Friday, January 29, 2010

Top Films: Das Weiße Band

What you may have heard about this movie is true, but not always in the way you would think. It is certainly one of the best movies of the year. It is thought provoking and interesting to watch. It is disturbing, but that is where you may have been misled. Michael Haneke has a reputation for exploring violence onscreen. This movie does have violence, but it is almost all off-screen. The disturbing nature of the film lies in the topic it explores—the total depravity of man.

The setting is a small German village during the year before World War I. The story is told as recollections of the town school teacher, years later as his memory has begun to fail. He fills in his gaps of knowledge with speculation, so we are not really even meant to take the story at face value. It explores several events of violence and crime committed by persons unseen and could be considered a mystery except for the fact that no one ever tries to really find out who is committing the crimes, and we as viewers never really no for certain who committed them.

Some people think this is a story about the beginnings of fascism. Some, like Roger Ebert, think that the movie is about a murder—something that never happens in the film. Needless to say, Haneke is not presenting the viewer with a simple morality tale, or even a simple tale at all. It is, however, a story with a moral. Haneke is presenting us with a world where evil things happen; much like the real world we live in.

At the center of this world, are those in authority who allow the bad things to happen, and even cause some of them. The Baron allows his workers to work in conditions that are dangerous enough that they sometimes die. The doctor is competent and caring, yet he is a cruel adulterer using his lover and abusing his daughter. The pastor is a legalistic disciplinarian who mentally abuses his children with guilt.

However, all of that does not answer the question posed by the movie. Why do people turn to and follow extreme ideologies like those that dominated Europe in the 20th Century and much of the Islamic world today? The events of this movie are horrible but sadly commonplace.

Perhaps the answer lies in the one character that does nothing wrong—the school teacher. Towards the end of the film, the teacher has strong reasons to think that he knows who the evildoers of the film are. When he shares his suspicions with the Pastor—that his children and the other kids in town may have committed many of the crimes we have witnessed—the pastor will not accept his story. In fact he threatens to humiliate the teacher if he shares these theories with anyone else. What does the teacher do? Nothing. He waits his entire life, through two world wars and into old age, before he shares the story.

Perhaps that is how terrorism and totalitarianism begin. People see and recognize evil, but when authority figures hide the truth to protect themselves, the people remain silent and submissive.

That is not the entire point to the movie, of course. There are a lot of little scenes and moments that have little to do with the evil of the story, but that are wonderful on their own: The teacher meeting the father of the girl he loves. The pastor and his youngest son having two conversations about a bird. The son of the doctor learning from his sister for the first time what death is… This may very wellbe the best film of 2009.

For a selection of scenes, including part of one listed above, see here or here's a trailer:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cultural Proximity: THE Key to Missional Living

One aspect of Missiology that is important to that popular concept “Missional” could be called “Cultural Proximity.” In fact, it may be the key to Missional living and ministry. The basic idea is this: The most effective spokesperson for the message of the Cross will have the least cultural distance from the audience to which they are relating. So, the best person to share Jesus with a tribesman in Africa is another man from that same tribe. Someone from a neighboring tribe would be a step down from that and a Western missionary could be slightly better than an American tourist.

The idea of cultural adaptability is closely related to this, and says that people who are able to view the world through another cultural lens are able to better communicate the Gospel to people from that culture. That is why the calling to career or long term cross-cultural ministry is so important. Some people seem to be “cultural-chameleons,” or are specially gifted to adapt to a specific other culture.

This whole concept becomes even more important when we realize that, applied to Western Culture, evangelical Christians are by definition some of the worst representatives of the Gospel message to the lost world. The Evangelical subculture is so foreign to secular people in the same countries that they are often unable to communicate with people outside of the “Evangelical Ghetto.”

This concept affects the way Missional ministry is done cross-culturally in at least two important ways.

Long-term dedication and intentional cultural adaptation is revealed to be of utmost importance. The more a person is able to see the world through another cultural lens, the more effective their communication of the Gospel to that culture will be.

Also, investment in national or new believers through discipleship becomes the cross-cultural workers primary task. Multiplying efforts through investment in the most effective witnesses has a proportional impact on the advancement of the message.

Basically, to become Missional all Christians should strive to know the truth of the Gospel like the back of their hands, but also learn to swim in and navigate the culture that surrounds them in an authentic “native” way.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lost Season 4

Once again, Lost manages to carry us forward in the adventures of the survivors of flight 815 while completely reinventing the way the story is told in comparisons to seasons 1, 2 and 3. In some ways it reinvents television story-telling altogether. Up until now, we have become accustomed to character development through flashbacks. This year we are treated to regular flash forwards. Audiences of movies and television are used to non-sequential story-telling. Here we are made aware little by little, but right from the beginning, how the story will turn out this season. The ride is not about where we are going, but how we get there.

