Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of the Year 2009

The NonModern experiment had another year with some success. I again had fun sharing thoughts and maintaining a habit of thinking and writing about culture, and the things going on around me.

Coming up in 2010: Of course more thoughts on film, from what to look forward to in cinemas in 2010 to reviews and critiques of 2009 movies and other greats from earlier years. Reflections on television shows, especially a series of entries on each season of Lost—along with a look at the new book “The Gospel According to Lost.” Further entries are coming taking us through 1 Corinthians and through 2 Corinthians, then more of either Paul or the Gospel of John. Other possible ideas include looks at important films in German Cinema.

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

Here is some data about the blog’s performance for 2009:

Entries in 2009: 267 (Weekdays in 2009: 261)

Visits: 5,844 (Up from 1,901 in 2008)

Page Views: 7,851 from 2,547

Visits came from 1,321 cities on six continents.

Countries: 85

States: All 50 plus Washington D.C.

Top ten countries by viewers: USA, Germany, UK, Canada, Australia, Austria, India, Brazil, Belgium, Netherlands

(Last year’s top ten: USA, Germany, UK, Austria, Canada, Australia, Ireland, India, France, Czech Republic)

Top ten states by viewers: Texas, New Mexico, Georgia, California, Virginia, Florida, New York, Washington, Mississippi, Illinois

(Last year’s top ten: Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Florida, California, Virginia, New York, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania)

Some of the most viewed entries in 2009:

A Textbook Example of Alarmist Fear

Various Devotional Entries (Mondays)

Life’s Wish

Initial Thoughts on Avatar

Fright Night Extended Review

Harry Potter Entries

Initial Thoughts on Stockholm Syndrome

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Worldviews or Wrongviews?

When you try to explain to someone what Postmodernism is, you have to clarify perspective or worldview. It is not a concept unique to postmodern thought, but it is one of the main building blocks. From as far back as Plato’s “Cave” all the way to Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation,” philosophy has been preoccupied with how people see reality.

An easy clarification would be to imagine two men at opposite ends of a room, looking out the same window. They would both have differing views of the reality outside the window, but their views would simply be different aspects of the same reality.

That is all fine until you realize: just because there can be various views and interpretations of reality, does not mean that all perspectives reflect something real. People can and do have worldviews that are completely false, or at least seriously messed up. Some people are not even looking out a window. People act on these false perspectives everyday and that goes a long way towards explaining why things are so wrong in this world. Postmodernism is so enamored with the concept of perspectives that it often fails to test them. In fact, it says they can’t be tested.

In the real world, however, they can be. Take as an example the competing worldviews of Bush vs. Obama, sometimes referred to as pre or post-911. Bush’s perspective was that there were evil people in the world who wanted to destroy western civilization. He governed from this worldview and did so successfully in that he avoided allowing further attacks. You might differ from him on aspects of his worldview and his responses to it, but one of the products of his worldview was continued safety.

Obama’s worldview says that the United States’ policy under Bush was the true evil in the world and that we should apologize for our actions and talk to people who hate us because of that policy. We are not at war.

Looking at the results of Obama’s perspective and approach to reality shows that there have been two further attacks against the US from Islamic extremists—both of which have been denied by the current administration until the evidence embarrassed them into admitting they were wrong. Those evil people that want to destroy free loving civilizations (the ones Obama’s worldview says don’t exist) promise that there are more attacks to come.

So it seems that worldviews can be compared to reality and measured by the results of the actions they produce. Some people live in a worldview that corresponds to the real world and others live in a dream.

All that, of course, is just my perspective.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The 2009 Media Menace

In many ways, the 00s have been the decade of paranoia and hysteria and not completely without reason. We have seen some of the largest terror attacks against western civilization and have had great economic difficulties of late. Much of the problem, however, has come from an increasingly yellow mass media that is fighting for its life as it becomes increasingly unneeded in the age of information. 2009 was dominated by stories that were blown way out of proportion by the media, and often not out of a desire to merely increase ratings and revenue but out of an obvious political agenda. It seems most journalists don’t work out of a desire to disseminate information, but out of a desire to change the world. That is not a bad desire to have a person, but a terrible one for a reporter.

The Economy:
In 2008 before the election the economic story was terrible. We were doomed and only a change could save the world. Since January the story has sought to push any positive information that can be found…or invented. The reality hasn’t changed much at all. The economy is bad, but never was as bad as they set out to make it. It is also not improving at all.

Climate Change:
Even to this day it is almost impossible to find a single “mainstream” media outlet that will even acknowledge that there are serious doubts that human causes are responsible for the changes in the climate—and none that will let you know that those changes in the past decade have been COOLING and not warming. This year saw the exposure of the latest conspiracy within the UN, this time involving lies and manipulations of data in climate science… once again largely unreported.

This is where the hysteria really reached a climax. Everyday saw stories of the (incredibly small) “Swine Flu” death-tolls. Never once were the numbers reported side by side with regular flu death numbers. If they had been the story would have died. Most people know someone who got H1N1 or had it themselves. Most didn’t even go to the doctor to be sure about it though. It was that mild of an inconvenience.

Health Care:
The media has been working over time on this non-issue. The tagline seems to be “doing anything is better than doing nothing.” Where government is concerned just the opposite is true!

Monday, December 28, 2009

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (Practical Missional Help)

Reading this passage as a “missionary how-to” text opens it up to some interesting interpretations. If ones reads Paul as though he is dealing with a new church in a cosmopolitan context it is easy to see that they are tinkering with how they do things. Paul is holding their practices up to the standard set elsewhere in Scripture: Love. Everything a church does should build up the body. Also interesting:

Here it almost sounds as if the Lord’s Supper had a pot-luck meal associated with it.

They did not live in community.

They did not share ordinary meals together.

The “unworthy manner” Paul speaks of (vs. 27) is not referring to the believer’s personal spiritual condition—our worth is found in Christ, not our own purity—but rather in the actual way we DO the Lord’s Supper.

It also seems as if Paul is saying in verse 27 that divisions, differences, and maybe even splits in the church or people leaving serve to test who is truly a part of the Kingdom. This is something church planters and new churches can certainly understand… and even take encouragement from.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Language: Advent

Tonight the Christian world comes to the end of the season of Advent. Advent is the four week period that many Christians use to remember the centuries-long wait for God’s promised Savior to arrive. It is also an interesting word.

Advent comes from a Latin word that simply means “to come.” It is used in English to describe any important expected arrival. That in and of itself is not so interesting perhaps, but the very same Latin word also gives us the English word “Adventure.” Adventure used to be similar to advent in English, but somewhere along the way it took on more of a hazardous meaning. It now usually means the coming of something unexpected and dangerous, and the events that happen after that hazard arrives.

We love adventure. It is exciting and thrilling; especially when we can simply observe or hear tell of some great adventure without facing any real peril. We all tend to long after adventure in our own lives as well. We want to be a part of a big story, an important event, maybe even (if we can successfully navigate it) a dangerous circumstance with high stakes.

We all long for adventure because we were all made for meaning. We are a part of a story that is bigger than ourselves. The story of Advent is truly an adventure. God set in motion in the Christmas event a risky, dangerous, and tremendously high-stakes adventure that carries on to this day with countless subplots and characters. To be human is to be a part of that adventure. Hopefully you have seen the truth in the story and are active in bringing the story closer to its exciting conclusion.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Speculative Rhyme

(A Work in Progress.)

Full moon
Behind the mist
Above the limbs
Of sleeping trees.
Midnight noon
And I wander
Along the trails
Of fallen leaves.
Now and then
I stop to ponder
Why the soul
Of heartache weeps.
Could it be
Love is no answer
To the whole
Of human needs?

Bright sun
Melts the mist
Above the peak
Of highest mount.
Night is done
And I listen
To the sound
Of distant fount.
Birds sing
Dew drops glisten
And all creation’s
Praises mount.
And I know
God’s love’s the answer
To the nation’s
Age-long Drouht!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Judgment & Joy

Christmas is a season for joy; for remembering that in spite of the suffering and sorrow the world has to offer, God has stepped in and is bringing all things to right. A part of that plan of God’s, an unpleasant part in many opinions, is judgment. However, if there was no justice, if God was not a holy and consistent God—then how could their also be a future of hope when all the things that bring pain in this world would be no more?

Judgment is necessary in a reality where love exists. Many ask, if God really is a loving God, how can there be pain and suffering in the world? For God to truly be a God of love with a creation He can love that is able to love back, He had to create a creation with free will. There had to be a choice and it had to be a real choice. It was almost (or apparently was) inevitable that creation would exercise its free will and reject God. Yet now, thanks to Christmas and the cross, there is once again a choice available. People can chose to turn and live God’s way and avoid the judgment that awaits mankind. That is a true source for joy!

Sodom and Gomorrah are the cities that epitomize the judgment of God against the evil that causes pain and suffering in the world. One of the most interesting aspects of that story is the way God and Abraham interact before the destruction occurs. God tells Abraham what He is about to do, and Abraham pleads for the city.

