Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Perusing Podcasts

The podcast phenomenon really took off over the past couple of years. It is a great way to turn routine tasks and activities into opportunities to expand your mind and learn things, or just to entertain yourself while you are exercising or walking the dog. Here are three film related podcasts that have turned into weekly events for this listener: (All are available at iTunes or at their website linked below.)

Filmpsotting: PG/ Quality information and entertainment

This is the 60 Minutes of the film podcasting universe. A standard for years, Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson review one current release, destroy a film scene, and create top five lists for a new category each week. They also engage in occasional film marathons covering movies of a particular genre or director that are very educational. Any film fan wanting more content should look to these guys first.

The /Filmcast: R (for occasional language)/ Guilty pleasure with a good core

David Chen, Devindra Hardawar, and Adam Quigly spend a couple hours a week discussing movies and TV they have been watching, current news, and reviewing one theatrical release. The first two parts are usually good, and the third part can be skipped or saved if you want to watch the film first. At times they seem to have the perspective of the very early 20 somethings they are, (Adam had a lengthy moment revealing that he thought Casablanca was over-rated.) and a very dangerous drinking game could be created for all the times they say “sort of,” kind of,” and like. In fact, the show would be half its current length without such fillers. If you can stand this delivery, you have an informative and enjoyable show.

Film Sack: PG13 (for some occasional crude humor)/ Pure genius

Scott Johnson and co. take a humorous look at lesser known or “bad” quality movies. Many of the movies are guilty pleasures from the 80s, 50s, or really any genre movie ever. Many of these episodes have prompted immediate re-listening, and all merit revisits. Not every movie they review is worth a visit, but they have prompted me to pull more than one disk out of my collection after listening.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Strategic Missional Principles: Reproduc*

One of the most important principles in the scientific method is Reproducibility. Basically it means that any experiment should be done in such a way that it can be replicated by others with similar results. It is also something that should be on the mind of people engaged in Missional or cross cultural endeavors. What good is it for anyone to have some well funded and equipped “expert” come on the scene and start a church or movement that could never have happened on its own and could never be repeated by anyone else in the culture? Everything the Missional Christian does should be things that anyone in the culture could do easily and naturally—with supernatural help for the results, of course.

Reproducibility, however, does not go far enough. Churches are very much living things, and one of the defining characteristics of life is reproduction. Living things are Reproductive. Church should be no different. For some reason, traditional church is almost sterile. Of course churches continue to be planted, but that tends to be the exception not the norm. Missional efforts should produce church that is naturally reproductive—not just growing in size, but actually reproducing itself in terms of more churches being planted.

So, Reproducibility and Reproductive. If your strategy has any elements that are not—drop those elements.

Monday, March 29, 2010

2 Corinthians 5:11-21 (The Christian as Ambassador…)

Here we come to the pinnacle of Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians. Everybody tends to know one or maybe two verses from this passage, but as is usual with a lot of “memory verses” they loose some of their point removed from context. The one everybody learns early on in their walk is 5:17:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Only slightly less well-known is verse 21:

“He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

The first verse is a wonderful promise and reminder of the change that takes place in a person’s life when they accept the message of the Gospel. The second is an amazing picture of what that message is all about. Both are here together because of a larger and often overlooked point that Paul is trying to make. He is reminding the Corinthians that he (and they) has been given a mission by God. They are to carry out the Ministry of Reconciliation.

All of the characteristics of the Christian walk that Paul has described: its superiority to religion but also the suffering it brings us through, are meant for one purpose. God uses us to persuade people to be reconciled to Him. We (should) no longer live as we did before we knew Christ. We have been renewed and our vision and goals in life have been as well. We are appointed as His ambassadors. We represent Him. We no longer interact with other on our own behalf. We represent a foreign power. (And you thought all that “taking the Lord’s name in vain” business was about cussing.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

"You Know Monsters."

In which the first Hellboy film is seen as an allegory for the Christian identity.

