I was privileged recently to attend a conference on Marxism and Christianity in China. The venue was Tiantan University, close to the birthplace of Mao Zedong in Hunan province. More than ninety papers were given by philosophers and comparative literature scholars from universities all over China; of the eight “keynote” speakers, four were Chinese academics, four Western.
Strikingly, the Chinese intellectuals presented papers with a more distinctly favorable view of historically normative Christian theology than did some of the Westerners. There were a large number of similarly positive presentations also in the concurrent sessions. In the keynote sessions, I was struck not only by the clarity of theological command and crisp formal argument but also by the warmth and vigor of response engendered from the floor.
Each of the Chinese speakers addressed Christianity as a comprehensive intellectual system, a body of knowledge grounded in theological convictions with inescapable metaphysical as well ethical entailments. Most presenters showed extensive familiarity with Christian intellectual works from the patristic period through to the present, often quoting from Chinese translations of works as ancient as those of Augustine and as current as Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Hans Urs von Balthasar, John Paul II, John Macquarrie, Alister McGrath, and Charles Taylor. More frequently adduced were contemporary philosophical and theological writings of important Chinese intellectuals such as are represented in Yang Huilin and Daniel Yeung’s Sino-Christian Studies in China.
The Bible itself was clearly regarded as an important philosophical as well as theological resource in these papers, and engaged with respect and understanding reflected also in conference conversations both in and out of the formal sessions…
What two of my all-time favorite films taught me about world-shaping leadership
These were the men who came to David while he was banished from the presence of Saul. They were among the warriors who helped him in battle. They were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed. Warriors who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. -1 Chronicles 12
One of my all-time favorite comedic movie scenes occurs in The Princess Bride in a duel between two expert swordsmen—Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black (movie clip below). Unbeknownst to each other, both duelists have spent their lives mastering swordplay not only with their right-hand, but also with their left.
As the duel builds to its hilarious conclusion, it quickly becomes apparent that expertise in single-handed swordplay is inadequate preparation for facing a true master. Without striving to become a two-handed warrior there is little hope of achieving one’s life mission—whether that mission is piracy, true love, or revenge.
Similarly, expertise in faith and culture rarely go hand-in-hand. Leaders adept at culture making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith building; whereas leaders with strengths in faith building—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency—are rarely trained in the art of culture making.
It is my firm belief that this dichotomy not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership, it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn. For leaders interested in effecting broad societal transformation, this dichotomy is even more devastating. Like Inigo Montoya, or King David’s army (above), the ability to fight with either hand is often a matter of life and death.
In another of my all-time favorite films (The Fellowship of the Ring) Gandalf prevailed over the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dum not merely through mastery of the sword, but by taking two-handed warfare to a whole new level with his staff. Up until this moment one might question whether or not having a wizard along on their journey was really necessary. After all, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legalas were every bit as skilled with their weapons as Gandalf was with his. However, by taking up his staff with his other hand Gandalf unleashes a supernatural power beyond anything his companions ever dreamed.
I suspect that anyone taking up the mantle of twenty-first century culture making will contend against far greater forces than Balrogs. My dream is that Two Handed Warriors might help train at least a few culture-making Gandalfs who can unleash supernatural power for good.
Two Handed Warriors is therefore intended as an ongoing conversation among filmmakers, educators, and spiritual leaders who aspire to become modern-day Gandalfs, and Inigo Montoyas: intellectuals, artists, and innovators devoted to gaining expertise in BOTH faith building and culture making. Men and women who “understand the times” and therefore know that redefining faith and culture one story at a time is our best hope for accomplishing our respective missions.
Growing up in a warrior’s household, King David’s son discovered that swordsmen attain mastery only where sparks fly: “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another”(2). My dream is that in helping one another master the art of two-handed swordplay we will not only foster transformational films, schools, and congregations; we will also forge lifelong friendships. En garde!
————— Podcast from Gary’s Geneva College Address on becoming a Two Handed Warrior
Ever wonder what casting a vision for two-handed warfare might sound like when addressing college students? Here’s one attempt from Geneva College (Pennsylvania.)
I couldn’t include the slides, but I have included the movie clip from THE PRINCESS BRIDE below. Be sure to watch the clip before you listen to the podcast (online or by download.) It will make a lot more sense.
William Goldman, Rob Reiner, Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, et al. The Princess Bride (Hollywood, Calif: MGM Home Entertainment, 2001).
1 Princess Buttercup’s lover, also know as, “Westley”; aka, “The Dread Pirate Roberts.” (Not Johnny Cash.)
2 Proverbs 27:17