That is a big part of our task as Christians today and a good reminder for the Christmas season. God has told us the future that awaits the world. We have a role to play in God’s plan of redemption for the world. However, one of the most important things we can do is pray for the lost of the world. Pray for God to delay His judgment. Pray for more time so that more people can turn to Him.

Monday, December 21, 2009

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Ehh...)

As stated earlier here on NonModern, Paul’s letters are Christian teaching applied to real situations. Knowing that fact, it could be a mistake to take all of Paul’s instruction as “normative” at face value. Instead—and especially here in 1 Corinthians where he is addressing questions posed to him and reports he is hearing—we should view his instruction as addressing specific problems in specific cultural contexts and seek out the normative principles behind the situation. Then we should see if the principles match up with the teachings elsewhere in the Bible.

In this case, we see that the specific issue Paul is addressing is not clear. It has something to do with the headship of Christ, and it almost seems as though the whole hair-discussion is being used as an example or illustration. Whatever the issue, the Corinthian believers are doing something right—Paul is praising them here. (Unlike in the second half of this chapter where he will reprimand them.) Also, Paul is not addressing worship service practice or rules. So it looks as though it would be wrong to read this passage as a normative one instructing: all women to have long hair, all men to have short hair, and women to always wear hats to church.

Other than that, it must be admitted that whatever the point Paul is addressing and what it meant to the people of his day has been largely lost on today’s audiences. Therefore this may be one of those difficult passages (that do exist in Scripture) where we would be wise not to build too much of our theology.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Top Films: Coraline

The best sorts of stories are deliciously creepy, scary children’s stories. Not childish stories, which is not the same thing—but stories aimed at children of all ages that certain adults can still enjoy through the eyes of a child. There is a long tradition of such tales. They delight us with the thrills and the danger and the heroism of the characters facing the terror. They also educate, in a subversive and memorable way.

One of the best films of 2009 tells just such a tale. Coraline is based on Neil Gaiman’s 2002 book. It is directed by Henry Selick (of Nightmare Before Christmas fame), and is probably the most impressive stop-motion movie ever made. (Stop motion has come so far from the days of Gumby with Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit and three of the top animated films of 2009 using the medium.)

Coraline tells the story of a typical modern girl, bored with her parents and her situation, longing for a more entertaining life. Her parents are well meaning, but busy and stressed. As she explores her new house, she finds a small door in the wall that leads to another world where everything is similar to the real world, but everything is designed to entertain her. The only problem is while the fantasy world is fun and attractive; it is also vaguely sinister and creepy. As Coraline gets to know the other world and its “other mother” better, she discovers that the allure it holds may be too costly for her to handle. And just maybe the real world isn’t as bad as it seemed.

As to the 3D aspect of this film, it was being called the best film of its sort before Avatar was released. One of the reasons they are both so good is that they seldom if ever uses the effect in an obvious way. It remains to be seen if this latest attempt to make 3D successful will work. (One tends to hope it doesn’t.)

This film is for everyone old enough to handle the scares it delivers while still young-at-heart enough to feel the fear it induces.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Church = Family; Family ≠ Church

The Bible uses many metaphors to describe the Church. It is the body of Christ, the bride of Christ and the family of God among others. Each of these pictures clarifies the way the Church universal and churches everywhere should behave and function.

The idea that a church should be like a family is pretty clear. They should stick together, help each other out, love each other and share life. That means that church should happen not just on Sunday morning in a programmatic worship event, but throughout the week in homes, around tables and ordinary life events. (It also has implications for evangelism. Do people belong to a family first, and then learn who they are and how to behave? Or do they belong first and learn after they belong? That is a topic for another post, though.)

That being said, a family does not a church make.

Many families, who decide to start churches in the house-church vein, begin by holding “church” in their home. After all, they are trying to start house churches, right? The problem is many of them never get beyond this point. They invite person after person to their “church” which is really simply their family devotion. Some people even come; some of these groups may blossom into a true house church. Most do not.

Family devotions are great. Every Christian family should have one regularly. However, they do not take the place of church. Until a church is started, these families should find ways to connect to others, if possible families with similar ideas about church, but regardless they need to connect somewhere.

To make matters more complicated, in the cross-cultural situation that many of these church planters find themselves, they need the connection to be with people from the target culture. A bunch of missionary families on a team getting together to do church is better than a family devotion, and could constitute a church, but it gets them nowhere on their way towards starting an indigenous house church.

So, if you are in cross-cultural ministry, how are you connected to believers in your target culture? Do you know any? Do you meet with them regularly? If you do not have a church started yet, do you have a church family? Or do you just have a family devotion?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Initial Thoughts on Avatar

A lot of “Top Ten Films of the 00s” lists have been generated in the last couple of weeks. As someone who has to gradually see films as they are released and work into a full life, one wonders how they are able to have a good grasp on the nineties at this point, let alone the 2000s. In any case, (and even though I am no where near ready to say I have digested the decade’s films) Avatar should have earned a spot near the top of anyone’s list no matter how you approached it.

Visually there has never been anything like this movie. There is some doubt in my mind that it will work as well in repeat viewings once it makes the move to television screens in “2D.” However, it is unbelievable how good this technology looks. With James Cameron’s cocky statements in the past couple years concerning this project I went in wanting to hate it, but boy did he deliver! A word of warning to those of you that share my fear of heights…

The story is also incredibly good. Ebert called it a “flat-out green and anti-war message.” That may be simplifying a bit. It is more of an anti-conquest story, and while it is environmental—it is so in a downright spiritual way. I can already imagine many of my fellow Christians and conservatives crying out against this story, but they shouldn’t. It is deeply thoughtful and open to many readings, not all of which are materialistic or liberal.

Without going into any detail at this point, suffice it to say that it hints at elements of Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet” and Tolkien’s nature vs. technology. It hits spiritual themes like the evil of sinful mankind, spiritual rebirth, innocence in paradise, our place in creation, and understanding sought between cultures. At times it may have more Gaia than God, but Christians have disengaged from art and the cultural dialogue for so long, they have no one to blame but themselves that people think that way when they think of spirituality. Then again, it is never too late to start talking again, and to paraphrase Lewis: paganism is a step closer to the truth than atheism.

So there is the review. Look for more of a critique and philosophical reaction in the near future, once spoilers are OK...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Slow-Motion Button Needed

Having and raising children is at once the most amazing and terrifying thing a person can do. Both of those extremes are hard to defend verbally. Suffice it to say it is amazing that you get to see a person go from being a cute and cuddly lump of defenseless humanity to someone with their own personality and way of thinking; and it is terrifying for the exact same reasons.

Then there also the whole issue of anticipated grief. Generally happy and content people live in the present and enjoy life as it happens. However, every once in a while they allow themselves to look back on days past with a lot of nostalgia and longing for the good things that can never be relived. Anticipated grief is for those poor souls who are especially aware of time’s cruelty. They are able to look forward to a time when the present events will be those bittersweet memories of days gone by.

As my only daughter Ashlyn turns ten today, I am revisiting many special moments and memories that she has given me. The bow they glued to her bald head in the hospital. The time she had a little too much cough medicine for a three year old. The way she used to creep us out talking about her own private boogey man: “the Tickle Man.” Having tea with her alone one afternoon, when she almost convinced me the silverware was shifting around the table on its own when we weren’t looking. (Perhaps the Tickle Man in action?) The first time she tried to apply eye-shadow and I only found out when she came home from a birthday party. (Apparently colorful raccoon-eyes are all the rage among eight year-olds.)

I am also realizing that we are over halfway through our experience with her in our house and it breaks my heart. Sure, some of the best memories are yet to be made, and we have to make it through the notorious 14th year, one that I find especially loathsome in some girls. But I know that the years we have left with her are going to fly by so fast and I wish there were a way I could slow them down.

Monday, December 14, 2009

1 Corinthians 11:1 (Biblical-Obedience Discipleship)

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

This is perhaps the best description of Biblical discipleship there is. Not teaching, but doing. We seek as best we can to obey the example of Christ as others look to us for their example.

Ultimately, we seek in discipleship to lead others to a recognition of who Christ is and what He wants from us in life. We want people to be able to walk on their own. However, along the way we need to realize that others will initially look to us to know what God wants from us. Therefore it is important to live life as God wants; living visibly before others. We need to be an open book.

The model commonly seen for discipleship in western culture is usually quite different. It is all about head knowledge. What can we learn? What does the Bible say? We think that discipleship is all about reading and lecturing and maybe even a few tests to prove that we can spit the knowledge back out when asked. Fill your head up. The more you know; the better person you are. Education is the answer to all problems.

