The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps

Many years ago, when I was just a young lad with a high-pitched voice that still sounded like my sisters’ … mom and dad read me the ancient story of one of the most mightiest of manliest of men to have ever existed – King David. Of course, due to my age, they were reading from an extremely abridged and docile version of the Bible with lots of pictures… that obviously contained none of the sex and violence that’s in the real Bible. If you’ve never read the sacred tomes of the Old Testament, and in particular the books of First and Second Samuel, they are more graphic and explicit than any episode of Game of Thrones. And that is not an exaggeration, but that is another review for another time. At any rate, what those fluffy 80s picture Bibles did not leave out, was the amount of running, chasing, and hiding that dominates so much of King David’s story. David was, quite literally, in regards to Judeo-Christian literature and culture – the original ‘man on the run.’ In his early years, before he became king, David was a hunted man. He was always on the move, unjustly accused, pursued by his enemies, pursued by the reigning authorities, hiding in caves, scrounging for food, ‘making his way… the only way he knew how…’  David’s early story is about how God protects him, guides him, and empowers him during this time in his life. It’s the story of how he remained faithful under constant duress, and how he waited patiently for the day when justice would be done, and he would finally become the king. This is one of the stories I found fascinating as a kid. And it’s one of the oldest stories in existence that is still being re-told to this day, and has been re-told, re-imagined, and re-worked over and over again so many times, in so many different ways. David’s journey from shepherd to king has been extrapolated, carefully pulled up by its deepest roots, stripped down to the core of its DNA, and transplanted into so many different stories that it’s probably impossible to list them all – I’m not even going to try. It’s the original seed from which so many other orchards have been cultivated.

As an example of what I’m talking about – I first encountered this re-grafting of David’s story when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time. The character of Aragorn has a story arc, throughout Tolkien’s sprawling epic, that is taken completely from David’s early life. Aragorn’s story is an example of what I would call a pure distillation of the source material. It’s essentially the same general premise, with fantasy elements, names, and places substituting for counterparts in the original story. And of course, because it’s a fairy tale – not real life – it leaves out all the uncomfortable parts that the Biblical narrative isn’t afraid to show us.

Now, as I’m sure most of us are aware, The Lord of the Rings was eventually made into a landmark cinematic trilogy that was released between 2001 and 2003. But way back in 1935, at around the same time that Tolkien was crafting The Hobbit novel into its final form, another Englishman by the name of Alfred J. Hitchcock was releasing a film called The 39 Steps. And just to give credit where it is due, this film was an adaptation of a book written in 1915 by John Buchan, not an original work by Hitchcock. We can, however, give credit to Hitchcock for making (as far as I can tell) the very first masterpiece that translated the ancient literary example of the hero who is hunted down, on the run for his life, trying to find justice – The King David Motif, if you will – into a cinematic formula that has since been copied, tweaked, adjusted, and re-adapted many times over. Here’s a brief list of movies that I’ve seen, which employ some variation of this formula:

Running Man, The Fugitive, Enemy of the State, Waterworld, Mission Impossible, The Jason Bourne movies, Shooter, The Island, Minority Report, and Mad Max: Fury Road… just to name a few. There are many more of course, and the whole “Spy” genre itself, as we know it in movies today, is mostly an overgrowth from that indigenous sapling planted by Hitchcock so many years ago.

Side Note: Hitchcock himself used the same formula again in his later film, North by Northwest in 1959 – one of his most successful films.

In The 39 Steps, the hero is Richard Hannay, a Canadian traveling in Britain who is unwittingly caught up in an espionage conspiracy, accused of murder, and chased up into the Scottish countryside by both the criminals and the police. Along the way (just to make things interesting) he jumps off a train, meets some odd characters up in the moors, is almost fatally shot, accidentally propelled to the front of a political rally, forced to give a public speech, and gets handcuffed to a woman named Pamela who hates him, and then eventually falls in love with him… at least, I think she falls in love with him… I mean they’re holding hands at the end, and this was 1935, so… you know. I guess, in Hitchcock’s mind, if you’re handcuffed to the same person long enough, you just eventually go with it. Actually, the relationship between Hannay and Pamela reminded me a great deal of the relationship that forms between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in Capra’s It Happened One Night. But that’s another review.

