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.
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