The first Hellboy film begins and ends addressing the question: “What makes an individual the person that they are? Is it their origin or the choices they make? At the risk of spoiling the film, the answer the film makers chose is the latter. Hellboy comes into the world as a baby “demon.” (Theologically speaking, this movie is less Bible and more Lovecraft.). However, he is raised by a loving, Christian man whom he calls father. There are several ways that the film can be seen as a representation of the Christian life being all about sinners loved by and choosing to live for a father figure.

Hellboy denies his nature. He grinds his horns away and tries to fight evil in the world. Late in the film, he must choose to believe that his father’s opinion of him is truer than his own nature. He is effectively changed by the love of others. Most people in the world who know of his existence think he is a monster. Even he thinks so at times. Those who truly know him know that he has a good and loving character.

The “true” monsters in the film are also interesting examinations of a Christian understanding of evil. When one is killed, two emerge to take its place. Hellboy’s fight against them can be seen as a picture of the Christians struggle against sin. It is a lifelong endeavor. He doesn’t just struggle against his own nature, but also against all the evil that the world throws at him.

There is more discussion along these lines and about the second film (see more next week) on the podcast “More Than One Lesson.” If you find these films interesting, you might check it out.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Lent. (With an “e,” not the sort you find in your belly-button.)

We live in a generation that craves experience, belonging and meaning. A characteristic of postmodernism is the drive to be a part of something bigger than our miniscule existence. In the process, more worth is given to artificial things than reality… simulacra rather than a real existence.

Take any celebrity death, for instance. People seek to become a part of the famous event by participating in the tributes in spite of the fact that they have no connection to the person who died. Participation gives a sense of belonging, or experience.

In a similar way, Christians today have an affinity for the ritualistic and liturgical elements of past beliefs. They crave the self-discovery that a personal interpretation of the tradition brings. It seems that this year, more than ever, Lent has become just such a trendy practice. There is always a personal benefit that can be had from such an attempt, but there is also a very self-centered aspect to it.

Even when you overlook the selfishly motivated fasts that many people engage in, (Girls in the Catholic country where I grew up regularly did “religious” fasts from bread when they got too heavy—it benefits your eternity AND your bikini body!) there is still a bit of a “navel gazing” aspect to Lent. The idea of denying yourself something to please God, in light of the very fact that Jesus on Easter removed any need for payment on our part, makes Lent a bit ironic.

Of course, most people I know are doing it for the personal experience, not the religious requirement.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Paltry Parties

American politics have become incredibly frustrating for your average Christian thinker, and not for the reasons you might imagine. (Strike average from that previous sentence, and replace it with “rare bird, the…”)

Basically, there are no options remaining in the two-party system that has overtaken the United States.

On the one hand, you have the socially acceptable Republican Party. It is the party of choice for all “good” Christians. Why? They have convinced people that they are the socially conservative party. That is problematic for two reasons. (A) They have not done much of anything in the past 20 years to promote the issues important to Christians. (B) Does anyone really want government legislating morality and making our choices for us in this country? Once upon a time the Republican Party stood for less government, but then some self declared Christian activists tried to change the party into a religion by force group that never really accomplished anything accept make the Republican the “right” party for “true” Christians. The main reason most Christians are still Republican is either because they have been told to be so by the people they let think for them or because the only alternative is the Democrat Party.

So is the Democrat Party any better? They sure can sound Christian. They are all about compassion and doing good deeds for the poor and the disadvantaged. However, the problem remains for rational individuals. They don’t want you thinking any more then the other party. If you dare to ask a question about their proposals or their “facts” you are obviously heartless and want people to suffer. To say, for example, that their version of health care is the wrong one is to be “anti-reform.” Don’t even get started on issues like the rights of the unborn. That issue has completely abandoned rational thought decades ago.

