Archive for the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Avatar Revisited at Out of Ur

August 10th, 2010 by Paul Louis Metzger

The following post is a response to a question concerning my recent article at Out of Ur regarding Pastor Mark Driscoll’s critique of the movie Avatar.  For the original article in Out of Ur, please refer to the following link:
At one point in the article, I write: “The movie Avatar was not simply a movie to Pastor Driscoll. Nor was his critique of this movie simply poor cultural critique to me. It was a symbolic statement of total blindness to what the Western powers have done and continue to do in our day to indigenous peoples and their habitats globally all in the name of progress.”  This statement gave rise to the following comment by “Melody”:

‘…total blindness to what the Western powers have done and continue to do in our day to indigenous peoples and their habitats globally all in the name of progress.’  Paul, could you give three specific examples of this?

Here is my response to Melody’s comment:

Hello, Melody.  Thank you for your question.  I will seek to provide numerous examples past and present, and from different angles, after first outlining different aspects of what I mean by oppression in this context.

Oppression takes place in various ways, including the following: first, through direct military confrontation by Western powers that involves annexing domains and taking resources, as in the colonial period; second, through Western powers’ fostering dependence among indigenous peoples and developing countries coupled with enticing developing countries to open their doors to foreign markets, which at times leads these developing countries to take lands and resources from their own indigenous peoples to build industry; and third, by failing to overturn the structures of evil that carry on from the past into the present. When I speak of “total blindness to what the Western powers have done and continue to do in our day to indigenous peoples and their habitats globally all in the name of progress,” I have this multi-faceted view of what I call “oppression” in the blog article in mind.  In what follows, I will engage these three points.

The way in which the Western powers function today is often quite different from previous times–here and abroad (as I stated in my Avatar article, the movie is a “page right out of American history”; while there are multitudes of pages to American history, the Manifest Destiny ambitions often present in US expansion fill scores of pages–see for example the video “How the West Was Lost: A Good Day to Die” {1993}).   One church leader in a developing country told a friend who’s worked with indigenous peoples internationally that “They used to come with machine guns.  Now they come with briefcases.”

My friend mentioned to me recently that in places like Rwanda and Cambodia indigenous people are displaced from land for the sake of big business. While it may be locals displacing the indigenous people, it is often bound up with efforts to cater to Western businesses and expansion of markets, as well as historic patterns of influence by the West that have inspired local manifestations of the drive to control weaker or more vulnerable populations and use their resources for one’s own good.  While I favor international trade and affirm God’s calling on humanity to steward and cultivate creation, it is also important that we are intentional on protecting the rights of the poor and marginalized as we pursue trade that is truly free.  Trade that is truly free ensures that the poor and marginalized do not fall through the cracks in the pursuit of ecomonic development.

I should say at this point that Western powers are not simply military powers, but also corporate business powers.  Globalization has strengths and weaknesses, and it is extremely important that governments have in place safeguards that protect the marginalized and weaker parties here and abroad. Given the biblical, orthodox doctrine of original sin and total depravity, we should never favor unregulated free trade: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Recent movies draw attention to the reality of how Western powers put pressure on developing world countries, and in a variety of ways.  Highly regarded film critic Emanuel Levy writes of the movie Blood Diamond, “Though mostly set in Sierra Leone in 1999-2000, ‘Blood Diamond’ clearly wants to draw attention to broader issues and other locales, namely, the exploitation of Third World countries by Western powers such as the U.K. and the U.S. While the scarce resource in this tale is diamonds, the same exploitation could be depicted in the case of other scarce natural resources, such as rubber, gold, oil, which more often than not results in a tragedy for the country in which they are found.”

The movie Hotel Rwanda draws attention to the post-colonial situation in which Western powers largely abandoned Rwanda when the conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi people erupted into civil war and genocide (According to the BBC, the Belgian colonialists were responsible for increasing tensions between the groups:  The movie also intimates that a sense of dependence was created, and when the Western powers exited Rwanda, the infrastructure collapsed still further.

It is not simply Western political powers and market forces that create such dependence; churches do as well, as when largely white mega churches speak of “adopting” villages in Africa or inner city African American churches.  In contrast, John M. Perkins rightly charges that we must replace charity with community development.  Community development involves working among people, drawing from their experiences and looking to support them rather than drive them, helping but also being helped by them, ministering relationally in a particular region together with them.  A friend of mine from Africa who is ministering in Haiti with a North American ministry providing holistic care is challenging North Americans and others from the developed West to minister with a Christ-centered approach that views the Haitian people as being as valuable as people from developed Western countries.  This more redemptive approach that my African friend espouses entails asking Haitians what they believe is necessary to effect change and not patronizing them.  “Patronizing them” involves telling them what they need to do rather than partnering with them to confront the crisis.  The Haitians have told my African friend that they often feel as if they are treated as projects by Americans and other people from developed Western countries, and that the end game is producing a product that can be exhibited as a trophy back in the developed West.  This is a subtle form of oppression–not like the overt hostility of Avatar, but nonetheless still dehumanizing.