Instead discipleship should be about obedience. We obey God and pass His commands and wishes on to others. Instead of weekly exercises in weekly doses of information—hopefully 60-90 minutes worth; we should shoot for one truth at a time. Received, absorbed and lived out. Once you obey one truth you are ready for the next. Instead of classrooms in church buildings—we should meet at tables in homes or wherever people really live. Don’t tell someone how to live a life pleasing to God, show them how to do it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wrestling With Munich

Spielberg in the 00s Previous: War of the Worlds Next: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Spielberg’s most controversial movie is controversial because it makes you think and question the things some people believe very strongly. For many evangelical Christians in the Bible-belt it goes against some things they hold dear. Some seem to think that Israel can do no wrong. (Have they read the Bible lately?) Some think that “supporting” God’s people means that you can never question their actions. (What was Jesus doing the whole time He was among them?) For the more politically “Religious Right” the movie’s struggle with America’s actions under a Republican leadership that are obviously alluded to here are the problem.

Back during World War II things were so much easier. Hollywood was conscripted by the US armed forces to churn out propaganda that depicted, not just fascists, but all Germans and Japanese as monsters and all Americans as heroes. Here, Spielberg shows us an attacked government in Israel taking steps to, if not defend themselves, at least make a statement against the awful atrocity committed against them. However, we see the men used by that government having to struggle with the terrible plans they are asked to carry out. At the same time, the men behind the terrorist attacks are sometimes shown in a sympathetic light—or at least as human beings and not monsters.

In not taking sides, Spielberg perhaps avoids the difficult task of making a moral judgment call about what occurred after the Munich attacks, but he also forces the viewer to make that judgment. That is something a lot of audiences are not willing to do. They prefer to be told what to think. Especially a lot of those two groups mentioned above.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eleven One

Hope is seeing the stars in the sky
Adding the sands ‘round the seas
Taking God at His all powerful word
Living beyond doubt to belief.

Faith is seeing the evil in the world
Adding the destiny of the grave
Taking the hope you had in life
Dying sure that you are saved.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Sacred Meal

In today’s word of digital information and portable media devices perhaps people are too far removed from tangible things like clocks to get the old saying: “even a broken clock is right twice a day.” Well, even a book you disagree with can spur you to thinking.

The Sacred Meal attempts to explore the ancient practice of the Lord’s Supper, as a part of a whole series of books describing traditions from Christian heritage. One may think that this book and the series are for people who would be interested in knowing more about the practices, what they mean and how to practice them. Instead, we are treated to a lengthy series of one person’s free flowing stream of consciousness loosely based on how the Lord’s Supper (and Ramadan, Harlequin Romance novels, and those little altars to Buddha that you see in Chinese restaurants) can help us live better lives. That may be a little unfair. The author’s thoughts are beautifully presented, but in the end one has to wonder in the Lord’s Supper means anything real or is just whatever we make it out to be.

In its forward the book states that the “exact nature and proper understanding of what transpires in the taking of the communion” is a subject of much disagreement and discussion, but that ultimately they make no difference in the fact that believers are remembering Christ’s sacrifice. Sure, but they make a big difference to the person who believes that the elements actually impart salvation. Later in the book, Gallagher compares this practice to some “magic dirt” found in a church in New Mexico. The dirt is not magic, but people believe that it is so it helps them. She even knows it is just trucked in, and yet it is a symbol for her as well. The Lord’s Supper is a symbol as well. It is not real, but if you believe in it, it can affect you.

So, perhaps a broken book can’t be right, truth is either true or it’s not. If you are looking for a book to tell you what to think—or what the Lord’s Supper is—this is not your book. If you want something to engage your thought process… this is probably not your book either.

-- -- -- -- --

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Language: Worship

Why do we use the words we use? For instance, when did the word “worship” become the catchall word in English to describe what in other languages is several ideas and concepts involving several words. Maybe it is the nature of English to boil things down to a simple, all-encompassing idea. Like “snow” instead of the dozens of words Eskimos use to describe frozen precipitation.

If you study a Biblical teaching of worship in any other language—Hebrew, Greek, Lain, Spanish, German etc. you will discover that they use a whole slew of words. Thanksgiving, sacrifice, offering, bow down, praise, and service, but hardly ever a single concept like worship. The closest thing in these languages is something akin to “Adoration.” Of course, in English adoration has lost some of its impact and means something else. Truth be told, “worship” only occurs just over 100 times in the English Bible. Even English uses a lot of words to describe this thing—whatever it is.

Adoration stems from Latin roots and means loosely “to pray to.” Even in the German, where we get most of our words that don’t stem from Latin, the word is “anbeten” or "Anbetung,” meaning the same thing. Worship is a Saxon word that seemingly has nothing to do with adoration, but rather simply means: to ascribe worth to something. In that sense, worship is more like “praise” or “laud.” Laud arising from Lied, the German word for song, or maybe from “Laudabilis” which gives the Spanish language its “alabanzas” and “alabar.”

Maybe worship itself is just a bad word to use. It is too imprecise and vague. Take a closer look at your Bible the next time you see this word come up. If you have one of those good Bibles that clarifies the translation in the margin, in just about every case where “worship” is used you can bet that there is another—better and more precise—word in the original text.

Monday, December 7, 2009

1 Corinthians 10:1-33 (Freedom, Love and Legalism)

The Bible often compares the Church to the children of Israel in the desert. They were rescued and cared for by God. They saw Him act repeatedly on their behalf. And yet they were rejected due to their attitude and sin. The Church should not let its liberty be an excuse for sin.

Christians are free. They are no longer under the law. However, what good is that freedom if, with it, they cause people to stumble in their journey or discovery of God? The measuring rod in determining where freedom is too costly is love. Live in freedom and enjoy life with God, but when someone points out a problem… food or drink etc, take care not to hurt their weakness.

This does not address a similar yet different issue… legalism. Some people, weaker and ignorant of their freedom, seek to limit others by standards that are not God’s standards nor given to them by God but rather their own that they feel must be imposed on all. This is not the issue here.

This is an area where church leadership must take special care. In seeking what is the best for people, they often demand things from them that are not necessary, or try to forbid things that, while not the ideal, are also not forbidden. God is God and we are not.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2004 in Film

2004 is a weird film year in my own personal viewing. Normally there is a pattern to the way one watches movies in any given year. You start out making an effort to go see the movies that really look interesting to you, but since they are just coming out you have no idea whether they are being perceived as good or not. So, the first 10 movies you see end up having a lot of duds—one star movies. As time goes on, some of the movies you thought you wanted to see but didn’t have time for, drop off your “must see” lists because the buzz about them is so bad. You begin to hear good things about movies you overlooked or didn’t think you wanted to see as they came out. So as your list of movies from a year grows it collects more and more “quality” films. I have seen 51 films that were released in 2004. Most of them were not great, and for some reason I have not seen a lot of the ones considered the greatest of that year.
Another strange thing about 2004 is that a lot of the movies I like the most are not the ones to which I gave the highest rating. The Passion and Spiderman were very well made movies, for example, but I am tempted to almost leave them off my top ten; while I had some big problems with Ocean’s Twelve (script and story) and The Bourne Supremacy (editing), but I enjoy them enough to revisit them.

Top 10 Personal Movies of 2004
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
2. The Village
3. The Incredibles
4. Spider Man 2
5. Shrek 2
6. Shaun of the Dead
7. The Passion of the Christ
8. Hellboy
9. Ocean’s Twelve
10. The Bourne Supremacy

Bottom 5 Personal Movies of 2004
1. Sideways
2. AVP: Alien vs. Predator
3. Hidalgo
4. Cindarella Story
5. King Arthur

Top Movies I still Want to See or Revisit
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Finding Neverland
3. Night Watch
4. Banlieue 13
5. Maria Llena Eres de Gracia

Friday, December 4, 2009

War of the Worlds

Spielberg in the 00s Previous: The Terminal Next: Munich

As alien invasion movies go, Spielberg’s is not terribly impressive. Sure, it has tons of visual razzle-dazzle but in spite of what people tell you we really expect more from Spielberg. In the world of computer visual effects today we expect more from our master craftsmen. Anyone can throw tons of money on the screen but not everyone can tell a compelling story.

Here, in his second collaboration with Spielberg, Tom Cruise plays a non-entity of a character. The “story” in this movie is simply a bunch of stuff happening to and around Cruise. The invasion begins and ends on its own, and he does nothing but move across the country as it happens, failing to really even change as a person.

Three years earlier, Shyamalan had made a similar picture of an alien invasion. It too showcased an invasion that began and ended with little human effort. What it had that this film lacked was the knowledge (started by Spielberg in Jaws) that less is more when you want to scare, and a main character who changed as a result of his experience.

The surprise is that Spielberg took on this story at all. Most of the cinematic problems are already present in the book. Some of the problems were added by Spielberg in the development process. For instance, the idea that the aliens had prepared for this attack ages ago before people had come on the scene. Who is going to believe that? How had these vehicles not been discovered before? And how did the aliens fail to notice that they were not immune to earthly micro-organisms in their centuries long preparation?

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Snatch my soul,
From the fire.
Add my voice,
To the heavenly choir,
Made of all nations,
By the blood of the Son,
Singing His praises,
Reflecting His love.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yuppie Missions?

In the category of ways technology makes our lives worse comes the latest gadget for idiots who fancy themselves as brave explorers: personal locator beacons, or the “Yuppie 911.”