So, is there an option for the rational believer? A third party will never amount to anything, and to think of taking over one of the existing parties ideologically goes against the current might of the Mass Man. In the herd there is little room for an individual with a mind of its own.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Strategic Missional Principles: Flexible

Imagine a driven, hard working Missional Christian. They really do combine life with ministry. They spend 40 hours a week or more in a routine that exposes the message they have to as many people as possible. They do not use Missional living as an excuse not to “work.” The only problem is, even though they are meeting tons of people and developing relationships, they are not seeing church develop.

Maybe the problem is that they are so BUSY being Missional, they are failing to see where God wants them to be. The opportunities are there, they are just somehow missing them all.

Good strategy provides for flexibility. Think about it. If you have a clearly defined goal and end vision, you free yourself up to change directions midstream when you see a better way to get to your goal. Some strategies are so over thought that people become focused on the WAY they are moving and forget they are headed someWHERE.

If you are going to be non-programmatic, relational and Spirit-led, then it almost demands that you remain flexible. Any plans you make for the next week, month or year may have to be tossed out when circumstances reveal a better way. (That better way being where God is going as opposed to where we were initially headed.) The key is maintaining a balance between flexibility and intentionality.

We should be intentional in the results we seek and not in the methods or plans we have to achieve that goal. That way, we can shift our plans without losing sight of where we are headed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10 (Suffering)

It seems a lot of people in ministry today are struggling with burnout and exhaustion. Paul struggled with the same thing. He was close to loosing heart many times in his ministry. The fact is that the Christian life—the Missional life—is a hard one.

We are pushed to the limit so that it is evident that God is the source of our power, not ourselves. We are also pushed to the limit so that Christ—in His death and in His life—will be visible within us. It is all for the magnification of the Gospel. That is the reason; that is the calling that we have. There is no other purpose that is more important. All of the suffering that Paul faced was worth it as the Gospel expanded ever wider.

All of the outward hardships, sufferings, weakness, physical difficulties, and emotional drain we may face are secondary to the “unseen rewards” being earned. “Unseen” meaning in the spiritual sense; not merely overlooked or unrealized until some future revelation. Also, not in the “It’s a Wonderful Life” sense; as if we really are making some huge difference and we simply can’t see it. Any contribution we make to the Kingdom is tiny in comparison to all that God has done. Tiny may be our part in God’s plan. The “Rewards” are not for us either, but rather for God’s kingdom and glory. That is why we press through the difficulties.

This temporal existence is nothing in comparison to the glorified, eternal life that God has/is preparing for us. Suffering is a part of this life, but not a part of His ultimate plan for our future. We can take courage in this and endure the suffering we face here in order to accomplish the tasks set before us. Death is no source of fear for death means to be present with Christ away from any more pain or suffering.

Friday, March 19, 2010

More Top Films: Chinatown

The stories Roman Polanski tells always end up being about the nature of evil. So it comes as no surprise that one of his early films after coming to Hollywood, and by some accounts his greatest success, is also one of the greatest neo-noir films ever made. Evil is the general theme behind all noir films. What Chinatown accomplishes that others before it did not is to make it seem so mundane and immediate.

Noir is usually so stylized that it is easy to remember you are simply watching a fabrication. Chinatown’s wonderful, crisp color cinematography makes the viewer forget that this film takes place in the 30s. It feels contemporary. The subject of the film—water politics in Los Angeles—seems boringly normal as well. (Far from it actually, check out Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner for an interesting read.) All of that makes us forget that Gittes is chasing after an evil being perpetrated. It seems too innocuous. That is, as it turns out, the message of the movie.

Evil is everywhere and it is still hard to see. The villains in real life do not twirl their mustaches. Every human being has the capacity to be a villain. Everyone is evil from time to time. Is that too harsh? Then everyone makes bad decisions and hurts people in their lives.

