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John Wick 3: Parabellum and the Elusive Quest for Peace

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

 

The neo-noir action thriller John Wick 3: Parabellum (2019) knocked Avengers: Endgame off its top perch in the US box office with an estimated US $57 million gross in its opening weekend. The über-violent series follows the story of John Wick, a legendary, near mythological assassin who has been personally responsible for 299 deaths in the series to date.

In the first film John Wick (2014), we meet Wick (Keanu Reeves), who is deep in grief, having lost his wife Helen to a terminal illness. Wick receives a posthumous gift from Helen, a puppy named Daisy. The story kicks into action when a trio of Russian gangsters break into his house to steal his beloved 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 and kill Daisy.

It’s then that we find out that John Wick was formerly a hitman, nicknamed “Baba Yaga,” (translated in the film as “the Boogeyman”), a much-feared assassin who had left his previous violent life to marry the woman he loved.  Now he’s back, and people are going to pay.

The 2017 sequel has Wick making new enemies on The High Table, a council of top-level crime lords that rule over an immense quasi-religious bureaucracy that controls the world’s most powerful organized crime syndicates. Wick kills a bad guy on the “consecrated ground” of the Continental Hotel in New York, a felonious “city of refuge” where “no business” (i.e., “killing”) can be conducted. As such, John Wick 2 ends with Wick declared “excommunicado,” a bounty of $14 million placed on his head, and an hour headstart before every assassin within the city will be after him.

John Wick 3: Parabellum (2019) begins where Wick 2 left off, with Wick on the run through the neon-lit, rain-soaked streets of New York, and the clock ticking.

The film has elements from a number of action genres, including western, chanbara samurai cinema, ninja films, gangster crime, and kung fu flicks. The action sequences are often brutal but brilliantly choreographed, kinetic showpieces that far surpass the balletic violence of John Woo and the Wachowski brothers.

 

You still need something, someone, to love . . .

As I watch the series again, I can’t help but see John Wick as a man who desires to love and to be loved. After all, that’s why he got out of the business in the first place. In Wick 1, the love of his wife Helen called him to a better way of life.  When she dies, she organizes for him to receive a puppy, telling him in a card that, “You still need something, someone, to love. So start with this.” The gift of the puppy was “an opportunity to grieve unalone,” and the dog’s death left him devastated. When a price is placed on his head, his friend and fellow-hitman Chris (Willem Dafoe) chooses to help him, and dies as a result.

In Wick 3, we find out that Wick was an orphan from Belarus, the last of his tribe of Ruska Romani, raised in the harsh and unforgiving world of Russian organized crime. In the face of the rules and consequences of the implacable High Table, Wick chooses relationships over regulations, friendship over fidelity to the organisation. However, the dark underworld of assassination is not a world where values like love and friendship can exist untainted by the cruelty and ambition of its denizens.

 

Revenge may be sweet, but is it nourishing?

Revenge flicks have always been popular, whether it was the satisfaction derived from Inigo Montoya’s revenge on the six-fingered man for the death of his beloved father in The Princess Bride (1987) or Liam Neeson unleashing his “very particular set of skills” to rescue his kidnapped daughter in Taken (2008). We love seeing the powerless empowered to get even, and the bad guys get what’s coming to them.

Psychiatrist Grant Brenner notes that revenge can indeed be initially sweet. When we are socially insulted or humiliated, an initial retaliatory act can help to restore our feelings to a more positive state. However, there is an issue. The action of revenge would likely injure the original offending party, and “the other would then feel motivated to use retaliation to restore their emotional state, leading to an infinite regression of retaliatory aggression.” An endless cycle of pain and suffering, as hurt people continue to hurt people.

However, no matter how delectable a dish revenge might seem, as Christians we are called to dine on a different dish. The apostle Paul writes, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord” (Rom 12:9 NLT). We are commanded, as children of a God who forgives, to forgive others.

Author Philip Yancey points out that, “Forgiveness alone can halt the cycle of blame and pain, breaking the chain of ungrace.” Forgiveness offers us a way out from bitterness and the need to “get even.” It doesn’t settle all questions of fairness and blame, but it does allow an opportunity for a relationship to start afresh, and for a person to move on in life unencumbered by hostility and resentment. Best we take our pain and hurt to God and leave the “revenge” in his hands.

When we love our enemy, there is the opportunity for reconciliation and peace. None of that is likely if we forge ahead with retaliation and payback. When our focus is on the wrong done to us and the pain we feel, then the desire for revenge grows and consumes us. When we know ourselves as deeply loved, we can “let go” of the need to get even, our gaze firmly on the One who loves and accepts us.

Perhaps this is where fantasy and reality, art and life, must separate for different courses. A film where John Wick lays down his guns, knives, sword or axe and seeks to forgive and work according to restorative justice principles might well bomb at the box office, but as a narrative would certainly provide hope for a better quality of life.

