Thursday, July 31, 2008

007 @ 70

The name's Bond, James Bond,
How are you old chap?
Pleasantries, niceties, and
All that chat.
I've got the accent,
The looks and the toys.
Yes, I'm the envy,
Of every grown boy.
That license to kill,
The women, the sex,
Double-O-Seven,
I've been with the best.
The problem is,
The best were the worst.
Should've settled with Penny,
Instead I am cursed.
You see I lost the looks,
And the license to kill,
I'm alone in retirement.
Bond over the hill.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Top Films: Amadeus

Amadeus is the fictitious account of the last years of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart while he lived in Vienna. It focuses on the relationship between him and the Viennese court composer, Antonio Salieri. Salieri is in fact the most important character, and the movie is really about him and his struggle with God. The movie opens with Salieri as an old man. He calls out “Forgive me, Mozart!” and attempts to kill himself by slitting his own throat. He is taken to a sanitarium, where a priest comes to hear his confession. He evidently has claimed that he killed Mozart, some thirty years ago.

“Do you know who I am?” he asks the priest.

“It makes no difference. All men are equal in God’s eyes.” is the priest’s response.

“Are They?”

This question is key to the film. The answer, of course, for Salieri is that they are not. The priest does not know him or his music which, while popular in his day, is no longer played. Everyone, however, including this priest, knows of Mozart’s music. Some men are made for glory, the rest are simply mediocre. Thus the name of the film, Amadeus: “Beloved of God.”

As his story unfolds, we find out that Salieri had dreamed of being a great composer like Mozart who was famous as a child prodigy. He prayed to God, making a bargain with Him. In exchange for God making him famous as a great composer, he would give God his devotion, chastity, and humility. He believes God answers his prayer through questionable circumstances and becomes the court composer to the musical emperor, Joseph II. In this capacity, all his dreams come true. He even has the opportunity to meet Mozart. What would a man with such talent, (and on such good terms with God) look like?

While looking for Mozart, he happens to notice a crude and dirty-minded young man, chasing a woman under the tables on the floor. As the couple flirts and misbehaves on the floor, a beautiful music begins to play. The young man instantly stops and exclaims, “My music! They are starting without me!” It is Mozart, and his music is so divine Salieri describes it as the “voice of God.” How could God choose to use such a terrible and sinful man as His spokesman?

Salieri is forced to speculate more on this issue as Mozart is hired by the emperor to compose a German opera. Salieri composes a short march in honor of Mozart, who proceeds to improve it upon only hearing it once. As Mozart’s success in Vienna increases, Salieri begins to try and impede his progress. He advises the emperor to not hire Mozart as a musical tutor for his niece, but instead to make any musicians who want the position to submit compositions for review. Mozart refuses to do so, but his wife secretly brings Salieri some of his latest work..



Salieri looks at the compositions, all original manuscripts. They are without correction or change of any kind. It is the same perfection he had encountered when first meeting Mozart, the “voice of God.” This scene is masterfully done, using a technique seen at other times in the film. The old Salieri tells the viewer his thoughts, as the younger Salieri is seen reading the music. While he reads each manuscript, the viewer is treated to that piece of music. This same method is regularly used when Mozart is onscreen, with the viewer treated to whatever music is playing in the composer’s head. After seeing such perfection in Mozart’s music, Salieri denies God and declares war on Him, vowing to destroy His incarnation.

The second act of the movie begins with the arrival of Mozart’s father in Vienna. His presence serves to heighten the viewer’s, and Mozart’s, perception of his imperfections. At the same time, Salieri anonymously hires a maid to serve in the Mozart house. He uses her as a spy to get damaging information on Mozart in order to destroy him. He soon discovers that Mozart is working on an opera based on a forbidden libretto, The Marriage of Figaro.

Instead of hurting Mozart’s standing with the emperor, Salieri’s revelation merely gives Figaro a chance to be performed. Its music, according to Salieri, is the “music of true forgiveness,” and he hears God singing through the opera, “conferring on all who sat there perfect absolution.” Mozart’s opera is long, though, and only receives a limited run of performances.