It used to be that life was full of risk and people dealt with it. Today, people seem to think that every danger can be anticipated and avoided, so we have all manner of protections—even warning labels that warn us of the danger that the safety devices pose. We have become obsessed with safety.

At the same time, we have convinced ourselves that we are so safe that we have forgotten that the world is a dangerous place. In our affluence, ignorance, and naiveté we have begun to think that we are invincible, like some sort of entire society of teenagers who think we are immortal. So we now have a whole new breed of idiot explorer. Well, we have always had idiot explorers, but now we have a whole lot more who are a whole lot more idiotic.

Back in the day, people who enjoy outdoor activities would prepare and plan, train and plan some more, and then set out on an adventure where their experience and the required expertise were somewhere close to each other. Today people don’t give anything much thought and take along an electronic safety net. About a month ago, some inexperienced idiots decided to take on the very challenging Grand Canyon Royal Arch Loop. In the course of three days, they summoned rescue helicopter teams three times. The third time was because they had drunk some water that tasted too salty and were scared that they had endangered themselves.

You can imagine all sorts of discussion topics that these guys triggered, everything from who should pay for the rescue teams? to why do we not let natural selection take its course? There is another thought that occurs to those of us in cross cultural ministry. How similar is this event to short term mission endeavors.

To be sure, short term missions have their place, but…

How many short term trips represent people wanting the adventure without paying the cost?

How many short termers cause more problems than they help?

Is enough attention given to training and preparing short term volunteers?

How much damage is being done when many corner churches think their short term adventures should take the place of life-long, committed experts trying to do the job right?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bon Jovi Problems

Eventually we all become our fathers. Hopefully that is not a bad thing. In my case it is a gift—and it is a curse. Careful consideration and thought is not an often practiced art these days, as any short stint listening to “Top 40” radio will prove. It is hard to hear a single song without wondering how artists these days manage to become popular with some of the nonsense they are putting out. Maybe kids are telling the truth when they say they don’t listen to the lyrics.

I remember a day in the late eighties when I walked into my room to find my dad holding a piece of paper out at me. “What is this?” Turns out, I had written down the text to a popular Bon Jovi song. (I actually did listen to the lyrics, even then.) I told him what it was. “That is the stupidest thing I have ever read.” Sad thing is he was probably right… up to that point anyway.

Songwriting can be done in several ways. You can write very clear lyrics that mean exactly what you want to say. What you have to say better be good, though, because people are going to get it. Or, you can be very cryptic and write with imagery that could mean several things so that anyone listening can attach whatever meaning they want to you song. Then there is the Bon Jovi way of song writing. Write things that sound very deep and meaningful, but that at a second glance are really quite silly.

The latest song, “We Weren’t Born To Follow” is just such a song. It sets out to be a deep song about history, the human race, and people who make a difference in the world… individualism. Sort of a “do your own thing because I’m telling you to” song. Sort of like the teenager who wants to “be their own person” by being exactly like every single one of their peers.

The chorus really sums up the problem. In one line it says “Get up off your knees,” presumably because religious types are mind numbed robots following a leader—not individual enough. But then the very next line says “You gotta hold on to what you believe.” Which is it, guys?

Sometimes I wish I could just enjoy a song without having to think about it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (Discipline in Liberty)

Here is one of the two spots in the Bible where athletes perk up and take notice. We can all identify with what Paul is saying here. Practice makes perfect. Training brings improvement. When we are disciplined in something, we devote time and energy to it; we work at it. Change habits and do away with the things that are unproductive and repeat the actions that help us achieve our goals. Whether it is shooting baskets, hitting golf balls, running ever increasing lengths, doing scales or playing the same video game over and over again; we all have had goals that we have strived to reach.

Paul says that the Christian life is the same sort of thing. We have been given everything we will ever need. We are free in Christ. In spite of that freedom, however, we still work at living a life that will be pleasing to God and a benefit to those around us. We limit our freedom and discipline ourselves to habits and lifestyles that will help us to better be used of God to affect the lives of others.

In that sense, our goal is not heaven. That is our destination, but it is guaranteed. Our goal here in this life is to love those around us the way God loves. We strive to build other believers up and to lead non-believers to a realization that God is indeed there and He is speaking. With that goal in mind our personal goal should be to train ourselves to effectively live the life that God desires.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Terminal

Spielberg in the 00s Previous: Catch Me If You Can Next: War of the Worlds

Tom Hanks may have been one of the most easily likable actors in America at some point… sort of a modern day Jimmy Stewart. But even likeability doesn’t make up for lack of compelling story. In 2000, Robert Zemeckis decided to attempt making a movie with only one character where nothing happened. Obviously, he had to use an actor that America would flock to see even in such a snooze inducing premise. They did, and it was critically acclaimed. None of that changed the fact that it was a story with one character where nothing happened…

Spielberg decided to follow up his first couple of efforts directing Hanks with a similar project. Based as loosely as possible on the story of a man who lived for years in an airport terminal, he cast Hanks in another story where he would be trapped in one place. Even though this time he was surrounded by people, it is still a story about a man who can’t go anywhere and where, as a result, very little happens.

That being said, this is a much better film than Cast Away. The situations and the characters are much more compelling. It also happens to be one of the best case studies of culture shock ever filmed. This is often what it feels like to encounter a different culture. There is confusion, fear, and a longing for something familiar. For most of the world, outside of North America, this is a common human experience. In most of the world, multiple cultures come into regular contact and have to learn to interact in a productive way. As it happens with more frequency in the United States, will we make it past the fear and confusion stage?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Charlie Brown and Chex Mix

Last week we sat the kids down to a treat from our own childhoods: an evening of Chex Mix and Charlie Brown. Of course, while it was a special family evening that they will hopefully remember as fondly as we did such evenings, it was limited to just that—a family moment. When we were kids in the late seventies, such an evening would have been a nationwide moment. Sometimes nostalgia is silly. Who would ever wish to go back to the days when everyone was limited to the same three channels from which to choose?

Today we can custom design our kids viewing and plan our lives around things we find important, not the television schedule. I remember vividly a moment, riding in the back window of the family car, when I imagined how cool it would be able to pause and record live TV. Now some thirty yeas later, we can and it should make our lives so much better. No longer do we need to plan our lives around things we want to see. Of course, in many ways it has made us even more slavish to entertainment. Sort of like the way all of our work saving devices have freed us up to work even more.

Then there is the value of having events and things that we do when they need to be done and not at our convenience. Just as watching Peanuts Specials when they came on as a kid was in some ways more special than popping in a DVD today, some things in life need to be done on schedule. Every day should be a day when we thank God for the things we have. Still, it is also appropriate to take this one day each year and set it completely aside as a day of thanksgiving. There is something special about doing out of the ordinary things, preparing for the day long in advance, and traveling to be with family and friends to celebrate.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How To Do Christmas Music

Some people are amazed that anyone could start listening to Christmas music a whole month out from the actual day, let alone for 8 or more weeks. It is actually done—sometimes exclusively—for the last couple months of the year. There are a few tricks to doing it right, and it is the considered opinion of this blog that anyone attempting to achieve this feat must prepare for and work up to it slowly. Otherwise permanent damage can occur that could render the person unable to listen to Christmas music again with any sort of enjoyment.

It used to be that a person had to work hard utilizing multiple CDs and a multi-disk player with a randomizer or, even worse, a cassette recorder to generate the needed randomness and mixture of songs needed for such a long period of time. However, today programs such as iTunes are a tremendous help and have made such musical marathons the sort of thing that nearly everyone can work their way up to.

The serious person wanting to engage in exclusive holiday ambiance for a whole month (or the ambitious, desiring the entire post-Halloween stretch) should really consider working up to the feat over a period of a few to several years. It is recommended that they begin by purchasing one or two albums a year and build up their collection. Early purchases should include classics from ones childhood years and a few newer albums from artists one is currently fond of. After some time and a handful of solid album choices, one should move on to buying several individual tracks a year to beef up the collection. Some 300 tracks should ensure that one can go an entire day on random and only hear each track once.

A few more tips that might be helpful:

Consider having multiple versions and interpretations of the same song. Especially such often recorded classics as “White Christmas” and “Silent Night.”

Try to achieve a good balance between religious songs and more secular “just for fun” songs. Make sure some of your songs are of the simply “winter” variety like: “Sleigh Ride” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

Be sure to have a few of the less popular of songs like “’Zat you, Santa Claus?” and “Christmas Time is Here.”

Start out mixing Christmas and non-Christmas songs together further out and working your way up to just Christmas songs in the last week for the first couple of years.

And, most importantly:

Never listen to a Christmas Song between December 26th and October 31st!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Initial Thoughts on Stockholm Syndrome

One of the founding principles of the Baptist branch of the Christian faith is the separation of Church and State. You know that thing called the Bill of Rights? You can thank Baptists for that. Unfortunately, you would probably have a hard time finding more than a couple Baptists out of 100 who still believe that. They have been led away from that ideal by a couple decades of false teaching.

