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How Les Mis Helped Me Choose my Word.

January 3, 2013

I went with a girlfriend to see Le Mis last night.  I sat through most of the movie a bit unaffected, wondering why this was a tear jerker (and my tears are quite easily jerked).  Maybe I was distracted by the big bowl of queso that sat in front of me or the pizza that had wonderful things on it that are seldom seen on pizzas, like bleu cheese, walnuts, pear-bacon jam, something spicy, and other things that make me melt.  Maybe it was sitting in the front row and everyone’s faces on the big screen looking a tad distorted.  At times it felt long and clunky, like too many years was being squeezed into a 2 1/2 hr movie.

Then I got to the ending (may I tell the ending of Les Mis?  Everyone else has seen it right?  I was the last to know, correct?).  Listening to Jean Valjean’s prayer, lifted in song–like everything in the movie was–the tears started flowing.  I managed to stifle them enough to drive home and talk about other things with my girlfriend, like how we both “read” Les Mis in high school.  Then Curtis asked how the movie was, and the movie I didn’t necessarily love, brought back the tears again.

Les Mis was a culmination to some reading and thinking I’ve done the past five months.  I’ve read several books this fall, mostly about the Bible.  As with many things, this wasn’t an intentional theme.  This was just how things came across my path.

In the early fall, I taught Sunday School on some of the most misused verses of the Bible.  At the time, I was also reading Inspiration and Incarnation:  Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns, which I believe I’ve talked about before.  Enns, in his book, suggests that Christians, especially Evangelicals, have a difficult time with the Old Testament because it is not necessarily historically accurate, it shares similarities with other pagan stories (in particular many of the stories in Genesis like the Creation story and the Flood), it’s contradictory, and how the way New Testaments authors deal with the Old Testament.  He addresses these issues (which he condenses into three issues) throughout the course of the book.  How I read the Bible was changed.  Instead of weakening the Bible, it became stronger and I understood a hair more about God.  In a nutshell, the Bible is incarnational, the Word of God, made divine and human, with human markings everywhere throughout, yet God’s mark in his desire to love a people who were connected to a time and place very different than ours.  When the New Testament authors knew Jesus and wrote about his life, it was evident to them that everything in the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.  Jesus was spoken about everywhere, starting with Moses and more obviously in the prophets.  Enns says:

I would rather think of Biblical interpretation as a path we walk, a pilgrimage we take, whereby the longer we walk and take in the surrounding scenes, the more people we stop and converse with along the way, and the richer our interpretation will be.

..Biblical interpretation always requires patience and humility lest we stumble…

The reality of the crucified and risen Lord is both the beginning and the end of Biblical interpretation.

…It is we who sometimes wish to keep him [God] very small by controlling what can or cannot come into the conversation.  The result is-what would have been soundly condemned by Christ himself and any New Testament writer-polarization and power plays among the people of God, the body of Christ, his ambassadors who are called by him to be his minister of reconciliation to the world.

From here, I moved to Telling God’s Story, A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible also by Enns, which was every bit as amazing as Inspiration.  I picked up Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning for Advent.  On a whim, I bought A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans for $1.99 on Kindle (it’s still a $1.99 friends, as of today!  Buy it now if you have an electronic reader!).  While I could go into big descriptions here of all three books, I will refrain for now.  Let’s save those for later.  One thing stayed true through all of these books.  We can not earn our righteousness.  We can’t ever be good enough.  We can’t ever hide behind the Law (whichever Law you choose–Biblical law, the law of a country, the law of a denomination or religion).  We simply can. not. do. it.  We can not save ourselves by doing what the law says.

And here I am.  Back at Les Mis.  The two main characters stood at such polar opposites.  On one hand is Jean Valjean, a criminal.  On the other hand is Mr. Law himself–Javert.  At a crucial point, Valjean receives unbelievable mercy from a priest, not getting what he deserved to get, but instead being given love and gentleness—being valued as human.  As will happen, his life was changed and he lived knowing that he was a beloved child of God who was called to love others and treat others with mercy.  Javert vows to hunt Valjean down because he is a criminal and broken parole.  The law must be followed.  The trajectory of the two men’s lives are strikingly contrasted–one living a life of law, the other living a life of love and grace.  Needless to say, Valjean’s prayer at the end as he neared death moved me incredibly.  I got it.  Never had I seen such a blatantly “Christian” movie in the theatres.

Many Christian bloggers (and non-bloggers, bloggers are just the ones who publicly share it) choose a word to focus on for each new year.  This is a word they feel compelled to pursue in order to become closer to God and to become a better person.  I suspect I chose one last year, that if I looked back into my journals I can find it.  I thought of choosing a word this year, liking other’s word an awful lot.  However, it just seemed like someone else’s and not my own.

After Les Mis and my reading this fall, I know my word–my word for every year–my word as a Christian.  If my eyes stay focused on this word, the other words will follow.  Love.  It’s all about love.  Every bit of every day.  Every word I speak, every thought I think, every action I take should be guided by love…love of God, love of others, and love of myself.  If I have love, I will act in grace, I will seek God in all, and I will be freed from the Law.

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