After her death in the first film, John’ wife Helen sends him a card saying, “And now that I have found my peace, find yours.” As Wick prepares for the final battle in Wick 3, one character intones, “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” a Latin adage translated as “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Revenge rarely ever brings peace, and retaliation generally escalates the conflict or creates immense pain and damage.

As Wick 3 ends, Helen’s desire for peace for her husband seems doubtful. Wick’s initial desire for vengeance spirals, as obligations and consequences call him into ever-increasing cycles of mayhem, destruction, and violence. The end of Wick 3 leaves it wide open for the next instalment, which is great news for action fans and excellent for the box office, but offers little hope for the opportunity for  brother Wick to find his peace and escape the violence he longed to leave behind.

I Have Anxiety But I’m Not Alone

Title: I Have Anxiety But I’m Not Alone
Artwork by: Zach Stuef (@stuefcreative)
Description: 
We all worry, it’s a normal part of life. But sometimes this worry can overtake our entire being and result in anxiety. We feel out of control, paralyzed by the unknown, constantly triggered by the “What if’s?”.

How do you deal with your anxiety? In the midst of our panic attacks, how can we try our best to draw our focus to God’s promises for our anxious hearts?

Words taken from: I Have Anxiety But I’m Not Alone

 

Walking out of the metro station, I was suddenly met by foreign smells and swarms of people.

 

 

I felt my own thoughts being drowned out by the overwhelming noises and sounds coming from street vendors, bargaining customers, and chaotic traffic.

 

 

I struggled to find an alley or a side street where I could catch my breath. I was starting to hyperventilate and inwardly panic due to all the disorderly activity going on around me. Anxiety can be crippling for me.

 

 

Most days I don’t even want to leave my bed to face people and ministry responsibilities.

 

 

“God will never leave you” (Deut. 31:8), “God is always watching over you” (Ps. 121:5), or “God is your comfort in the storm” (John 14:27). But I never truly understood these truths until I started experiencing pain for myself. The peace these promises give has been instrumental in my growth and perseverance in life.

I can’t experience peace in trials if I’m not in Jesus, if I’m not resting in Him.

 

 

This isn’t to say that my battle with anxiety is easier or done with. Actually, far from it. I continue experiencing good and bad days every week. But I’m still here. And God is still providing for me. He is still bringing people in my life to push me forward. He is faithful even when I’m not. And He is still everything I’ll ever need.

At the end of the day, our present troubles are nothing compared to the glory set before us. Our future leads up to one thing: spending eternity with Christ.

 

How God Comforted Me in the Midst of Pain

Nobody told me how hard it was going to be.

Nobody told me about the emotional roller-coaster ride I would go on after hearing the words of the emergency room doctor: “Your daughter needs immediate attention at a larger hospital.”

My helpless little baby had had a seizure out of nowhere. I had stood there in the room, watching my wife hold our daughter. “What am I supposed to do?” Thousands of thoughts ran in a million different directions. The adrenaline rushed through my veins, my palms were sweaty, yet my body couldn’t respond. I must have looked pitiful and helpless as a father, frozen in shock. Anger and fear collided as we rushed to the emergency room that Saturday morning.

“Is she okay? What is going on?” No answer.

My wife and I had run out the doors, driving madly to the hospital, our 8-month-old screaming at the top of her lungs. And there was not a single thing we could do to help her.

From the gut of my soul I cried, “Why God?”

Where are you, God, in the midst of my pain? How can I trust your goodness in the midst of this suffering?

Here are two ways God comforted me in my situation:

 

Christ Is Our Peace in the Midst of the Storm

After spending all day in the emergency room, caught between worry and anxiety, I was reminded by God of His closeness in our lives.

When Christ is the captain of your soul, there is this peace in the midst of the storm of life. While Jesus does not always rebuke the wind and the waves and calm the storm (as He did in Mark 4:35-41), Christ’s sustaining presence never leaves us. God doesn’t necessarily change the circumstances, but He gives us peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

When the circumstances and worry hit me like truck, I cried out, “God, why is this happening? Why aren’t You doing anything when I pray?” And God granted me peace simply by being with me in my trials. God reminded my wife and I, “Be not weary and dismayed, I will get this right. Be not bitter and angry, for I your God am in control of it all.” All things have happened by His eternal permission.

Though I lay awake at 2:00 a.m., thinking through the responsibilities at church that I had to carry out in only a few hours, the scriptures I had memorized as a young believer struck me like an avalanche of grace: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

The grace of God alone allowed me to be able to step away from my family that day to preach, teach, and lead the congregation, as He was the solid rock I stood upon. He used this trial to draw me even closer in Christ-likeness for His glory.