In some ways season 4 puts the story on hold, up until now 91 days have transpired since the crash. The main action of season 4 occurs in about one week. The writers strike affected all television shows this year. One can only wonder what it would have been like had the show been able to carry forward according to plan. That being said, what does happen is important to the plot. We learn a lot about the island without really getting a clearer picture of what is really going on, and we are set up well for the ride to come in season 5.

The one standout episode of the season, aside from the climactic ones at the end, is The Constant. This episode is creative writing at its very best, and is a good story at the same time. We learn more about one of our favorite characters, Desmond, and the season’s best introduction… Daniel Faraday.

Desmond’s character is another “believer” that the story presents to us. He believes in love. Like many other characters of faith in the show, he is a Christian and was at one time a novice monk. His constant devotion, the faith that keeps him going is the love that he has for Penny, and this show presents that fact to us quite literally.

Faraday is perhaps the most interesting man of faith we have yet to meet in the show. Not enough is show this season to really determine exactly what he believes. He comes across as an extremely intelligent man, one that is so smart that he has accepted that there are things in this world that we can not understand. He believes things that are true in spite of the fact that he cannot understand nor explain them. He is possibly a man that shows the balance between understanding and belief.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pop Culture Parables

Last month, I was talking to a woman who had just found out I was a Christian. She was very curious to understand why I believed and how I could maintain my faith in such a cruel world. I would later find out that her only connection to God had been through the Catholic Church, through a loving grandmother, who had died when she was a teenager. The day her grandmother died, so had her small measure of faith.

She asked me all the usual questions, several variations of: “How can there be a God in such a cruel world with so much suffering?” I was just deciding how I should respond; mentally going over my list of options. None of them are perfect, but the Spirit can use any of them. The trick is finding the one that speaks to the heart you are addressing. I could tell that the friends that were with me were silently praying for this woman and what she needed to hear.

Then she added an example to support her cause. “It’s like that movie, The Fifth Element. Did you see it?” I smiled and said that I had. We went on to talk about the themes in that movie—how it shows a world full of suffering and evil, but how the movie also has a “perfect being” willing to die for that world; willing to show it true love.

Many Christians have a hard time engaging in the popular culture of today. Many even think that is a bad thing to do. The problem is, there is truth there for those who are able to see it. For many it is the only connection we have to bring them back to the truth of scripture. Often we can illustrate God’s truth through the stories out there in a way that they would never understand if we took them straight to Scripture from the start.

This particular woman is now “eating up” the copy of the Bible we gave her. Scripture is still the best source of truth, but sometimes we need to make sense to people before they will trust that truth.

Monday, January 25, 2010

1 Corinthians 14 (Appraising Gifts Part 2)

Gifts are not only judged by whether they are used in love or not; they can also be measured by how helpful they are to the body. In chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul takes two gifts and measures them against each other. Presumably he chose these gifts based on their high esteem in the church in Corinth, or at least due to the high esteem one of the gifts received there. It seems that having a particular gift in Corinth made you very popular and everyone wanted to have it—speaking in tongues.

Paul argues that prophecy, proclamation, or sharing truth from God is a better gift than tongues because the benefits to the body are greater. If the body is gathered together and someone shares a truth they have received through Scripture or the Spirit that is something the body can understand and apply and grow as a result. On the other hand, if someone stands up and babbles incoherently, (presumably to everyone but God) then no one but God benefits. Paul says that in this case it is quite clear that one gift is more beneficial to the church than the other.

Paul does make a case for tongues to be used if there is an interpreter. This is something witnessed all the time across the world when an American goes to share the Gospel in a “foreign land.” They do so by going to already established churches and preaching sermons in English while the locals listen to a translator. The trick is making sure that the “interpreter” actually translates what the preacher is saying. Come to think of it, sometimes the translation—while actually a quite different sermon—is a far better message.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Star Trek

The curious thing about last year’s Star Trek was the way it ended up being great, but not for any of the reasons you would expect it to do so.

Star Trek has always been the turf of the thoughtful fan; the nerd who likes their Science Fiction full of not only hard science, but philosophy and plots for the thinking man. It has traditionally delved into the problems society encounters and tries to propose answers, albeit humanistic, materialistic ones. And not only do you have these Star Trek expectations, but the man behind the reboot…J.J. Abrams.

Mr. Abrams has developed a reputation for being a fun, smart-story story-teller. But in addition to that, he was the creative force behind Lost which in some ways is the current incarnation of Star Trek on television, at least for a postmodern audience. Lost is nothing if not a show for people who want to think and have questions thrown at them for which there are no easy answers, and often none even offered.

