Can You Save the World From Oscar’s Podium?

oscar speeches

Oscar Speeches

Oscar speeches have a predictable pattern:

  • Be humble: express your surprise and elation at receiving this award
  • Role the credits: Name all the people who were involved in the film that you received the award for.
  • Promote a cause

Notable Speeches from 2015

  • Graham Moore: “Stay weird, I promise you when your time comes to be on this stage encourage the next person…”
  • Patricia Arquette: Women have been doing for others, its our time to demand income equality (camera zooms to cheering Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez)
  • Common and John Legend: Gave probably the most articulate speech saying “the fight for justice in the civil rights movement must continue”

They are saying some very good things

  • We shouldn’t ostracize people because they are “different” or “weird”
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • This world is unjust. Things are not the way they should be and we should work to change that.

There are really no new points here and closer examination makes some of this look a little squishy.

  • Is it really true that all weird people hearing your message will get their time on stage to be glorified and shine? I know a lot of weird people who will NEVER in their lives receive anything like this. Some of these people are weird in ways that should not be glorified.
  • Patricia Arquette’s speech received the most pushback. It seemed a bit ironic to have a room full of extremely wealthy people dressed in outrageously expensive clothing enjoying one of the most exclusive parties thrown ever year rant about income inequality. Maybe Patricia Arquette was feeling it because her net worth is only around 24 million. She has only half of her co-star Ethan Hawke at 45 million. It was lovely to see Meryl Streep applaud this. She’s at 65 million, together with Jennifer Lopez at 300 million. Most in the room are of course dwarfed by Oprah Winfrey’s net worth at 3 BILLION dollars. She seems happy generally, but wouldn’t you think she’s be happier given that her net wealth is 68,000 times the median American number of $45,000. Shouldn’t she be 68,000 times happier than most of us?
  • Common and John Legend gave a lovely speech. The struggle for justice is noble. The difficulty we have is that there are competing claims. The conversation in America is now to the point that almost everyone claims victim status for their own group and denies it to the group in competition with them. Rooting out legal racial discrimination was relatively clear compared to many of the more subtle forms of injustice that are pointed to today.

This lovely vision gets more complicated when you realize that there are three agendas being promoted here:

  • Suffer for individual self-expression no matter how weird, it will lead you to glory
  • The world will be made right if we can only spread the money around more evenly.
  • There are many forms of injustice in this world, keep marching against them. Activism will make the world right.

Does the Victim thing really work?

The hardest thing about engaging injustice is that there is so much of it. Try to find any person on the planet who has not been the victim of discrimination based on race, gender or personal self-expression. Show me a human being and I’ll show you someone who has been a victim of something in some way.

The problem is of course that all of these victims are being victimized by, people, their fellow victims. The conflict between them tends to create, you guessed it, more victims.

Once we look around the room and see we’re all pointing fingers at each other someone will usually have the bright idea to ask “who started this mess?” Things get interesting because the “God factor” comes into the conversation.

  • Common says “God is in us all” which sounds really nice until you ask the question “then why aren’t we doing better than we are” or even “if God is in us all why are we having this problem in the first place?” This means that all your political adversaries and enemies also have God in them. What does this “God in them” actually do or result in or warrant? Religions that have taking this approach usually wind up saying something like “the evil and injustice that you see is just an illusion” which is really hard to square with the activism being promoted.
  • Ancients would have seen the conflict in terms of conflicts between gods which usually just set the conflict up a level. This is “my god vs. your god” which doesn’t tend to resolve much except it entices us to be the proxies of the gods and to try to manipulate or employ them against our enemies. Compared to this the more contemporary mono-theism seems a clear upgrade.
  • Contemporary atheists will say “there is no god to appeal to. It is up to us to fix this mess” which either leads to all the regular garden variety solutions (self-expression, economics, activism) or the truly consistent Darwinian who will say “the strong (politically, economically, socially) will inherit the earth. Give up your dream of justice and acknowledge that the powerful are always on the winning side of history.”

The First Century Jewish Struggle

In the first century the Jews, a group of people who have been victims by almost any and every standard you can claim throughout history, were under the thumb of the Roman empire. Rome was dependent upon Egyptian grain for her wealth and power making the shipping route went up the coast of the eastern Mediterranean a vital strategic interest. What the Romans really wanted from Judea was that it be submissive, peaceful and compliant.

The narrative from the Jewish perspective of course looked quite different.