Perhaps most interestingly, as is often the case with these kinds of tales, there is usually either some small flourish, sweeping gesture, or over-arching plot element that indicates the presence of the divine in the midst of the hero’s struggle. These act as clues; small trails of crumbs that lead back to the original loaf of bread that started it all. If the early story of King David really is the ancient progenitor of this literary genre, and Hitchcock’s film a true echo of that, then we could expect to find the same kind of evidence in The 39 Steps. And Hitchcock, who was trained by Jesuits in Catholic school to analyze art at an early age, does not disappoint. In this case, we see the divine presence most clearly on display in the form of a church hymnal; it’s conspicuously situated snuggly in the left breast pocket of Hannay’s coat where it stops the aforementioned bullit that would have otherwise killed him. Bullseye.

Believe it or not, this was the first Hitchcock film that I’ve ever watched, and aside from the plot, which is interesting enough on its own, the thing that really makes this old movie shine is how much anxiety it’s able to convey through the screen. This is where Hitchcock’s talent as a filmmaker becomes apparent. He really makes you feel like you’re the one handcuffed to Richard Hannay as he frantically trots from one place to the next. Moreover, it’s extremely frustrating to witness how no one believes Hannay when he tries to tell them what’s happening to him, leaving him with no choice but to lie in order to get help from people! Hitchcock is indeed the legendary master of suspense that he’s been made out to be.

I’ve known about Alfred Hitchcock, and been aware of his impact on the history of filmmaking for most of my life – even having never seen one of his films. But after watching The 39 Steps, I now know why he’s considered one of the greatest directors of all time. In this movie at least, he took an ancient, timeless story that had been distilled into something that fit the time in which he was living, and crafted it into a cinematic formula that we can still appreciate 83 years later.

Winebrenner Mug

Winebrenner Mug
Mug - 08As one of the previous Curry House regulars pointed out yesterday, sometimes these mugs have seen a little more than just coffee and tea. Such is definitely the case with this Winebrenner mug, which has seen its fair share of rice and curry.

It’s hard to think about my time in the curry house without also thinking about Winebrenner–together the two occupied nearly all of my time between 2008 and 2010. We were always grateful that the professors and staff at the seminary encouraged us so much, with many of them even finding occasion to come to our house themselves and share in our weekly curry night meal.

I think what is most interesting to me when I think back on curry night, is that none of it was planned. The four of us guys who lived in the first incarnation of the Curry House had already been cooking and sharing Indian food with our neighbors for years prior to us moving to Findlay. It’s just what we liked to do. It was hard to explain that at times, especially when leaders and pastors from some of the other churches in town would come to visit–always looking for the secret of our success; always wanting to figure out how to duplicate what we were doing. We always told them the same thing… The truth was that we really didn’t know what was happening most of the time, or why. I moved to Findlay so I could attend Winebrenner without having to commute four hours there and four hours back every week. I didn’t expect (none of us did) that within a few months of moving, a hundred people would be coming over to our place for dinner. It was not always that convenient, and there were many times when we didn’t think we could keep doing it (it was kind of expensive for four graduate students), but we continued on, putting ourselves into God’s hands and trusting him to provide–and of course he did. In four years we never had to call off the meal.

For those out there wondering how to do ministry… It’s not as complicated as we’ve tried to make it. It might include going to bible college or seminary, but it doesn’t have to. All you have to do is look at what God has already given to you, and then share it with those around you—for free!

Originally posted on Instagram @ajcoffman on April 18, 2014

Jesus Christ is God

I always look forward to those rare moments that come along where a random interaction with someone leads to a deeper discussion about something serious, or when a seemingly inconsequential series of events culminates into something that is extremely important, or when something that seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things, becomes the prelude to something with fundamental purpose.

I experienced one of these occasions this past weekend when I went to my cousin’s high school graduation party. After I walked in and helped myself to a fine brunch buffet, I sat down in the living room to chat with my older sister and my dad while we watched a slide show of my cousin’s life. There were several people milling about the house, and there was nothing really out of the ordinary at all. It was pretty much what you expect each year when these types of parties roll around. But within just a few minutes of my arrival, everything changed.