So the surprise in Star Trek is that it is a purely popcorn movie. However, that is not a bad thing. Sometimes a movie can be a good film simply by presenting a well-made, entertaining story. For the most part, Star Trek accomplished that. Where they take the franchise from here is anyone’s guess, but for now we can enjoy the fact that one of the best movies of the year, both critically and financially, was simply a fun story; a blockbuster that wasn’t completely stupid, but also not a hoity-toity inaccessible piece designed simply for the critics and snobs.

Here’s hoping that the expansion of Hollywood’s most prestigious recognition, the Oscars, to ten candidates for best picture will open the field up to films like Star Trek and Pixar movies; the films that have been too “main stream,” well-made, and successful to be even considered as the best.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Gospel According to Lost

By Chris Seay

Lost has been a cultural phenomenon. Even better it has been one that is rooted in thought and an exploration of ideas and meaning. This book offers a Christian perspective on the story for those who have been watching the show and want to dig deeper. It delves into the lives of the various characters viewers have come to know and love for the past five seasons. It also touches on the philosophical and Biblical subtext of the show, explaining some of the background that makes the show so rich.

Lost has also earned a special place in popular culture as a true classic that will likely stand the test of time. It managed to tell its story in the way that it wanted and seems to be ending on its own terms. In the age of DVD and iTunes, people have been able to watch it on their own terms as well. That being said, it is a part of the current Zeitgeist, and that makes this book all the more interesting.

This book is a book for the now. It will probably have a certain degree of limited shelf life. Coming out between the fifth and final seasons of the show, it is very much for the people who have watched the show and are anticipating the end. If you have been waiting until the show ends to get on board, you shouldn’t read this yet, and one imagines it will lack a certain something for readers once they have seen the whole series.

For those of us along for the Lost ride right now, however, this book is a helpful companion.

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On another note, this book is a good example of what this blog and others like to do. Chris Seay says in the afterward that he hears from God through Popular Culture. He also admits he gets strange looks from people in Christian circles when he tells them that. The truth is, though, that millions of people are engaged in the culture of this world, and God uses everything at His disposal to try to connect with people. As Christians it would be a shame to be so disconnected with the dialogue in popular culture that we could never jump in and show people how God’s truth is illustrated there.

It is not often people have approached me asking questions or pointing out things they have wondered about the Bible, but I have often had the chance to share Jesus with people after they have asked me about a movie or TV show.

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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.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Discipleship Trees

In American Football, especial at a professional level, there is a lot of talk about Coaching Trees. The idea is that a head coach passes his coaching philosophy on to his assistant coaches who then go on to coach their own teams. A coach’s tree can have multiple branches and generations of offspring, and is judged on how successful the subsequent generations of coaches on the tree perform.

The same sort of idea should be used in Christian Discipleship. The way most Christian leaders are judged today is based on how big their church attendance is, or how popular their books or sermons are. Instead, all Christians should be about the business of working on their discipleship tree.

Every Christian has been commanded to make disciples. This is not an optional task, nor does it mean that we are to simply share the Gospel. Making disciples involves seeing people begin a relationship with Christ and teaching them everything He taught…including the making of further disciples.

Theoretically, every Christian could have a Discipleship Tree constructed based on their efforts. It would include on the first level below their name a line of all the people they have discipled, and under each of them, the people they in turn have discipled and so on. Sadly for most Christians—even in vocational ministry—there would probably be few or no names on the first tier, let alone any further down the line. Come to think of it, in today’s Christianity, are most Christians even on anyone’s tree? We have become a Church focused on making converts and instituting traditions rather than making disciples and building relationships.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lost Season 3

In the reviews of season 1 and season 2 here at NonModern, an attempt was made to avoid spoilers. Here in season 3 that will not be possible, so you are warned…

By Season 3 of Lost, the show had established its unique “feel” and structure well enough that the story felt like a natural continuation of both the first season and the second, in spite of the fact that they were somewhat different from each other. Also, in spite of the ratings drop experienced in season 3, the show was actually able to tackle issues and themes in a more determined way.

The show has continually been used (as all good genre, especially fantasy, always is) to address deeper themes of culture. Everything from decision making in society and government, to torture, to faith has been touched on at some point, and is continued to here in season 3. However, a main theme seemed to emerge in this season’s stories that overarched all others as the season moved along: repentance.

Repentance is special in that it takes the faith and belief elements that the show has always toyed with and explores how that faith affects the way people live. Religion, morality, and ethics are all practical, real life outcomes of belief. It is here that the show explores religion and not just philosophy.

We see the issue of repentance, or at least characters dealing with past decisions, over and over again. Hurley has to come to terms with the way his father affected his life, and the decisions he made as a result of that relationship. Claire had to deal with her guilt related to her mother’s death. We see Kate’s past decisions destroy an important relationship she had before the crash and her current decisions change the whole dynamic of the society on the island. Desmond’s whole character and abilities present an interesting exploration in the way the choices people make affect the world. However, two episodes and the characters they feature are key in this theme of repentance in season 3.

