Letter from the Editor: Change or Die

Is change possible? That’s the question we ask of ourselves, of others, of society. Is there hope that any of us could be different? Sometimes the answer is a hearty yes—typically the response to our own chances for renewal, because we hold out unwavering hope for ourselves (often despite evidence to the contrary). Other times it’s a resounding no—typically when we’re assessing the likelihood of change in others, when we’ve written them off as hopeless.

How we see change matters. If we believe it’s possible, it becomes a driving force for growth and transformation. If change isn’t even imaginable, this presumption clouds our minds and hearts, becoming a weight anchoring us to deadly notions and actions. Without change, without renewal, we die, sometimes from the inside out.

But change, if it happens at all, also begins on the inside. Deep in the hidden place, in the mystery of the heart and soul—that’s where transformation occurs. It’s imperceptible, at first, needing time to work its way outward into our words and deeds, needing time to sprout new life and new fruit. Change starts on the inside, but I’ve found my heart remains rather inert and entrenched in the same-old, same-old unless something from the outside works itself in. Christians would readily say the power for change is the Holy Spirit, who comes to take up residence within the human heart and then work new life—Jesus’ life—into us and out of us. His means and methods are myriad, though. For me, He’s used a piece of advice from a trusted friend, an article that dismantles my preconceived notions about life and society, a film that cracks open long-calloused emotions. Change is from the inside out, but it needs a kick-start from an outside agent.

In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the features and support articles present various aspects of change—changing minds, motives, lives, and perceptions. Jesse Porch provides excellent groundwork in “Sheathing the Sword: Akira Kurosawa and the Virtue of Meekness“:

The message is thus quite clear: neither the samurai and their submission to authority nor Sanjuro’s discipline and reliance on his wits can fully restrain an inherently violent nature. This message should resonate with all of us; though our society is not built atop a system of knights and warlords, the theme of “might makes right” permeates entertainment and politics, and painfully shapes the stories we hear on the nightly news. Instead, to truly curtail violence, we must all cultivate a meekness of spirit and allow that to guide our actions.

[…]

In Christ we see the realization of meekness that goes far beyond a sword kept in its sheath. Isaiah presents an image of the reigning savior whose authority and power extend unquestioned over the whole earth, yet his kingdom will be marked not by military dominance but by peace. Rather than being kept in the sheaths until needed, the swords are instead beaten into plowshares, a physical representation of the meekness we have discussed. Such a change departs from the mere constraint of violence, instead converting the underlying power the blade possesses from a form designed for destruction into something instead brings new life.

We need such inspirational—and aspirational—change agents, those who, like the samurai, like Christ himself, keep us moving forward in the quest for transformation. We need it because the world is full of naysayers, of haters, of those who will rip our hope to shreds if we let them. Abby Perry’s feature, titled The Phantom Tollbooth and Redeeming the Power of Words,” conveys this struggle to hold onto hope despite opposing messages:

But the true gift of a book like The Phantom Tollbooth, and, I suppose, of a childhood like mine, and the world in which we live, is that the texture and substance are right here for the taking, packaged in the words of our everyday lives—words that have meaning.

In an era where facts are continually up for debate and accusations of “Fake News!” chip away at our equilibrium, the value of words that mean something cannot be overstated. Parents know how important words are: we teach our children to tell the truth, that no means no, that keeping their word matters. The Bible tells us that our mouths speak from the overflow of our hearts—that the words we say testify to the very core of our beings.

Words are, indeed, powerful. They band together to tell us a narrative about ourselves and our lives. But sometimes the way they line up is all wrong, and they whisper dark stories with little hope. Such is the case made by K. B. Hoyle in the feature The Punisher and Change from the Outside In“:

And this is Frank’s crucible. All these doppelgangers—all these outside forces acting on Frank—they come down to this decision for him. Life and death are black and white, but the steps that lead us to choose one or the other are often steeped in shades of grey. Our inner selves are often more ruled by our hearts than our heads, and our hearts are deceptively wicked (Jeremiah 17:9); a show like The Punisher reminds us of this. We don’t live in a story, obviously. We don’t have clever writers inserting doppelgangers into our narratives to influence us toward life or death when we are trapped in feelings of despair. But we all have people who pass through our lives who care for us, and, as the expression goes, “No man is an island.” When we are in the hole of despair, especially if it is rooted in spiritual darkness, we are most tempted to believe we are alone—but that is a lie. In isolation, there is a pull toward death. But the reality of our stories—our real-life lives—is that we are never alone. You are not alone, because God came down as a man to be with you, and he never leaves you nor forsakes you.

The stories we listen to and cultivate will either give us the power to embrace change or rob us of all gumption. Awareness of our surroundings is essential for change, which is exactly why, in “A Stay at the Magic Castle,” Curtis Yee highlights the disparity between the perfectly crafted experience of Walt Disney World and the lives of its workers in a film titled The Florida Project:

For The Florida Project, Baker asks viewers to questions their conception of goodness and what it looks like. Because while it is wrong to speak coarsely and do drugs in front of children, for all their screwed up interactions, Moonee and her friends find moments of clairvoyance that transcend their situation. Spinning around in a shopping cart, laughing at cows, celebrating a birthday with a single plastic wrapped cake with a candle in it; this is when the film shine brightest. The film is so uniquely human, both in its depiction of depravity and kindness.

Facing fault lines like these, in the world and in our own hearts, is never easy. They come with pain and sorrow. Such cracks remind us things are not as they should be. If we let them, these cracks gives God’s Spirit full access to the deep places unseen, unknown, the place where change is born.

In This Issue

Sheathing the Sword: Akira Kurosawa and the Virtue of Meekness

Though our society is not built atop a system of knights and warlords, the theme of “might makes right” permeates entertainment and politics, and painfully shapes the stories we hear on the nightly news.

by Jesse Porch

The Phantom Tollbooth and Redeeming the Power of Words

A first step in caring will often have to be an individual one—a diversifying of social media feeds, an invitation to conversation, a reading of a book.

by Abby Perry

The Punisher and Change from the Outside In

The Punisher reminds us we live two lives: an inner life and an outer life, and that decisions we make here in this life affect our eternal souls.

by K. B. Hoyle

A Stay at the Magic Castle

It seems obscene that such poverty exists in the shadow of the Happiest Place on Earth, perhaps even persisting under its watch.

by Curtis Yee

Christian Celebrity Mascots: The Dangers of Conversion Without Transformation

The hollow back-patting and pride with which we rejoice in celebrity conversion neglects a Biblical manifestation of Christianity.

by Val Dunham

“Is It Too Late to Change the Name?” Redemptive Identity in Ant-Man

Ant-Man takes on the identity of a hero first, and only starts to act like a hero afterwards.

by Geoffrey Reiter

The Next Page: There Is Life after College and Character Formation

The fruits of the spirit that guide Christian character formation differ from the “human capital” Jeffrey Selingo discusses in his book There Is Life after College.

by Erin Wyble Newcomb

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