Of course the final reveal of the movie—the one that won’t be spoiled here in case someone reading this has been living in a bomb shelter since the early seventies—reminds is that evil can also be shocking. Unfortunately, the shocking sort of evil is all too common as well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Top Films: Brick

Sometimes you crave a mystery that treats evil dispassionately, like a puzzle. At other times you want a more American, out-for-justice, see-the-evil-doers-get-there’s approach. For the latter, you turn to the hard boiled genre. Sure, it is often less about the substance and more about the style, but that style can be really entertaining.

There is a scene in Ryan Johnson’s modern day noir where Brendan is fleeing from a knife wielding thug. The chase is accentuated by the clap-clap of Brendan’s shoes (shoes are an important thematic element in Brick) against the pavement as he runs, and the thud-thud of the thug’s boots following. The whole chase ends in a dramatic, metallic clang. That is the sort of cinematic beauty that we get in this first time effort.

Sure, it is set in a modern day high school, but this is not a case of postmodern genre bending. It is played straight and holds true to the classics of the genre right down to the Hammett and Chandler inspirational material. It is a complicated mystery plot with terribly clever and thick dialogue. You will not get away with lazy viewing here. The story makes sense, but you will be required to think and process the facts as it moves along.

And in the end, that is what all detective fiction boils down to. A story is always straight forward if told that way. The detective fiction story teller’s job is to tell it in such a way that the viewer gets to experience the story as the detective does…only getting facts when it is time for them to be processed. In this case the facts are being processed simply to find the truth. It is too late for them to be used to help anyone. A murder has occurred, and Brendan wants to know who is to blame.

If you like mystery fiction, if you like noir or even just great cinema… you owe it to yourself to see Brick. It has a place among the great neo-noir like L.A. Confidential and Chinatown.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"St. Patrick" by Jonathan Rogers

The Christian Encounters Series looks like it could be a promising one. The design of the books is pleasing. The size of the books is just right for alight read. The subjects selected thus far are interesting: St. Patrick, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, John Bunyan and Jane Austen are already available; J. S. Bach, St. Francis, Anne Bradstreet, William F. Buckley and J. R. R. Tolkien will be out later this year.

The volume covering the life of St. Patrick is a quick read. It is interesting with all the buzz about Missional Christianity these days as well. St. Patrick appears to have been a better role model for today’s Christians than a lot of the cross-cultural Christians of the past who sought to Christianize cultures rather than make disciples.

That being said, this biography has an unusual tone. It is rather dry and academic. This is good in that it does not elaborate or speculate the way so many myths have done in the past, but it makes the reader always feel like they are kept at a distance from the man that St. Patrick might have been. Perhaps to make up for that fact, we are treated to every single word that St. Patrick actually wrote himself, which is the only real source of information we have about Patrick in the end.

If you want to truly study who Patrick was, this is a good starting point. If you want an entertaining read and do not care about the hard facts you might look elsewhere on this St. Patrick’s Day.
-- -- -- -- --
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, March 16, 2010

Strategic Missional Principles: Gifts Based

Another part of being intentional in our strategy is to limit our activities and efforts based on giftedness. Just as there is no magic program that can be implemented everywhere for success in ministry, not every Christian is called or gifted to play the same role. We need to know and operate within the giftedness we are given.

First of all, that means knowing our limits. We are all made to feel that the only valid way to do evangelism is to share the Gospel with complete strangers on our first meeting. Basically, if you are ever on a plane you had better leave the flight with a new Christian sitting in the seat beside you. The problem is not everyone is gifted that way. (In fact, there may be a greater problem with such “salesman” approaches to this message we call The Gospel, but that is another thought altogether.) Some people are wired to be teachers. Some are great organizers and planners. Everyone has a role to play. We will only be successful in the role we have been called to fill, so we best not try to operate outside that role.

Secondly, we quickly realize that no one can fulfill a Missional strategy alone. God’s participation is needed, of course, but beyond that we need others. The church has always been a body of many members fulfilling various roles and functions. When building such a team, giftedness and overall meshing need to be considered. Do not look for people to fill specific jobs, but rather people with a giftedness that completes the team, or strengthens it in areas that are lacking.