In The Cost of Living we see Mr. Eko being summoned by his brother’s ghost to repent for the sins he has committed. In the end, he refuses to admit he did anything wrong. He was doing whatever he needed to do to survive. Because he had reasons to do the evil things he did, and did not necessarily delight in them, he feels he should not be held accountable for them. Unfortunately for him, the force on the island taking the form of his brother does not agree.

Later on in the episode Enter 77 we see a flashback to Sayid in Paris. In this flashback he is captured and held captive by a woman whom he had tortured during his time with the Republican Guard. While her husband wants revenge, she simply wants an admission. She has no interest in becoming what Sayid was to her. Confronted with his past, Sayid breaks down and expresses his regrets. He expects to be killed, and knows that he deserves to die for his sins. He shows true repentance.

The theme is revisited and shown throughout the season from a lot of perspectives.

Other stand-out episodes include:

Flashes Before Your Eyes
We see the curse/gift that Desmond receives after blowing the hatch.

Tricia Tanaka Is Dead
The seasonal dose of laughs centered on Hurley.

The Man From Tallahassee
This episode features a fascinating conversation between Ben and Locke that considers the difference between empty religion and true faith. A whole post could be written about this one.

And, of course, everything From Catch 22 on to the end of the series.

Monday, January 18, 2010

1 Corinthians 12:32-13:13 (Appraising Gifts Part 1)

One of the problems with the current Spiritual Gifts craze is the way some try to impose their gifts on others. If they are gifted in some way, then all Christians should also exhibit that gifting. This is the opposite problem to that which Paul had just addressed in referring to the church as a body. However, here Paul does say that people should desire to have the greater gifts. This implies that (a) you can have other/more gifts at some point in the future and (b) that some gifts are indeed better or more useful/beneficial than others. How are gifts judged? In the way that they are used and the results they bring the church.

Just as the answer in Galatians to the legalistic issues was that we are governed by love and not law, here in Corinthians the answer to judging ministry in the church is love and not giftedness.

Gifts relate, always, to ministry and service. They are a benefit to us only in the context of serving God and others. The judgment or rating of our servant value lies not in how gifted we are, nor in which gifts we posses, but rather in how much love we exercise. That is the measure of how gifts are used.

Then there is also the judgment of results, which Paul begins to address in the next chapter…

Saturday, January 16, 2010

2006 in Film

2006 was a year of transition and language learning for me. Translation—I didn’t get to see much that year and have had to catch up since. There are several films I would still like to see from 2006, only a few of which are listed here.

(Revised 5/28/11)

Top 10 Personal Movies of 2006
1. El Laberynto del Fauno
2. Casino Royale
3. End of the Spear
4. Children of Men
5. Das Leben der Anderen
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
7. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
8. The Prestige
9. Superman Returns
10. Monster House
11. (parts of) Paris Je T’aime

Bottom 5 Personal Movies of 2006
1. The DaVinci Code
2. The Visitation
3. We Are Marshall
4. The Pink Panther
5. (parts of) Paris Je T’aime

Top Movies I still Want to See
1. Apocalypto (seen)
2. United 93
3. Babel
4. The Departed (seen)
5. Letters form Iwo Jima & Flags of Our Fathers

Friday, January 15, 2010

Further Thoughts on Avatar

Now that most of the world has taken the chance to see the movie Avatar, it can be examined in a more thorough way.

Most people know by now, that Avatar while a novel experience for the viewer, is not a novel or unique story… at least at it most basic premise. It is the age old story of cultures clashing, of invaders gaining an appreciation for the new, of individuals deciding that there are better ways of viewing reality than they have always considered. In that sense it is Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, and every other Native American story of the past twenty years.

However, where as most of those stories are thinly veiled attempts of liberal ideology to critique and condemn western culture, this film takes it to a whole new scale. This is not one “culture” encountering another “culture” and discovering a new perspective. It is humanity discovering the perspective of another creature. We are also used to this story having seen it in War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Signs, and so many other alien invasion stories. We are just not used to looking at our own humanity in this light.

In this sense, it is much more like the C. S. Lewis novel “Out of the Silent Planet.” That story uses a similar premise to explore the sinful nature of humanity, and what creatures would possibly look and act like if they had never turned against the creator. (Sully's experiences as he learns to live in another culture with another language are also especially fascinating to anyone who has gone through that experience for real.)

The spirituality is where the analysis falls apart for the Christian viewer. The aliens of Pandora are keenly in tune with their god and live according to its established order. It is not a religion as we see in our fallen existence, but rather a relationship with their god. Unfortunately, the film’s idea of reality is not one with a rational creator personality, but rather a mindless Gaia, a Mother Earth (Pandora?); it is the planet that is god in this story.