That teaching says that the true measure of our faith lies not in how we live or behave, but in how “Christian” our country is. Therefore, it is our Christian duty to make sure that the whole world lives the way we believe they should, not by changing their hearts, but by imposing laws. For example, some Christians think you shouldn’t drink, so it needs to be illegal to drink or at least sell alcohol.

The only problem with this mentality is that it causes us to devote energy and time into trying to make sinners live like saved people by force. That is problematic because (a) it doesn’t work, and (b) it takes energy away from the things we should be doing like changing hearts and serving peoples needs out of love.

One of the things generating these thoughts today is the discussion of Derek Webb’s latest efforts, especially his song “What Matters Most.” In it, he vents his anger against the church, going so far as to say that we seem to not give a s--- that people are dying every day from starvation because we are so busy hating homosexuals. There are three things that need to be said about that:

(1) While not every Christian hates homosexuals, far too many people in the Evangelical Ghetto do. They think that sins are ranked into degrees of “badness” and homosexuality is the worst. They forget that it is simply another sin and that homosexuals are loved by Jesus too and that He died for them as well. Far too much effort has been channeled into hating, demonizing, and politically fighting the homosexual movement that could have been better spent in loving them and trying to bring Jesus to them.

(2) Derek clouded the issue with his choice of words. In that same Evangelical Ghetto where Homosexuality is sin number 1, profanity is a close second. We would much rather have closeted adulterers in our churches than people who openly choose to talk about excrement, unless they use words like “poop” or “number 2.” If he had used common phrases like “give a s---” to communicate with the lost culture, they would have understood what he was saying right away, but since he is preaching to the American Church he sabotaged his own message.

(3) If you get past all the cultural walls in the song that make it hard for the target audience to hear what he is saying, he may have a point. How spoiled has the church become in America? Everywhere in the world, the church has to live out their lives every day in a world full of open sin. Often, the belief they hold endangers their lives. They have to learn to live their faith in the face of that sin and learn to hold to what they believe for real. Instead, in America, the church is offended when the sinful world doesn’t have a problem with sin. Instead of holding to what we believe in a sea of sin, loving the world with Christ’s love; we have been taught to “stand” for what we believe and try to force sinners to live by saved standards. Often that translates into something that is not loving but rather attacking.

Monday, November 23, 2009

1 Corinthians 9:15-23 (Every Christian Should Try To Be Cross Cultural)

The other day pastor mentioned that every person involved in church efforts is doing so voluntarily. His point was, even the paid staff have the option to go somewhere else or get a different job. That may be true, but Paul says that Christians are under a compulsion to tell people the truth. Think about it. If you new that everyone you knew and met was headed for a completely avoidable disaster, what kind of monster would you have to be to not warn people? If you truly believe the message of the Gospel, how can you not tell people?

Paul goes so far as to say that we should do whatever we can to spread the word. We need to reach people wherever they are. We need to infiltrate every culture simply to have a chance to tell people what we know. This is not just a call for a few “super-Christians.” Paul calls on all his readers to do what he is doing.

This is what cross-cultural ministers do as a specialty. They go to a culture that is not their own and try to become a part of that culture. This is also what all Christians should be doing, even those not “called” to cross-cultural ministry. There is still a need to reach people of your own culture.

Of course, for many Christians, there is an implicit need to be cross-cultural. The culture of most non-Christians anywhere in the world is completely foreign to that of Evangelical-Bible-Belt-Christianity. So there is at least one cultural line that needs to be crossed. Unless--of course—you are trying to reach the lost people inside that Evangelical-Bible-Belt-Christian culture. There are a lot of people there who need to hear the Gospel too.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Catch Me If You Can

Spielberg in the 00s Previous: Minority Report Next: The Terminal

Mainly known for his hugely popular, but well made and critically acclaimed blockbusters, or for his serious, dramatic takes of important historical events, Spielberg has also of late tackled some “lesser” stories. Not as epic, nor as dazzling, they are nevertheless further evidence that he is a great director. Curiously, Spielberg’s success has caused him to sometimes be seen as less of an artist. However, any way you look at it—be it critical acclaim or financial success—he remains one of the most acclaimed director’s ever.

One of his “smaller” films came in 2002’s Catch Me If You Can. It is an historic tale, and it is based on true events, but it is small in its scope. It tells the story of a teen-age con man in the sixties who managed to fool a lot of people into thinking that he was a pilot or a doctor. Go deeper, however, and it is a story about a son trying to impress his father and bring his parent’s back together after their divorce. In that, it is fully in keeping with a lot of Spielberg’s movies, as they tend to focus on father-son relationships.

A couple of the things that make this a stand-out film are the opening titles sequence and the music. The titles probably belong on a top ten list. (An interesting idea, we may have to come up with one in the future.) The music—as is normal for Spielberg—is provided by John Williams, but in a way he has not done before. He sounds as if he is trying to channel Mancini, so you have one of the best composers in film imitating another of the best.

(Beware of Spoiler)

One of the more interesting moments in the story comes after Frank has been caught and put to work for the government. He gives in to temptation once again and goes for a trip as a “pilot.” With his father gone and no one chasing him, he quickly comes back to work again. Sometimes the only thing driving us to do the forbidden is because it is forbidden.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Doctor Who and God's Sovreignty

David Tennant is nearing the end of the most successful run for an actor playing the Doctor since Tom Baker’s first four years. All of Doctor Who fandom is awaiting Christmas Day with a mixture of anticipation and dread. This past Sunday, fans were treated to the next step in that eventual end with the latest episode, “The Waters of Mars.” It was, as always, exciting, moving, and pretty scary for a family show.

One of the big issues raised in this episode was the idea of fixed points in time. How if the idea of time travel were possible, that it would put history in flux, but that certain events in history are set and must occur no matter what. This “time travel” speculation has been particularly popular lately, in things like the new Star Trek movie and the series Fringe. Carmen had some interesting thoughts on it related to the film “Déjà Vu,” and Ted Dekker’s latest book “Green” built its whole this-is-the-beginning-AND-the-end premise on it. (Somewhat problematically for both its theology and plot.) When you look beyond the sci-fi nature of this thought, it can also relate to the idea of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will in history.

How does this paradox work? How can God be in control of history and mankind have free will at the same time? There is one train of thought that says that God will accomplish His plans, regardless of man’s cooperation. Say God wants a certain group of people to hear His message and He calls you to go tell them. If you say no, He will accomplish His plans through someone else. God is not dependant on man’s will to do what He wants. That being said, how sad would it be for you to be selected by God for a task and miss out on it and the blessings that go with it because you were to deaf or scared to trust Him and go?

In that sense, history really is more like a river. There may be little obstacles that divert a portion of the river and create little ripples, but the flow of history will always stay on track and go where it is intended, according to God’s plan.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thoughts on Thanksgiving, Buß und Bettag, and Government Spirituality

The United States is unique in its celebration of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of every November. Does the fact that the whole country takes a day every year to thank God for His blessings somehow make the U.S. more spiritual?

The Free State of Saxony is the only state left in Germanic Europe that still celebrates Buß und Bettag every November, and if anything they are among the most secular states in Germany. Buß und Bettag is a day of prayer and repentance based on the act of repentance that the city of Nineveh carried out when Jonah warned them of God’s judgment. They actually pay a little from their paychecks every year to be able to celebrate the holiday. In spite of that, very little repentance goes on in Saxony that day. Just today in Dresden West (an area with nearly 100,000 inhabitants) an ecumenical service involving all churches in the area boasted less than 200 worshipers. (Based on the cobwebs on the pews in the sanctuary, it was a large attendance for the main Lutheran sanctuary that hosted.)

The point is secular proclamations of spiritual celebrations do nothing for the actual spiritual condition of the governed. Thanksgiving is basically a secular holiday built around family, feasting and football. That is not necessarily a bad thing; it simply does no good to pretend that the holiday is spiritual or Christian. Christians no doubt do make their own celebrations a spiritual matter, but hopefully they exercise thanksgiving more than once a year!

In a similar way, the fight to get government to “bring prayer back into schools” is sort of silly. Prayer will never leave schools as long as Christians are attending. (If home-school-ers have their way, then maybe eventually prayer will in fact completely leave schools.) The only thing officially, government sponsored prayer in school would achieve is a watered down, all inclusive, non-sense form of prayer, and who wants that? Remember that service shortly after 911? “In the name of the god of Abraham, Mohammed, and Jesus Christ…”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Revelation: Scripture vs. Mysticism Part 3 (Be a Berean)

For part 2 (No Mind Numbed Robots!)see here.

So where is the balance found between a total head knowledge/ Bible information approach to knowing God’s will and the completely subjective/ I’ll do what God “tells” me to do version? In the happy medium of course. (That is medium as in average sense, not the fortune-teller sense…)

There is little to be gained in studying the Bible just to KNOW what it says. The knowledge needs to be brought into every aspect of life and applied. However, there is still a need to know what it says. How can we apply what the Bible teaches if we are clueless about what it says? So read the Bible regularly and often. Then, when times come for decisions to be made, you will have an understanding of the things of God that you can apply, even to situations not specifically addressed in the Scripture.