Finally, even with a team, we need to realize that there is an overall giftedness that the team possesses. The team itself needs to recognize that there are certain limited things that they can attempt and focus on. Trying to be all things at once will only lead to frustration and burn-out. Being strategic means limiting the things we attempt.

That being said, it does not mean wearing blinders to all that is going on around us…

Monday, March 15, 2010

2 Corinthians 3:7-4:6 (Don’t Give Me That Old Time Religion)

From 2:14-3:6 Paul describes the character of professing Christians. Here he speaks of how the Gospel these Christians profess is superior to any religious system man has devised. He calls the one the ministry of righteousness and the other the ministry of death.

The ministry of death that Paul refers to here was the law. Its affects were fading but in full glory could not be faced. In some ways, the law became similar to every other religion in the world. It was based on rules and could not save. That was never its purpose, it was designed to reveal sinfulness, not cure it. While it was given by God through Moses to Israel, it was quickly expanded by men and became an elaborate system with no power.

The ministry of righteousness (the Gospel) on the other hand is forever and brings people directly into God’s glory. It does not fade. It is not a religion, empty and made up by men trying to appease guilt or control behavior. It is the power of God for salvation and is a free gift.

In the days before Christ came everything was qualified and careful. Paul says people can now speak with great boldness. We don’t just have Scripture; we have the Spirit of God working through us. The message we carry has great power.

What people today call “Missional” is proclaiming God’s message plainly, not disguised or in a slick package. We do not attract people with a gimmick and then spring the Gospel on them. We boldly live it out and proclaim it to the world. The message is better than any program or method devised to disseminate it. God’s simple plan—having it spread through natural relational networks—is still the most effective way.

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Top Movies: "Big Ba-dah Big Boom"

The Fifth Element, while not a flawless film, is a treat. It is fun to see an alternative to the Hollywood vision of the Space Opera. Many may think this is a French interpretation of a Star Wars universe, but the truth is that both this and Star Wars are cinematic interpretations of visuals found in a long running French comic.

There is no denying the way this film’s visuals are captivating. Instead of the Hollywood trend towards perfection and beauty, it seems the people cast here are chosen for the interesting and odd appearances they have. The colors in the sets and art design are vivid, even as the world presented seems lived in and worn. Everything here is interesting and fun. The film is so full of things to see that it holds up under multiple viewings and offers new discoveries.

The story is busy at times. It is no wonder that at its initial writing Luc Besson was still a teen. Some critics think it falls apart and becomes to cliché at the climax. On the contrary, it builds up to a true message about humanity and the universe, as pat as it may seem to many.

At the center of the story is the idea that mankind is a sinful race, prone to evil and destruction. In this good vs. evil story, good must overcome evil with sacrifice and love. Sure, the kernel of truth gets muddied up with ancient trappings like the four elements of fire, wind, earth, and water. In interviews, Besson tries to cloud the issue even further by claiming his intention was for the fifth element to be sex, however he does not communicate that fact in the film itself. Typical of many Europeans he confuses sex with love.

Surprisingly, this vision is more violent than America would have made it. It is also more cavalier about sex. (Not surprisingly.) However, it is interesting enough and has enough truth in it to award it a recommendation. Check it out!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A True Storybook Love

At the risk of being called a Dorothy, somewhere inside of me there is a teen-age girl. Not the Twilight fan type that yearns for an abusive boyfriend who wants to kill me, but more the life-long love story romantic.

I have always had a soft spot for stories about the boy and girl who grew up knowing each other, were always best friends and stayed that way for the rest of their lives. I guess that is why I like the Anne of Green Gables stories. Most of the time these sorts of stories feature a girl who is too caught up in some fantasy ideal to see the treasure right before her eyes. The fulfillment comes in the moment when she realizes that true love is not mysterious, but knowing.