As Christians, we can agree with many of the ideas this story presents: there is a God, spirituality is a more valid perspective on life than materialism, creatures should live as the creator designed them to, there are things worth fighting for, imperialism is wrong, and so is pacifism. However, we need to be able to point out the differences between nature worship and a relationship with creation’s creator.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cowboys or Church?

Modern technological wonders have rendered this choice irrelevant. Anyone who wants to attend church AND watch the NFL playoffs this Sunday can do so, even though both are technically happening at the same time. However, the fact that both are happening at the same time does raise some interesting questions:

When did Sunday Night Church attendance become a measure of spirituality? As a matter of fact, when did Church attendance become that at all? We have a problem with people hanging all of their spirituality completely on how often they darken the door of the Church building, and not at all on how they live outside of the church. When they are in Church, attendance marks the end of their commitment. All they do is sit and absorb.

It would be a lot more exciting to find a community of Christians who regularly and consistently did meet for worship, but even more frequently met together in homes and did community around life that included tons of people who did not know Jesus. What about Sunday morning worship all together, but then three or four evenings a week at homes around dinners or cultural events that included Christians and non-Christians dialoguing issues of life and bringing Jesus and His teaching into the mix.

Pop Quiz Time:

Who would you rather be, from the following options?

A. A Christian who, when the “Church” is open, you are there. You know everyone in the fellowship, and you are on a bunch of committees. You know almost no one outside of the church. In fact, you are not sure of all of your neighbors’ names.

B. A Christian who has a deep concern for the lost of your community. You know that people are going to want to watch the game and see it as an opportunity. You plan to show the game AT church and present the Gospel at half time. (By the way, the event is a huge success and you have a higher attendance than most Sunday nights. No one is saved at half time. No one noticed if any non-church members actually came, but you will expand the event for the upcoming Super Bowl…if the Cowboys make it.)

C. A Christian who is involved in the Church, especially outreach ministries. You plan to skip church this Sunday and invite all your neighbors over to watch the game. You have been working on these friendships for some time, and have no plan to present the Gospel during the game. A couple of these friends are already talking to you about what you believe and asking questions about God. Patiently, you are answering questions and telling them things as they are ready and eager to hear, but not before.

Confession time: When I was in the states and on staff, it was easy for me to understand how some ministers guilt tripped people into coming to church instead of watching football. After all, we were paid to have to be there. I just wish churches would reevaluate their priorities.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Paris Je T'apprecie

Paris is an interesting city. It has a lot to offer, but really must be done with forethought, preparation and understanding. Unlike some famous cities in the world, that one can step off the plane-train-metro and just explore, Paris could overwhelm and disappoint a tourist who tried all-out “adventure tourism” there.

For starters, Paris is large and spread out. There is so much to see that a couple days or even a week require the traveler to decide what they want to see and what they can live without. For someone who has not seen a lot of Europe or large cities anywhere, the city itself is a sight to behold. It has the European charm and beauty that many large cities here offer, but there are special and unique sights that demand attention. What do you want to see?

Somewhat underwhelming in a surprising way, are the main sights—the Eiffel Tower and the Arc of Triumph etc. In person they look like something you feel like you have seen before. It is sort of like the person who went to their first rock concert and reported, “It was so cool! If I closed my eyes I could imagine that I was listening to my iPod!” Still, you have to see them in person. Add to that list Notre Dame, the river (at night), and a stroll down the Champs Elysees.

For the more “NonModern” experience you need to do three things: the list of favorite experiences Paris had to offer us last year:

Explore the 18th arrondissement thoroughly. This is the Paris of the movies. It is the area you could actually imagine living in if you were to move to Paris.

Hit the Orsay with plenty of time. This is the museum you want to see. The best way to do the “must see” museum stuff in a short time is to hit the Louvre right as it opens on a Sunday (not the free one) and see the main things you want to see and then head across the river to see the Orsay at a slow and deliberate pace.

Do a night walk. A good suggestion would be to start at the new Opera where the Bastille was and wind your way across the islands and back to the old Opera and Madeleine area.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lost Season 2

"Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning." -C. S. Lewis

As Lost moved from the first season to the second, everything from the story to the feel to the characters grew and changed. How did the quality fare?

Seldom has a show been so different feel from one season to the next. While we deal with (for the most part) the same characters as last season, they continue to develop and evolve so that the ones we felt we had pegged seem like strangers and the ones who had been relegated to background voices take on main focus. One of the great aspects of Lost is the way it is populated by an already large cast for television, but it is not afraid to patiently reveal more about each individual and even add more characters as it goes along.

