Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of the Year 2008

Well, 2008’s resolution to blog every weekday for NonModern was a success. I had fun sharing thoughts and maintaining a habit of thinking and writing about culture, and the things going on around me. The plan will be to continue next year, with some slight changes perhaps, due to the way the blog has developed and other writing projects for 2009.

Thanks for reading and keep visiting! Oh, and feel free to comment!

Here is some data about the blog’s performance based on information gathered since mid-April:

Entries in 2008: 264 (Weekdays in 2008): 262

Visits: 1886

Page Views: 2516 from 603 cities in six continents

Countries: 53

States: 42 plus Washington D.C.

Most Views by Country: USA, Germany, UK, Austria, Canada, Australia, Ireland, India, France, Czech Republic

Most Views by State: Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Florida, California, Virginia, New York, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania

States that haven’t generated a hit yet: Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, West Virginia, and Rhode Island

Most Viewed Entries:

Dracula and Vampires and Their Christian Themes

You Are Leaving the American Sector

Top Films: “I’m the Son of a Sea Cook!”

Top Films: Begrudgingly, Megs Rom-Coms

Top Films: Amadeus

True Community

Acts: Simon (8:9-24)

Scientism

Acts: Peter’s Vison, Yes Another One (10:9-11:18)

Sports Dramas: Romcoms for Men

NonModern Rules

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Aliens, Religion, and Egypt

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Television: Mr. Bean

You either get it or you don’t. That does not mean it makes any sense. Some people simply find slapstick, physical, British comedy funny and some don’t. If you are unsure whether you are this sort of person just ask yourself: do you laugh, involuntarily, when people get hurt… even when you know it is not funny?

To be honest, Mr. Bean is not just slapstick. He is not witty, verbal comedy though either. The humor in Mr. Bean is strictly visual, so much so that there is very little if any dialogue in the series. Some people love this show and can laugh so hard they cry every time they see it. Other people usually hate it.

It is not hard to understand this reaction. The character Mr. Bean is anything but likable. He is not mean exactly, you would have to have spite or malice to be mean, but he is somewhat of a sociopath. He is played by Rowan Atkinson as a child in an adult’s body. By child, Mr. Atkinson must mean a terrible two-year-old. Mr. Bean is the only being in his world and everyone else is treated as impersonal objects.

The series hints at other explanations for Mr. Bean’s strange temperament. In the opening titles, he is dropped from the sky in a beam of light. There is certainly something “alien” about Mr. Bean. Sometimes characters in fiction are used to demonstrate childlike innocence played against evil aspects of the world. (Edward Sissorhands or Forrest Gump spring to mind.) Mr. Bean is more of a picture of the fallen nature of man that is lamentably present in all children the world over.

But he sure is funny.

Monday, December 29, 2008

1 Thessalonians 5:12,13 (Leadership, or More Properly Being Led)

Here we do not have any glimpse or insight into how leaders were selected or chosen in the early churches. For all we know they could have simply emerged, although we do see that Paul had earlier in Acts when traveling through the Galatian region, appointed leaders for the churches he had planted. However, we do here see three characteristics of church leaders that Paul had in mind:

Diligent Labor. Church leaders work… hard. This is not a vocation for people who just want to sit around and do nothing all day. The work hours are long, the demands are many, and the rewards are often overlooked. That is not to say that there are no lazy leaders in today’s churches… in fact there are far too many.

Charge. This aspect of church leadership is the side that most people desire. They want to lead. Small churches in particular are full of people who are told what to do by everyone in their life and long for a place where they can have a say. This is not the intended meaning of this designation. Church leaders protect and aid the church. They look out for the good of the body; they don’t get their way.

Instruction. Church leaders teach the believers and make sure that Biblical doctrine is understood and maintained. Simple enough… but not often done.

The problematic part of this passage for today’s church is the part that tells us to esteem our leaders and live in peace. When we fail to do this we disregard not our leaders but God, and leaders themselves tend to have the worst problem with this command. Everyone has authorities in their lives, but when leaders nurse rebellion it is not surprising that it trickles down to everyone.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Catnap

Patchwork stealth, streaking for cover,
Spying the form on the chair.
Instinctual urges, to hunt and kill,
Arising in playful airs.
Tawny fur, as soft as silk,
Concealing strength and power.
Soft dreamt sleep, ever alert,
Hiding the instinct to pounce.
As sleep lies, aloof in the chair,
Observed by mischievous blood,
Eyes open up, just in time,
To feel the nip in the bud.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sing Out of Christmas 4

Day 3

The Candle burns,
Low and out.
The music ends,
Tree comes down.
Eggnog sours,
Wrappings come off,
Go in the garbagge,
As 12 chimes the clock.
Christmas will end,
As it does each year,
But to each day since Jesus,
Belongs Christmas cheer.
Sing out of Christmas,
Each day you live,
Live out for Jesus,
For His life, thanks give.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Home-made Christmas

For those people in your life who truly are special, for the kids in your life who really do enjoy the gift aspect of Christmas, nothing says I love you more than a home made gift that took time and effort to create. But how do you compete with all the sophisticated and expensive toys out there? (Ever noticed how the more complicated and detailed a toy is the less it encourages imagination and the less it is actually played with?) Keep it simple… the classics are truly the best toys.

But what if you are not particularly handy? Here is the answer to the best Christmas gift for a kid in you life. All you need is a computer with a printer, some card stock, and knowledge of your child’s interests.

Kids love joining clubs, and kids love collecting stuff, and kids love traditions. So create your very own fan club that you and your children can belong too! What are they into? Dinosaurs, books, comics? The Dietz kids are into Doctor Who. So we created the Dietz Doctor Who Fan Club. For Christmas last year they each got a box full of paper figures and each week for the following year they got a new figure every Friday. The characters were simply drawn, scanned into the computer, printed, cut and pasted together.

If you don’t draw, you can find pictures of whatever club you want to make online. If you want, make it a card collecting club instead of figures. It can be a neat way to introduce you child to further aspects of their interest. A card club of great books would be neat… pictures of the cover on one side and info typed on the back. It could serve as a checklist of classics the kid could look forward to reading.

The possibilities are endless; it is just a matter of doing the work.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Top Films: The Chronicles of Narnia Prince Caspian

Normally, it is a difficult thing for a movie to improve on a book. There is so much that cannot be translated to the screen and imagination is usually better at interpreting an author’s ideas than any special effects are. Not only that… but filmmakers so often feel the need to change things. Either to make them more cinematic or because they feel like the viewers shouldn’t know the story or simply because they think they can tell a better story than the author. (If that is the case, why buy the rights to the story in the first place?)

That being said, Andrew Adamson and co. managed the rare feat of changing the story of a book and producing a movie that is at least as good as the source material. The themes of Lewis’ story are all present in spite of the changes and in some ways… the themes have been strengthened.

The big spiritual lesson of Prince Caspian is the one learned by Lucy when she sees Aslan but fails to act upon what she has seen because the group does not believe her. The more subtle side of this lesson (in the book) is the way Peter must learn to do things God’s way and not his. He has to learn to listen to and trust others. In the film, the changes to the plot strengthen this aspect of the story. They also make the movie version quite a bit more exciting than the book, which may be one on the weaker entries in the series.

The addition of a completely tacked on and pointless attraction between Caspian and Susan was unfortunate. Do the film makers think teens and especially girls will only watch something with romance in it?

Here’s looking forward to the Dawn Treader!

Monday, December 22, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 (Hope)

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers;
constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ…” –1 Thessalonians 1:2,3a

Rarely is the subject of hope brought up in the teaching of Paul where it only applies to the nuts and bolts of the second coming or the hereafter. Instead, hope is the reason Paul gives to persevere in the present difficulties the believer faces. Here Paul clarifies some basics about the future that awaits Christians, (that the dead in Christ will share in coming kingdom and that the arrival of said kingdom is unknown to all) but uses this teaching to remind the believers to stay strong.

This is not just the case with Christian hope; hope of any kind functions in a temporal-behavioral way. We can only hope in the absence of what we hope for, and we behave and believe in accordance with the hope we have. Christians have been promised a future of perfection, where the world as it was meant to be will exist. Suffering and sin and evil will no longer rule. People will live forever in a way that they have been designed to live and we will be fulfilled.