Mary’s Song by Taylor Swift also springs to mind. It tells the story of a boy and a girl who grew up childhood friends, fell in love, got married and raised their own kids in the same house where they played as children. That is the kind of love we all long for.

I always saw the pursuit of love as some sort of Solomon’s choice. Do you want beauty, intelligence, or friendship? My mom once told me to marry my best friend, so that is what I looked for. Much like Solomon, making the right choice brought unintended rewards.

Fifteen years ago I married the most beautiful and intelligent girl I’ve ever met, and today we are still best friends. Our story has had excitement, mystery and thrills, but it is always the friendship that gets us through the hard times and disagreements.

That is something I thank God for every day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wooden Spoon Worries

I once heard of a man, who munched,
At twelve each night, a midnight lunch,
But nowadays he no longer eats,
His nighttime snacks, nor daytime sweets.

It seems one night, late in July,
His wooden spoons planned to beat out his lights.
They left him murdered, bloody, dead,
Before he could even get out the bread!

But I have personally asked my ladle,
If midnight snackers like I were in danger.
It said, “Silly man, don’t you Know?
Wooden spoons haven’t a single mean bone!”

So since wooden spoons don’t move around at night,
Have no worries, heed no frights.
Go ahead, get your midnight snack,
But just in case, hurry on back.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Strategic Missional Principles: Intentional

Reading the last Strategic Missional Principle post, some may conclude that Spirit-led is really just Christian-ese for leaving things to chance. That is not the case, nor is it an appeal for not making decisions, plans or being active. In addition to yielding to the Spirit, Missional strategy needs to be intentional.

Practically speaking, intentional strategy is all about (a) asking lots of questions and (b) knowing what NOT to do.

Good strategists are like toddlers. They ask why a lot. Why should be the question we ask of everything we do. Why do we engage this city and not that one? Why do we choose this place to live as opposed to that other one? Why do we hang out with these people? Why do we not spend time with these other people? Why? Why? There needs to be reasons for everything we do. At times it may be as simple as a sense of Spirit leading, but on the big decisions that involve a long-term direction for strategy we need “better” answers. What I will do today at 9:00 AM may be spontaneous and Spirit-led, but it should also tie into the bigger picture of the long term plans and investments that have already been made. What I will do this year is a decision that has a lot more thought put into it.

This leads us to the second point mentioned above. Being intentional is often more about what we don’t do than what we do. It may be hard to say exactly what strategy plus circumstances will lead us to do one, five or ten years down the road. It is easier, and just as helpful to know the sorts of things that will not help us accomplish the task and avoid those things. This is where Missional Christianity often butts heads with traditional work. Because, more often than not, one thing that can be known is that Missional living will lead people to do less with established churches. If you are there every time the doors are open, you will have very little time to be out among people who actually need Jesus. Every hour spent in traditional church work is one hour that cannot be spent bringing Jesus to people who do not know Him.

If intentional tends to show us what not to spend our time doing, the next principle leads us to activity…

Monday, March 8, 2010

2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6 (The "Tells" of Missional Living)

In Poker, people speak of players having “tells,” or behavior changes that speak to what they have in their hand. In much the same way, Christians should be recognizable on sight in certain ways. Paul uses three qualities to describe the authentic and evangelistic Christian—or what some people these days are calling Missional.

The Smell. Paul says a Christian just has a certain aroma. To the people who are open to God and searching for truth, the Christian “smells” good. To those who are not interested or outright reject the notion of God, a Christian will stink. We should not be able to help the way we are as Christians. The truth we know should come out in every aspect of our behavior and speech.

The Fruit. This passage has been referred to here to indicate that all Christians have a messenger role to play; we are letters that have been sent. What Paul is also saying here is that Christians should not have to go around saying they are Missional, they will have changed lives around them that show it clearly. Our resume should live around us.