The style and feel of the series has also changed this season. The first season had a “Cast Away” and “Lord of the Flies” feel; this one manages to move away from a mysterious and scary Nature to more of a strange sci-fi atmosphere with boogey-men as opposed to monsters. The Hatch and The Others take on a more central role than they did in season one.

All in all, after a slowish start, the series actually improves upon its first season.

Thematically, belief and faith take on more significance this season, especially with the addition of Mr. Eko—a strongly silent priest of sorts. He and Locke (the representative of faith in season one) show us different aspects of belief. As they gain more knowledge about the island and its workings Locke’s faith is (temporarily at least) destroyed while Mr. Eko’s is confirmed. It is fascinating to see the same information affecting two people’s faith so differently, but perhaps even more fascinating that we are then able to see what reality has to say about their different takes.

Another aspect of the Eko/Locke dichotomy is the progression of faith that we see. Locke’s faith in both of the seasons so far is little more than Animism, Mr. Eko believes in God.

More stand-out episodes:

What Kate Did:
Notable for the obvious reasons (see the title), but also for the story Mr. Eko tells Locke and the way it is applied to their situation.

The 23rd Psalm:
Mr. Eko’s back-story.

Fire + Water:
Perhaps one of the weaker episodes of the season, but where else are you going to see a mainstream TV show give serious validity to Christian creeds—even if they are misrepresented?

The Long Con:
You have to love any story involving elaborate con jobs.

Two for the Road:
From here on in the season is a nail-biting unstoppable ride to the inevitable cliffhanger that we all know is coming.

This is where the question we have all been asking ourselves about the hatch all season long is answered… or is it? That depends on who you believe: the animist or the Christian.

Monday, January 11, 2010

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (The Church Is a Body, but Is It Sporty or Fat?)

This is a great passage calling for the unity we should have as Christians, especially as it is calling for a unity built on diversity—something that is too often overlooked in today’s calls for unity. And just as a local church demands variety in order to function at its best, so the Church does as well.

This may be the best known Biblical metaphor. A church is like a body. However, it is just that—a metaphor. The Church is not literally a body, just as it is not a temple or any other figurative description that is applied to it. Like any other metaphor, this one is only as perfect as it communicates what it is intended. Here, Paul says that all members of the church are unique and necessary. However, we do not (like a literal body part) have only one or a limited set of functions.

The biggest problem with today’s Spiritual Gifts teaching is the way people use it as an excuse. “Sorry, my Spiritual Gift is teaching, so I can’t possibly do ‘menial labor,’ try asking a servant.”

A better metaphor for the way church members should interact and function might be football. A quarterback’s function is to throw the ball or hand it off, but a coach would be pretty upset if the quarterback failed to attempt a tackle when it was needed. We all have our specialties and roles, but we also need to step up when needed. After all, the power that we channel is not limited by our giftings or abilities.

In fact, the body metaphor might be extended in today’s church to describe a huge problem we face. Every member should ideally have a role to play in the church’s mission. The problem today is a lot of members see their role as sitting still and consuming; storing up all kinds of spiritual nourishment. That would be the role of fat. Today’s church is woefully overweight. American church growth models, in fact, seem designed to birth fat churches. Perhaps God’s model would be for churches to reach a certain size capable of the best operation followed by reproduction… churches birthing churches. Instead we see successful churches as the biggest ones, regardless if the members are actually ministering or not.

Friday, January 8, 2010

"The Church Locker"

One of the films receiving high honors from all the critics this year is The Hurt Locker. It is surprisingly viewable in spite of the fact that, instead of a story, it is a meandering slice of life from a place no one would voluntarily go in a situation no one would chose to live. Perhaps that is why it is being touted as the best Iraq war movie thus far. It simply shows the war without preaching. It captures the horrible and yet tedious experience that this conflict seems to be.

The thing that makes it more than just a documentary-like depiction of war is the main character it presents. James is a man who is, for lack of a better word, “addicted” to combat and danger. Others see it as an addiction to the adrenaline rush, but the viewer is able to discover that it is the importance of the role he plays—the fact that his decisions matter—that draws James to war. In comparison, ordinary life seems so meaningless.

Apparently a lot of soldiers experience this “addiction.” They come home from the war-zone and have a hard time discovering meaning in life that compares to the life and death stakes they were able to experience in war.

There is a similarity here to many people in Christian circles that are involved in cross-cultural ministry and church planting. Once a person experiences the value their lives can have in pioneer work, going back to a predominately Christian culture like the Bible-Belt can be a huge frustration. It is not unusual to find that good cross-cultural workers are actually uncomfortable around other Christians. They prefer the company of the lost. Some established churches and the Christians that attend there find this problematic, but it is understandable.

For many missionaries a return to their home church can be like the scene of James in the grocery store in this movie. He stands in an aisle facing innumerable options—all variety with no substance—and he is overwhelmed and frustrated. Church culture is often a case of filling our whole lives with empty, churchy things and forgetting that God wants us to be witnesses surrounded by lost people who need what we have to offer. That is meaning with life and death stakes.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Critics: Samplers or Snobs?