There is even a Biblical precedent for this approach. In Acts 17, Paul taught in the city of Berea. The people there accepted his teaching, but only after holding it up to the Scripture they had to see if it rang true. Today, if someone claims to have a divine word for the church or a local congregation, their message needs to be heard, but carefully scrutinized to see that it lines up with what we already have from Scripture.

On a personal level, if you have an impression that God is telling you something, you need to test that “message” to be sure it does not contradict something God has already told you through His word. The history of the church is not all that full with new messages from God that were more than just reminders of things He had already spoken in the Bible. On the other hand, it is full of prophets claiming to have new revelation from God that have begun many a cult or a false church.

Monday, November 16, 2009

1 Corinthians 9:1-14 (Vocational Ministry)

Paul continues his argument that, as Christians, we often have to sacrifice our freedom and rights for the sake of others. Specifically here he speaks of the right that church leaders have to earn their living from ministry.

Ever hear somebody say that they can’t believe that they get paid for doing something that they love to do? There are some ministers of the Gospel who feel this way. There are a lot more Christians who feel this way about some ministers of the Gospel! Sometimes “the Gospel” is just an excuse for people to get a paycheck. There are lots of pastors and “professional Christians” who give the dedicated a bad name.

More often the opposite is the case. There are tons of pastors and missionaries who work more than they should, neglecting their own spiritual and physical health, their marriages and children. Sometimes this is done out of a sense of responsibility, and a higher understanding of their own worth and value for the Gospel. They forget that God does the most work and delivers the most results. Other times, it is done out of a completely non-spiritual reason—power. There are plenty of pastors out there who were never called of God; they just like having power.

Either way, Paul here says that he has never earned his living from the churches he planted. He could, but he doesn’t. Most models of missions today don’t either. They are supported by established churches and not the new work. Sometimes that is bad in that the new work never learns to support their own leadership. On the other hand, “new” models of church require less money than “traditional” ones.

Friday, November 13, 2009

To Cheryl

When God made the rose,
He was swept ahead in time,
For He had looked at your face,
And stared into your eyes.
He had fashioned you, long before,
But saved you ‘till such a day,
That a man could learn what true beauty was…

Meet you, and still be amazed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hateful Hypocrisy

When you boil it down to its most basic terms, the function of government is to protect its citizenry. It does this in two basic ways: maintaining a fighting force that deters other governments and groups from attacking, and regulating the behavior of people that could harm other people (such as murder or reckless driving.)

Beyond this function, some would say that government has little more to do. People should be free and if what they are doing is not impacting others harmfully, then they should be allowed to do what they want. Unfortunately, most people try to use government to impose their thinking on others. They make laws telling people how they should live, what they can drink, and how much money they can make and in extreme cases what they are allowed to believe. These people also tend to be the types who favor using taxation to not just keep the government running, but also take money away from those deemed less deserving and redistribute it around.

All this leads to the craziest use of government to impose ideology: hate crime. In our culture today, it is not evil enough that someone would commit murder. In fact, we shy away from deeming anything evil at all. Dr. Phil and others have even tried to “justify” the killings at Fort Hood this week by diagnosing the shooter as mentally ill. The one exception to this rule is when the powers that be decide that the killing was done in hate. (Is there a lot of killing today that is not motivated by hate?) The thought is, if someone commits murder they should be punished; if they commit murder motivated by “hate” they should be punished harder.

Of course, what society deems “hate” is highly subjective. White on black crime is hate. Straight on gay crime is hate. Muslim extremist crime on innocent bystanders is not. That has to be mental illness and probably our whole culture’s fault—because there is no such thing as an evil or hateful Muslim. Whatever you do, don’t call such crimes terrorist acts. That in and of itself would constitute religious discrimination.

The fact is that racists, sexists and yes, often religious fundamentalists are full of hate. However, the government’s job is to protect people from their hate preemptively where possible and punish their actions where it isn’t—not to be some sort of thought police.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Revelation: Scripture vs. Mysticism Part 2 (No Mind Numbed Robots!)

(For Part 1: Tossing the Baby Out With the Bathwater see here.)

Plenty of Christians begin their stories today with the phrase: “God told me to…” This is a hugely problematic way of thinking for a couple of reasons.

1. It implies (and is often intended to mean) that God is almost audibly talking to them. He can do such a thing but it is far from the normal way for God to instruct people.

2. It is a way for people to make their beliefs, plans or actions unquestionable. You may think they should not be doing what they are doing or planning, but how do you dare question God?

Throughout scripture and history it seems that God wants for His children to think for themselves. Yes, He wants to use them and yes, He wants them to live as He desires, but He does not want robots responding to instruction. He wants free beings voluntarily operating in His love and with the intelligence with which they have been created.

As Nero Wolf often tells his right hand man Archie, when there are no explicit instructions: “Use your intelligence guided by experience.”

In the Bible, God has given humanity every revelation they need to know Him and to know how they should live under His authority and with each other. He can and does work directly in people’s lives even giving specific instructions at times, but that is an exception. We need far less God-told-me-to’s and much more careful action following lots of familiarity with scripture, prayer and thought.

Part 2: (Be a Berean)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green by Ted Dekker

Thomas Nelson Publisher

In the tradition of spiritual fantasy fiction such as Lewis’ Science Fiction Trilogy, comes a story of the far future connected to the near future by a man named Thomas Hunter. It is the story of an apocalyptic world inhabited by diseased humanity, truly evil monsters, and a small band of normal humans holding to their community and beliefs against great odds.

This book claims to be something rare or perhaps unheard of in literature: part of a true cycle. This volume is part four or, if you prefer, part one. This review is coming from the perspective of Green as the beginning.

Dekker successfully creates a world that is strange and yet accessible—even to someone unfamiliar with the previous books. However, unlike some other fantasy novelists, he doesn’t create a world where one would like to live or even spend a lot of time. It is a testament to his writing ability that the reader does spend so much time there, in fact. Part of the actual appeal of the novel is the effective way he communicates spiritual concepts in an effective symbolism. Issues important to the Christian church today are presented in subtle (and some not so subtle) ways.

As to the high concept beginning/ending nature of the book? To be honest it leaves a little to be desired. Maybe it is more fulfilling to someone who is reading Green after Black, Red and White.

-- -- -- -- --

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

1 Corinthinas 8:1-13 (Knowledge vs. Love)

We can know a lot. God has provided His people with intelligence and a wealth of special revelation. Combine the two and you have all you need to be able to understand what God’s will is concerning your behavior in just about any situation. However, understanding the issues is not always the best way to decide a course of action. Here Paul teaches us the difference between knowledge and love.

Knowledge tells us that spiritual forces are mere creatures, just like us. They are not to be worshiped, feared or really to concern us much. We should not go through life fearing gods, or even seeing a demon behind every little thing in life. They may be there, but should not dominate our thoughts. They can do us no serious harm unless we show them too much respect or give them influence over us.

However, not all of our fellow Christians understand this. Some Christians live in fear of spiritual matters. Or, for that matter, a lot of Christians have not discovered the freedom they have from God in a lot of issues. They were perhaps enslaved to certain sins or behaviors when they were lost, so now they avoid certain things that in and of themselves are not bad.

How should we react to such “weaknesses?” Should we tell new Christians that they can do the things that were a problem for them before Christ? Or, should we help them not to stumble by limiting our own freedom in these areas where our knowledge tells us we have no reason to fear? Love tells us that we should place other’s needs before our own. We limit ourselves in love.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

1994 in Film

If cinematic years are like boxes of chocolate, then 1994 was a bit of a disappointment. Only a couple of this year’s films make it into my top 100 and there are few 4 and 5 star films at all. Forrest Gump was a rare mixture of visual delight and good storytelling, but a lot of the other critically acclaimed movies from this year lack this mix. Most are cinematically fun or interesting, but the stories do not bring you back again and again. Some good choices that did not make my list? Star Trek Generations, The Crow, Quiz Show, and Interview with a Vampire. For fans of bathroom humor in film, Dumb and Dumber has one scene that works, the rest is forgettable.

(Updated 2012)

Top 10 Personal Movies of 1994
1. Forrest Gump
2. The Shawshank Redemption
3. Stargate (Dropped from 2)
4. The Lion King (Dropped from 3)
5. Little Women (Dropped from 4)
6. True Lies (Dropped from 5)
7. Leon (Dropped from 6)
8. Pulp Fiction (Dropped from 7)
9. Clear and Present Danger (Dropped from 8)
10. Maverick
11. Ed Wood (Dropped from 9)

Bottom 5 Personal Movies of 1994
1. Four Weddings and a Funeral
2. North
3. Clerks
4. Surviving the Game
5. Nadja

Top Movies I still Want to See or Revisit
The Shawshank Redemption (seen, see above)
Heavenly Creatures
The Hudsucker Proxy (seen)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Top Films: Minority Report

Spielberg in the 00s Next: Catch Me If You Can

America has somewhere around 5,000 unsolved murders a year. A story in the German press today revealed that maybe as many as one to two thousand murders a year go unsolved because they are never recognized as murders in the first place. Sort of pops the childhood fantasy that no bad guy ever gets away, huh?