  • They had a unique culture, a unique religious perspective that they believed was a gift to the world. Roman occupation and cultural hegemony was a threat to their weird religion and culture. They were being assimilated into the larger Greco-Roman collective, losing their unique cultural heritage.
  • The Jews were being exploited. Roman tax collectors were gouging all they could form Judea and the Galilee. In those days being a citizen meant that OTHER people had to pay taxes, not you. Rome grew rich by conquering and exploiting weaker nations and the Jews were just one example of this.
  • The Jews had a long history of declaring that God wants justice for all the oppressed. Her prophets suffering under unjust Israelite and foreign kings declared that “justice should roll down like waters!” The American civil rights movement in fact got its greatest rhetoric demanding justice from the Jews. Why wasn’t God delivering his people from the empires that oppressed them?

The Jews were looking for a savior, a Messiah, an anointed, chosen one who would deliver them from this injustice. Many saviors would in fact arise in the first and second century and promise to deliver the Jews from their cultural, political and economic bonds. Most would follow the same imagined script as these Hollywood celebrities in how deliverance would come.

  • Take the stage
  • Declare a glorious vision
  • Make your demands clear (where the “occupy” movement fizzled): keep the list short, pointed and achievable.
  • Amass some sort of power: financial, political, military
  • Use this power to achieve your goals usually at the expense of your adversary and their agenda

Jesus, the Messiah

Jesus was seen as one of these messiahs. After he had created a following and gathered to him some disciples he quized them.

Mark 8:27–32 (NIV)

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

This was following the script that his disciples imagined. Things were going well. Jesus would guarantee for them

  • Jewish cultural self-expression
  • Economic prosperity for the Jewish people
  • Justice for the Jews long persecuted by stronger foreign powers

But they had a problem, and the problem was with their leader.

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. 31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Everyone else in the world had the same program, except the most important man in their program. Everyone else in their world understood the script and assumed Jesus, like everyone else would follow it, but then he doesn’t.

“You are our Messiah, now let ME correct YOUR plan.”

It is both completely irrational and yet completely human to in one moment both confess that someone is the hope of the world and in the next breath correct his plan. This is precisely what Peter did to Jesus and it is precisely what we do to God. One might ask Common that if “God is in all of us” why is this God so week and prone to manipulation? This “God” that we all have inside seems unable to help the group of us manage better.

It is astonishing that we can read this passage and not have this irony dawn on us. It is more disturbing still that we regularly reenact this scene in our hearts, in our prayers and in our relationship with God.

Jesus’ response to Peter was sharp and clear.

Mark 8:33–38 (NIV)

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

I don’t think the NIV serves us too well here. The point is NOT that Jesus is unconcerned with “human concerns”. Jesus spent a great deal of time teaching and healing and rescuing. The problem is the approach that Peter is taking. Peter is approaching this JUST AS we all do. He is approaching this just as all the Hollywood celebrities who, while they’ve got our attention, are shopping to us their latest idea about how to save the world.

“Your World Saving Agenda Doesn’t Work and the Problem is YOU”

One of the things that people often complained about Jesus was that he spoke in parables and riddles. So often he didn’t simply come out plainly with what he wanted to say. He spoke in code. Why would he do that?

One of his code words was “Son of Man”. He was referring to Daniel 7 where God, after defeating the great enemy empires, calls a mysterious human being to be a ruler of an everlasting kingdom that will replace these marauding empires the Jews had been subject to. When Jesus would use the “Son of Man” reference Jews who knew their theological tradition would understand that Jesus was claiming to be the one sent by God to deliver Israel from imperial domination. This they liked.

But now he’s telling his disciples that he in fact will die just like all the other failed messiahs have died, on a Roman cross. Romans used crucifixion to torture and kill their political opponents boldly expressing Roman power to the world.

Peter, speaking for the the others will of course have none of this. Jesus is supposed to successfully deliver on the promises that Peter and nearly everyone else clearly sees, even if they can’t agree on the specific application of it. Peter rebukes Jesus because Jesus is supposed to embrace the methods assumed by the world for saving the world, this method that we saw once again shopped on prime time TV by these celebrities.

  • Take the stage
  • Declare a glorious vision
  • Make your demands clear: keep the list short, pointed and achievable.
  • Amass some sort of power: financial, political, military
  • Use this power to achieve your goals usually at the expense of your adversary and their agenda

What Jesus is about to say to them will shock and disturb them all. This disturbance on the part of Judas will likely in fact precipitate Jesus’ prophesy.

Embracing Your Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Sacrifice, Hollywood Style

Now if you ask the Hollywood celebrities if their program for making the world right will involve sacrifice they will of course agree. People will in fact call these speech givers “courageous” for doing what they did. Beautiful, celebrated millionaires giving speeches at one of the most exclusive parties on the world. People will say nasty things about them on twitter. Oh my.

  • Many people do braver things by going to work every day in a soul crushing job because their family needs the money
  • People do braver things when they sacrifice for a child by staying up all night to help

The point Jesus is making here is NOT that you need to sacrifice to achieve your dreams. We all know this. Accomplishing anything in this life will involve sacrifice. Sacrifice, however, is never a guarantee for achievement. Many people sacrifice and never achieve their dreams.