Forgiveness is a theme that runs through Amadeus from the opening words of Salieri, cried out before his suicide attempt, to the closing scenes where Mozart begs Salieri for forgiveness. It goes hand in hand with the running theme of the depravity of man. Both of the lead characters are essentially bad men, and they both eventually realize it. It is in the Figaro scene, where God’s forgiveness is seen. It comes undeserved and unrequested, for neither of the characters has recognized their need for it, and is simply declared to the audience. This is a true picture of God’s forgiveness. We do not earn it by changing our ways. We can not change until we have received it.

Shortly after Figaro, Mozart discovers his father, now back in Salzburg, has died. Out of this loss comes Mozart’s next opera, Don Giovanni. In it he brings his father’s ghost back to accuse him before the whole world. He has come to terms with his own depravity and recognizes it. From this point on the movie presents Mozart in an ever-downward spiral of health, both physically and mentally.

At Don Giovanni’s performance, Salieri takes his war with God to another level. He decides to kill Mozart. He hires him (in disguise) to compose a funeral mass which he plans on presenting as his own at Mozart’s funeral. In this way he thinks he will finally receive the glory that he deserves, by presenting God’s music as his own.

So the third act of the movie begins. It is fast paced and has a new feel to it compared to the rest of the film. It is far darker with a rapidly degenerating Mozart. Salieri’s flashback narratives cease for the remainder of the film, and the action simply occurs. Mozart composes his funeral mass in fear, and desperately tries to escape what he feels is his own death by distracting himself with a comedic opera, alcohol, and partying.

His wife leaves him. He finally completes his last opera, The Magic Flute. During its opening performance he collapses, and is rushed home by Salieri who, as usual, was there to see it. Salieri sees that Mozart doesn’t have much time and rushes to get Mozart to complete the mass. They stay up all night composing in a scene that is masterfully done to let the audience into the mind of the great composer.

They fail to complete the mass before Constanze arrives. She forbids Mozart to work any more on the mass and attempts to kick Salieri out. He appeals to Mozart’s wishes, but he has already died. In Salieri’s mind, God has robbed him of glory, choosing to kill his beloved before letting Salieri benefit from the mass.

In the end, Salieri has missed the point. He sees God as blessing only a few “beloved” people among all the mediocrity in the world. However, the viewer has seen that all men are equally depraved and separated from God. God’s blessing, forgiveness, is available to all and is, in the words of Salieri himself, “Unstoppable!”



Monday, July 28, 2008

Acts: Athens (17:16-34)

Apparently, when Paul was diverted to Athens in Acts 17, he was dealing in part with the Stoics. Well, there really is nothing new under the sun. A lot of today’s culture and philosophy is very similar to that of Stoicism, especially here in Germany. How do people go about their daily lives in a culture where no one believes in God, an after-life or much purpose? Basically, life is an accident and yet German culture is so absorbed with duty and doing what is “right.” That is a simplistic way of looking at the Stoic philosophy. Concentrate on living reasonably so as to not focus on the meaninglessness.
 
Paul’s approach here was different from other instances in Acts, so it is spoken of a lot. All that really differed though was the background of his audience. Paul always adapted his delivery so that it would communicate to the people to whom he was speaking.
The same must be done today. Take the timeless message of the Gospel and find connections to the local culture by which it can be made intelligible. Writers, politicians, national heroes, movies, books, TV… they all occasionally hit on a truth that relates to the truth of truths. Use it as a door to bring Jesus into the conversation. That is all Paul did in Athens.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Television: Great Sleuthing, Part 1

It is always a tricky undertaking when someone sets out to adapt a story to the screen. Part of the problem is that some of the storytelling devices for written fiction simply do not translate into visual mediums. Another problem is usually found when trying to fit all the material into a suitable length of time for viewing. However, the biggest problem for a lot of adaptors is self-imposed. They operate under the false impression that they must change the story or no one will be interested. They fail to realize that half the audience has not read the source material and therefore do not care if it is the same or not, and those that are watching an adaptation having read it probably liked the original and may not want things changed.