Based on the hope of that future, the Christian is encouraged to live well now in the face of all the evil and suffering we observe and even face today. We can endure the injustice and evil in this world because we know that a better future awaits and they way we live in this world will impact that future. Not whether or not we experience that future; that is dependent not on what we do but what Christ has done. The way our behavior affects heaven is in whom else will be there. God has decided that His message of hope will be delivered by those of us who already believe. And our actions often speak louder than our words.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sing Out of Christmas 3

Day 4

Hustle
bustle
hurry up
shop for
Christmas
till you drop
buy the
presents
on your list
spend your
paycheck
for the next six weeks
like the
times of
Jesus day
people so
busy they
missed God’s display
so if you’re running
out your mind
sing out
of Christmas
with the angel choir,
“Peace on earth good will to men.”
Thanks to the Babe in Bethlehem.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ralphie and Christmas Presents

In A Christmas Story (1984) we meet Ralphie, a boy who wants just one thing for Christmas… a gun. Sounds bad, but it really is a nostalgic little movie about nothing really. Come Christmas day, Ralph gets a ton of presents. We don’t even see most of what he gets, just a pink bunny suit from an aunt that he hates, and the gun he has wanted all year. For weeks he has been hinting at his wish, but everyone tells him the same thing… “You’ll shoot your eye out!” As soon as he gets his new gun he promptly takes it outside to try it out, and nearly shoots his eye out!

This movie does not really have a deep message or meaning, but it does have a lot to say about the things we receive in life. We are so blessed in life that most of the blessings go overlooked or are quickly forgotten. Often, we get stuff we don’t want and don’t need, and quite frankly could do without… that is a part of life too.

Then there are the things we ask for… pray for. Sometimes it is stuff we need and are ready to have. God says yes and we are blessed with “answered prayer.” Sometimes God says no because He knows we don’t need something or couldn’t handle it if we did have it. Then there may be times when God gives us things we don’t need and that may just teach us a valuable lesson.

Then too, just as in the movie, God allows bad things to come into our lives… like a pack of rowdy dogs that come to steal our turkey. Tragedy does come into our lives. We do not always see why, but we can rest in the promise that everything God allows into our lives will be turned into good. Even when we never see how it works out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent Paradoxes: Pit Bulls

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” –Ephesians 2:10

For some reason, Pit Bulls have become popular pets. This is strange because they were never intended to be pets. Pit Bulls have been designed to fight. When they instead live life as a pet in a family, especially a family with kids, tragedy can result. This is what happens when you live life denied of the purpose for which you were created.

Ephesians chapter two tells us of the tremendous liberation we have been given as a result of Christ coming to live as a man and to die for our sins. This is the reason we have to celebrate at Christmas and all the year long. It is not just a matter of salvation from eternal damnation. It is fulfillment; we have been given the purpose for which we were created.

Before we came to know Christ, we were truly dead. A human being is half physical and half spirit. Without a living spirit, we are not fully human, and the Bible tells us that before we have a relationship with God we are spiritually dead. To know Christ is to be fully alive for the first time.

People tend to say that Christianity is simply a list of rules and things you cannot do. It is an oppressive system. The reality is that only once we know Christ and become alive are we truly free. Prior to our salvation we live imprisoned by sin and death.

Finally, only in a relationship with God can we truly live out the purpose for which we have been created. God has planned things for us to do before we were ever born. His great plan for the universe involves us. We have tasks planned for us. Once we turn our lives over to God and enter into a relationship with him, we are able to do those things we were made to do.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent Paradoxes: Abraham

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…” -Hebrews 11:17

We all know this story from Genesis 22. Abraham is told by God to offer up his son as a human sacrifice to God. This was the same child God had promised to use to give Abraham innumerable descendants. Abraham is willing to obey God, showing us a picture of how God would later offer His only Son for the sins of the world. Isaac is willing to be sacrificed, presenting a picture of Christ giving His own life. In the end God stops Abraham and provides a substitutionary sacrifice. It is an important story, especially for us as we approach Christmas, but it raises some questions:

God tested Abraham. Why? If God knows our hearts, if God has a plan for history and our lives, why test people? God knew Abraham. He knew what sort of man Abraham was. He had created Abraham to be the man He needed him to be. Why did God need to test Abraham?

One reason is that God has created people with free will. He can test us because we can choose to go His way or not. The fact that He is still in control and can know our choices before we make them is a paradox; a truth we cannot hope to grasp.

The other reason for tests is for our benefit. God knows who we are, but we have to learn who we are through the choices we make. Prayer works in much the same way. God knows our hearts and our needs before we ever speak to Him, and yet He wants us to pray. Prayer is powerful and can change the world, but it begins by changing us. God’s testing also helps to make us who we need to be for God’s plans to be fulfilled.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent Paradoxes: George Bailey

The message of It’s a Wonderful Life speaks to us because God really does work in the world through people. God uses individuals to accomplish his plan: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, David, Peter, Paul, etc. In Jeremiah 1:5 we see that God does have a plan for people’s lives before they are ever born. In Galatians 4:4 we see God has timed events in history precisely to happen when He wishes.

We can also be used by God to accomplish his plan, and this truth gives our lives meaning.

Why is It’s a Wonderful Life a Christmas movie? Parts of the movie, the climax included, take place at Christmas, but the movie could have been set at any time of year and in fact most of the movie doesn’t take place at Christmas. It is a good setting for the movie, though, because it fits the theme. What better time of year to tell the story that one life can make a difference than Christmas? All of history waited for and has been changed by the birth of Christ.

This is the Advent Paradox. God became man. The all powerful creator became a helpless babe. That is something that we can not fully understand. How could Jesus be fully God and fully man?

There is another paradox we can see in It’s a Wonderful Life and the Christmas message it delivers. How can God be an all powerful God who uses individuals to accomplish His plan and still allow people to choose? How can God be sovereign, and yet allow people to have free will?

This is the other paradox of the Christmas message: God controls all of history, and yet free will is real. He does not use people like so many chess pieces.

Monday, December 15, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (More Love)

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers;
constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ…” –1 Thessalonians 1:2,3a


Paul tended to stress three areas of discipleship in his churches. The first area involved the believer’s walk or behavior and was related to the faith the believer professed. Faith changes us and makes us new creatures that behave in new ways.

The second area of stress in Paul’s teaching was in the area of relationships. It is the area of Love. Love determines the way the believer behaves towards others, both within the church and in the community. It defines the way we relate to others in the roles that we perform. These teachings are usually the ones that inform parents, children, spouses and employees how to be.

Here, Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be even better than they are in this area, and he stresses that they have been doing a good job in this area. They have a great love toward all believers in the region.

He goes on to relate work to love: “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) How does work have anything to do with love? Not that it is a bad thing to teach Christians to work hard and not be dependant on others. (This is an area where a lot of churches fall flat. We reach out to the needy in the community, but create a group of people dependant on the church since we are often reluctant to demand that they help themselves.) However, what does work have to do with love?

Verse twelve supplies the answer: so that we may behave properly towards those not in the church. Other translations render this phrase “command respect.” If we hope to impact a community with the gospel, it helps when we are not dependant on that society for charity. As a group, Christians should supply the charity in society, not demand it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sing Out of Christmas 2

Day 2

The night is ablaze,
With thousands of lights.
One month of the year,
When dark holds no fright.
The tree is on fire,
A light on each branch.
The cold and the snow,
For once mean romance.
Every note lifts up,
And sings out of Christmas.
The Babe has been born,
And God, He has saved us.
If each point of light,
Adds on to the praise,
Let none be snuffed out,
‘Till the end of our days.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Top Films: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The first film of the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, as delivered by Andrew Adamson and Walden Media may seem a lesser film in comparison to other fantasy adaptations of the decade, but it really does translate the most important aspects of the book to the screen almost perfectly.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is all about Joy; the joy of discovery, the joy of finding that there is a beautiful reality beyond the obvious imperfections of our war-torn world where families are separated and children suffer, and the joy of discovering that our lives have a purpose and a meaning. We are all a part of a larger story.

When Lucy walks into the wardrobe for the first time… there are very few moments so magical in literature, and the film does a great job of making this a special experience. Then, when she returns and has a hard time communicating her experience with and convincing her siblings of where she has been; this is a great picture of a deeper spiritual truth so typical to Lewis’ stories. Even better, however, is when Edmond discovers the truth for the first time. The fact that he can know the truth and not be changed at first is a powerful fact. In the same way, people can believe in God, believe in the truth of Jesus, and fail to let that truth change there lives.

There is more to Christianity than understanding or believing. Christianity is surrender. Not many churches or evangelists stress this aspect of conversion anymore.

Edmonds journey of discovery, betrayal, realization, and repentance may be the more important aspect of this story, even though it is usually overshadowed by the easier to see Aslan-is-Christ analogy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Perelandra

Lewis has a way of tricking you into thinking you are simply reading a fantastic narrative, when in reality he is causing you to explore some very deep thoughts. Nowhere is this more evident, than in the second volume of his science fiction trilogy: Perelandra.

In the simplest of terms, Perelandra is the tale of a man’s journey to Venus. Lewis uses this plot to explore a giant “what if” and see what it might have been like in the very beginning of creation before sin had entered the picture. The very nature and operation of temptation and sin is seen, and not in the way we are used to seeing it. We do not see the effects and consequences of sin. We see how temptation works in a world where only the potential for sin exists.

