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.

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