32 NIV
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Elijah's confession was better than the denials of the Pharisees. It is better to say "I have sinned against the Lord" than to say "Maybe I made a mistake".
Sometimes it feels as though those of us who called Mars Hill home are a Mystery Science Theater 3000 generation, we had no problem making fun of the venerable and at least workable traditions of church leaders and theologians who came before us, all the while foolishly ignorant of how our best efforts were simply reinventing wheels. We had Mark Driscoll sounding off against childrens' ministry in 2001 only to have Jamie Munson formulate an accusation against Paul Petry that he was critical of kids' ministry in 2007. How in just a few short years what Driscoll publicly made fun of became a ministry of the kind Driscoll said wouldn't happen at Mars Hill, a ministry that Petry was terminated for expressing criticism about.
Driscoll said he wouldn't start a side company for books in 2009 and then set one up in 2011. Driscoll preached from the pulpit about how it was bad for a ministry to have a man's name as the domain name, after it had turned out he'd already registered one with his name in it years earlier. Driscoll has by turns and years come to embody everything he once preached against.
And those of us who called Mars Hill home, for however long, bankrolled that transformation.
We are no better than those we once made fun of. We might even be significantly worse.
After having made fun of others we have become the punchline ourselves. So many years of preaching about living for a legacy and that legacy is crumbling, its survival uncertain. If anything survives it will be no credit to the one who said he founded it, even if ostensibly for Jesus' fame.
RESISTING IDOLS LIKE JESUS
Part 22 of 1st Corinthians
Pastor Mark Driscoll | 1 Corinthians 10:1-14 | June 18, 2006
Here’s the tricky part: Figuring out what your idols are. Let me give you an example. Let’s say for example, you define for yourself a little Hell. For you, Hell is being poor. For you, your definition of Hell is being ugly. For you, your definition of Hell is being fat. For you, your definition of Hell is being unloved. For you, your definition of Hell is being unappreciated. That fear of that Hell then compels you to choose for yourself a false savior god to save you from that Hell. And then you worship that false savior god in an effort to save yourself from your self-described Hell. So, some of you are single. Many of you are unmarried. For you, Hell is being unmarried and your savior will be a spouse. And so you keep looking for someone to worship, to give yourself to so that they will save you. For some of you, you are lonely and your Hell is loneliness, and so you choose for yourself a savior, a friend, a group of friends or a pet because you’ve tried the friends and they’re not dependable. And you worship that pet. You worship that friend. You worship that group of friends. You will do anything for them because they are your functional savior, saving you from your Hell. That is, by definition, idolatry. It is having created people and created things in the place of the creator God for ultimate allegiance, value and worth.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get incredibly personal. This will get painfully uncomfortable if I do my job well. I’m going to ask you some probing questions. We’re going to try to get to the root of your idols and mine and I am guilty. I was sitting at breakfast this morning. My wife said, “So what is your idol?” I was like, “Hey, I’m eating breakfast! Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk about that.” I’m the pastor. I preach. I don’t get preached at. Eating bacon. Don’t ruin it. You know, it’s going good., And I told her, I said, “Honey, I think for me, my idol is victory.” Man, I am an old jock. More old than jock, lately, but I – I’m a guy who is highly competitive. Every year, I want the church to grow. I want my knowledge to grow. I want my influence to grow. I want our staff to grow. I want our church plants to grow. I want everything – because I want to win. I don’t want to just be where I’m at. I don’t want anything to be where it’s at. And so for me it is success and drivenness and it is productivity and it is victory that drives me constantly. I – that’s my own little idol and it works well in a church because no one would ever yell at you for being a Christian who produces results. So I found the perfect place to hide. [emphasis added]
And I was thinking about it this week. What if the church stopped growing? What if we shrunk? What if everything fell apart? What if half the staff left? Would I still worship Jesus or would I be a total despairing mess? I don’t know. By God’s grace, I won’t have to find out, but you never know. So we’re going to look for your idols, too. Some questions. Think about it. Be honest with me. What are you most afraid of? What is your greatest fear? See, that probably tells you what your idol is. Sometimes your idol is the thing that you’re scared of not having, not being, not doing. What are you scared of? You scared that you’ll be alone? Are you scared that no one will ever love you? Are you scared that you will be found out that you’re not all that smart? Are you scared that you’ll be stuck in the same dead-end job forever? What are you afraid of?