Embracing the cross here means embracing the catastrophic failure of your plan for accomplishing your dreams. It means relinquishing your plan for how you will secure this dream. It means your death so that others may benefit.

Was Jesus a Suicide Bomber?

This is where Jesus is differentiated from a suicide bomber. A suicide bomber gives their life, but does so to take the life of another. Jesus says “give your life” for the welfare of the other.

Jesus in fact uses the cross here because the cross is the symbol of failed messiahship. The cross is the catastrophe of Jewish nationalism on the Roman stage. The cross is exactly opposite what Peter and the disciples think will save the world, but the cross is where Jesus must go, and he’d like the emotional support of the disciples if they are capable of it.

The Frustrating Anti-Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Kingdom

If you go on to read the rest of the New Testament you’ll discover all the verses that people today hate. Things like “wives submit to your husband” or “slaves submit to your masters as to the LORD” or “obey the government over you because God has given them authority”. When we read this stuff it just looks like crazy talk or we see it in a regressive narrative of patriarchal authoritarian domination. Nothing could be more opposite.

Jesus, and later Peter and Paul after they received the power by the Holy Spirit to actually live out Jesus discipleship saw this new vision of the world.

  • In their union with Christ they received a new status from God the Father as heirs of God’s creation not based on their ability to dominate their neighbor, but based on God’s desire to give them, the meek, the inheritance of the earth.
  • They received this new status while in fact they were embedded into the power structures of this age which in most cases they were powerless to overthrow. What this meant was that now in their new freedom they would willingly submit to earthly powers whose legitimacy was temporary and would be ultimately undermined by God’s coming kingdom. Wives would submit to husbands as to the LORD. Slaves would submit to their earthly masters as to the LORD.
  • Those who had power and status in this age would strangely use that status just as Christ had. Husbands and wives would submit to each other. Those with power would use their power for the well-being of those who had no power.
  • All of this cross bearing in this age would reveal the generous heart of God who gives himself freely to this world both in the natural order (the sun and the rain are given to the just and the unjust) and in the revelation of Jesus, who took up his cross for our own benefit.

In Jesus’ upside down kingdom

  • the weirdly generous in Jesus’ way will in fact be glorified before the Father and all of creation for the sacrifices for others that are not seen nor make sense in this world.
  • The demand of equality is superseded by the competition of generosity.
  • The quest of justice find fulfillment not in demand but in love.

All of this comes not by power struggles reluctantly wresting what our competition resists relinquishing but rather the generous gift of the creator of the world through the sacrificial submission of his son.

Unless the Self is Unseated We Simply Move the Chairs Around

  • Weird is always a relative term. What this young man is really talking about is fashion. Once you have fashion you always have people who are in or are out. There will always be outs. What you need to do is unseat the inner ring.
  • Equality is always futile game. By human nature each of us imagines ourselves slighted or entitled regardless of how one measure or the exact dollar amounts.
  • Justice always finally requires a righteous judge and apart from a God that is outside of each of us, who can speak to us and confront us and make decisions against us we will never have justice.

CS Lewis made this point in reflecting on the Psalms.


Our pattern of world salvation by competitive revolution never finally saves the world. While we sometimes make incremental improvement in areas we almost also just perpetuate a cycle that brings new forms of exclusion, injustice and inner-ring dynamics.


What Jesus points to here is exactly the way out. He sacrifices himself for us generously guaranteeing our inheritance from the father. He then invites us into exactly the same process showing that it is the only process by which the world is saved. What this requires, however, is our relinquishing our other salvation narratives.


The frustration of the three salvation schemes found at the Oscars gets revealed.

  • The weird will not inherit the earth. We just keep change the fashion labels making sure that a select few are IN and the majority are OUT.
  • Equality is a game that seldom satisfies us. We always feel the dual suspicion of discrimination and greedy entitlement leaving us suspecting that someone else is more equal than ourselves. This game never ends no matter how many millionaires you have in the room.
  • We hunger for justice but are seldom satisfied. True justice requires a true judge other than ourselves. We need a God outside of ourselves to actually award justice to the other. “MY justice” must give way to justice. I can’t do this for myself and I am always suspicious of the justice my neighbor wishes to impose upon me.

All of these are facets of bondage to self. What if you are already saved by the one who at the cost of his self offers himself to you? If He in his sacrifice of self was given a new exalted self and promises you the same what do you have to lose? This is an invitation into joy and an invitation into gratitude.


About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in On the way to Sunday's sermon and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can You Save the World From Oscar’s Podium?

  1. Pingback: Why Religious Hopes Are So Corrupt and how Jesus Approaches the Dilemma |

  2. Pingback: How Will Humanity Receive Eternal Life? |

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