Like in Avatar, the Haitians may not have the technological and technical resources, but they do have strong relational bonds–they have one another.  In addition to my African friend, a pastor from a mega church that has a significant ministry in Haiti has conveyed the same point to me.  Both individuals have claimed that they have rarely if ever experienced such profound relationality.  My African friend said that he did not need to be known to be loved in Haiti–he was sucked in and loved and ministered to, even though he had come to minister. We have so much to learn from such people, and so should not go trying to fix them, but to partner with them, joining them in our shared search for significance and life in the midst of horrific suffering.

Mention was made above of the need to overturn longstanding structures of evil.  Native peoples in what became the United States were often forced onto some of the poorest land, and some reservations are on land used as key sites for storing nuclear waste.  See a recent AP discussion on the storage and cleanup of nuclear waste that bears directly on Native peoples today at
. Also, see an earlier article on a related topic at  To the extent we benefit from the evils committed in the past and present against such indigenous people, to that extent we ourselves are culpable.

Lastly, Western consumers–myself being one of them–find it very difficult not to fall prey to furthering oppressive structures in impoverished communities worldwide, where sweatshops are created to produce goods at far cheaper costs and at far greater benefit to American consumers–and at great cost to the employees in those lands.  While one may say the people there are better off than they would otherwise be because they have these jobs, their well-being is certainly not up to the humane standards we prize.  Nike, Wal-Mart and other companies have had to face front and center these concerns, and these issues require resolution and reform in many spheres of industry and business worldwide (see the following articles: and

I should add that the West is not alone in this and related problems.  See the following article for a multi-faceted discussion of China on the environment:
See also the articles on worker abuse in China: and
Lastly, see the article on ethnic minority oppression in China:

While the West, and America in particular, has done much good across the globe at various times through such efforts as world relief in times of crisis and in restoration of devastated countries after times of war as in the Marshall Plan for the restoration of Germany and also parallel efforts in Japan after WWII, our history is nonetheless a checkered one.  We must be alert to both dimensions if we are to further good practices and guard against destructive patterns and tendencies.

I trust this helps, Melody.  I need to sign off due to my travels.

All the best,
Paul Louis Metzger

One in Christ or Coffee?

December 1st, 2009 by Bryan Dormaier

Dr. Metzger recently had an article posted on the Out of Ur blog examining and contrasting the types of community formed around the coffee bar and the Lord’s Table.  It is a helpful reflection on the type of communities we are seeking to raise up in our churches, and well worth the read.  You can read the article here.

What do you think about the difference in the sort of communities created around the coffee bar or the Lord’s Table?

Do you have any thoughts or ideas on how we use space to represent the values of our communities?  Share your ideas in the comments here.

Prophecy Smack Down: Walt Disney vs. the Apostle John

November 23rd, 2009 by Daniel Fan

Greetings All! During my recent visit to Disney’s Epcot in Orlando Florida, I managed to catch a glimpse of the future, which I’d like to share with you.

Now, Epcot isn’t your average no-tech, smells-of-grease-and-stale-popcorn theme-park. Rather, it is nothing less than Disney’s projection of what an idealized future might look like. Epcot doesn’t just give visitors a chance to jump ahead in time; it also includes the functionality of sending a postcard from the future back to your present-day self. (Ok, the photo of my future self had a giant hole in his head, but I’m chalking that up to a minor backwards-compatibility issue.)

So you ask: “If you could really see the future, Daniel, what would the future hold for me?”

Well it depends…

For those of you who are white, the future is clean, bright, metallic, polymer, automated, digital, and completely Energy-Star compliant.

It’s a little different for us minorities. See, we don’t have a future, or at least one in which we’re represented in any way more significant than say, soylent green. Sadly, somewhere, before the monorail gets to Disney’s “Future,” there’s a stop where we all get off (or maybe the monorail doesn’t stop).

To those who haven’t been there, Epcot is divided into two halves separated by a lake. At the entrance to the park is the “World of Tomorrow,” where all the high-tech future-oriented rides and attractions are. Across the lake is a collection of period sets collectively referred to as “The World.” This is where you can stroll through exotic locales like China, Japan, and Morocco without even leaving the park. .