The Spirit. Nothing a person does or improves or works at brings about the smell or the fruit. It is what we allow God to do through us. God has the plan, the power and the ability to change lives, not us.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

2009 in Film

What is it about years that end in nines? 1989, 1999 and now 2009 were all amazing years for cinema. Of course, Avatar dominated cinemas, and it was an incredible movie going experience. Who knows if it will translate into a lasting success outside of the big screen and in two dimensions? That is not the only reason it is not number one on my list, though. There were several other stories that were even more compelling.
This year, thanks to a lot of festivals having an online presence and to iTunes, I have been able to see a lot more short-format films. That would not usually impact the list of top films. Most shorts range from 3 star-fair down to terrible, but this year saw the return of Nick Park to cinemas! Actually, four of the animated shorts nominated for Oscars are quite good, and the two live action shorts I have managed to see (“Instead of Abracadabra” and “Miracle Fish”) are also great.


Top 10 Personal Movies of 2009
1. Up
2. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
3. Coraline
4. Sherlock Holmes
5. Das Weisse Band
6. A Matter of Loaf and Death
7. Up In the Air
8. Inglorious Basterds
9. Star Trek
10. Avatar

Bottom Personal Movies of 2009
1. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (The 1st 10 minutes made me quit.)
2. Blood: The Last Vampire
3. Watchmen
4. Angels and Demons
5. Public Enemies

Top Movies I still Want to See
1. Knowing (Seen)
2. Moon
3. Where the Wild Things Are (Seen)
4. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Seen)
5. An Education
Oh, and 6. A Serious Man (the Coen's take on Job)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Up In the Air, a Review

It is not the sort of movie that audiences should love. It is less an escape, and more a story about escapism. And yet, some of us can completely identify with Ryan Bingham.

His philosophy is simple. Most people weigh their lives down with so much junk and relational ties that they are trapped in a prison responsibilities and materialism. He, on the other hand, has reduced his life down to just what will fit in one carry on. He has also found peace in having no relationships. He fills his life with the routine of travel and the adventure of travel, which he is able to do for his job.

Does this sound appealing to you, or is it more of a sad existence? In the movie, Ryan sees his philosophy challenged. He even gets to the point where he tells his future brother-in-law that everyone needs a co-pilot. He begins to realize that every good memory a person has involves a relationship. We need people. Of course, the thing he forgets is that every bad memory a person has also involves relationships.

For many this movie will be a disappointment. For another select few, it is enticing. There is nothing quite so freeing as the experience of whittling your life down to the bare essential material possessions you need to survive. The fewer relational ties you have does indeed reduce the stress and pain you must endure. There is nothing quite so exciting as jumping on a plane and seeing a different view every few days. Then again, there is a lot to be said for having someone you can share life with…

How would you like this movie to end? Do you want Ryan to find normalcy in a relationship and his feet firmly planted on the ground? Or would you prefer that the fairy-tale ending be him to come to his senses, pick up his backpack and scan the departure board for a flight to board? How you choose will determine whether you like this story. (Oh, that and can you handle the language, and brief nudity involved.)

I, for one, liked it—aside from the aforementioned (needless and gratuitous) offenses. Catch it on a plane, perhaps.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Never would I trade the life adventure I’ve had
For the stability of a single place called home
Yet the anchor is appreciated more for all the times I have left it

Time has assembled a detailed shadow of what is merely some nostalgic place

Doorbell as a melody, not just buzz
Past iron railings and white roses
Corner pines in front, climbing in the back
Deadly alley where the beasts live
Patio grill with the juiciest meat
Workshop in back, treasure store front
Black attic closets of old memory
Cabinets full of prehistory
Giant brown chair with funnies and peanuts
Westerns or cartoons on all day
Books read by fathers along every shelf
Hall with the Western Electric

This is where I discovered oatmeal cream pies, apple juice and IBC
Late night viewings of Jack Benny, George Burns, and a Millie, all on the same set that lightning destroyed seconds before I went to change the channel

Time advances, the shadow is fading
Erosion has taken much away
An empty chair, a whistling snore
Uprooted perches, honeysuckle aroma
Painted turtle shells, watermelon seeds

Some day soon I will no longer visit
Except in a fading memory

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Life On Mars Series Two

Life On Mars experiences a subtle change between series one and series two. Sam has somewhat embraced his life in 1973, and we seem to have taken for granted that he is in a coma, so the questions about what is going on are pretty much gone. Except for some strange phone calls he is receiving.