Detective Fiction in general has been well served of late by the small screen. Two examples in particular are Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Poirot has done a very good job of translating most of the original books and are continuing to produce with the goal of doing all the written stories. Suchet’s interpretation is probably the most faithful as he has made a careful study of the character and actually read all the books making note of all descriptive facts available.

The Holmes stories produced from the mid 80s to the mid 90s were also faithful to the written word. It sometimes appears like the 1980s trying to look like the 1880s, but the stories themselves do not deviate, and most of the dialogue is taken straight from the Doyle stories.

Fans of the stories should delight in the way they have been preserved in these series and for those who are new to Holmes or Poirot would get a good and faithful introduction to either character.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nero Wolfe

“Let’s run a race. Here goes my mind, I’m off, see if you can catch me.” —Rex Stout, on writing mysteries.

Nero Wolfe novels are some of the most entertaining in the genre for a few reasons:

-Unlike many detective stories, where clues are systematically and carefully laid out so the reader can keep up, Stout demands active thinking from his reader and rarely spells anything out.

-Nero Wolfe’s methods are unique in the slavish routines he maintains, and his refusal to leave his home on business. These are not just arbitrary facts Stout set up to constantly break, increasing artificial tension. He rarely ever broke them.

-Whereas many detective stories follow the convention of the dim but loyal, first-person narrator, Stout combined the side kick character with the American hard-boiled sleuth. The result is you have an idiosyncratic, super-intelligent, brain in Nero Wolfe and a man of action, clue finding gumshoe in Archie Goodwin. In fact, the books reveal that Archie is perfectly capable of working on his own quite successfully.

But he doesn’t.

Eugene Peterson lists Nero Wolfe as the only non-religious detective in his annotated reading list Take & Read. He likes to play with the idea of seeing Wolfe as a symbol of the church. It is even more fun to see Archie Goodwin as a symbol of believers; relating to the church yet living in a fallen world.

He has faith in Wolfe’s abilities—and yet he has his faith challenged. He follows instructions, but often is asked to use his own judgment. He knows Wolfe’s rules and routines and abides by them, but finds them chafing. He never ceases to be amazed seeing Wolfe at work solving problems and imparting his justice in the world.

Because Nero Wolfe is not ultimately interested in justice as defined by the law. He always seeks to leave things right as defined by his own stiff sense of morality.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Top Films: Murder By Death

“You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I've outsmarted you, they'll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents.”

A great comedy by any standards, this film is a treasure for fans of detective fiction. As great as those stories are: with the puzzle, the clues and the hope of figuring out the answer before it is revealed, (but the real desire or expectation to be surprised because no great mystery is easy to solve); they all have silly elements. Most commonly the very sleuth people are a “fan” of is pretty annoying.

Murder By Death takes some of the most beloved sleuths and relishes in exaggerating their most annoying characteristics. Sure, they are mere caricatures, but it is funny if not taken too personally. Not only that, but the ensemble cast is a list of some of the greatest of the day: Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Peter Falk, David Niven, Maggie Smith, and James Coco. There is also the very first screen appearance of James Cromwell. The detectives spoofed in the film are: Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, and Nick and Nora Charles. In the original TV broadcasts a jab was made at Sherlock Holmes as well.

There is no real “redeeming quality” to this movie. It can not really be “baptized” with some greater theological or philosophical truth. It is merely a comedy, and the great need of comedies is to be funny. This one is.

“Now, if one of you gentlemen would be so kind as to give my lady friend here a glass of cheap white wine, I'm going down the hall to find the can. I talk so much sometimes, I forget to go.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Berchtesgadener Land, Bavaria

Go as far southeast as you can in Bavaria and you will encounter one of the great corners on this beautiful planet. A little finger of an alpine valley jutting into Austria, Berchtesgadener Land has beautiful mountains, alpine lakes, national forests, historically significant sites and magical things to see and do.
 
There is a small little forest, an “ecotype” called the Zauberwald. The name literally means “Magic Forrest” and it is the very stereotype of a fairy-tale landscape. Spreading from the Hintersee to the town of Ramsau, it has lots of uniquely shaped boulders covered by moss throughout. It is easy to imagine gnomes making their dwellings in and among the rocks, under the roots, and along the streams that cut through the alpine rock.
 