We also see one of the most effective and creepy embodiments of evil depicted in literature. This is supposedly Lewis’ simplification and commentary on Milton’s Paradise Lost. If you have to choose one of these two books to read, Perelandra is infinitely more readable.

Shortly after Perelandra was written, the movie rights were sold, but a film version has never been made. That is not hard to understand, considering most of your cast would have to be stark naked for the duration, and the only clothed character would be a walking corpse! Not to mention the fact that until a couple of years ago, the visuals would have been impossible to bring to the screen.

If you have never read this book, and remain unconvinced, just give the first chapter a shot. It is a rare instance where Lewis himself is in the story, and his description of very realistic spiritual warfare he encounters on a dusky walk in the country is brilliant.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sing Out of Christmas 1

Day 1

If nothing else, Tradition,
Must focus on tonight,
That the babe called Christ has come,
And come to give us life,
That Jesus Christ, not Santa Claus,
Is the one and only reason,
For the happiness, love , and joy we feel,
In this the holy season,
That love expressed, not money spent,
Is the truest legal tender,
To reap the sweetest memories,
Of the holidays past forever.
So sing out loud of Christmas,
But sing for thanks to Christ,
For He alone is the honored guest,
To grace my tree tonight!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How Should We Then Live

History is one of those subjects that should be tailor made to the student. It is not a boring subject; it is just the way it is often taught—an endless stream of facts and dates—that renders it the mind-numbing chore that it seems. When it is instead related as a story hung on the moments and events that tie the past to where we are today, it can be an exciting and eye opening experience.

One of the books that makes history and specifically western culture come alive to people living here in our postmodern world is Francis Schaeffer’s “How Should We Then Live?” In it, he does a brilliant job at showing how art and philosophy have led to where we are today; brilliant in part in that he did this twenty years ago and his efforts seem a bit prophetic.

The other enlightening aspect of this book is the appendix that reveals an aspect of history that is rarely relayed in school. Most of the time students are taught history in a series of movements: the history of the renaissance, the history of the reformation, etc. Schaeffer shows the way these various movements overlapped and even influenced each other. Who teaches that Luther’s 95 theses and the Sistine Chapel ceiling were done around the same time?

When we are able to look at the way philosophies shape the cultures that drive the events of history, and then see the way these events mold the philosophies that follow, it renders understanding where we are and where we are headed as a culture possible. Unfortunately today’s education does not do this and so our culture seems at best like a case of the blind being led by the blind. (At worst perhaps the dupes being taken by the snake-oil salesmen.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (Faith)

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers;
constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ…” –1 Thessalonians 1:2,3a

Thom Wolf sees a pattern to all of Paul’s teaching. The three “pillars” of Paul’s message are Faith, Love and Hope. This pattern seems to be the “instruction” Paul is referring to here in chapter 4. It can also be seen in Ephesians, Colossians, and other letters written by Paul and others.

For the purposes of this teaching of Paul, faith encompasses not just the belief that brings about change in the believers life; it also changes the Christians “walk.” When a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ it changes who they are. They leave behind sinful behaviors and embrace a new way of living. This behavior change or repentance is one of Paul’s big three areas of instruction.

Everyone has their own particular areas where they struggle; their own sins they struggle with. However, there are certain areas that pose a universal struggle. One such area is sex. Sometimes we fall into the trap of ranking sins; some are considered bigger or worse than others. Sex is on of these “baddies.” Ranking sins is a misguided and fruitless endeavor. What makes sex so big on such lists is the fact that it is an area that everyone deals with, and it is a big area of surrender.

Here Paul exhorts the thessalonian believers to abstain from sexual immorality. This is a good starting point in the discipleship of new believers. Our sex lives are a good barometer of our spiritual health. Mentally and physically, sexual purity is a discipline we should practice.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Top Films: Die undendlische Geschichte

There is a special quality to movies like The Never Ending Story. Those few really good fantasy movies released before the technology existed to make them convincingly. Or maybe it should be said that they used to be convincing, before movies like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Narnia movies came along. There is probably someone somewhere who is planning to remake this movie, but that is a dubious proposition.

Sure, the visuals could be improved, but where do you go for material? The movie could be remade as it now is told, but what would be the point. It is already a good story. Returning to the source material would not necessarily work, for it is so different from the movie that the author tried to sue the movie makers.

The secret to this movies special status is that it is a nearly perfect depiction of how the fantasy genre is so valuable. It also shows how real reading stories can be for the reader. There is an irony in using a movie to show kids how exciting reading can be, but that is where the imperfection of the effects in this film are an asset. The movie shows how exciting these stories can be for a reader (not just on a story level.) At the same time it shows how the imagination of the reader is without exception a better technology than anything a movie can provide.

For those fantasy fans that haven’t seen this yet, be warned. The effects are mid eighties. The acting leaves something to be desired as well. Try to watch it for what it is: an independent fantasy film from 1984.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Batman RIP

So, Batman is dead. It seems that the comic book publishers pull this card every few years to try and boost sails and get people reading again. It might work if they actually meant it. But everyone knows they don’t. Superman died… no wait he’s back. Batman had his back broken… no wait he’s better. Green Arrow… you get the idea.

This time the publishers themselves covered their backsides as they published the issue where Wayne buys it, and told the world that they didn’t really mean it. Bruce Wayne is not dead. Batman will continue in the form of one of the previous or current Robins, and we all know that Bruce Wayne will eventually be back in the bat suit. So no one really cares. (...if you had even heard about any of this to begin with.)

It is a bit of a shame really, because the medium of comics is a rich, American art form. Commercially it can be a bit unwieldy and there is too much junk being published for anyone to try and keep up with it all. The important stories—the origins of many of the characters, iconic figures and storylines, and certain series are a rich source of myth and meaning. Batman is a good example. Everyone knows the story of how Bruce Wayne became Batman, seeing his parents die and turning his life into a quest for justice. But there have been other good storylines in the 70 year history of Batman: Year One, Knightfall, and Hush just to name a few. Some of them have insights worth exploring.

For now suffice it just to say that it is a shame that so many seek to have a voice by taking the easy route of destruction rather than building onto a legacy. Here’s hoping they retcon this story fairly quickly.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas Music


It is finally that time of year again, although some started back on November 1st. Pull out the Christmas music. What albums do you own? The stuff you grew up with or some of the new stuff that comes out every year. It is a shame that most artists feel the freedom to pop into the studio at some point in their career and cash in on an easy album. (Some, like Amy Grant, have done this so often that they are now releasing Greatest Hits Christmas Albums!) Why bother cutting your own version of a song that has already been given the definitive treatment? Or at least why record a version that does not surpass anything done before?

The height of Christmas album history has to be the two decades between Bing Crosby’s first ever album, Merry Christmas (1945) and the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). The definitive album to end all Christmas albums was released near the end of this golden age, The Andy Williams Christmas Album (1963). (His first, not his second one.)

That is not to say that there have not been worthy albums since then. The past two decades have seen some great albums as well. Michael W. Smith’s Christmas (1989) (his first, not his second one) showcased his songwriting skills over his vocal talents. Steven Curtis Chapman’s (first, not second Christmas album, although his second is not bad) The Music of Christmas (1995) has some great interpretations of old classics and some truly new classics of its own. Point of Grace’s A Christmas Story (1999) (again, their first, not their second) has a classic sound with good new offerings. Mercy Me’s The Christmas Sessions (2005) manages to rock while sounding traditional.

On a guilty pleasure level, Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas (1996) is great, and Trans Siberian’s Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 is a single worth listening too. If you already own the greats and want more, Straight No Chaser is an a cappella group taking a page from Bing Crosby’s playbook and making their first ever album a Christmas one: Holiday Spirits (2008). For those just wanting a track off iTunes, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones have a great version of Linus and Lucy out this year.

Worst ever Christmas song? Paul McCartney: Wonderful Christmastime (1979) Yechk!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Multilingualism

Multilingualism, whether it be bi- tri- or more is an inadequate term for a complex state. For one thing, there are a lot of things that go with a language. There is of course the ability to speak and the whole range of fluency that comes in that skill, but there are other skills too. What about reading? Or hearing? And of course there is writing.

What if you can understand a language well, but can’t speak it? Don’t think that can happen? Talk to nearly any two year old. What if you can understand a passage of text pretty good, but couldn’t write a sentence to save your life? While were at it, how good does your grammar need to be for you to be fluent? Europeans often claim to speak several languages, but that does not mean they are fluent in any of them.

Learning and speaking multiple languages is an incredibly enriching experience. For one thing, every single language is more than another set of labels for things; it is a whole new way of thinking. Cognitively—you approach reality from a whole new perspective. In English, you are cold. In Spanish, you have cold. In German, it is cold to you.

