Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Eleventh Doctor Top Stories

Looking ahead to the return of Doctor Who in a couple weeks, I realize that I have reviewed a lot of the show, but never ranked the top episodes. Sounds like a project!

Starting with the Eleventh Doctor, I think I may differ from a lot of fans. I like his earlier stories more than the later ones. Those huge to-do specials that came with the fiftieth anniversary only rank 13th and 14th on my list. Here are my top 10 stories:

10. “The Eleventh Hour” 

The introduction to Eleven, and Amy. Looking back on all of the introductory episodes, this may be the best.

9. “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” 

This story gave us one of the best monsters in the whole series, certainly the best monster design. And it has some of the scariest moments.

8. “A Christmas Carol” 

A charming reimagining of the classic tale.

7. “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone” 

Another great monster is brought back, but the character moments and hints at a greater plot overshadow them. And there is a long-game pay-off scene that is a joy to see play out.

6. “Vampires in Venice” 

The Amy/Rory dynamic is one of the best companion ideas in Doctor Who. And the story that brings Rory onto the crew is a good one.

5. “The Angels Take Manhattan” 

Some of the paradoxes in this story are fun to tackle, but the most important aspect of this story comes at the end.

4. “A Good Man Goes to War” 

This is where Eleven goes from being a goofy, fun character to a potentially terrifying one. We have been told he is not necessarily a good guy before, but now he begins to wonder himself.

3. “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang” 

This is where we get to see just how dangerous this good guy we all like really can be.

2. “Amy’s Choice” 

Episodes like this one make Amy and Rory the best companions ever, and there are a lot of great ones with which to compete.

1. “Vincent and the Doctor” 

This episode transcends the series. I dare you to watch it and not be moved.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Tragedy that Is the IBLP

With all the discussion about the Institute in Basic Life Principles going on (that’s the branch of legalism that the Duggars belong to), I was reminded of the brushes I have had with this group.

Growing up, my parents occasionally used some of the material produced by the IBLP in our family devotions. “Character Sketches” combined life lessons from nature with Bible stories to teach kids positive character traits. Not a bad concept. I especially enjoyed the natural science and the artwork, with was outstanding.

Beyond that, we were pretty wary of the group. That caution started when a IBLP newsletter tried to promote the teaching that any family not cooking all their own bread at home was actively sinning. I am not sure if they had a deal with one of those bread makers or not. In any case, it was a terrible case of Biblical eisegesis and clear legalistic hogwash.

As an adult, I still have one of those Character Sketches volumes. A few years ago I decided to use it with my own kids. We went through nearly all the devotional material deriving teaching from the animal stories. However, after the first week, I quit using their Bible Stories. The retellings were hardly recognizable and the interpretation was terrible. I had to substitute it with actual scripture.

Then a realization dawned on me. Where was the Gospel in this book? Outside of a sidebar in the introduction that literally listed four verses with zero explanation, and a formulaic prayer that the reader was instructed to read ala magic incantation, there was no mention of the Gospel. The teaching of the IBLP is literally a religious self-help organization trying to teach people to overcome their sin problem in their own strength. There is token mention of the help of the Holy Spirit, but that is never really taught either.

It saddens me to think that so many believers have been led astray by this well-intentioned but false teaching. Even worse, I hate that fact that Christian celebrity culture has portrayed our faith in such a distorted way. Is it any surprise that a group telling men to overcome their sin in their own strength (and telling women that a lot of the men’s failures are women’s fault) is failing miserably? That is not the teaching of Scripture; not Biblical Christianity. It lacks the Grace. It is missing the cross.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 5a)

Season 4b—Season 5b

The first half of season five is solid, but not outstanding. There are even some serious topics dealt with, but largely in a cursory fashion. And, as is the norm with more modern Trek, there is a ton of stunt plotting.

Episode 1 “Night”

The idea of an empty vastness of space is probably a lot more realistic than the galaxy we see teeming with life in Trek. The concept of an alien species created to live in such emptiness is interesting, but one wonders how that makes any sense. The message here is elementary school level environmental, which does not make it bad or wrong, just unsophisticated.

Episode 2 “Drone” 

We get to explore all the deprograming Seven has been through in a matter of minutes with the spontaneous creation of a futuristic Borg. Luckily for everyone on the crew, their way of looking at life is clearly better than the Borg’s and this new Borg sees things that way as well. Once again, a rather simple perspective on intercultural differences from a show that wants to champion open-mindedness.

Episode 3 “Extreme Risk”

Trek addresses depression, and does a pretty good job of things.