It was recently revealed in one of those endless scientific studies done all the time, that the human tongue is incapable of tasting more than 3 or 4 separate flavors at once. There goes that thin veneer of credibility that wine-tasters had built up for all these centuries or snobbery. Ultimately that is what happens to some critics of all stripes. They start out as people sampling a product and rendering their opinion; they end up as an inner circle of people with just two things in common: a driving desire to be seen as belonging to and exclusive club and a disdain for popular taste.

In film circles, the rise of the independent internet film critic was seen as a great thing. Finally some real opinions will be vented and not just all of that high-brow posing that had become the norm in print criticism. It turns out that a lot of those new critics have just as high a desire to be better than the rest of us.

It is true, inevitable and actually good that a critic will differ from popular opinion at times, because they approach art with a critical-analytical process. They try to evaluate the quality and veracity of the art being presented. Most audiences simply consume without much thought. Art should combine truth with beauty and not all offerings measure up. However, critics need to keep things like entertainment value and an artist’s ability to connect with audiences in mind when they consider art.

There are times when we could wish for more critics to truly and simply describe their reaction to a product based purely on their opinion of it, without the feeling that they are afraid of rejection from other critics. One of the “old guard” may be the best example of this sort of criticism. Roger Ebert has no fear of giving a movie 4 stars simply because he liked it. He even places movies that every other critic panned on his top ten lists.

There are good critics out there today too, even if they sometimes sound like they are trying so hard to demonstrate their knowledge that they can’t simply say what they think.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tower Thoughts

The Burj Khalifa was officially opened this week. It is currently the tallest building in the world, and cost one and a half billion dollars to build. This is a fascinating story for so many reasons:

It seems like just yesterday that the economic crisis finally hit Dubai. This tower and several other building projects there seem like a thing of the past, of the days when everyone was drunk on credit and speculating that money was grown at the stock market and would never run out.

Dubai itself is a weird and fascinating place. It seems like a wonderland of imagination, being built on a patch of desert. We all remember the inauguration last year of their new hotel on those man-made islands. Now we have shots from the top of this man-made tower, and the view is anything but impressive. Sure it is high up, and seems like a view from an airplane, but the view is brown, drab, and lifeless. Why would anyone want to visit? For all the man-made wonders. Turns out, less than ten percent of Dubai’s income is from oil. They make a bundle on tourism.

“Let’s make a name for ourselves.” That was the sentiment behind the famous tower that some people began building in Babel all those years ago. Dubai has certainly made a name for itself in construction. Interestingly, when you read the accounts, several nations and languages had a role in building this tower. Times have changed.

It looks pretty amazing, unlike any traditional skyscraper, and that is a good thing. Futuristic is an adjective that comes to mind. It is fascinating to think, though, that people would travel all the way to this part of the world to see a bunch of buildings. I can think of about 100 other places to see before I die.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lost Season 1

“For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that "unless I believe, I shall not understand.” –Anselm of Canterbury

A lot of people are taking stock of the decade and coming out with “Top Ten” lists of movies, TV shows and all sorts of things. In some ways it is too early to do the decade justice. Only now are we able to look at the 90s with any degree of objectivity to see what really did stand the test of time. That being said, Lost may emerge as the best TV show of the decade no matter when you make the list, largely based on the first season and the show that it established.

Lost is like a “how to” guide of story-telling. It is carefully constructed and plotted; which is an amazing thing in the world of television, where stories are confined to time limits and ratings. In many ways, TV in the 00s was able to break out of a lot of these limits building on the season-long plot devices that some shows, like The X Files and Buffy started introducing in the nineties. Sort of like combining the best of episodic television with the best of soaps, the way a lot of Latin American TV has been doing for years.

Lost simply took all of that potential and brought it to its best possible fruition. Building on a template informed by The Twilight Zone, Gilligan’s Island, the movie Cast Away, the novel “The Lord of the Flies,” classic philosophy, philosophy of religion, computer games like Myst, and reality television like Survivor, J.J. Abrams and company plotted a mystery delivered through flash backs and varying perspectives. It is storytelling mastery. And it is not a mystery to be solved, but more like a puzzle to be enjoyed.

At the heart of the story are some of the best developed characters in television. The show takes its time and slowly reveals more and more about more characters than most modern audiences are used to seeing. It is more like a novel than a television show in that regard. At the heart of the story stand two characters: Jack Shephard and John Locke, representing knowledge and belief respectively. In their characters we see the main theme (among many) of the first season. This aspect appeals to all of us who like Theology, for what is Theology if not the desire to understand the things we believe?