So anyway, what do you call someone who:

can understand 100% of English, 98% of Spanish, and 90% of well spoken German;

can carry on Adult sounding conversations in English, close to intelligent sounding Spanish conversations, and can slaughter the grammar of an albeit intelligible German conversation;

reads English at 400+words a minute, struggles to stay awake reading Spanish, muddles through complicated German passages, but can make out some simple Latin and other romance language passages;

and finally, would simply die if computer spell check didn’t exist in any language?

Trilingual is not a precise enough word.

Monday, December 1, 2008

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:*11-13 (Love)

Paul continues his letter to the Thessalonian church by describing his desire to return to them, and Timothy’s subsequent trip and report. We see Paul’s deep love for the church in this passage, as well as more and more of the incredible love that this church itself possessed.

This makes Paul’s prayer concluding this section of the letter all the more incredible… he prays that the love of the church would increase. They already had this as a strength. Would we not rather pray today for some of our weaknesses to be improved? Paul doesn’t just pray for an increase; he asks that God cause their love to “abound,” to overflow. And not just love among the believers in the church, but for all people.

“…so that [God] may establish your hearts without blame in holiness.” The love Paul requests is what is needed in the lives of believers. The way this is worded here, it is not Sanctification. This is establishment. Our holiness is tied into our love. “Love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

The church has a few problems with this today. There is not a lot of Agape in the body. For all our talk and teaching about God’s love, we do not understand it. We apply it even less. Within the body…sometimes; unless there are failings, factions, theological differences, or political infighting. Outwardly and to the world… not so much. Some sinners are more appealing, acceptable or deserving perhaps. It’s the ones that are too different from us that we struggle with.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Story of the Wad

I’m not sure if the story below is recounted in exact accuracy, or if it really happened at Thanksgiving or just some other meal, but my kids got a huge kick out of its retelling this year:


One year in the late seventies/early eighties we had diner at our house in Windsor with friends from the church. That house we had on Rochester Drive was one where the front door entered onto stairs heading up, to the second floor where most of the house was, and down to the ground floor. We had brought some tables from the church and put the “kids table” downstairs so the adults could eat at the dining room table in peace.

I guess we must have had a large mid-day feast and then spent the afternoon visiting because the moment that was forever engraved on my mind came later that evening, when we were all eating some leftovers for supper. We were talking around the table when a couple of girls mentioned a guy they had seen walking down the street.

“Did you see that guy in the fancy hat and cape out front earlier?”

“Yeah, he was weird. Do you know what he looked like?”

“Don’t say it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Yeah, what?”

“A Vampire!”

Instantly we all screamed and made a mad dash up the stairs to the rest of the house.

For some reason, the last one out hit the lights.

We were halfway up the stairs when a blood-curdling scream came from within the darkness.

We had forgotten Jeff! He was small enough at the time that he had been pushed up to the table in a booster seat that was strapped to the chair. He couldn’t get up. He told me later that he had been chewing on a particularly large bite of Turkey when everyone bolted and he couldn’t yell for help with his mouth full. In his panic, he did some quick thinking… spat the wad out and screamed!

We found the wad of half-chewed turkey under the table the next morning.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Top Films: Brad Bird

For the use of animation as a tool to tell truly meaningful stories, with messages worth discussing, see Brad Bird. As a filmmaker, Bird has until now used animation to tell his stories, but he treats them as movies like any other. (This has at times caused problems when he asks for a shot that until then was never attempted or even possible in animation.) He hates the designation of animation as a genre and he is right…it is merely a medium that usually has had false limitations imposed on it. Here are the three films he has made so far:

The Iron Giant (1999)
A box office disappointment, this film is considered by some as one of the best animated films of all time. It is visually appealing and the story is great, delving into issues such as choices, responsibility, the concepts of right and wrong, and also paranoia and our tendency towards violence and war. Another important story-telling device is the sacrificial love shown by the giant similar to the concept J.K. Rowling used in the Potter books citing her Christian faith as inspiration.

The Incredibles (2004)
This is the film that almost got Brad Bird in hot water. He wrote a story that everyone thought would be impossible to deliver in animated form. Its story is also surprisingly grown up for the medium. Mr. Incredible struggles with be fulfilled in his work while at the same time doing what is best for his family. He is a man gifted to help others, but doing so will endanger his marriage and family. Maintaining two separate worlds seems the only way to make things work. Or is it?

Ratatouille (2007)
This film is a bit of an “ode to art.” Too often “Art” has become about who is popular or acclaimed; less about talent or message “Art” has become a bit of an elite realm. Instead it should be about joy and expression and above all about truth. The scene at the end of this movie involving the culinary critic Anton Ego is a great critique of current criticism.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What did you just call it?!?

Some people get upset with monikers like “Turkey Day.” But whatever the original intent of the day was, the feast has become the integral part. If Thanksgiving were simply a day to think about all the things we were thankful for, it would loose its shine pretty quickly. Family, feasting, football, and (for some) shopping have become the special elements that help us be thankful; meditation is not an American strength.

And Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Sure there is the 4th of July, but a lot of countries have a national holiday. Halloween doesn’t really count either. A lot of countries are trying to get Halloween going and it has deeper roots than America can claim. (Do we really want to claim that holiday anyway, as fun as it can be?) Like every other holiday that started out religious, America has done its best to add traditions and elements that are secular in nature.

But is that really a terrible thing? For people who want to celebrate the religious roots of holidays, they are all still there. If anything, the other traditions just add to the richness of the experience. Who can imagine Christmas without Christmas trees and stockings? Who would really want set aside a day each year to just be thankful without a turkey dinner?

If things like “Turkey Day” make you upset, it would not due to admit that there are those of us that start playing Christmas music around the first of November, decorate as soon as is (almost) socially acceptable and really just consider Thanksgiving a part of the larger season known as “The Holidays.”

In any case, let’s just concentrate on all we are thankful for today (and every day for that matter) and not get huffy over what some people choose to call it. Tempers will likely flare enough when the Cowboys play anyway.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Temuco

The air always smelled of spring.
Kiosks inhabited most corners, hawking sodas, papers, candy, and trading albums.
The streets were dirty.

The hill was magically remote,
Climbing cliffs, collecting copihues, careening down the twisting road.
Danger lurked there, but we never found it.

Walking home,
The buses and puddles were the only hazard, after the riots were gone.
How even that war zone had been safe.

At night, we searched for the phantom lanterns.
They stayed just out of reach.
So we lit the place up ourselves, warring with roman candles,
Or better: elaborate hide and seek, with no lights at all.

Torre Caupulican was a building, the tallest in town.
Ironically named, as it towered pointing to the sky,
Off the avenue of the same name running through town.
Ironic in that the Indian who’s namesake it was,
Won chieftain status totting a tower of a trunk for three days,
Then ended his days as the Spanish sat him on a similar stake, pointing to the sky.

How this time capsule changed.
What had been a place of safe past,
Caught up with the world before I left.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kung Fu Bla Bla

Animated movies usually have some sort of message. Characters that grow and learn things make for more of a compelling story. Sometimes, though, the “message” presented to kids is pure hogwash. Take as an example this year’s “Kung Fu Panda.” It is a funny and visually entertaining comedy staring the voice of Jack Black as a Panda who is a huge fan of Kung Fu. As fate would have it (or chance, or accidental circumstances, or an old man’s senility, or whatever) he is chosen to be the hero of the land in spite of the fact that he knows no Kung Fu whatsoever. In the end it turns out he is indeed the hero because the movie reveals that the hero has a secret ingredient. We find this out in a scene between Po and his father as they discuss his famous soup:

The secret ingredient is... nothing!
Huh?
You heard me. Nothing! There is no secret ingredient.
Wait, wait... it's just plain old noodle soup? You don't add some kind of special sauce or something?
Don't have to. To make something special you just have to believe it's special.
There is no secret ingredient...

So, the message of “Kung Fu Panda” is simply that belief makes things special. There is no real “specialness,” just the sincere belief that something is special makes it so. Actually, this is a perfect example of postmodern spirituality. Faith is all that matters, not what your faith is placed in, just that you have a sincere faith. In fact, faith in nothing is perfect. That way you don’t get too dogmatic about anything.

Go ahead and enjoy the movie (it is entertaining), but you might point out to the kids in your life that it helps to believe in something that is real.

Monday, November 24, 2008

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16 (Missionary Motivation and Methods)

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 2, Paul and co. describe their time in Thessalonica again, this time from their perspective. They remind the church that their motives and methods were sincere. This is a good, practical passage for missionaries and pioneers today.