Several miles away to the north there is an ancient salt mine (stile operational) that is amazing to visit. The tour begins with a ride on a small train through a very small hole in the mountain. (If you don’t duck you will not fit if you are a full grown man.) This claustrophobic ride lasts forever or at least a kilometer or more into the mountain. Deeper access into the mine is attained by sliding down wooden chutes, and in the very heart of the mountain, you are treated to an underground boat ride across a pitch-black lake. One cannot help but remember the travelers in The Silver Chair as they traveled deeper and deeper into the underworld of the Green Witch.

For the WWII buff, there is the Eagle’s Nest high up above K√∂nigssee where the Nazi leadership spent there free time when they weren’t planning terrible events that would shape the Twentieth Century for the worse.
 
And those are just a few of the innumerable treasures one will experience in Berchtesgadener Land. Check it out.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Acts: More of Macedonia (17:1-15)

A lot is made of the Macedonian Call, but not much about its initially frustrating results. Paul and company were only able to minister briefly in three cities in the region, and all three efforts resulted in quick expulsion. Ultimately, churches were established, but Paul was frustrated having to leave such young believers without his guidance.
 
Thessalonica was particularly vexing. He, as always, used his tried and true strategy of approaching the Jews and God-fearing Greeks first. Here we see not merely a sermon or two, but repeated meetings with in depth arguments and apologetics for the Christian message. This indicates the validity of being strategic in the way the message is presented. Pre-packaged presentations of the Gospel and tracts are only so helpful. One needs to present the news of Jesus in a context that fits the audience. In the case of the Jews, a defense from the Old Testament scriptures was needed. Today in those same regions a different approach would be needed. Often the Gospel begins not with: “If you were to die today…,” but rather with: “Why do you say: ‘There is no God?’”
 
Berea was a missionary’s dream city. Here the Jews did not merely accept or reject the message, but rather carefully studied the Scripture daily to see if what Paul taught was valid. Here Paul was probably less worried about leaving the new believers, knowing they were already grounded in seeking the scripture for answers.
 
Three cities; three dangerous oppositions. That is one summary of the missionary’s efforts in Macedonia. This was never Paul’s ideal in ministry. Short term missions are sometimes required, but never the desired strategy for the Gospel. From here on out, Paul would have more success in fully realizing his strategy, but first there was one more short stop…

Friday, July 18, 2008

Little Grey Cells

“Do not open your heart to evil. Because— if you do— evil will come… Yes, very surely evil will come… It will enter in and make its home within you, and after a little while it will no longer be possible to drive it out.” –Death on the Nile

Hercule Poirot is perhaps the greatest creation of perhaps the greatest writer of detective fiction ever. At any rate Agatha Christie is the best selling author of all time, so popularity enters into the equation somewhere. Over the course of 33 novels and 54 short stories the little, strange, Belgian sleuth solved perplexing cases with annoying arrogance. The secret to his success was the age old logic and observation of a Holmes combined with his very own understanding of people’s behavior. In Poirot’s world (and in reality as well) people are known by their actions. In other words, a person does not act against their own character; which is knowable through the observation of their normal behavior.

Since the days of Hercule Poirot, the world’s understanding of ethics and people’s behavior has changed quite a bit. It seems today that everyone is willing to allow for split personalities in most people. Sure, a person may be a cad and totally untrustworthy in their private life, but that doesn’t make them a bad president—just to site one example. Hercule Poirot would differ with popular opinion. If someone is shown to have a problem with the truth and trustworthiness in one area of their life, then they can be assumed to be that way in every area of life.