It seems more likely Driscoll's idol is legacy, because even when the legacy is bad, there was usually some kind of victory connected to it, at least for a while. Driscoll asked if he would still worship Jesus if the church stopped growing; if it shrunk; if everything fell apart; if half the staff left. All that has more or less transpired and the question is not really whether or not Mark Driscoll is going to talk about Jesus, it's whether or not he has the courage to talk about Jesus in a way that doesn't put him in front of seas of people. Can he be that Christian guy working the joe job driving the bread delivery truck? Can he be a man who no longer has any earthly legacy in this world beyond his wife and children? If he can't live that kind of life then perhaps legacy is his idol. If he flinches at the thought that the campuses that were once Mars Hill may yet survive and go on without any need to mention that he ever had anything to do with them then that might be an indication that legacy is an idol.
But legacy was arguably the idol we all had when we signed on. Every generation must face down the temptation that it can single-handedly change the world. We all will in some small way but we don't want it to be small. It's not necessarily wrong to work toward leaving a positive legacy behind you, but if you are seeking that legacy for you and not also, or better said more, for the benefit of your neighbor, then the legacy you seek is just for you. It's possible to pursue a legacy selfishly, after all.
Those of us who have called Mars Hill home may want to say "We're not perfect" but "we're not perfect" isn't really confession enough, is it? We are no better than the ancestors we at one time made fun of.
Some people may lately insist that nobody starting Mars Hill imagined it would reach 10,00.
Confessions of a Reformission Rev
Copyright (c) 2006 by Mark Driscoll
CHAPTER ONE: Jesus, Our Offering was $137 and I Want to Use it to Buy Bullets
from pages 53-54
So in an effort to clarify our mission, I wrote down on paper the first of what would eventually be many strategic plans. I shot for the moon rather foolishly and decided that our church that was not big enough to fill a bus would plant multiple churches, run a concert venue, start a Bible institute, write books, host conferences, and change the city for Jesus. I started handing out these goals printed on boring white paper without any graphics, colors, or cool fonts, naively assuming that it would all happen eventually just because it was what Jesus wanted.
To get leaders in place for world domination, I also spent time trying to articulate the vision in my head to good men who would be qualified to rise up as fellow elders-pastors. So, as Jesus did, I spent time in prayer asking the Father which of his sons should be trained for leadership.
And now where is Mars Hill? Dissolving, selling off its real estate. Apparently somebody sold an email list they weren't legally authorized to sell and that nobody can use. So now it looks like the contact information of Mars Hill associates was basically just given away.
If Mars Hill has had an idol it is legacy. In Christ we are remembered even if we die anonymously and are dumped in unmarked mass graves.
I used to be part of Mars Hill. I used to believe in its potential to be a positive influence in the community. I used to be confident I would always be there for as long as I lived. Slowly, almost imperceptibly slowly, I began to have doubts. The first doubts were in many ways about myself and then about the kind of community we were. It seems we have been a generation that has made fun of others while not realizing that in the grand sweep of history we ourselves are no better. As Anton Ego put it, the bitter truth we critics must face is that the common piece of junk took more effort and thought than our review that designated it. It would be tempting and easy to imagine that is something to be said about "critics" but it should not go unmentioned that historically many a "critic" was also a practitioner of the same art.
It has only been in an age like ours in which a man like Driscoll could rise up and pontificate about the real way to pastor churches and preach the Bible having never been a member of a church he hadn't personally founded. That, dear reader, may as well be the position of "a critic", the one who has been willing to say things about the labors of others without having proven himself able to accomplish the same things himself. There could be more to be said about "the critic" in purely pejorative terms but not all criticism is given or to be received as merely pejorative. Criticism is a vital part of the arts and we cannot go through life without being able to both receive and give criticism. It does not have to be thought of as only destructive.
But there are times when we may need to look around and realize that we have become punchlines, that having made fun of others we have ourselves become the joke.