This show demands that we view it completely and in order, but along the way there are some stand-out episodes:

The Pilot:
This double-length episode was the most expensive episode ever made for television. It introduces the viewers to something we had not really seen before… truly cinematic quality television.

The Moth:
A great character episode, that also brings the subject of faith and sanctification into the conversation very clearly. The experience of the survivors is going to be one of salvation in a very religious sense.

Raised By Another:
!!!! If you ever want to know what a textbook example of great story-telling looks like, watch this episode. They’ve planted, woven, and braided this plot perfectly!

A great character study of one of the best characters in the series, and some set-up for later pay-off.

Humor and conspiracy combined in just the right mix, and the realization that a mystery unsolved is often more fulfilling than a nicely wrapped-up equation.

Of course, the closure for this season and the set-up for the next.

Monday, January 4, 2010

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (Supernatural Gifts)

Christianity is more than simply a belief system or a worldview. It is a supernatural thing. However, plenty of Christians today espouse a belief in the supernatural in theory, but are hesitant to see it in their own sphere. It is understandable. Mystical experiences are highly subjective and require people to believe in things based purely on someone else’s word. It is always healthy to appraise and accept supernatural things—even those that you witness—only based on God’s canonical word.

That being said, the Bible supports the understanding that Christians are gifted supernaturally. All Christians. By supernaturally, it means things that are not merely natural talents, abilities or personality traits. These things also come from God, but spiritual gifts are supernatural and received when one becomes a Christian—not before.

Of course, there are also supernatural abilities that do not come from God, but from sinister sources. How does one tell the difference? For one thing, Paul says here that people acting in God’s power will always glorify Jesus and declare Him Lord—not curse Him or glorify themselves. Other than that one can always look to God’s word to better recognize the powers that come from God, and distinguish them from demonic ones.

Spiritual Gifts are supernatural abilities given to believers by the Holy Spirit. There are a variety of giftings, but only one God. Paul is anything but systematic in his teaching. He was writing occasional letters. Here and in the letters to the Roman and Ephesian churches there are differing lists of gifts. Are they somehow combinable into an exhaustive list? Where do Peter’s teaching and other supernatural abilities described in the Bible fit in? Each passage needs to be taken on its own, and in all likelihood the answer is a bit of yes-and-no. One thing is for sure. These are gifts that are discovered in their usage not a series of multiple choice questions.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Films To See in 2010 Part 1 Winter

2009 ended up being a good year for film. There were a lot of anticipated movies and a lot of surprises. Genre film had a lot to be proud of, and some of the movies actually had something to say. 2010 looks like it could be a good cinematic year as well. Here are NonModern’s ten most anticipated films for the first three months of 2010:

Vampire films have great potential. The genre is used more than others to deliver subtle commentary about the world in which they are made. However, they also have the biggest potential to be absolute dreck as well. This one looks like it will have a lot to say, only time will tell…

The Book of Eli
The Hughes brothers last gave us one of the most moody, well made comic book adaptations to film in “From Hell.” It was also one of the most bloody, disturbing films in years. This time around they look to the post-apocalyptic genre, and it seems they have injected a highly religious plot as well. Denzel Washington can usually be counted on to give a great performance.

Legion (and Priest)
Scott Stuart has been tapped to direct two films this year that have a lot of potential but that so far look like they will probably end up being mindless action-horror pieces. The potential is still there, however, so we’ll keep our eye on the buzz around these two. Legion concerns an angel defecting to earth to protect humanity against the armies of heaven bent on destruction. Priest (set for August) is about the titular character going against church orders to hunt down a vampire who has kidnapped his niece.

Edge of Darkness
Say what you will about Mel Gibson, he is always engaging on screen. In this intriguing action film we get Martin Campbell (of Casino Royale) directing. That should add up to greatness, but will it?

From Paris with Love
High octane spy action, Paris, an ordinary man forced into spy work, all with a bald, goatee sporting Travolta at his craziest.

The Wolfman
We’ve been waiting on this remake since last year. The story has great potential for meaning—if they keep that in this big-budget remake.

Shutter Island
Why did they delay this film from last year when it was supposed to be released for the award season? The story looks engaging.

Alice in Wonderland
This is one of those films that “Burton was born to direct.” Hopefully it doesn’t just end up a beautiful but meaningless story. We have been let down by Burton before. Remember Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Green Zone
Take the director of the last two Bourne films, add in the writer of L.A. Confidential, tack on Matt Damon, and you have the potential for greatness. Have your story take place in Baghdad during the Iraq war and it could be disastrous. Which film is this one going to be?

Season of the Witch (and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
Nicolas Cage never lets us down. He is crazy and of late has something weird going on with his hairdo, but he is always entertaining. This year we are treated to two performances from him that both have the potential to do more than just entertain. Will they?
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