That is not to say that Poirot’s world is all “black and white.” There are complex issues to be dealt with. However, the condition of a person’s heart—as evidenced in their outward behavior—is a faithful indicator of who they are and what they are capable of. Just because we live in a society of guilty people who don’t like to feel guilt is no reason to start giving everyone a pass in hopes that we will not come under scrutiny as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Movie Review: M. Night, the Ugly

Sometimes a thing needs to be done just because it has never been done before. Apparently M. Night Shyamalan thought to himself: “Hey! No one has yet made a global warming—environmental thriller—torture-porn movie yet. I think I’m the man to do it!” What he failed to see was that combining three unredeemable waste-of-time genres into one does nothing to redeem the effort. Boy was The Happening a waste of time.

The story concerns—scratch that, there is no story here. The premise is that Gaia, or more specifically plants, have become fed up with the parasite that is humanity. They have come up with an airborne neurotoxin that causes people to kill themselves… in increasingly elaborate and non-sensicle ways.

Beyond the fact that the story is just barely enough of an excuse for showing disturbing scenes of people doing themselves in; and quite apart from the problem that this is basically pseudo-religious-global-warming propaganda; this movie is just poorly made. The acting is mostly terrible, the story is every-step-of-the-way predictable, the direction is way below Shyamalan’s level, and ultimately the film wimps out.

For an apocalyptic disaster film, the crisis simply ends too easily. For a torture-porn movie the camera turns away far too often. For a M. Night Shyamalan film, there are no memorable visual scenes. And for a socially conscious “message” film, what is the message? Nature good—humans bad?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

M. Night, the "Ehh"

M. Night Shyamalan created a large fan base founded upon his ability to create great visual films and his habit of telling deeply spiritual stories. They are not Christian by any means, but they are spiritual and they are spiritual in a postmodern sense. They show at once the inherent weaknesses of postmodern spirituality but also the potential it carries as well.

Unfortunately, as time has gone by and he has made more movies, he has shown that while he has his good, he also has his—some would call it bad but it is really more of an “ehh,” and then most recently… his UGLY. Two movies fall into the middle category. Maybe not total misses, but the idea and the realization did not really come together:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Top Films: M. Night, the Good

In 1999, a little anticipated film hit theaters and caused a sensation placing its creator into a class of filmmaker perhaps too high for any “first timer.” M. Night Shyamalan has been struggling with his reputation ever sense.

Some auteurs are known for telling their stories with brilliant writing and dialogue, others are visual storytellers. M. Night does not seem to fall into either group. One imagines him like a songwriter who stumbles onto a good phrase of melody and builds a whole song around it. With him you can almost see the little scenes and set-pieces upon which he built up his whole story. In a commercial he directed for American Express in 2006 he seemed to admit as much.

That being said he has used this style to create three films worthy of “top film” status:
 
"The Sixth Sense" (1999): 
This film used a series of near perfect moments to build one of the creepiest movies ever made, and the scare does not wear off with repeated viewings. It also has one of the best twist endings ever in film, a fact that would curse his every future effort.
 
"Signs" (2002): 
At first glance, an invasion movie. It is really more of an exploration of faith based not on hope, but revelation. The main character has lost his own faith and thinks that religion is just a salve humanity has invented for reassurance. He is wrong.
 
"The Village" (2004): 
People were disappointed that this film did not live up to their expectations. Taken on its own terms it is a great study of community, institution and tradition and how dangerous they can by when built on a foundation of lies.

Together these films show what Shyamalan is capable of. They keep us coming back, or at least hoping.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Acts: Philippi (16:11-40)

In Philippi we are shown another aspect of Paul’s ongoing strategy. A demoniac girl begins to follow the missionaries around. All she does is tell everyone they see who they are and why they have come. Why does this annoy Paul so much? Many missionaries today see this as an important part of the operation. They proudly announce to everyone they meet the fact that they are sent by God with a message to proclaim. They share with everyone who will hear.
 
Upon closer examination, it appears as though Paul does not share the Gospel until he is invited to do so. He does constantly seek out the opportunity and position in which he will be invited to share, but he does not initiate. This is a huge and often overlooked aspect of evangelism. Think about it. If God is already dealing with people before any messenger comes along, then there are some people who have already begun to respond to Him. They are simply waiting for the chance to accept the truth. These people will be more likely to listen to the Gospel and respond to its message. The task of the messenger, then, is to always be on the lookout for people who are already searching.
 