Visiting “The World” was actually one of the best parts of my trip. Disney gathers people from different countries and brings them to Epcot to crew these destination sets. At first, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was touring a zoo for humans (one where I was part of the exhibit). But once I got over it, I found that talking with people from around the world and getting their perspective was very much worth the price of admission.

Midway through the day, I crossed the lake to continue my visit in Epcot. And then it hit me. “I’m going from ‘The World of Today’ to ‘The World of Tomorrow,’” and boy did tomorrow look different.

In The World of Tomorrow, I crash landed on Mars in “Mission Space,” failed a brake test at “Test Track,” and glided over the Golden Gate bridge in “Soaring.” I even took a 30 second ride on a Segway. I thought to myself, “I kind of like this future.” That was, until I climbed aboard “Spaceship Earth,” located in the iconic Epcot Ball.

Spaceship Earth traces human development from the Paleolithic Age to the Future. As you’re leaving “the Future” a camera snaps a picture of you to send to your present day self. This is, apparently, where future Dan lost half his skull. It’s also here where my concerns about Disney’s version of “Tomorrow” really solidified. And it wasn’t just in my head, or missing from my head…whatever.

The ride started out with a diorama of cavemen fighting a mammoth. Of course, all the cavemen were white. Weird, right? But it’s easy to understand when you remember that Ice Ages only happen to white people. Thank God for that because I’d be really cold in an ice age, not being able to grow facial hair or an Austin Powers-like chest rug (it’s all in the genes, or maybe, not in the genes as it were).

Next, we got into the accumulation of world knowledge, which apparently was stored, in its entirety, at the Library of Alexandria. After that, the Renaissance further increased human knowledge, along with the Enlightenment. And from there we were off to industrialization, computerization, and the future.

Apparently no one outside of Europe and North Africa had any influence whatsoever on human history as a whole. Well, that’s not really fair. There were two black guys (or maybe one was Arab) who sorta helped out at Alexandria. But then we actually got to the future. And everyone looked like Lady Gaga?

Somehow, we colored people aren’t in Disney’s version of the future, but white people are. In fact, when it comes to the World of Tomorrow, white people are like cockroaches after a nuclear winter. And that’s a good thing for white people, because, not only do they survive, but they get to inherit the earth, too. Though, I hope white people like white, because in the World of Tomorrow, the upholstery is white, the walls and ceilings are white and you can wear any color of outfit you want as long as it’s white. Disney’s interpretation of culture in the future is necessarily vague (having to be conveyed by mannequins and repetitive animatronics). However, those that do make it to the future seem to enjoy the pastimes of today’s privileged, like sports (value of leisure), not having to drive for themselves (value of autonomy via automation), and instant food extruded from machines (value of time and instant gratification). Bottom line: white folks might like some aspects of Tomorrow, but they should spend today stocking up on all that good “exotic” food, because I’ve been to Disney’s version of the future, and it ain’t servin’ chitlins, sushi, fry bread, or tacos.

So is this a giant diatribe against Disney? No. Disney actually did a very good job of illustrating a dominant culture (in this country) view of the future. And for that I’m grateful. Plus, Test Track was pretty fun. Epcot’s “World of Tomorrow” is a pitch perfect example of what educator Tim Wise refers to as “universal perspectivism,” as in “the way I see it is the way everyone sees it.” Thus, it’s perhaps unintentional, but only natural that, in a theme park devised by white people, only white people would appear in Disney’s version of “The Future.” Unfortunately, this little oversight implies that somewhere on the path to Tomorrow, minorities step off in a big and permanent way.

The very fact that a strong dichotomy exists between the diverse World of Today and the monochromatic World of Tomorrow within Epcot betrays the presence and execution of universal perspectivism. If that viewpoint were true, there’d be no need for The World of Today as part of Epcot. The fact that not everyone sees things the same way, or even wants the same thing, forms the foundation, literally, for half the attractions of Epcot. That, sadly, is something the other half of the park seems to ignore quite successfully.

Consider this: Although China and Morocco were represented in “The World” of today, they had no place in Spaceship Earth’s representation of human development. Where would whites be without their appropriation (perhaps misappropriation) of the Chinese Hu Yao, a.k.a. “gunpowder?” Certainly the vast European empires which began in the 1500s and covered the globe in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and British flags five centuries later were founded in large part on this technological advancement. What about Arabic lettering? I mean, who wants to do long division in Roman numerals? It isn’t just that minorities don’t exist in the future, but apparently they didn’t exist or contribute in the past either. That’s universal perspectivism at work.

