Monday, November 23, 2015

Trading Symbol for Solution (John 2:12-25)

In this section of John, we see three things happen. Jesus “cleanses” the temple. Jesus equates himself, his body, with the temple. And, Jesus does not acknowledge insufficient belief.

This passage is a damning one for much of Christendom. In the overarching section including all of chapters two through four, Jesus is revealing the new order of things—the breaking through of the Kingdom of God into the world. Here He targets what will turn out to be his biggest enemy, the religious order.

Religion has always represented humanity’s failed attempts to save ourselves from our rebellion against God. Judaism, even though it is based on God’s revelation and the Law He gave to instruct us of our helplessness is not immune from this institutional, cultural, systematic attempt of people to save themselves. And the sad thing is that Christianity, when it has developed and deviated from what Jesus established is not immune either.

We no longer meet in a single building representing God’s home on earth. We don’t even need buildings to assemble as followers of Jesus. Yet even simple expressions of church can forget their purpose and become empty, self-focused, religious clubs. Jesus called on the people of His day to recognize the loss of meaning that the religious symbols had suffered. But He also called on people to place their trust in Him, not the building or the system they were relying on.

And worst of all, we see here in John that many people “believed in His name” and it meant nothing. We need to be sure that we follow Jesus in a vital faith—trusting and obeying Him as the Lord of our lives—and don’t simply teach people to acknowledge a statement of fact.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 6b)

Season 6a—Season 7a

Season Six began to bog down a bit in the middle, but there are a couple of interesting episodes. Especially from the point of view of someone looking for deeper content. The cliff-hanger at the end, though, seemed to be playing a bit heavily on past Trek successes.

Episode 14 “Memorial”

It is an interesting idea. To have people forced to relive an experience of another is more than just a memorial. It is a forced trauma. And it gives a wholly different meaning to the idea that history is written by the victors, or the guilty. The need for memorials—and particularly memorials to tragedies or misdeeds is nailed home in this story. Unfortunately it doesn’t effectively cover its heavy-handed preaching with a compelling enough story to help us absorb it.

Episode 15 “Tsunkatse”

Trek always seems to find its way back to the old chestnut of the gladiatorial arena. And, to make matters worse this episode feels like a barely dressed-up piece of stunt casting.

Episode 16 “Collective”

When Voyager encounters a badly damaged Borg ship, they are almost taken down by children. Someone has infected the Borg with a terminal virus, and only the children have survived. Thus we are introduced to even more child-characters that are going to get a disproportionate amount of the story-lines going forward.

Episode 17 “Spirit Folk”

Trek has always been fascinated with AI, but Voyager is particularly concerned with it due to the Doctor. Here we get ideas already explored in TNG, with the added element that Voyager has already proposed: increased time allows AI to develop consciousness. As a concept it simply doesn’t fly.

That aside, though, the metaphor here is incredibly fascinating. If we grant the village on the holodeck is full of conscious individuals, the way they react to supernatural occurrences feels authentic. We get the full philosophy of religion gamut, from superstitious explanations to religious establishments, to power plays, and ultimately, ignorant cruelty. What makes it most interesting in the end is that, despite there being logical explanations for everything, they DO include the supernatural. This isn’t a case of people creating hysteria out of nothing. Sometimes there is more than we are capable of comprehending. Do we take the word of greater intelligence, or assume we are the end all of universal knowledge?

Episode 18 “Ashes to Ashes”

The problem with these sorts of stories in serial television is that we are asked to believe that there have been important characters that had an impact on the crew that we have never seen before. It doesn’t work. And here the concept destroys suspension of disbelief. How can an entire species exist by simply reanimating the dead of other species? Where did it start?

Episode 19 “Child’s Play”

This story answers some questions we had forgotten to ask about the Borg children and the Borg infection. Somehow, the way the story is told we are on edge the whole time for the floor to drop out, so we are not surprised when the “twist” occurs.

Episode 20 “Good Shepherd”

Janeway takes it upon herself to develop some underperforming crew members. Under normal circumstance they would have washed out long ago, but since they are all stuck on the ship until they get home, such washouts are not helpful. In an interesting element, she uses the parable of the lost sheep as told by Jesus, but apparently in the Trek future it is known as the story of the Good Shepherd. The interpretation of the stories meaning has also been lost a bit over time.

Episode 21 “Live Fast and Prosper”

A fun little story about some con-artists in the Delta Quadrant. While it is entertaining, it only serves to highlight the problem that Trek has with a far too populated—and for that matter an overly humanoid populated—galaxy.

Episode 22 “Muse”

This episode is really not very good, but that is unfortunate. Because the idea the storytellers are playing with here is important. It is Trek explaining Trek. The idea that storytellers and stories can change culture and can make the world a better place is true. It is, in fact, an idea that transcends reality. The creator of the universe is Himself a master storyteller and—in orchestrating and creating stories in history—He is making the world a better place with His story.

Episode 23 “Fury”

Kes returns and kills Torres, but since she travels back in time we know not to worry because it will all be undone. We also know to dismiss the episode for the same reasons.

Episode 24 “Lifeline”

The Doctor travels to our solar system to help heal his creator. The character is so fascinating it is a fun watch, but we run into the same problems as before. The story has given the character so much growth that he is no longer a program.