Paul and Silas demonstrate another aspect of this “response sharing” in their jail cell. They are always proudly living out their faith. They openly worship and live their Christian disciplines. Later, when they do not run away at the first chance of freedom, the jailer already knows something of what they are about. He is then able to ask for more information when he is ready to receive the Gospel.
 
What Paul did not want, was to jump the gun and give people a preconceived idea of who he was. When people think they know what you are all about, they will seldom ask you to clarify it yourself.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The List of Seven

Sometimes you just want a good read –a potboiler in the good sense of the term. A few years ago The Da Vinci Code was the page turner of choice, and the Christian community was up in arms over it. As a diversion it was good –as a literary work of art not so much –as a suspenseful movie… wow did it miss the mark. For a better choice in the historical thriller movie genre try National Treasure. For a far better read in the same genre book, look to The List of Seven by Mark Frost.

Frost takes the historical character Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and places him the middle of a supernatural, occult murder mystery involving conspiracy, spiritualism, and characters that would later inspire the characters of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Towards the end it gets a little confusing and harder to really buy into, but there are some great elements to be found here. For one thing, the forces of evil here are the products of secular philosophies that were prevalent during the Victorian Era, but that have not disappeared in today’s world. On the other hand, the spiritual ideas that are offered to counter them are hopelessly misguided as well.

Mark Frost began his career writing for television and film, and this book is begging for a cinematic treatment. Hopefully it will get it someday.

If you were offended by the ultimately weak attempts to “controversialize” Christian tradition in Brown’s book, you might have a problem with the positive spin given to Theosophy and other New Age beliefs presented by characters in this book. If you like Victorian Era mysteries and Sherlock Holmes and lots of action—and you can keep fiction in the realm of make believe—you might enjoy this book as well.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Top Films: Young Sherlock Holmes

There are three reasons Young Sherlock Holmes makes the list of top Nonmodern films:

The first is that it is an exciting adventure/mystery set in the Victorian Era. This period in time has got to be one of the best settings for stories ever. The atmosphere is dark and mysterious. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Victorian setting in contemporary stories is the fact that it was the height of Modernist philosophy, and Postmodernism’s critiques are most clearly seen in this setting. There is usually an emphasis on supernatural or seemingly supernatural elements.

Secondly, it was the first case of a fully computer generated character in a movie. Created by John Lasseter of later Pixar fame, the stained-glass knight wasn’t much to look at, but it was the first of greater things to come.

Finally, it does a great job of speculating what it would have been like had Holmes and Watson met as teens. We get to see his development, his formation, and Columbus speculates as to events that cemented Holmes strong urge to fight crime. All the elements are there: deductive reasoning, the mistrust of emotion, the hat, the pipe, Lestrade, and ultimately an arch-enemy… but only for those who endure the end credits.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories have inspired a lot of tinkering and speculation, but this film stands out because it is well done, exciting and fun, but it remains true to the feel and spirit of the original.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Elementary

“It’s a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brain to crime it is the worst of all.”—The Adventure of the Speckled Band

There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion. It can be build up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”—The Adventure of the Naval Treaty

“Why does fate play such tricks with poor helpless worms? ‘There, but for the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.’”—The Boscombe Valley Mystery

A direct descendant, but decided improvement, on Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Few characters of fiction have had such an impact on popular culture. The character holds the record for most cinematic adaptations for one thing.

The world of Sherlock Holmes is really that—a whole self-contained world. The 60 narratives penned by Doyle, called the canon by the fans, are studied and debated in depths that few other works of popular fiction are. Many fans (including those in the academic world) play at speculating about Holmes and Watson as if they were real people.

The fact is that the stories of Sherlock Holmes are great entertainment, and valuable reading. They present an evil world. But there is god in that world as well. This is the classic battle of good versus evil. The mysteries are always made clear; but the evil doer does not always come to justice. The heroes are not perfect, and their problems feel real in spite of their often strange nature. Holmes has a high sense of right and wrong, but it is not determined by society. He does not respect the law of man the way he guards the truth.