As I was sitting on the couch, discussing home remodeling issues with my sister, a guy from my home church sat down in another chair across the living room. I’ve talked with Rob before, and he’s a great guy who I’ve had a few good discussions with in the past. He loves to talk about God. I could tell as I was chatting with my sis, that he was waiting for a break in our conversation so that he could engage me in a discussion. Well, sure enough, as soon as I finished talking Rob began asking me questions. He began with the usual questions about school and what I was studying at seminary. When I told him I was studying theology and church history his eyes lit up and he immediately sent what can only be described as a barrage of theological questions my way.

Rob asked me some good questions, like who is God? And what is God’s name? I proceeded with a brief discourse about the trinity, to which Rob replied by asking me where in the Bible it talked about the nature of God. I quoted a few passages and then went on to talk about some of the erroneous views of Christ, as Rob asked me some more questions. The questions kept coming and the conversation continued into the next half hour or so. After we reached a point where Rob was sufficiently satisfied that he understood what I believed about God, he then informed me with a grin on his face that he did not believe in the trinity, and that he did not believe that Jesus was God.

To say that I was shocked at this information would not do justice to my internal reaction upon hearing this from Rob. I didn’t know what to say as Rob launched into a discourse that involved his misinterpretation of key passages in the New Testament. The whole time he was speaking, I kept thinking to myself, “is this really happening?”

Knowing that Rob was an influential youth group sponsor, not to mention a member of my home church, I couldn’t resist asking him if the elders of our church knew what he believed. He informed me that they did, and that they had told him they didn’t mind as long as he still believed that Jesus was the Son of God. I went home that afternoon in a haze of confusion, unable to make any sense out of the nonsense I had just heard from this guy that I really did have some genuine respect for, and to tell you the truth, I was even a little depressed by it all.  I felt kind of like I had stumbled into the bizzaro world from Superman, where everything is the complete opposite of what it’s supposed to be.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the deity of Jesus Christ as part of the Trinity is a fundamental, basic doctrine of Christianity, and has been since the inception of the Church. This is also referred to as the Incarnation, which means that Jesus is God come into human history in the flesh. It is the foundation of our entire faith. The scriptures are not vague on this particular issue; they are in fact abundantly clear. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe that Christ is God, have been forced to produce their own separate mistranslation of the Bible in an effort to avoid the point that Christ is God. If Satan was only ever able to tell one single lie, somewhere at the top of his list would be the lie that Jesus is not God. Because if Satan can get someone to believe that, he can get them to believe absolutely anything. Let’s take a look at the scriptures, shall we?

Matthew 1:22 and Isaiah 7:14
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’”

Matthew 4:10
“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Matthew 28:9
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’”

Mark 2:5-7
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”

John 1:1-5, 14
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 5:17-23
“Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

 

Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.’”

Exodus 3:13-14 and John 8:57-58
“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them? God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

 

“You are not yet fifty years old,’ the Jews said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’
‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’”

John 10:27-33
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’”

John 12:44-46
“Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.’”

John 20:28-29
“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

Acts 20:28
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Romans 9:5
“Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

Colossians 1:15-20
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Colossians 2:8-10
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”

Philippians 2:5-11
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

1 Corinthians 8:4-6
“So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

Titus 2:11-14
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

1 John 5:20
“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

Hebrews 1:8
But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.’”

2 Peter 1:1
“Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:”

Revelation 1:8 and 17-18
“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’”

Likewise, the following sets of verses are places where the New Testament refers to Christ by the same designation used to refer to God in the Old Testament:

First and Last
Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12 – cf. – Revelation 1:17; 2:8; 22:13

Light
Psalm 27:1 – cf. – John 1:9

Rock
Psalm 18:2; 95:1 – cf. – 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:6-8

Husband” or “Bridegroom
Hosea 2:16; Isaiah 62:5 – cf. – Ephesians 5:28-33; Revelation 21:2

Shepherd
Psalm 23:1 – cf. – Hebrews 13:20

Redeemer
Hosea 13:14; Psalm 130:7 – cf. – Titus 2:14; Revelation 5:9

Savior
Isaiah 43:3 – cf. – John 4:42

Lord of Glory
Isaiah 42:8 – cf. – 1 Corinthians 2:8

In summation, there is this thing that we Christians believe called the doctrine of the Trinity, which in short means that there is one God, revealed to us as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

For anyone struggling to better understand the doctrine of the Trinity, I would recommend a reading of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, wherein he devotes several chapters to the subject. His discussion of the Trinity helped me a great deal at a time when I was searching for more clarity on this doctrine.