Put succinctly, Disney’s futuristic World of Tomorrow without the diverse World of Today is technically competent, and environmentally sound, but bland, boring, repetitive, incomplete, and yes, unbiblical.

Maybe we should take comfort in the message of someone who really has seen the future and brought a little of it back to us. In Revelations 5:9 (TNIV) the Apostle John tells us:

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of tribe and language and people and nation.”

Thank God every tongue and tribe will be represented in the new heaven and new earth and that we all have the privilege of being in this version of the future. Thank God that our Creator’s vision of Tomorrow is both more expansive and more inclusive than Disney’s, because writing this essay has really given me the hankering for a gyro, or maybe some Chinese BBQ pork, or a steak quesadilla. Come to think of it, a nice hot bowl of nabeyaki udon sounds good too…

So, I’d ask you, my readers, to think critically whenever someone talks about “the future” or even “the past.” Whose take on the future are we talking about; whose history? Who’s starring? Who got left off the box office poster? If someone tries to sell you a version of the future that isn’t inclusive of “every tribe and language,” you might want to turn the packaging over and check the expiration date.

Shane Claiborne’s Peculiar Message

February 24th, 2009 by Kelsi Johns

“Maybe God’s plan is different than Wall Street’s.” Shane Claiborne gently entered into his message at Mosaic Church in Portland, Oregon on February 6th with this statement. It hung in the air a bit before he proceeded. I have read both of his books, An Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President, but this was the first time I have heard him speak. He had his trademark look: The long dreads, bandana neatly tied around his head, black rimmed glasses, white plain T-shirt and baggy cotton pants. Upon walking on stage he gave a loud, giddy hillbilly laugh and his tall frame and lengthy arm span lent to his quirky, fun-loving demeanor. 


What followed his opening statement was the message that we are called to be a peculiar people. If we are falling right in suite with the power players of our day, where is our peculiarity? This struck me. Rather than living to transform the patterns and systems of our world, the church more often (and more loudly) appears as if our desire is the other way around. Yet if we look at Jesus, he was always peculiar. So peculiar, that John the Baptist had to second guess him. This led to another point: the love of Christ “spreads through fascination, not force”. This is pivotal in understanding our role as believers. In light of consumerism and the church, it was refreshing to remember that Christ’s gospel is irresistible and fascinating. It needn’t be a bait and switch gospel, where we must lure in the masses with great music, yummy coffee and popular preaching in order to gain the most converts. Yet this is what I often see: a hope and confidence in nailing down consumer preference and achieving consumer-based success over against living a gospel whose confidence and vitality lies in abandonment and the creativity of Christ. I can’t help but wonder then, what good news are people coming to understand? I often feel like we have lost hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are instead putting our trust in the gospel of consumerism driven by a worldy desire for more: more members, more converts, ultimately, more power. 


Shane continued to explain that when John the Baptist asked if Jesus Christ was really the One, Jesus responded by asking what he has done and what they have seen. Blind people can see, the dead are brought back to life, sick people are healed. As Shane points out, really, who else would they want?


This begs the question: What would the response be if I asked others to “look at what I’ve done and tell me what you see”. Not only individually does that scare me, but what about the church as a whole? As Shane challenged us, we tend to “preach God with our mouth, but resist him with our lives”. He shared that the top three things Christians are known for are being (in this order): anti-gay, judgmental and hypocritical. That is not a movement I would want to join, and those are certainly not the top three characteristics of the life of Christ. On the contrary, as Shane discussed, Christ’s harshest words were to the religious elite.


 “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to bring dead people to life.” This is a point he made that I believe we as a church need to meditate on and be transformed by. The religious elite were about control, power, and appearance. Life in Christ does not mean that we are now “good”; it means we are now alive–no matter how messy and reckless that may be. I fear that this compelling message is being choked out by those who wish to gain more followers by introducing them to a non-intrusive, non-threatening message of salvation (a sort of ‘you can have your cake and eat it, too’ salvation). As Shane said, we are not making the gospel too hard, but rather too easy. He challenged that we need a recklessness in the church. Reckless because we trust in the enormity, profundity and unconstrained love of our Creator, rather than the financial, medical, educational or political systems of this world.  What would that look like if we truly lived this way? We are not called to be calculators and purveyors of progress but rather patient, gracious lovers of truth and justice. If we live a timid life harnessed and controlled by the systems our world lives and falls by, what does that say of the One in whom we profess? 


What do you think about Shane’s statement “Maybe God’s plan is different than Wall Street’s”?  How do you envision that we, as the church, can begin as Shane said to “dream big and live small”, and how do you see this affecting consumerism in the church?