When Paul says his “coming to you was not in vain,” he could be saying that the results were good, or that his motivations were not wrong. In the next statement, referring to their suffering in Philippi, Paul makes clear that he intends the second meaning. Missionary motivations must be the right ones; otherwise their efforts will be in vain. What do correct motivations and methods look like?

They are not “in error.” The motivations do not arise from a mistaken sense of calling or an outright false desire to go. Missions is a romantic ideal for some people. They are not “impure.” Missionaries should not operate out of a desire for personal gain. (Duh) If you did, you should question not only your calling, but your intelligence!

Methods are not “by way of deceit.” If you are there for the right reasons, just tell the story you have been given. Do not engage in “got-cha” techniques or trickery witnessing. Sometimes we forget we are witnesses and think we are to be elaborate persuaders.

Paul describes the apostolic or missionary relationship with three familiar pictures. Missionaries should be “infants.” They are not meant to dazzle or impress with huge displays of intellect or strength of presence. They are to be “mothers” who care for and educate people out of a true sense of love. Finally, they are to be “fatherly,” firmly exhorting, encouraging and imploring people who accept the message to walk (live) in a worthy way.

The expected results of such efforts? Acceptance in spite of the resulting difficulties.

Friday, November 21, 2008

¡Qué Horror!

The following three films are not in the pantheon of “greats,” but are pretty good if you like horror, want to practice your Spanish, or want to see more from the man who will bring you “The Hobbit” in a couple of years.

Cronos (1993)
Okay, this one is only for you if you are a completist and are into: vampire films, Guillermo del Toro, or like Ron Pearlman. All three good reasons to check a film out, but no promise of a worthwhile investment of time.

El espinazo del Diablo (2001)
What is it about a ghost story that is so creepy? They usually fit the bill of perfect horror. No one really fears bodily harm from a ghost, but they still scare in a way a killer with a knife never could. Terror, meet Horror. In Espinazo, del Toro gives us the ghost of a kid that is as creepy as they come. Wait, maybe this one is one of the greats… almost anyway. Del Toro began exploring themes here that he more fully developed in El Laberinto del Fauno, so you have the evil of war, war seen through children’s eyes, and magic realism all over the place.

El Orfanato (2007)
Here del Toro doesn’t direct, but merely produces. Basically, you have a completely traditional ghost story, once again with kid ghosts. *shivers as he types* Plotline? Basically a former orphan moves into the abandoned orphanage where she grew up with her son whom she doesn’t really supervise nearly enough. His collection of “imaginary friend” suddenly grows and then he disappears. If you liked “The Others” (2001) you will like this one. Warning: Like the Others, the ending is a depressing let down. No wait, more than the others, the ending is a that’s-a-tragedy-so-great-I-don’t-think-I-can-go-on kind of ending. A true ghost story tragedy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Generational Musings

Depending on how you classify such things, Obama is the first Generation X president. If you are a member of that generation, this fact excites you, makes you feel old, or scares you. Regardless and unfortunately it does not matter much… the way these generational history-is-a-cycle-that-repeats-itself things work means that Gen X will always be a secondary player. It is the Boomers that are the driving force of where we are headed, and the Millenials that will step in to pick up the pieces.

At least that is the way things work if Strauss and Howe are right in reading patterns. They have studied history from a generational perspective and claim to have discovered a pattern that holds true for the past 500 years. It seems that history is driven by crisis after crisis fed and maintained by generational dynamics.

Think back to the last crisis the world faced—the Great Depression/ WWII. Baby Boomers were born after this crisis and with no recollection of it. As a result, they rebelled against the establishment born out of this crisis and have conducted the world on their watch in such a way that they have driven us to the doorstep of the next great crisis. Like clock-work, every 80 years or so something like this has happened—in our English/American history anyway.

Whether they are right or not, they have hit the description of us Gen Xers right on the head: The thirteenth generation of American history; they are pragmatic, perceptive, savvy, amoral, and more interested in money than in art. They are negatively perceived by older (and maybe younger) generations. As Strauss and Howe point out, just look at the movies that came out as Gen X was being born: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ramblings On MKs, Youth Groups, and SCC

For a TCK/MK growing up not only outside of the Bible-Belt but out of the Evangelical sub-culture altogether, spiritual maturity and growth can be a little difficult. It is work. But that is probably a good thing considering what passes for spiritual maturity and growth in most Youth Groups in the states. That is not a knock on all the Youth Ministers, just that sad reality of what churches and parents expect from Youth Ministry in the states. (“Keep my kids out of trouble, and that includes radical-sold-out-for-God-mentality kind of trouble long enough so they can achieve the American Dream.”) Anyway, Christian Discipline should be something to work at, so a lot of MKs turn out very good. (The others often become complete heathens.)

One thing that can help MKs is a good selection of music. Yes, it is ironic, considering what has been written about “Christian Music” here before. There are some good, theologically sound, thought provoking selections out there though. One particularly life changing/spiritually enlightening album came out in 1990: Steven Curtis Chapman’s “For the Sake of the Call.”

This is a great album. It has a lot to say about Christian life, service and sacrifice. Particularly good is the second cut: “What Kind of Joy Is This”… a great message that you don’t hear too often in mainstream American Christianity. The life of a Christian is not all blessing and good times, but rather often involves suffering and difficulty. The title track is a great track to inspire some of that radical-sold-out-for-God-mentality that the parents don’t like. All that, and Steven is sporting the most hilarious mullet on the cover!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sand Poem

Difficult medium
Molded into beauty
Continually fashioned
Yet washed away.

The patient artist maintains the creation.
The artwork rejoices
Yet bucks the

Design.

Monday, November 17, 2008

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 (Mission's Natural Outcome)

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father…” –1 Thessalonians 1:2,3

When you read 1 Thessalonians chapter one in the context of when and to whom it was written, you can’t help but be amazed, especially reading it from the context of contemporary missions. Who today would think of planting a church in a city where you were only going to be for a couple of months? Even more amazing, who would believe that such a church plant would, in a matter of months, have spread the Gospel through the entire region? In reality, it should not seem unusual at all.

First, this is the power of the Gospel. It is made effective through the very Power of God, not through some methodology. In fact, Paul’s methods would not be effective today. However, the principles that he used in his time are important to missions today, and of course the message that he brought is the same that should be shared today. When that message is shared in such a way that people understand and accept it and see the results of faith, love, and hope in their lives nothing can stand against it.

Two other evidences of an effective transmission of the Gospel are: things happen that only God can make happen, and those that receive it experience persecution accompanied by inexplicable joy. Time and time again history shows that true believers living lives devoted to God experience hardships. If a church is not facing hard times, the thing they should be asking themselves is: “What are we doing wrong?”

Finally, when the Gospel is truly made known and accepted, church happens. Church is not something that requires a degree to initiate. Simple study of scripture and a group of believers should suffice. For followers of Christ, church is a natural state of being. If our mission’s efforts fail to create anything other than church, then something is missing.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Follow-Up To an Earlier Post

It’s just fun to see some observations proven correct. Earlier this year NonModern asserted that the new Star Trek perhaps faced too much genre competition in 2008, and then it was pushed back to 2009. Maybe not for the reasons stated here, but still…a good move.

The other prediction that J.J. Abrams would certainly release a much better trailer that really would cause a wider group of people than just Trekkies to get excited has also come true.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Top Films: El Laberinto del Fauno

Esta pelicula podria ser la major pelicula de 2006. No puedo estar completamente seguro porque todavia no he visto “Das Leben der Andere.” En todo caso, 2006 era el año de la pelicula extranjera. “El Laberinto del Fauno” es algo completamente neuvo en la manera que combina muchas diferentes cosas...

Sorry. Making the switch back to English now.

El Laberinto is really a great movie. It unlike any other movie by the very fact that it is so much like so many diverse movies. It is a fairy-tale. No, it is a horror story. Maybe more of a ultra-violent war movie making a statement to the inhumanity of Fascism.

Del Torro has taken elements from all these sources and combined them with his own unique visual style and other pet ideas that one sees in a lot of his works and created what he calls a parable. A parable about the evil of this world as seen through the eyes of a child. In desperation she turns to her fairy-tales and books and one day, in a magical-realist sort of way, they come to life... or is it all her imagination?

Along the way we learn about courage and self-sacrifice. We see the evils of war, and torture and hear some great truths like: “Captain, to obey—just like that—for obedience’s sake... without questioning... that’s something only people like you [fascists, despots] do.”

Del Torro has said that he did not set out to create a Catholic movie, but he perhaps couldn’t help himself. There are definite elements of Christian ideas here. It is at least a good secular effort at presenting elements of Christian ideals.

