Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: acts

A Paean to “A.D. Kingdom and Empire” on Netflix

They Cancelled This Show in 2015
…but I Just Found Out

When NBC cancelled A.D. The Bible Continues, I had no idea it was a thing, but now, three years later, I’m heartbroken. Now I have watched all 12 episodes of A.D. Kingdom and Empire (it got renamed for it’s Netflix Release) and I am very sad that the Roma Downey and Mark Burnett produced adaptation of the book of Acts is not continuing.

So this is my eulogy for “A.D. Kingdom and Empire” AKA “A.D. The Bible Continues” and my contribution to the googleverse in hopes of a reboot some day soon, and a motivational essay to read the book of Acts again this week. If you live in the Philadelphia area, come live it with us in Circle of Hope.

Peter praying to stay the Holy Spirit’s hand

The Holy Spirit is No Joke

In Acts 5 we find the troubling story of Ananias (Peter De Jersey) and Sapphira (Indra Ové) who held back some of the money they got from selling their house but said that they gave it all to the newly born church. In A.D. Kingdom and Empire blood comes out of their eyes and they die for lying to the Holy Spirit in a very scary scene. How could any TV producer skip such a gruesome moment in history? Acts 5:11 says “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

Um… yeah! Great fear seized me when I first heard this story, too. If I’m honest, there’s still a tinge of fear in me as I reflect on it now. The Holy Spirit is no joke. God was trying to do something that required the utmost seriousness. The new movement was not for spiritual tourists who could move on to what’s next after the high wore off. This movement could not peter out (poor Peter!). If the Church of Jesus’ first followers didn’t survive, thrive and bust out of the confines of Jerusalem, God’s plan would not have happened. Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems — even the confounding sudden death of two would-be-followers. The way this story is portrayed in the show brings the immediacy and the meagerness of the movement to light in a compelling way. Peter (Adam Levy) gets why they are dying but he is freaked out, too. I love the confusion that streaks through the faces of the main characters. They are not yet saints, wise in their remote spaces in history. They are living, failing, God-trusting people just like us. In a later episode of the show, the Holy Spirit almost kills Simon Magus (Stephen Walterswho tries to pay Peter for the Holy Spirit but Peter begs God in the thundercloud to spare the foolish new disciple. It didn’t happen just like that in Acts, but it made for good TV, and it communicated the live-wire wildness of the moment.

Procla, Pilate’s wife (as the story goes), is a Saint in the Greek Orthodox Church

The Resurrection Had Political Consequences

Four of the main characters of the show are Pontius Pilate (Vincent Regan), his wife Claudia (Joanne Whalley), Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), the high priest, and his wife, Leah (Jodhi May). They are not just the evil ones, they are real people with real pressures of their own. Each are tempted to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, especially Claudia and Caiaphas. The political intrigue is not historically accurate, but it could have been! How would the Jesus movement know that Pilate’s wife had dreams about Jesus (as in Matthew 27:19) if she did not one day become a Christian and tell them her story?

From Wikipedia: “In the 3rd century, Origen suggested in his Homilies on Matthew that the wife of Pilate had become a Christian,or at least that God sent her the dream mentioned by Matthew so that she would convert. This interpretation was shared by several theologians of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The apocryphal Letter of Pilate to Herod, dating from around the 3rd–4th century, names Pilate’s wife as Procla and connects to the story of Matthew 27:19.”

The show writers had a lot of opportunities to incorporate other legends and speculations from the early church but didn’t do so, however, they did take the opportunity to highlight the political consequences of the resurrection. Jesus disrupted the political potentates of his day, and he continues to do so. The power to kill is the source of all political power. When you boil it down, that’s it. The state’s ability to kill and the permission the people give it to kill is the only real ultimatum. Violence is the source of state power. Read the first two chapters of William Cavanaugh’s book “Migrations of the Holy” if you need to be convinced of this. There are other places to find this argument too. But, for now, it suffices to say that the foundation of any governmental power is death. And if Jesus rose form the dead then he is not subject to any power. Pilate and Caiaphas, and Claudia and Leah, as portrayed in the show, are obviously threatened by this. How we respond to Jesus’ anarchic resurrection will dictate how we relate to government. Are we subjects of the Kingdom or the empire(s)?

Chipo Chung as Mary Magdalene

They Don’t Know What They’re Doing Either (But the Women Knew Better)

After Jesus’ death, the disciples have no idea what to do. Only Mary, Jesus’ mother (Greta Scacchi), remembers what Jesus said. She is stone-faced and sad after watching her son die but she refuses to give up as many of the men are doing. She is waiting for the third day. Mary Magdalene (played by Chipo Chung), who is the first apostle of the resurrection in the Bible, also gets her proper place in the show. She sees Jesus, and we get to see her as one of the most important characters in the show (because she IS one of the most important people in history). The men defer to her, she makes converts, and she’s always part of the dialogue about what they need to do. Twelve disciples would be too many characters for drama so only a few disciples are dramatized. It’s unclear what happened to the rest of the twelve in the show, but Mary Magdalene takes one of their places.

