Monday, April 11, 2011

Source Code

I love movies about dimensions. Whether it's traveling through time or jumping through some portal into another world, the idea that there is more than one possible reality fascinates me. These are the kinds of movies that stretch the imagination to its limit, forcing us to wonder if what we're seeing is even possible in the real world outside of the movie screen. They cause us to question whether that "real" world is as real as we once believed.

Source Code is one of these movies, with a refreshing new take on the genre. Part Groundhog Day, part The Matrix, the film follows Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he wakes up on a train. Something isn't quite right here; his last memory was flying helicopters in Afghanistan, and Chicago trains don't fit with that reality. Before he can figure out what's truly happening, the train explodes. He wakes up again, this time in a pod of sorts, a female military officer on a screen in front of him, calmly giving him orders. The audience fully enters into Captain Stevens' confusion, slowly figuring out the mystery of this multi-dimensional mystery as he does. He is part of a military project that sends one person into another's lingering conscience of the last 8 minutes of their life. For 8 minutes, he becomes someone else in a new reality, charged with the task of finding the bomb and bomber that cause the train to explode.

The film itself is fast-paced, intellectually stimulating, and contains all the best elements of a thriller without many of the genres' common flaws. There's a beautiful woman on the train (Michelle Monaghan) whom Stevens finds captivating, and their budding romance provides breaths of fresh air in the frantic intensity that defines the film. There are also plenty of moral dilemmas that raise spiritual questions, especially in regards' to Stevens' own identity in the midst of all the shifting dimensions. Like another recent sci-fi romantic thriller--The Adjustment Bureau--we're forced to wrestle with questions of fate, desire, and what is really real.

This latter question--what is really real--is a question that Jesus answers in Luke 17:20-21:
“The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
When Jesus came, He brought this message of freedom--that there was a new reality, one that was more real than the reality right in front of our faces. Yes, what we're currently experiencing feels quite real. But what if that reality was deeply distorted by sin, a sort of wool pulled over our eyes for which Jesus came to set us free? What can truly distort this reality is the difference between doing and being. In This Beautiful Mess, Rick McKinley calls this "levels spirituality," like we are doing many kingdom-things in order to get to the next level of Jesus-ness. We become a Christian. We start going to church on Sundays. We join a small group or a Bible study. We add a devotional time to our morning routine. We work on praying harder. We volunteer in another ministry at church. We join another class, read another inspiring Christian book, read all the Christian leadership blogs, keep trying to get that devotional time, struggle to remember to pray, show up at the church building multiple nights a week, etc. etc. etc. It can feel as frantic as trying to keep a bomb from exploding on a train. When Captain Stevens awakes, he is set on a mission that leaves him exhausted, desperate, confused, and emotionally-wrecked. When our own Great Commission becomes about doing lots of spiritual things to keep building Jesus's kingdom, our spirituality leaves us feeling the same.

The kingdom of God is less about doing and more about being. Of course, both require action and involvement--being is never sitting around in some sort of lackadaisical bliss. McKinley says that being in the kingdom is rejecting the spirituality of levels and embracing the dimension of the kingdom. It is seeing that the kingdom is really real, that it is the reality that defines my entire identity and way of being in the world. McKinley puts it this way:
The kingdom is a dimension I acknowledge, I live in, I participate in. Yet it's never a level I achieve. It is a lot less like building the business of Christianity and a lot more like slipping into the matrix of Jesus. 
In leaving the levels, I am called by Jesus to embrace His way of being in the world. That means that church is not about getting big but about creating space where we live out a new kingdom humanity as He taught. It's sad to see pastors who are burned out because they can't get off the treadmill or believers who are ready to chuck their faith in Jesus because they are tired of trying to perform. (pg 63)
Slipping into the matrix of Jesus. Leaving the levels and embracing a new reality. This is much more difficult to accept than a spirituality of doing. Doing is more tangible, measurable, makes us feel accomplished. When we are inviting others to simple be in the kingdom, it can sound a bit off-putting, like it's causing different synapses to fire in our brains. Yet it is an invitation into freedom. It's a bit like Captain Stevens' experience in Source Code--we're confronted with a new reality that we can either reject or embrace. For Stevens, his salvation comes when he chooses to die to himself, to take the risk to embrace a new reality, to pursue a love that transcends military orders or science and embark a new way of being. As Paul wrote in Colossians 1, he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

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