Since we are led to believe that he is indeed in a hospital in 2006, most of the show is dedicated to Sam trying to change his friends and co-workers in 1973. He brings his postmodern sensibilities (open mindedness, lack of prejudice, careful investigation) to the table in an effort to make the department better.

Most of the voices and visions he has this season are from his hospital room, but those calls mentioned before are not. Someone in Hyde is calling him about a mission—something that they think he knows about—but it is as much a mystery to Sam as it is to the viewer. This storyline comes to a head in the last two episodes and we are shown what is really going on… or are we.

The show continues to satisfy up until the last 5 minutes. Then it raises even more questions—not about the world the show has created, but about issues far more serious—about life and what we believe. To be honest, the approach the show takes is quite disturbing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Strategic Missional Principles: Spirit-led

This principle was almost dubbed “Mystical.” Basically this quality is the answer to the question, “On which relationships do we concentrate in Missional ministry/ living?” To understand exactly what is intended, an illustration may be in order.

Remember that scene in Toy Story where Buzz “flies?” He has just arrived in Andy’s room. He believes he is a real space patrol agent. He believes he can fly. When the other toys want to see him demonstrate this, he confidently jumps of the bed—eyes closed. Through an incredible sequence of coincidences (involving a car on a racetrack, a bouncy ball and a ceiling fan) he does indeed “fly.” Of course, he does not really fly, but the effect is the same. He accomplishes what he wanted to, what he believed he could do.

We believe that God has a purpose for us to accomplish and that that purpose involves using us to change lives around us. Much like a toy thinking it can fly, we believe we can affect God-sized changes in the world.

Some people, in typically American, sweat of your brow, pull up your bootstraps, fashion think it is all about hard work. They say that if statistics show that we only impact X percent of people we meet, we simply need to meet more people… to the tune of thousands a year. It is very much the evangelist as a salesman model.

Instead, Missional living requires being led by the spirit, walking in faith. Which relationships do we invest in? What activities do we take on? There are more qualities and principles in these choices, of course, but the essential answer is whichever ones God leads us too. If you feel led to do something or talk to someone, do so. Perhaps more importantly, if you do not feel led then don’t! Doing things to be busy means you may not be available when you are needed…

Monday, March 1, 2010

2 Corinthians 1:12-2:13; 7:5-16 (Paul Behind the Scenes)

Sometimes we have a view of Paul as the “Super Missionary.” It seems as though he could do no wrong, like he never had a hard time planting churches. 2 Corinthians pulls the curtain back a bit and shows us a man who faced serious oppositions, self-doubt, and serious challenges in his church planting efforts.

One thing that will help the reader to see this clearly is a better understanding of the letter’s “structure.” Of course, Paul did not write things with a clear outline in mind. 2 Corinthians was certainly written rather quickly, in fact. Something that makes it hard to follow is the fact that Paul liked to chase ducks, and he does so here twice over. From 2:14 to 7:4 is a giant (and important) parenthetical, that happens to contain a second parenthetical within it.

Try reading 1:12-2:13 and then directly reading 7:5-16. You get a pretty clear view of what Paul is dealing with in the church he planted in Corinth. He has had his teaching challenged, faced an embarrassing trip to the church to try to clear things up that failed miserably, and he has sent them a harsh letter that we no longer have. However, things seem to have improved and Paul writes this letter in response to this turn of events.

Encouraging stuff for modern church planters to read, no? When you have to deal with all the politics and fighting that are required at times to defend God’s work in a group of redeemed sinners, just remember you are not alone!
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