They muddle through the amazing things that happen. From the resurrection, to Pentecost, to persecution, to new believers who aren’t Jewish, they are stumbling through an incredibly disorienting ordeal. Can you imagine what it would be like? I can, but not so well as they creators of this show have done for us!

It is helpful to read through scripture with our imaginations. What was it like? What were the smells? What did you see? How did you feel? Art like this show, all the many, many paintings, and the other films that were made about these stories from the Bible help us feel our way into the story even more. John, the Beloved disciple, may always be a slow to speak, dark skinned African man (Babou Ceesay) in my imagination. And I am forever grateful for that. 

I need to feel my way through these stories and find myself in them because reading the Bible at a distance just doesn’t work. The point of reading the Bible is to relate to Jesus and find myself in his story. Art helps me do that. It will help you, too, especially when the artists assume that these people in the Bible were a lot like us. We don’t know what we’re doing a lot of the time either.

“The Road To Damascus” Episode 108 — Pictured: Joe Dixon as Phillip

Those Baptisms Though

The formula for baptism in the show is backwards into the water for like a three second count — in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is a good ritual! I love that they stay underwater for as long as they do because it is really symbolic of the death they are dying with Christ. When we baptize people in Circle of Hope we do it three times, bowing forward in submission to Christ. Some folks I have baptized are pretty scared about going under, and I assure them that is the point. We are going through death with Christ and coming out on the other side with him. Staying under, though? Holding your breath for a moment until you get pulled up? That is pretty cool.

Paul wrote in Romans 6:3-5

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

This show gets that. These early Christians were serious about what Paul said even before he wrote it. Paul codified the ritual in Romans but it meant something before he said that. It meant death and resurrection, and you can SEE that in the show, even if it isn’t said. That is what ritual is all about. It is an enacted truth that often goes deeper and truer than words ever can.

Saul was initially devastated by Jesus’ appearance to him.

Paul Really Was a Badass from the Start

When Saul has his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus in the show I was unimpressed. Unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of how they portray Jesus in the show at all. But the aftermath of the encounter was awesome. Saul’s agony and redemption mediated by someone who isn’t sure of what they saw (it was an Angel — who is also totally badass). Then Saul comes back to the disciples in Jerusalem and demands forgiveness.

Peter and Saul have a one-on-one conversation. Saul is under tons of suspicion. He is trying to make Peter and the disciples trust him but Peter is slow to do so. Saul says to Peter,

“This is all a bit ridiculous, surely. I know what I’ve done, Peter, but listening to you all downstairs it’s like you had forgot that Jesus taught you forgiveness. I mean you lived with him — you know his message — so, so, sorry but I’m confused.” Saul of Tarsus got swagger! And that is why God chose him! I love how Emmett J Scanlan gets that across in his Irish brogue. Saul’s confidence, his arrogance even, was what God needed! You might have something in you that doesn’t seem like a gift. You might have done things that are hard to forgive. You too are chosen by God for a purpose. And a lot of what you see as useless, God can use. You might not receive such a direct address from Jesus as Saul did, but if you listen you will know.

In Conclusion, Bring it Back For Season Two!

I could go on and on about this show (and I already have), but please, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey of Lightworkers Entertainment, please bring back this show! I hear you’re working on an end times story instead. No thanks. I want more of these characters and the imaginative plot twists that your writers have supplied already. What if the stories of all these unsung heroes really did weave together in this way? Some of my Christian counterpoints are up in arms that you did not “stick to the Bible.” To them I say “p’sha.” You got it. No, it was not exact, but you got it. If they demand some fastidious recreation of only what is in the text 1) it’s bad TV, bad drama, bad art and 2) they are just way too uptight. Jesus likes this show, mkay? Well, I guess he’ll tell us whether or not he does some day, but I really, really like this show, mkay? So can we get a Season Two of A.D Kingdom and Empire? Lord, hear our prayer.

And if you made it this far, you must like to read. So keep reading. Read the book of Acts. Imagine, pray and listen right through the whole epic story. We’re living the 29th Chapter.

And hey, if you like this show, you might like Circle of Hope Church, too. Sign up for our mailing list here:

The Acts of Circle of Hope

“We can glimpse it in the book of Acts: the method of the kingdom will match the message of the kingdom. The kingdom…goes out into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, misunderstood, misjudged, vindicated, celebrating: always – as Paul puts it in one of his letters – bearing in the body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed.” -NT Wright in Surprised by Hope

We’ve been reading through the book of Acts at our Circle of Hope congregation in South Jersey and this time through I am struck by how ordinary these people are. The Body of Christ is not full of supernatural healers. There are some of those but most of the people in Acts are “regular” folks with no miracles attached to them, and there are at least 60 individual believers identified by Luke in the book of Acts and countless others who get lumped in as “the brothers”, “those who believed”, or “the churches.” Only a few are identified as performing miracles or hearing directly from God in a vision or audible voice, and yet they all became part of the movement.