Lest you be misled, this is not a kids movie. I don’t know if the translation keeps all the language or not, but the violence and gore is shocking enough to merit the R rating.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Animal Rights Going Ape

A few months ago, Spain’s government created a bill giving basic rights to certain of the higher apes: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and the bonobo. The interesting aspect of this law is not that such rights were granted, (laws prohibiting the unnecessary killing, imprisonment, and torture of apes sounds reasonable) but the debate that it sparked.

Medical researchers raised concerns about setting medicine back if apes were no longer available for testing. More entertaining were the “Slippery slope” alarms that instantly went off. “Where will this craziness stop? Will we be giving all animals “human” rights? What about cabbages?” Religious leaders were outraged, claiming that God had given humanity a higher place in creation than animals.

Christianity does teach of a special place within creation for humanity; not one of lords but rather stewards. Christians should have a respect for all life demanded by God. This may not extend to the ridiculous extremes that PETA would seek for animal treatment, but certainly would demand that no animal be unnecessarily killed, imprisoned, or tortured.

The funny thing was listening to atheists and evolutionists argue for this law. They have no leg to stand on. According to Richard Dawkins, there is no scientific ground for claiming any right or wrong; and the principles of Darwinism demand that stronger species have no concern for weaker ones. If this world is truly material only, and caused by chance, no one can demand any rights for any living thing (humanity included) based on anything other than emotionalism. With the absence of divine law, things become a little absurd.

Case in point: Switzerland has recently taken a stand on the dignity of plants. No more flicking “heads” off wildflowers and no one can claim ownership of any plants. Three cheers for cabbage!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

NonHerd

There is a relatively new feature on Blogger (to me anyway) that is quite helpful. You can find it in the right column of NonModern, with the title “NonHerd.” It is a convenient way for those of you who follow a number of blogs online to keep track of what has been newly posted. If you have several blogs that you like to read it can be a pain to go to each one every day and check to see if anything new has been written. Following a blog puts it on your Blogger login page and lets you see at a glance the newest entries of all the blogs you follow.

You have the option of following a blog anonymously or publicly. If you choose to follow publicly it is a good way of expanding the reach of your own blog, because people see you there on the page of the blogs they read and might correctly (or not) assume that your blog will interest them as you both have chosen to read the same blog. This is a good reason to follow blogs like NonModern as well, even though you know pretty much when they are being updated.

Go ahead and follow! It is not a sign of agreement or an indication that you see this spot as a “leader.” Thus the term “NonHerd” since “Follow” sounds like a bunch of cattle going around in a pack. Nobody wants that.

Mainly it just makes me feel better to know that people read this thing! (Which explains my frequent trips to Google Analytics that tells me: some 898 visitors in 46 countries and 42 states have been here over 1500 times since April!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The TCK Subspecies: missionarykiddeous

In the IMB culture there has been a push to change the lexicon in the past couple of decades: FMB became IMB for example. Most of the changes have had good reasons, and have done a lot to help change perceptions and approaches in a positive way. One that lost us something though was changing the term “Missionary Kid” to “Third Culture Kid.” There are good reasons to do it, but perhaps we should just keep both and use them almost interchangeably. You see, all MKs are TCKs, but not all TCKs are MKs.

TCKs are people who spend a portion of their childhood living in a culture other than the culture of their parents. As a result they develop positive and negative traits that they share with all other TCKs in the world regardless of host/parent cultures. A lot of people whose parents were not missionaries are still TCKs. President Obama, for example. Calling MKs “TCKs” helps them realize they are not the only kids in their situation and helps missionaries tap into resources that help them better meet their needs.

However, MKs are a unique sub-group within the TCK world. They are more likely to spend a significant portion of their childhood immersed in only one other culture and not move around to several cultures. They develop stronger ties to their host culture than most TCKs and have the least amount of interaction with their passport culture. They are also more likely to have learned a second (or third) language fluently.

And then there is the important “why” an MK is in another culture to begin with. Many missionaries are not at liberty to openly discuss that, and so “TCK” is helpful. But within the IMB culture MK is maybe a better term a lot of the time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thessalonians Intro

The Thessalonian letters could really do with some context. For most readers Thessalonica is just a short stop on Paul’s second journey and a couple of the real short letters somewhere in the middle of the New Testament famous only for having that favorite verse of so many children trying to memorize some scripture… 5:17.

After a careful trek through the book of Acts (and a little background study), Thessalonica takes on a more impressive role in the history of Christianity. It came as a part of that famous early stretch of Paul’s second trip where the team is called into Macedonia in a vision. They hit three cities in very brief succession and get out of the region almost as quick as they got in. Actually, they are kicked out after barely starting a couple churches. Paul is very concerned for the health of these “baby” churches that are unable to benefit from his teaching.

Not only that, but Thessalonica is a big deal on its own. Even today it is the second largest metropolis in all of Greece, but in Paul’s day it was already a century’s old, huge, regional leading metro area. The Macedonian Empire really ranked up there with Greece and Rome in history. By the First Century they had waned, but had remained influential. This is where Paul chose to work. We tend to imagine all the old cities as villages. They weren’t. Thessalonica in today’s world would be like a Chicago, not the largest or most powerful city in the empire but on the short-list.

As one reads the Thessalonian epistles, there is not a lot of obvious theology. Likely the first of Paul’s many letters in the New Testament, it is a good look into the mind of the missionary as he works with one of his many church plants. But it does have a lot to teach as well…

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pop-Culture Needs More Banjo

“Park the old car
That I love the best
(The) inspections due and it won’t pass the test
It’s funny how I have to put it to rest
And how one day…I will join it” -Tear Down the House

Ever get tired of the way the music industry creates a new star every couple of years? Sometimes the way the public swallows each and every polished image it makes you wonder why these people need any talent at all. Oh wait, they don’t really, do they? With stylists and sound techs and hit writers and a radio industry all creating the next trend for people to love (and a whole other team already working on the next one for when the people tire of this one) everything is too perfect, too mechanical.

But there is still real music out there—people who can pick up an instrument, and write heartfelt lyrics to a sing able tune. They may not be prefect. They may be rough around the edges. But man! They are fun to listen to, and they have things to say. Oh, and this band features a banjo. Gotta love some banjo.

The Avett Brothers have been around for a few years, but they are not a part of the industry machine so you may not have heard of them. They just released a new EP called The Second Gleam. Tear Down the House is a beautiful song about the past and not living in it. Murder in the City is about being remembered and enjoying the love shared in family. Do yourself a favor and Youtube these guys. They are worth a listen.

After those two songs, check out the beatlesque Will You Return or Paranoia in Bb Major. Then maybe go to iTunes and buy up two or three albums. They are the kind that appear as though they will merit several contemplative hearings.

“Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name.” -Murder in the City

Thursday, November 6, 2008

To Nicholas and Other Boys With Questions (Part 2)

Even though we have minds too small to grasp these things, we understand intuitively that they are true. Every culture since the beginning of human history (and before) has known that there was something greater than us and a maker of everything. The Bible tells us that since God made everything, He also made it in such a way that it tells about him. Much in the way a painting tells us something about the person that painted it. God has left clues about Himself in His creation. More about that later.

We also know through observation that the whole universe is full of cause and effect. If a ball is seen flying through the air, someone must have thrown it. We are alive because we were born to some parents, and they in turn were also born. Naturally if we go back far enough we would get to the very first cause of the universe, the thing that started it all.

Science is useful for a lot of things, but understanding these questions is not a capacity of science. The very basis of scientific inquiry is the scientific method. The first three basic steps in this method are:
We observe a phenomenon.
We hypothesize a cause for this phenomenon.
We test our hypothesis through experimentation.

This is a great way for knowing more about the universe, but it is limited when it comes to knowing things outside of our dimensional reality or knowing about things that happened before the universe began. Scientists are even today learning more and more about what happened in the very first millionths of a second after the Big Bang occurred, but they can not see what happened before that, because there was no space or time before it. As far as we can tell, it all came out of nothing. Just like the Bible says.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

To Nicholas and Other Boys With Questions (Part 1)

I have a friend who is asking me some questions that would be hard to answer at any age, only he is in elementary school. Here is my lousy attempt to explore answers without dumbing things down. (Borrowing from Lewis and Bonhoeffer in the process.)

Let me start by using a couple of examples to help me explain some of the problems we have thinking about God and the beginning of things.

I don’t know if your sister has ever had any paper dolls. You know the kind that are just drawn on paper and cut out. You can put paper clothes on them and stuff. Anyway, imagine that everybody was a paper doll, and we all just lived on a giant, flat sheet of paper. The whole world was just two dimensions. We had height and width but no depth. If no one had ever seen a third dimension, how would you explain three dimensions to anyone? How would anyone know what you were talking about? Someone would have to come from a three dimensional world to ours to even begin to explain it to us.

Now imagine that there was just one living person in the world. They never ever saw anyone or anything else being born or dying. How would they be able to understand the ideas of beginning or ending?