Episode 4 “In the Flesh” 

Here we get one of those stories that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the big picture. Once again those aliens that they met several years-worth of normal travel in their past has decided that they are a threat and has set up training camps to prepare for an Earth invasion. Why these camps are out here several decades away from Earth—and how they managed to obtain so much information about Earth—remains unexplained. The whole episode seems created to justify an astonishing cold open.

Episode 5 “Once Upon a Time” 

Neelix takes care of a girl who is worried about her mom, all the while realizing that he is messed up over the loss of his family. “The Bonding” from STNG does a better job with greater stakes.

Episode 6 “Timeless” 

Another episode that never happened because time travel. Then again, Kim did get that message in the end…

Episode 7 “Infinite Regress” 

Seven has to come to terms with her demons, or at least all the people she helped assimilate as a Borg. Which is strange because she was a Borg way out here 70 years away from Earth. How did she help assimilate so many alpha quadrant species?

Episode 8 “Nothing Human” 

A great struggle with medicinal ethics. When is it OK to do good with information obtained through evil means?

Episode 9 “Thirty Days” 

Tom violates the Prime Directive in a major way and serves out a big punishment.

Episode 10 “Counterpoint” 

Another media res episode where we meet a whole culture that was simply set up to entertain a neat idea. However, unlike last season they didn’t spend several episodes setting up the culture. It plays like a power struggle between our heroic captain and basically a friendly Nazi.

Episode 11 “Latent Image” 

Trek has come a long way since the days of debating Data’s rights. The status of A.I. is a flux in Trek. If it is the one character we like—The Doctor—we treat him better than the dispensable “red shirt” humans. If you are another A.I., like say the Cardasian doctor a few episodes back, you’re out of luck.

Episode 12 “Bride of Chaotica” 

They have been setting the holodeck environment of Captain Proton up all season long. Just as we knew Da Vinci was going to play a larger role at some point last time, we knew we were eventually going to get our black-and-white 1950’s space opera episode. Unfortunately, we get the bare bones of a plot to justify it. On the other hand, it is quite fun. I could do with more.

Episode 13 “Gravity” 

So THIS is where they got the time differential concept for “Interstellar” and “Inception.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"A Hard Day's Night" (1964)

One of my favorite scenes in “A Hard Day’s Night” involves George being approached by producers of a teen television show. They think he is just a typical teen, or even better, an actor hired to play one for them. They are the trend setters. They are the fashionistas that dictate the fads and create the looks and styles that the young people will buy into.

In the film, the irony is that Beatlemania had taken off, and the movie was being made to capitalize on/feed that trend. So even as the Beatles mock such fashions and the companies that create them and make a living off of them, they were an example of that very teen culture. Maybe the joke was on the entertainment industry, to think they could control such trends and dictate what was considered popular. Here the Beatles were doing their own thing and inspiring a whole generation!

Then again, here we are 50 years later and they may have been laughing too soon. Popular culture today does indeed seem to be dictated and controlled by corporations and entertainment elites. Clothing trends, stylistic choices, culinary tastes and even ethical and philosophical beliefs change and flux following the direction of the entertainment industry.

Monday, August 24, 2015

God's Patience (2 Peter 3:1-13)

Today we would look at the argument Peter is making here and take it a step or two further. People aren’t just mocking the idea of Christ’s return, but of the very existence of God. It is not just a delay that feeds doubts. Two thousand years is a bit more time than most of Jesus’ followers would have imagined in Peter’s day. Nowadays people point to a lack of evidence, and laugh at the “primitive” belief in a God at all.

Peter’s audience questioned God’s delay. We often do as well. Peter reminds us that God’s love and His patience hold His judgement back. God’s desire is that more people will turn to Him. It is also God’s love and patience that keep Him from stepping visibly into the world in His fullness. Faith is required for entry into God’s kingdom. Once He does return everyone will see and know, but the time for trust and faith will be past.

It has been a long time since Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom. Most would have thought by now that the Second Coming would have occurred. Many alive today are convinced that they are in the last days, and by that they mean that Christ is coming in their lifetime. Of course, all generations have thought that. That there is the worst of times. That Jesus is just around the corner. That the world will not go on without them.

Well, in God’s view, the “Last Days” have already endured 2,000 years. They could easily go on for another two, or three, or more thousand. We can hardly claim that we have it worse than people have before us. God’s patience endures.

And yet we believe two things for certain: God’s Kingdom will be fully realized and we have a place awaiting us in it. The world may go on for millennia, but we do not have that long. While we await on the promise of a world as it was meant to be, we are to live as citizens of that Kingdom now. This world is not our home.
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