The movement is the biggest miracle of them all. The body of Christ despite it’s vulnerability, suffering, misunderstanding and misjudgment (as NT Wright so eloquently describes it) is a thriving, growing thing. The fact that it transcended those boundaries so rapidly then and continued to exist throughout centuries of abuse and mud dragging by counterfeit leaders is a marvel.

And Circle of Hope is a marvel too. We can say with confidence that our method matches our message. If you get into our meetings, either on Sundays or in cells throughout the week, you will be around Jesus because Jesus is alive among us.

“Wait a second!” you might say, “I’m not so sure your confidence is warranted. I don’t feel like I’m that great of a Christian. I doubt. I sin. I’m not putting myself out there like that.”

“Agreed,” I would respond. You’re not being put out there. Jesus is.

“Yeah, but if Jesus were really alive among us like you say, shouldn’t we see the fruit of that? I don’t see anyone getting healed. Where’s our Peter? Where’s our Paul?”

“We have our own miracles! Comparisons are odious! Peter and Paul were two of 60+. That’s 3% healers on the record. We narrow our focus and we miss the wonder around us. God is alive. There is new faith. Others will find new faith among us too.”

Putting ourselves out there like that is strangely difficult. Because we are involved, we super-impose our modesty on Jesus. God chose us for the task of revealing his love to the world and we know how poorly we love, and how poorly we are loved by others. Can God really use us? The answer is yes. As ordinary as we are (and our movement has always been)–as broken as we are (and our people have always been)–as needy as we are (which has always been the point of it all)– God uses us. God is with us. We are the Body of Christ and Jesus lives in us.

Say that out loud. Say it to someone else if you dare. Practice that sincerity and trust. I think Jesus will prove himself to you.

I’m not sure God is as unsure of you as you are of yourself

No, I’m sure- God knows you are capable of all kinds of awesomeness– much, much more awesomeness than you currently think.

whispering_overview “prosthesis for whispering to myself / wearable rapid prototype / 2006”

Our experience of ourselves is so limited isn’t it?  For starters, my voice sounds completely different inside my head than it does in your ears.  That’s why it’s so weird to hear a recording of yourself.  And that’s just the aural nature of echoing head cavities – my voice sounds completely different than the thoughts bouncing around between my ears.  Vocalizing our thoughts out loud or even writing them on paper slows things down , or hardens things up, or breaks things out.  Giving voice to what’s going on inside changes what’s going on inside.  Jail-breaking our thoughts transforms them and allows us to see them in a new way.

Here’s a story that brings that all together-  I was on the trolley (I guess all my stories happen on the trolley now) and I ran into my friend who was headed to therapy.  He told me that he regularly records his therapy sessions (with his therapist’s permission) and listens to them for further insights.  He is consistently shown how little he listens to what the therapist says because he hears himself ignoring her all the time.  He’s amazed at how much good stuff he misses from her and he is awed by his experience of himself in the third person.  He of the past is frequently foreign even to himself in the present.

I told him that that could be a pretty freeing thought.  My experience of reality and even of myself is so limited for any number of reasons, that humility comes easy.  I am small in the world.  I am even small in myself.  So I might as well get over my tiny-ness and do something great that God is calling me to do.  Of course its efficacy will not be rooted in my capacity- but if I am rooted and established in love I may together with all the saints grasp how wide and deep and high and long is the love of Christ and I’ll probably be pretty darn good at sharing that width and depth and height and length with the world–and you will too!

All this came to mind because I was reading Acts 7 where Stephen (the church’s first 300px-MosesMosaicmartyr) was preaching to the Sanhedrin.  In Acts 7:22 Stephen describes Moses as one “trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and powerful in word and deed.”  But in Exodus 4:10 Moses gets in an argument with God about how poor of a speaker he is! “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”  And that was after God showed Moses how to turn a staff into a snake and back!

Thankfully Moses’ legacy as a leader is bigger than his stubbornly small experience of himself.  Hundreds of years later Stephen knows that Moses was “powerful in word and action.”  That’s the story he heard about Moses.  Good thing Moses didn’t control his own legacy! God equipped Moses to do the things he was called to do.  Moses didn’t have to have all of the stuff to do what he was told before he started doing it.  God helped him along the way to become the sort of leader that would be remembered as Stephen remembered him.

So be small, but don’t be too small.  Humility is about being rightly sized.  Your right size is determined by God not by your limited view of yourself.  Trust me, you can trust in that–just try it.