Those are the first problems we have as creatures understanding anything outside of or before or after creation. If there is a God, then He is so far above and beyond our understanding that the only way we could know what He is like would be for Him to tell us and even then it would be impossible for us to really grasp. But if He made everything that exists, then He must by definition be outside and beyond everything He has made.

At the same time, it is impossible for us to really understand the beginning of everything, because we are in the middle.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Abolition of Man

The top of any list of the best non-fiction books should be reserved for The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. It should be compulsory reading for everyone. No one should be allowed to attend college without having read and understood the concepts presented in this little book. And it is short. You could read it about an hour. Maybe two if you’re used to being spoon-fed your abstract thought.

What? You haven’t read it? Here. Now you have no excuse.

This book shows the genius of Lewis. He was one of the best thinkers of the Twentieth Century. In Abolition, he is quite simply a prophet. He saw the way popular culture was embracing post-modern philosophy and accurately described what would happen to our society as a result. He fictionalized the concepts of this book into That Hideous Strength, which is also worth a read.

C. S. Lewis was a Christian thinker, but this book does not use theological reasoning to defend its position. It is not a “Christian” book. So it is not a case of a religious person complaining about where society is headed, but rather an accurate portrayal of the danger society faces when it abandons the recognition of natural values; when objective truth is no longer acknowledged to exist.

This book is especially relevant today, when people seem to be dominated by slick salesmen who lead our culture around by the nose telling them what to do and what to believe. Whether it is politicians or preachers, newscasters or entertainers; we have become a society of “men without chests.” Secular society is not the only area affected; the Evangelical Ghetto has just as much a “blind leading the blind” problem. Maybe more so.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thoughts on the American Election

Yes. I am guilty. Call me un-American. I didn’t vote. You may say this gives me no right to complain. That is un-American. This election has been the biggest frustration in a long series of frustrations.

In the end it has become what looks like a lose-lose situation for America.

Obama: At this point it is looking all but certain that Obama will be the next president of the United States. This is hard to confirm, because studies have shown very clearly that the media is backing Obama and serving as an extension of his campaign. He is a confirmed and unapologetic Socialist. Most Americans are not, so how is he ahead? It has been shown time and again that people are not interested in what Obama believes or what his policies are; they have made him a symbol of whatever they want him to be. We are in for some serious “morning after” regret come Wednesday.

That is unless McCain pulls of a huge upset. That itself could be a worse outcome!

If the country survives the next four years, whichever party is in charge will likely be the most hated party in the history of the country. We appear to be in for some hard times and neither candidate is prepared, equipped, or capable of dealing with. 2012 will likely be another case of vote out the people in power regardless of who it is. So maybe that last thing conservatives should want is for the very moderate, do whatever it takes to make the Democrats happy, John McCain in office. At the very least it sounds like we could be in for a near civil war-martial law situation come Wednesday morning if Obama doesn’t win.

Wait! You’re forgetting about Sarah Palin!

No, I am not. Who is she? How is she any better than McCain or even Obama? Just because the media is trying their best to vilify the woman does not mean that she is the perfect candidate. Maybe by 2012 we will know who she is and what she believes and if she is ready to lead the free world. Maybe by then she will be a shoe-in to take the reins away from BHO. Looks like we may find out soon.

One last thought. What are real Germans over here saying? They love Obama. Why? He speaks REALLY well. Then they back up a bit, get a scared look in their eyes, and point out: “Of course we have been known to back well spoken orators before!”

Acts: Summary/ Thesis (1:8)

“…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” –Acts 1:8

Forty four entries and ten months later, the book of Acts has been read and reflected on. It hasn’t yielded all it has to offer, just what one brief 300 word glance per week will allow; and yet enough has been revealed to demonstrate the importance of this book to Christians, churches, and the missionary effort in the world. The foundational ideas upon which the church should be based are found in its early history as reported in the book of Acts. Important principles are here to be found.

Early on we skipped Acts 1:8. It was not an oversight. It has been left until now. The verse contains a summary and a thesis for the rest of the book. Acts is the story of the advance of the Gospel from Judea to Samaria and on out into the rest of the world. This would be a good guideline for churches everywhere. How is your ministry impacting your direct surroundings? How are you having an affect on your region? Finally, what are you as a church doing to impact the world? God has a global vision—so should His church.

The other key aspect of this verse that carries over into the whole book and applies to churches today is the part where it reveals the power for ministry. The power comes not from what we can accomplish but from God, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is referred to more than 40 times in the book of Acts. He is influential in every case where the Gospel enters a new context or community. That is no coincidence. Churches need to remember the help they have in accomplishing their commission, and that they could accomplish nothing without it.

Where do we go from here? Reading the epistles in the context of the history told in Acts seems like the natural thing to do…

Friday, October 31, 2008

"It" is a Guilty Pleasure



For someone who is creeped out by clowns, It started out as a morbid fascination. Now It is just a guilty pleasure. The made-for-TV horror miniseries is about nine-tenths great fun. The last tenth is utter crap.
 
A guilty pleasure, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is something that you really like… but would never admit to liking. It is too embarrassing.
 
The thing is, It should have been so much better—or It could have been a lot worse. The book, on which It is based, for instance, is both. Steven King is a gifted writer. He is a true horror scribe. He may resort to life threatening terror or gross-out mental images at times, but the reason a King book sticks with the reader is the horror. He knows how to explore the deeper implications of his “scary stories.”
 
In It he spends over 1500 pages exposing the darker side of the masses, the way hatred and fear can control society. He also takes It a whole lot further than anyone would want to go down that path. In the end true love in community overcomes the evil, but the way he interprets love is possibly creepier than the evil he created. No need to go there, trust me.
 
So the movie could have gone a little deeper into the story, but It is made for TV after all. If you just watch the film version of the story, you are led to believe that the evil is a tangible, cheesy… well no need to ruin it even though this is not a recommendation.
 
In the original story, It is extra-dimensional—a spiritual being—a god with a little g. If the clown of the film could have ended up being the demonic force It was supposed to be, maybe It wouldn’t be a guilty pleasure. 


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Trio

Orange packed sunrise air,
Over the mirror of an ice cold straight,
Broken concentric by a jet black fin,
Veiled in a mist of breath.

Virgin white sugar bowl land,
Spotted with needle-laden souls,
Quietly sleeping deceptively silent,
Hiding life under the cold.

Hot, red Caliche Sea,
Isles of Juniper, Yucca, and Mesquite,
Sun baking down radiating back,
Stirring colors of blood and green.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Puss

There are certain advantages to living in a place where they don’t use antibiotics at the drop of a cough. You don’t have as many super, drug-resistant bugs for one thing. Jonah got something on his arm the first year we were here that looked a lot like what took major surgery for me to get rid of in 2005. Here in Germany they gave us an ointment and told us to squeeze the puss out every day… in three days it was gone.
On the other hand, you do occasionally get a gross rash, skin condition, or in Caedon’s case this week- an irritated, strawberry-like tongue for a couple days. This time, however, it turned out to provide me with a chance to have my parenthood questioned and then sweetly vindicated. You see, parenting is one area where this American can feel good about himself next to German culture. We value and obtain (for the most part) respect and obedience, while Germans seek self-sufficiency and self-determination… and then wonder where all their kids go wrong.
In this case I took Caedon into preschool and informed the teacher that he might complain a little at lunch since his tongue was bothering him. Then I took Logan upstairs to his class. Coming back down, I was stopped by Caedon’s teacher.
“Have you taken him to the doctor?” She asked with a look of great concern and slight disgust. “Because I am scared that it might be contagious. Could you take him please?”
My parenting pride a little offended, I protested. “I didn’t think it looked that bad.”
She asked me… and the principle… to come have another look. This time we all agreed that there was nothing there.
“Oh, it is gone now,” she said, “there was a huge, white, puss-looking thing there earlier.”
I smiled to myself as I walked out to the car. I didn’t mention that he had just eaten a piece of sweet-bread on the way to school.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Acts: In Rome (28:17-22)

Acts has one of those frustrating: we’re-going-to-leave-you-hanging endings. What happens to Paul after he gets to Rome? Is he ever tried? Is he ever released? Does he ever make it to Spain? We don’t really know.

Sure a lot of people try to hypothesize that he went on to have a huge impact on Roman culture. He was under house arrest, and those guards of his were surely important highly placed people in Roman society. He must have converted enough of those guys that Christianity spread through the upper reaches of Roman society and eventually, a couple centuries later, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire! All thanks to Paul!
Why do we do this? The story is left untold. God didn’t feel that part was vital for us to know. Is it not enough to know that Paul had the role in God’s plan that we are told about? (For that matter, Christianity becoming the official religion may not be something anyone would want to claim. Who says it was a good thing?)