Over time, this clear understanding of reality has eroded. Today there is too often a desire to justify everyone’s guilt. No one is willing to call evil… evil; no one owns up to being wrong. The flip side is just as true. No one acknowledges the good in the world. An absolute affirmation of good or God or Providence is watered down to being just a cultural opinion.

Understanding, tolerance, and pity are good in their place, but there are still truths that should not be demoted to beliefs.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Detective Fiction

Eugene Peterson, in his Take &Read (Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List) devotes a whole chapter to mysteries. Detective fiction can be a pleasurable pastime, but it also has its edifying qualities as well. There is something to be said for a whole genre devoted to exposing truth and unraveling confusing realities. (Maybe it is just the ultimate “Modern” genre of literature; the idea that everything can be divined and discovered through simple observation and deduction.)

As a genre, detective fiction traces it roots to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue. In this story Poe created many of the hallmarks of detection: the amazing sleuth with super powers of deduction, the less observant friend who narrates the story, and the puzzling case to be solved. C. Auguste Dupin is the name of Poe’s sleuth, and he appears in two more stories (The Mystery of Marie Roget and The Purloined Letter) all written in the 1840s. The main downfall of these stories, especially compared to later examples, is that the plot in all of them is relatively simple and the majority of the exposition is devoted to EXAUSTING analysis of the clues and what they reveal. Poe must have been paid by the word.

The worldview of detective fiction is ultimately black and white. Evil is exposed and punished, and truth wins out in the end. People can scheme and plan for the perfect crime, but the detective will find the truth because the criminal will always make a mistake. The methods of detection will differ from sleuth to sleuth, but good overcomes evil. That does not mean that it is a “good” world. Evil and sin are everywhere and danger abounds.

Sort of like the real world.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Acts: The Macedonian Call (16:4-10)

There used to be a popular story told from pulpits everywhere to illustrate the nature of faith. In this story there would be a dare devil tight rope walker crossing a rope strung between two sky scrapers or across the Grand Canyon or something. He would dazzle the crowd by succeeding and then ask them if they believed he could do it again pushing a wheel barrow. To those who affirmed he asked if they would be willing to prove their belief by riding in the barrow.
 
The Christian life is seldom as terrifying as riding a wheel barrow across a tight rope, for that matter neither is the call to cross-cultural evangelism. However, there is an element of the story that does apply. A life surrendered to God is a life that is out of control.
 
People often ask missionaries how they were able to be sure that they were called to a particular place. How did they end up where they are? Rarely, people have visions like that seen by Paul calling him to Macedonia. More often than not, though, the surrender to missions is more like climbing into a wheel barrow and enjoying the ride. There are a lot of closed doors along the way. Just as Paul and company were kept from going place after place before finally hearing the call to Macedonia, a lot of missionaries simply say, “yes, Lord,” and then wait to see where He will lead.
 
There is a lot more of Abram than Paul in the missionary life. The call is to leave home and family and everything you know and go where God leads.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Freedom

America really is a great country. Not perfect, but in a world as flawed as this, it may be the best nation the world has yet seen. The problem is, it is criticized by other countries (full of people who would love to live there) and taken for granted by its own citizens. Just think about all the freedoms it upholds that do not exist in many places:

You have the freedom to speak your mind.

You can make fun of the president.

You can disagree with the government.

You can disrespect the country.

You can chew gum during the national anthem.

For that matter you can atonally scream the anthem in front of thousands.

You can believe whatever you want.

You can do almost whatever you want in the name of religion.

You can (for the time being in most places) eat whatever you want.

You can choose where you want to live.

You can study whatever you want.

You can choose your own career.

You can take a vacation and go wherever you want.

You can drive from one state to another without getting permission.

No one is above the law.

You can save as much money as you are able to.

You can expect your neighborhood to be safe.

You can take measures to protect yourself if it is not.