Episode 25 “The Haunting of Deck Twelve”

Neelix calms the kids’ fears on a scary night by telling them the truth—as a story. Turns out any lie would have either been seen through as an attempt to calm and patronize, or even scarier than the truth.

Episode 26 “Unimatrix Zero Part 1”

Voyager attempts to take a page from the TNG playbook and have some of our beloved characters assimilated. It doesn’t work out quite so well as “The Best of Both Worlds” and we aren’t worried going into the season break.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Doctor Who 9.9 "Sleep No More"

This latest, stand-alone episode of Doctor Who was fun, experimental, and a bit mind boggling. Right from the start things indicate that the viewer be on guard: no title sequence, captured footage, the narrator telling us not to watch. That last bit felt a whole lot like reverse psychology.

Had I been the BBC programmer I might have had this episode air two weeks ago for Halloween. It is just a spooky, campfire story after all. Put this one together with the likes of “Blink” “Midnight” and maybe “Love and Monsters.” Not based on shared quality, but rather for the outside-the-box thinking that helps keep things fresh.

(The images I have been attaching to the reviews of the Twelfth Doctor stories have been posters the BBC has been using by designer Stuart Manning. I like his retro designs. Check him out at his facebook page.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Water into Wine (John 2:1-11)

In the first miracle of Jesus in John, we learn a lot about the nature of Christ. Jesus is God. Changing water into wine by instructing some waiters is a powerful demonstration. It is clearly supernatural. Jesus begins to reveal His divinity here. His disciples, seeing this, go from followers to believers.

But Jesus is also man. The interaction with Mary is almost comical. One imagines the typical mother, pushing her son to do something for her, whether he wants to or not. Jesus protests, but complies with what she wants. What son wouldn’t? She knows who He is (as we see in Luke’s account) and we can assume she has seen His power and glory o display before this event.

More than anything else here, we see Jesus’ humanity… No, that isn’t the right word, because the aspect of mankind that we see on display here is part of what it means to be created in God’s image. We see Jesus’ compassion. Jesus doesn’t need to do this miracle. It doesn’t quite fit strategically into His mission. It isn’t healing a sickness or saving a life. The couple could have merely run out of wine and closed their celebration down earlier than socially expected. What is a little embarrassment in light of all the wrongs Jesus came to make right? But Jesus cares about people. These are His friends and townsfolk.

Jesus cares about us too. He provides not only for our needs, He blesses us as well.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Mountain List

Mountains play an important role in scripture as well as in literature. The other day I got to asking myself, “What are the important, impactful mountains in my own life?”

10. Long’s Peak

From the time I was five until I left home to go to college, I always lived within sight of mountains. And for the first five of those years, the main peak I could see just about any time I looked for it was Long’s Peak. I loved the Rockys and the times we spent up in those mountains. I particularly remember a trip to camp out at Lost Lake. I read now that there is a range and a peak there called Mummy, but I didn’t know it at the time.

9. Mt. Capulin 

Every year that I lived in the shadow of Long’s Peak we took one or two trips back down to Texas. And on that drive, I always looked out for Mount Capulin. A small volcano in the middle of a flat land, you would see volcanic rocks it had spewed out for miles before and after viewing the cone. It is the first volcano I ever went into, and at the time I was afraid because I thought it was going to be like a Tarzan movie I had seen on TV once. Reality was pretty dull by comparison.

8. Poas

The second volcano I went into came years later when we moved to Costa Rica for a year. It was one of the few day trips we took out of the city that year. (Learning Spanish consumed most of our time.) This crater was a little more like the one in the movies. We didn’t really go into it. That would have been deadly.

7. Osorno and El Puntiagudo 

Once we had moved into the Southern Andes, Volcanoes became constant companions. A little far from home were the impressive ones in the tenth region of Chile. Osorno is massive and its cousin nearby is one of the most recognizable ones I have seen to this day.

6. Villarrica 

But closest to home was Villarica. It was constantly glowing at the time I lived there. It has since erupted more violently again. I have rocks from Villarica that have followed me around the world since.

5. Cierro Nielol 

OK, not really a mountian, but a hill dear to my heart. Just outside of Temuco, Chile, I spent many an afternoon hiking or riding up and down its paths and roads.

4. Kanzel 

The year I actually lived in Austria I lived on a mountainside. That said, it was a small one at the far eastern end of the Alps where they meet the Carpathians. Interestingly, it was named the pulpit, so it felt like an appropriate place for a preacher to live. Also, it seemed covered in snakes. I don’t know what that meant.

3. The Dolomites, The Sella Group 

My favorite part of the Alps is everybody elses, the Dolomites. We only ever went there one time, and it was a day trip drive at that. But I would love to go back there for a longer, more pedestrian time.

2. Torres del Paine 

My most beloved mountains, though, are the ones I lived near during my High School days, the ones at the end of the Andes, in the national park with no roads. Torres del Paine National Park is a place for hikers. It is the Dolomites of South America. And the namesake peaks are not so much pretty as impressive. I used to hike there once a year on week-long trips. There…

1. Cuernos del Paine 

…is where my favorite peaks are. The “horns” are, for my money, the most amazing, picturesque mountaintops in the world.

(Pictures of Puntiagudo, Villarrica, Kanzel,  Dolomites, and Cuernos are mine.  The rest are from Wikipedia.)
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