Truth is we do the same thing with our own role in God’s plan: “You may never know, until you get to heaven, just how great your impact was on the Kingdom of God. You may have indirectly or unknowingly helped thousands of people into heaven!” So what? What if your part in God’s great plan for the ages was for you to be faithful and have an impact on twenty people? What if you were to impact just ten, or five? Is that not enough?

The honor is to be a part of the plan, not in how big our role is. Because ultimately it is God that gets the results. We are simply allowed to be tools in His hands.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Paranoid?

Recently for the first time the world’s population became slightly more urban than rural. By some projections it will be 65% urban by 2030. One result of this is that people, ironically, are more isolated. Community in urban settings is never as strong as outside large cities. Isolation breeds paranoia.
Fear comes in many flavors. Terror is a physical fear for one’s life. Horror is being intellectually “creeped out” by certain implications. Paranoia is a toothless fear that is nonetheless dangerous because it alters behavior. Roman Polanski in his films Rosmary’s Baby and The Tennant did a really good job of exploring paranoia.
Paranoia is based on misinformation or sometimes little truths blown way out of proportion. BBC radio recently pointed out the way the media has so hyped up the fear of sexual predators in England that kids are no longer allowed out as much. This has resulted in a wave of childhood obesity that, statistically, endangers far more children in a far greater way than the actual chance that they would ever be harmed by the predators in the first place. The same paranoia has caused some parents in Britain to be verbally assaulted at playgrounds for taking pictures of their own children.
Parenting is just one of (and one of the greatest) areas that has been impacted by paranoia. Ecological junk science has people completely altering their lives in an effort to save the planet that really does not change anything at all or at times makes things worse.
If you are going to live with fear in your life, make sure it is something worth being concerned about. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” –Matthew 10:28

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back to the Petri Dish

It has been said that the culture of Europe is post-Christian. Another way of expressing this could be to say that it has been immunized against Christianity.
The way a vaccination works is sterile or dead pathogens are introduced to the body. They cause a mild form of the illness, but the body reacts by developing defenses against the invasion and since the pathogen cannot increase it is not a threat.
This is exactly what has happened to the Gospel in Europe. It has been sterilized. Somewhere along the way an attack at the foundations of the faith began, from within the “ranks” no less, as European Biblical scholars and experts destroyed the Scriptural foundation of the Gospel by raising doubts about the texts.
It wasn’t long afterwards that the secular philosophies of the 19th and 20th centuries created movements and political situations that were completely against Scriptural teaching, but the “churches” of the day sided with power and tarnished their integrity, further weakening the foundation of the Gospel.
In much of Europe that last half of the 20th century was dominated by outright hostility to Christianity with imposed Atheism and Materialism being taught to all the population. But throughout it all a secular institution known as religion was allowed enough of an existence to convince people that this was the face of Christianity… old empty buildings and traditions.
Today, even where the real church exists, it is a sterile shell of what it should be. It does not reproduce. It does not spread. It is content to live and let die, and thus the culture is in effect immunized against the Gospel.
We need a fresh sample please.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

When Paganism Would Be Preferable

C.S. Lewis was one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest thinkers in the prophetic way he (as a modern mind) was able to foresee the way society would go in Postmodernism. He also was an Atheist turned Agnostic turned Deist turned Christian who had incredible insight into the way western culture would look as it entered this post-Christian age.
One thing he asserted, that has generated considerable controversy, was that atheists would have an easier time becoming Christians if they first became pagans. (And by this he probably meant Pagan in the general, pre-Christian, spiritualist sense and not the narrower, worship-the-earth, Wicca style Pagans we think of today.)
Whether you want to condemn Lewis as a closet pagan, or defend him as having insight gained from his own spiritual journey, he had a point when it comes to reaching the post-Christian culture. You cannot reach Atheists with a simple, traditional, Bible-belt, canned presentation of the Bible. It starts out from a position of certain preconceptions that atheist thinking simply does not share. Groundwork must be laid; the soil must be tilled a bit. You cannot start with: “God loves you and has a plan for your life.” You have to start with: “There is more to reality than the material world.”
In this regard it is true, that people need to become open to the spiritual world before they can be convinced that the Biblical version of that world is the true one. In that regard, the fact that German youth are becoming more and more interested in the occult is a cause for hope, not just concern. After all, 80% of people in the former East Germany claim to believe in nothing at all. In post-Christian Europe, any sign of a step towards seeing the spiritual side of reality needs to be taken advantage of.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Parenthood

The one thing in life,
That lives up to the hype,
Unlike birthdays, graduation,
Adulthood and even
The passage from couple
To spouse,
The moment of birth,
The first glimpse of those eyes.
Life will never be the same,
Feelings never as tame.
From this day forth,
I have a child.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Acts: Journey to Rome (27:1-28:31)

This may just be a personal perspective, but of all the outstanding things that happen to Paul and co. on the way to Rome, the viper stands out the most. It may not be the most amazing thing to happen, (between angels and shipwrecks and healings) but it is the most remembered. It is even less remarkable when one considers that it is the least supernatural of all the things that happened on the journey. Poisonous snakes are quite capable of biting without delivering venom and frequently do, so Paul’s survival hardly required divine intervention. Also, Malta has four species of snakes, none of which are venomous. So while the natives of the day likely feared the snake, it was a groundless fear.

The inhabitants of Malta had two reactions to Paul’s encounter with the viper, both of which illustrate beliefs widely held today, even among Christians.

First, they assumed that Paul was guilty, and being judged by the goddess Justice. This belief persists today, even among Evangelicals. The idea is basically that if you live right nothing bad will happen to you. Ever catch yourself hearing about someone’s misfortune and wondering what they did to cause it? Not all bad things are preventable. The idea is to trust God in the bad times, not fool yourself into thinking that life is some sort of game, and if played right will always turn out well.

After Paul didn’t die, the people began to regard him as a God. This is similar to the trend today to see everything as a supernatural event. God certainly does intervene in the world at times, and there are supernatural forces at work in the world. That does not mean that every single little event in life was caused to occur supernaturally. Not every bad thing is caused by Satan or demons. People can be plenty evil on their own. By the same token, God uses a lot of natural events and ordinary people’s choices to accomplish His plans. He is in control, but that does not mean He has to overtly intervene to get His way.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Spiritual Wimps

Do yourself a favor and go to www.theworkofthepeople.com and do a search for “Derek Webb” or “A New Law.” They have a video they made for Derek’s song by that title. It is for sale for $15, but you can view it on their site for free.
No really, take the five minutes and watch it, them come back.
That is the genius of Derek Webb. He makes you think. Half the time, you listen to his songs and think: “Yes! That is exactly right!” The other half of the time you feel really, really uncomfortable.
“A New Law” does a great job of illustrating the problem in the Evangelical Ghetto where we refuse to be “faith seeking understanding.” We want and demand that others simply tell us how to believe, how to behave, and what is the bare minimum we can do to earn God’s approval. The problem is we can’t earn it; we have been given it. That approval should spur us to want to change our lives and seek a deeper walk with God.
Instead we have too often reduced the Christian life to actions and inactions. Go to church; don’t go to R rated movies. Read the latest Christian self-help book; don’t read Harry Potter. Vote Republican; don’t be friends with people who think differently from you. Teach your kids at home; shield them from anything that could challenge their faith.
As spiritual warriors go, we are probably looking like a pretty anemic bunch.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Television: Angel

When Joss Whedon spun the character Angel off into his own series set in L.A., vampires took a back seat to monsters and demons who seemed to be everywhere in spite of the fact that people were largely unaware of them. However, the real monsters and evil in the new series was… humanity. The show does a great job of exploring the fallen nature of people. In a second season story arc, Angel is obsessed with doing battle against an evil law firm. After much effort he is able to defeat a demonic “senior partner” of the firm use its ring to gain access to hell in an effort to defeat the evil powers that reside there. He boards an elevator for the “one way” trip to hell, but when he arrives he realizes he is right back where he started. Evil, he learns, has its source and dwells in humanity.
Ironically, this epiphany serves to spur Angel on in the fight against evil.
“If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.”
What?
The response to the statement by the other character in the scene is:
“I believe… I don’t know what I believe, but I… have… faith. I think maybe were not alone in this.”
She goes on to point out something that happened earlier that could not have happened. A miracle? Evidence of God?
This is the frustrating side of postmodern atheists like Whedon. They see good and evil in the world. They know there is a right and a wrong. And yet they choose to believe that these categories are simply arbitrary and human and that there is nothing bigger than us out there… probably. At least they aren’t promoting the logical yet indefensible conclusion of atheism; that everyone should do whatever they want as evil does not exist.
Note: Angel is a show intended for mature audiences involving violence, sex, and all kinds of “adult” themes and this entry is not to be seen as a recommendation for the show.
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