 

Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ

When the storm of life hit and I needed to take shelter, these words comforted my soul:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 39)

In the midst of my anxiety, God revealed to me that He is a good and  perfect Father. When I thought, “I could have, should have, would have. . .” and felt like a major failure of a father, I trusted instead in the sovereignty of God—who was perfect in all of His ways. When I felt like I couldn’t take another step or take another breath, my Heavenly Father reminded me, “My son, trust Me on this roller-coaster of anxiety. I’ve got you in my righteous right hand.”

After the adrenaline rush, I looked to my wife’s head on my shoulder, and my daughter in my arms, and I was overwhelmed by the reality that was set before me. God granted us the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). In the silence of the night, God’s close presence pressed upon our hearts.

God used this suffering of our daughter’s illness for His own glory. Though I was in despair the entire journey, His grace and His infinite power held us tight.

God reminded me that, no matter what happens in our lives, we can place our trust in the Creator of all things and be sustained by His irresistible grace.

Trump-Kim Summit: Real Peace or Fake News?

Screenshot taken from video

Today (June 12), the tiny island-state of Singapore hosted one of the most historic events of our generation—the summit between the president of the United States of America (US), Donald J Trump, and his counterpart from North Korea, Kim Jong Un.

The summit resulted in the signing of a joint declaration reaffirming North Korea’s commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the establishment of diplomatic ties between the US and North Korea.

This is a milestone in the tumultuous relationship between the US and North Korea. After decades of hostility and failed negotiations, Trump and Kim are the first heads of state from their respective nations to meet, making this an unprecedented and monumental event.

It was a recent change in North Korea’s political strategy which saw them shift the focus from nuclear armament to economic development, opening the door for negotiations with the US over terms of peace and denuclearization.

Amid the hullabaloo leading up to the event, many have picked up on the fact that Singapore—one of the few countries that has diplomatic ties with both the US and North Korea—will be footing a $15 million (USD) bill in the course of hosting the summit. This hefty charge is mostly made up of the security cost for the two world leaders. There are also other expenses: catering for a contingent of over 2,500 journalists from all over the world, facilitating their media coverage, as well as hotel accommodation for Kim.

Yet the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, declared that the $15 million was a “cost we are willing to pay”, citing Singapore’s “profound interest” in achieving regional stability. His sentiments were echoed by Singapore’s Foreign Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, who called their expenditure “an investment in world peace”.

And perhaps, if the Trump-Kim summit does eventually lead to lasting amity between the US and North Korea, Lee will be able to look back at the $15 million as irrefutably well spent. There is no doubt that the joint declaration signed by both leaders will go some way to creating goodwill and diplomacy between the two nations.

However, in reality, if any peace is achieved, it is likely to be fragile. After all, we are talking about two individuals who have been shown in various capacities to be temperamental. Since the start of Trump’s presidency, Trump and Kim have traded insults and threatening rhetoric, with both countries’ nuclear capabilities often warranting a mention. And merely weeks ago, Trump had canceled the summit, in retaliation to what he saw as “tremendous anger and open hostility” from North Korea, before performing a stunning U-turn a week later.

While the details leading up to the summit has provided much fodder for the press, what is more crucial is that the event itself clearly points towards this truth: We all aspire towards peace on earth and with one another. However, is that actually attainable?

History has shown that peace achieved through human relations or efforts offers no guarantees, neither is it the most important form of “peace”. What we should be more concerned with instead is peace with our Creator—this is the peace that has eternal value.

However, many of us are trying to pursue peace with God by our own means. We are tempted to look at our own works as the root of our salvation. We might use factors like how much we serve in church, how much discipline we can exert, or our spiritual experiences as an indicator of our status before God. We might even become prideful about the existence of these things in our lives, or shameful at their absence.

But the truth is, none of these things can offer us true peace.

In contrast, think about the peace deal that Jesus brokered for us, as described by Paul in Colossians 1:21-22:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Our peace with God also came at a colossal cost that we didn’t even have to bear—the death of His son, Jesus Christ. In order to reconcile us with God, Jesus had to suffer at the hands of the Romans and Jews and eventually die a brutal death on the cross. Yet, unlike the Trump-Kim summit, the resulting peace is guaranteed.

That’s because of who Jesus is. As Colossians 1:15-20 says, Jesus is Himself God and supreme above all of creation; that means He is more than qualified and able to bring us peace.

And that’s why Paul starts his letter to the Colossians by encouraging the Christians in Colossae to not “move from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:23). He wants the Colossians to know that nothing else can give them the guarantee of peace with God like Jesus can.

Ultimately, we need to place our trust in Jesus—who He is and what He’s done for us on the cross. It’s only through Jesus that we are able to stand before God without fear of judgment. He is the only one who can bring us lasting peace with God and the hope of salvation.

So, while the whole world watches as Trump and Kim take what we hope will be the first steps towards peace for this current generation, we can rest in the security that Jesus Christ has already brokered the best peace deal for those who place their trust in Him. His death and resurrection is sufficient to bring eternal and everlasting peace between God and those who love Him once and for all.