One of Spielberg’s best movies of the past ten years (possibly among his best ever) presents a world in which this problem has been eliminated. No one ever has to fear violent crime anymore. Instead, they have to fear being arrested and locked away for life for things they have never done.

Minority Report is one of those gems of a Sci-fi film that is entertaining, visually stunning, and makes you think. It is so layered and rich that upon each new viewing one discovers more things to love, more things to think about.

Early on in the film, a debate occurs regarding the fundamental paradox of the film:

I'm sure you've all grasped the legalistic drawback to Precrime methodology. Look, I'm not with the ACLU on this. But let's not kid ourselves, we are arresting individuals who've broken no law.

But they will.

The commission of the crime itself is absolute metaphysics. The Precogs see the future. And they're never wrong.

But it's not the future if you stop it. Isn't that a fundamental paradox?

Yes, it is.

Later on, Chief Anderton himself is “accused” of a future crime and has to question the beliefs that he has embraced for so long. How can the future exist when people have free will?

In addition to the great concept behind the film, it is full of well-directed action set pieces, has an amazing cinematography and look, and many great iconic moments. If you haven’t given this film a chance, you need to. If you did see it and it’s been a while, you need to give it another try. You may be surprised by what a second or third viewing will show you.

Here are few questions used years ago in conjunction with a viewing we did of it:

Why is the future in The Minority Report scarier than our present world full of murder?

Is safety a reward worth the price of limited freedom?

What does the Bible say about us knowing our future? (Deuteronomy 18:9-13)

Could God have created a world with no evil and sin? Why didn’t He?

Why did God give us a choice in the garden, knowing we would choose against Him?

Does the Bible teach that God controls everything, or that He lets us choose our own way freely?

What does John Anderton’s eye exchange symbolize in the movie?

How do we need to change our perspective to please God?

Is Danny Witwer a good guy or a bad guy?

The prison in the movie is presented as a kind of “church.” How does it resemble real church? In what ways should church be different?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Revelation: Scripture vs. Mysticism Part 1 (Tossing the Baby Out With the Bathwater.)

Ever say something you didn’t quite mean in reaction to something you disagreed with? Go to far to make a point? Maybe that’s what this was.

A man I know has come to the point where he sees that the Church’s biggest problem is that most have turned to a Hellenistic model of head knowledge valued over everything else. However, instead of calling for a more Biblical model of discipleship built on obedience rather than knowledge, he is calling for radical turning to God—directly and largely bypassing the Bible. He insists that the Church should just come to God in silence and wait for Him to speak to their hearts. No more Bible Study. No more organized or preplanned approaches. No more leaders. Just everyone tapped into God speaking directly to the body. Someone gets a word; they share it.

In principle this may not be all bad. However, what about new Christians who are not familiar enough with God’s special revelation to know the principles of spiritual living? What about all the false signals that are bound to be received?

Yes the church in the world today is an imperfect mixture of the saved and the fakers—but tossing out the scripture is not the answer to that problem. Scripture is not the problem. Interpretations of Scripture, approaches that elevate head knowledge are the problem.

Part 2 (No Mind Numbed Robots!)
Part 3 (Be a Berean)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Year of Obama

(The politics of the playground or why peer pressure is not good foreign policy.)

Foreign policy can be seen as a playground or a schoolyard full of children, only without any teachers or authority figures to control the chaos. It is a lot like the Lord of the Flies. There are rich kids and poor kids. Strong kids and weak kids. Those that try to force their will on others and occasionally those who stand up for others. There used to be two big kids on the playground and everyone else had to choose a side or try to find a corner off by themselves. The two kids had radically different ideas of how to interact with others and how to stay healthy.

Twenty years ago, one of the kids became too unhealthy to hold its position and the world was left with one rich kid powerful enough to control a lot of what went on in the playground. It used that power to try to protect other kids from bullies and yes, protect its own interests on the playground. However, as is often the case the other kids resented that and accused the big kid on the block of being a bully. They had long ago formed a club to protect all the interests on the playground, but lacked the courage to tell true bullies and violent kids they couldn’t belong. Now that club existed largely to protect bullies and try to get the rich kids money away from him.

The basic role of any government in this “playground” of a world is to protect its citizens. Other may argue for additional roles, but anyone should acknowledge this basic function. The problem today is twofold. The US has elected a leader who is immature and cares about peer pressure, and the US has elected a leader who believes that that other super power who withered away 20 years ago had a better plan than the United States for how to rule its citizenry.

As a result, we have had a year of a President who has seen his primary tasks as running around the world telling all who will listen how bad we are instead of protecting our interests, and doing all he can at home to take away freedoms left and right trying to have the government take over as much of the private sector as possible.

This would all be fine if he were just a private citizen expressing and trying to forward his private views. He is not. He has taken an oath as President to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” In that task he has failed woefully.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Tough Task of TCK Parenting

One of the hardest aspects of cross-cultural life is parenting. It is one thing to make sacrifices and put yourself through hardship, but quite another to do so to your children.

Everyone knows a kid who shows up to school for the first few days or weeks crying, and eventually they adjust and are fine. However, when that kid is living cross-culturally there is always the nagging doubt: would they be having a hard time if they weren’t required to make the additional adjustments? The answer is probably yes, but it is still hard to put a kid through that.

TCKs consistently have to make huge adjustments. They live under more stress and feelings of alienation than “normal” kids. They have parents who are always a little “clueless” and therefore miss out on some things other kids get to do. They tend to leave places and have to make new friends a lot. They don’t open up to people because they doubt they will know them long enough. This is tough on the parents, perhaps even more than it is on the kids. One of the more significant reasons cross-cultural workers drop out and go home is child related.

On the other hand, parents of TCKs can know that it is not all bad, and often the hard times serve to make their children stronger, more capable people later in life. They are adaptable. They are survivors. They can make do and even thrive in any situation. They are cultural experts. They know multiple languages and can learn new ones easier. Kids growing up in single cultures could have just as many problems with none of the benefits.

Growing up in another culture can be like living in a crucible, but the process can really be a purifying perfecting one as well. If you fell like God has called you to that sort of life, trust Him to use it to the benefit of your children as well.

1 Corinthians 7:1-40 (Missional Marriage)

Here Paul begins to answer questions put to him by the church, and here we see a clear way that Paul’s writings are Missional textbooks. How do we apply scriptural truth to instances the Church faces in cultures and times the Biblical writers never faced?

What do a bunch of people do who’ve suddenly become Christians and formed a church? Some are single. Some are married. Some have spouses who do not believe.

Paul’s approach is to first make the Biblical teaching on marriage clear to the church. God created marriage. It is not wrong. Marriage is for life and divorce is wrong. He then also expands the teaching by applying truth to their situation. People should remain in the state they are when they are saved. If married, they should stay married if their spouse will consent to stay. If single, then stay single. Paul points out that being single is a tremendous advantage for Missional, kingdom living. A single person can devote all of their energy to advancing the Kingdom of God. However, since singleness is not for everyone and marriage is a good thing too, it is all right to marry as a Christian.

As to people becoming Christians with unchristian spouses? The kingdom is expanded through relationships. Perhaps the influence of the Christian spouse will help the unsaved person see the light… the same way a lot of children of Christians become Christian.

In the end, everything is about spreading the Gospel.

Friday, October 30, 2009


The mystical experiences that often go with religion and can be really scary things. Not when they happen to you—that is understandable, or at least absorbable. When someone else claims to have “heard from God,” you usually wonder: “How do they know it was God?” Or even better, “How can I know it was God?” Because a lot of crazy people have done a lot of crazy things in the name of religion.

This is the story behind “Frailty.” A widowed father of two boys announces one night that “god” has ordered him to kill demons. They look just like ordinary people, and are only revealed to be demons when he touches them. He will be sent to get some weapons, which they will then use to kill the demon-people. The younger son accepts his dad’s vision immediately. The older one understandably thinks it is just wrong and tries to warn the police. Unfortunately, the dad is informed, once again by “god” that the older son is a demon. Instead of killing him, the dad locks him in a cellar until he claims he also has seen “god.”

Who do you trust? Where do you base your beliefs? It is important to know where you stand, because no matter what you believe there is a reality and you need to know that your beliefs are based on more than just a personal (even if mystical) experience.

What makes Frailty more than just another movie about crazed serial killers is the way it explores religious belief—and the way it presents the relationship between belief and reality. It is a hard viewing, but one that makes you think when all is said and done. Why do you believe the things you do? How is that working out for you in reality?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The Ring (2002) and The Grudge (2004) are products of the (short-lived) Japanese horror craze that was begun by Ringu (1998) brought to the states and remade. (Since American audiences can’t read and no one likes dubbing.) The neat thing about these movies is that they avoided the Hollywood cliché of horror tied to language and breasts. Instead they went for scares, and a scared unlike anything Hollywood had brought us for years. Instead of slashers and jumps, they brought back something that was lost with the old Horror movies and Gothic stories—other worldliness. Particularly the Japanese folk monster: the Yurei. The Yurei are ghosts brought into existence by powerful emotion. They usually exist to right some wrong in the world. Horror should be the sort of thing that makes you think. Instead in Hollywood it has tended toward the instinctive approach. Don’t think. Just go along for the ride.