It goes on and on. These freedoms are an important part of the American experiment, but they are not automatic. They need to be protected, and it is the job of the American people to do so. Vigilance is required because there are those in the government (in both parties) who are always trying to whittle these freedoms away.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The "Want" To Believe

Sixty one years ago this week in Roswell, New Mexico a rancher found some debris on his land. This discovery, and the way it is interpreted perfectly demonstrates postmodern thinking. Many people believe that what occurred in Roswell is proof positive that aliens from space have visited our planet, and by “proof positive” they are speaking in postmodern terms.

Here is the way it apparently went down: The rancher finds some debris. Several days later, a bunch of “unidentified” objects are seen in the sky over New Mexico. The rancher thinks: “Hey! That junk might be from some of them saucers in the sky!” He goes to the authorities. They initially report they have recovered material from a saucer. The next day they change their story to indicate that the material is from a weather balloon. Forty five years later, the military conduct an in depth investigation that shows the debris was from a secret balloon project called Project Mogul that was designed to monitor for Soviet A-Bomb testing.

Here is the way the supporters of the alien explanation tend to view the facts: -If aliens landed in Roswell, the government would want to cover it up.

-The fact that they have denied it was aliens, proves that it was aliens!

and

-If there was a conspiracy to cover up the presence of aliens in Roswell, then all evidence would be hidden or destroyed.

-The fact that there is no evidence proves that there is a conspiracy to cover up the fact that it was aliens!

Seriously, though, the true postmodern approach to Roswell is that no one can trust any perspective on reality. Therefore, no one can say with authority what happened, and as a result everyone must decide to believe whatever they want about what happened in Roswell in 1947.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Science, Meet Logic

Everybody is talking about “Carbon Footprints.” The idea is: how much carbon are you creating and emitting into the atmosphere destroying the Earth as we know it. It has created a whole new brand of snake-oil salesmen promising to produce less carbon so people can continue to live guilt free for a fee.

Well, now there is a new footprint for everyone to worry about. However, in this case it is not what you produce, but what you use that you can worry about. Say hello to the “Water Footprint.” It is not just about how many liters of water you personally use. That is not guilt inducing enough. For example, did you know that it takes 8000 liters of water to produce one pound of Beef? The Us produced 28.1 billion pounds of beef in 2007. That is too many liters of water to even conceive of. That doesn’t include all the water used to produce all the other food we consume.

Why have we not run out of water yet? Two words: Water Cycle. Remember 4th grade science? Water is a renewable resource.

Logically though, how does conserving water in areas where water is over abundant make sense? Does using less water in Florida help farmers in West Texas? More energy needs to be spent in developing technologies to recover and increase supplies of fresh water than forcing everyone everywhere to reduce some water footprint. (Ever noticed how successful the government scheme of forcing everyone to use low flow toilets has been? How does flushing a smaller tanked toilet multiple times every use save water over one flush of the real deal?)

The lesson learned with Water Footprints is this: don’t sweat the water you use for washing and drinking. It doesn’t compare to what you use indirectly!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Legislating Morality

If you are one of the majority of people who do not smoke, then you probably have no problem with the laws popping up all over the place making it illegal to light up in public places. You should. That does not mean that it is bad that smoking is on the decline, or even that restaurants should be free smoking zones. The way things are going, more and more public places will be smoke free anyway in the future as people quit smoking. The problem is the way that governments have decided that freedom and liberty is not something to treasure or protect.

Smoking is just one example of many. Forget for a moment the local governments that are trying to force people to: eat healthy, drive with both hands on the wheel, wear certain clothing, and sort their trash in certain ways. The scary trend is the ways that governments have decided to start chipping away at treasured freedoms like free speech. Using terminology like “hate speech,” some countries like Canada have made it illegal to speak in favor of things like traditional marriage. There, a Catholic minister has had his right to free speech removed for life and has had to pay a huge payout to a man who was offended when the minister spoke in favor of marriage between one man and one woman. And the offended man is not even gay, he was just offended!

The logic of the people who are destroying these freedoms is flawed as well. Barack Obama has set up his position in such a way that to disagree with him on ideas is equivalent to racism. In the same way, people who attempt to have a dialogue in the realm of ideas regarding homosexuality, religion, or legislation are not merely of another opinion; they are engaging in hate.

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