Still, these movies are scary. Very scary. They always precede the shocking stuff by an obvious prolonged build up that nearly forces you to close your eyes. Turns out, imaginations are far better than anything a movie can come up with. Hitchcock understood this. Keep the really bad stuff off screen and it will be worse. J-horror tends to do this as well. It doesn’t linger over the disturbing stuff. It just gives you a glimpse.

What stays with the viewer after these films (besides the general lingering uneasiness and jumpiness; they are scary!) is the idea of consequences. The things people do have an effect on the world, often negative and often against complete strangers—innocent of the actions that are harming them. Why do bad things happen to good people? The truth is even the best of people do bad things, and some of the worst things are caused (intentionally or not) by flawed people.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Notable Slasher Films: Behind the Mask (2006)

One of the more fascinating forms of storytelling in film is the mockumentary. Especially when it portrays things that are unexpected such as crime or even murder. Drop Dead Gorgeous effectively shocked people early in the film when what seemed to be a comedy about innocent but silly teens and turned murderous. Man Bites Dog is less effective as a film, but tried to tackle the idea of a serious camera crew documenting a criminal serial killer who killed old people to rob them.

It is especially fun when genre film is tackled, as in 2006’s “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.” The crazy premise: the serial killers of slasher films are real. A film student and crew decide to make a documentary about a new “slasher in training” with his cooperation. As things get serious and the killing is about to start, the crew get cold feet and decide to warn the victims, but too late they realize that they have been a part of the killer’s plans all along. As Scream did a decade earlier, Behind the Mask plays with the conventions of the genre. It points out the silliness while still using those silly things to scary effect.

Where this film takes Scream one further is in the responsibility it presents the audience. The crew slowly realizes that they are more than just casual observers. They live in a world where violence and evil exist, often as entertainment. When the reality of what is going on hits them, they have to decide whether to just watch or to do something active against the evil.

Most of Behind the Mask’s audience probably missed this point, but they face the same question. We live in a world where evil ruins lives and hurts people every day. Most learn to ignore it. Some have a fascination with it, like the cars that slow down when passing an accident site. Are we content to simply carry on with our lives if we are fortunate enough to avoid harm, or will we do what we can to help people around us?

Warning: There are plenty of reasons this movie is rated R. Note the "Not a Recommendation" label.

Monday, October 26, 2009

1 Corinthians 6:1-20 (More Issues, Just the Tip of the Iceberg)

One way of reading Paul’s letters (perhaps the best way) is to see them as a missionary training manual. What do we do in the situations that arise in new churches? Paul addresses some issues directly, but not every issue to face every church in the entire history of the faith. So how do we address each new issue that arises? Applying the principles found in scripture. For example:

How do we settle arguments?

When the church does experience disagreements and divisions in the body, they should be solved within the body. We should not take our arguments to a secular court. There should not be arguments in the first place if everyone is operating under the guidance of Love, but if we slip up and they do arise, we should look to wise leaders within the body to judge the issue.

Why is sex outside marriage wrong?

Our stomachs are made for food, but our bodies are not made for immorality. This means that sexual sin is not just a sin, it is unnatural. Many of the desires Satan uses to pull us away from God are natural desires, but sexual immorality is a perversion.

Other issues will come up. When the Gospel expands to new cultures and new times, there will always be new issues that Paul nor any of the biblical writers ever dreamed of. However, the principles of faith, love and hope can be applied in every instance.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Notable Shasher Films: Scream (1996)

In the middle ages, a popular genre of story was the “chivalric romance.” It was the pulp, mass consumed, popular style of its day. The most widely known story of this style is actually a satire of the genre when it was already in decline: Don Quixote. It makes fun of and ridicules the conventions of the genre and even lists many of the books written in the genre, evaluating their worth in a scene where the characters decide if any of them are fit to be spared a bonfire.

While it should never be suggested that any movie in the slasher genre is fit to be valued alongside Don Quixote, Scream fulfils the same role for its genre as Don Quixote did for the romance. It came about as the genre had largely played out, made fun of and analyzed its conventions and managed to be one of the best films in the genre it was satirizing. Unfortunately, it also proved successful enough to inject new life into the genre, spawning a decade of mindless-people-dieing-in-elaborate-yet-plot-less-ways movies.

The plot of this mystery is carefully constructed even though audiences wouldn’t expect one… it’s all about people being killed right? Wrong. This is a horror movie about a group of people who know they are in a horror movie, or at least a situation set up according to the conventions of the slasher genre. So, they know the rules and what to expect. So, while it is genuinely scary, it also makes you think. Why are these movies popular? Why do people like violence and being scared? When will the formula eventually collapse? After all, even Scream spawned a franchise. Are audiences as doomed as the characters of this film? They know exactly where the story is headed and still come back for more.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Notable Slasher Films: Identity (2003)

One film that takes the puzzle aspect of the serial killer/slasher film seriously is 2003’s Identity directed by James Mangold. It even references Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” It has the suspense. It has the scares. It has the violence. But it also has the mystery.

Ten people (a family of three, a newly married couple, a limo driver and actress, a prostitute, and a cop transporting a convict) arrive at a motel run by a strange man in the middle of a storm. The roads in every direction are washed out and flooded, so they are trapped. One by one, they all begin to get picked off, each body “tagged” with a room key counting down from ten. As is the case in all of these puzzles, we are trying to discover: Who is the killer? What connects the characters? Why are they being killed?

On the same night, in the same storm, a judge has been asked to hear a final appeal for a convicted killer who is going to be executed in a matter of hours. His lawyers have new evidence that might prove he should have his judgment changed to a life sentence in psychiatric care.

That is about all that can be said about this film without giving too much away. The problem is that this film is firmly located in the horror genre and comes with all the violence and language that are associated with it, so it is not for everyone.

The thing that makes this film stand out from so many others of its kind is its exploration of reality and perspective. Not quite on the level of something like The Matrix or Dark City, but interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Slasher Films: An Introduction

Interesting fact: “And Then There Were None” is the third highest selling novel of all time. It is the best selling work of detective fiction ever. Anyone reading it for the first time today would instantly recognize the sub-genre that it surely helped give rise to: the Slasher film. OK, it doesn’t quite meet all the characteristics of the genre, but we see all the beginnings here: a group of people thrown together with a killer slowly picking them all off in elaborate and violent ways, and everything linked together with an elaborate back-story.

Early on Slasher Films were not just a sub-genre of horror, but also of the detective story. Unlike classic horror, with its often supernatural and philosophical elements, the slasher stories began more as mysteries, albeit intense and scary ones. Over time other elements were added that became standards, but even early on most are in place. Consider Psycho. There is already a complex back-story, the knife as the weapon of choice, and an almost “final girl.”

By the time of the “Golden Age” of slasher films, most of the mystery had been overshadowed with pure violence and terror. In one early example “Black Christmas” the mystery is never solved and the killer not captured. “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” place the audience in the killers POV and the focus is then increasingly given over to mere killing.

Films like “Nightmare on Elm Street” and the other entries in the 80s slasher franchises added variety to the formula by introducing nonsensical supernatural elements and by continually revealing more realistic and bloody ways for people to be killed. The genre looked like it was goring itself to death…

Friday, October 16, 2009

Top Films: The Creature from the Black Lagoon

It is said to be one of Ingmar Bergman’s favorite films. Apparently, Steven Spielberg was inspired by it and it’s sequel when making Jaws. Movies like Aliens and Predator owe a lot to its existence. For a black and white sci-fi horror movie from the 50’s, it holds up incredibly well. In fact, it may be the most enjoyable of the old Universal Horror movies for today’s audiences.

The only thing most people who have not seen this film know about it is not true; the suit is not fake looking. Perhaps later versions and imitators of this film were, but the effects in this one are great. Especially when you think that this was made in the early days of scuba.

It is the typical story of modernity encroaching on nature’s territory and paying the price of its arrogance. The scientists in this movie are not the mad scientists of the 30s and 40s. They are not trying to tread where only God should venture. They simply want to know everything, and to hear them talk they already think they nearly do.

An interesting aspect of this film is its ecological message. No… not the new environmentalism as a cover for communism; simply the good old idea that people should respect nature and other living things. In one scene, the scientists poison the entire lagoon in an attempt to catch the creature. (An ironic aspect of this scene is the way the director cuts between the men poisoning the water and the woman smoking a cigarette. It is especially jarring to today’s audience, especially when she casually tosses the butt into the water.)

This film was successful enough to spawn two sequels: The Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us. They are not as good as the original. The third one is pretty awful, but the second was not so bad as to deserve its being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
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