Monday, May 31, 2010

Corinthians: Conclusion

The Corinthian letters are excellent primers on church: what it is and how it should be done. Even considering the specific cultural context in which they were written, the problems that are addressed and the solutions Paul models are helpful to churches centuries later and in any cultural situation. Primarily, this is because his solutions are grounded in an application of scriptural truth and a reliance on the Holy Spirit. Such an approach shows how any problem a church may face should be dealt with. That being said, most of the common problems that every church faces at some point seem to have been dealt with in Corinth in the few short years between the time Paul founded the church and when he corresponded with them.

The best message one can take away from the Corinthian letters is that, as imperfect as every church eventually is revealed to be, it is not the church’s holiness or maturity that makes them the body of Christ in the world. The church, every church, is a collection of saints made holy and assembled together by God for His purpose and to accomplish His plan in the world. If we can simply keep our eyes on Christ as the head of the church, we will be useful to the advance of the Kingdom of God—something that is already at work in us, just not yet perfected the way it will eventually be.

At the end of the first of these letters, we see a list of people’s names. These were real people. This was a real church. It is likely that it was not much different from any church you have ever been to or been a part of. Most churches tend to be similar whether they are mega or small, American or Asian. That can be frustrating when we realize how our humanity so often gets in the way of what we are to be doing. On the other hand, it is also encouraging to know that God will use real people in His plans.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Doctor Who (1996): The Movie, The Canon, and Scripture

Seven years after the original series was placed on “indefinite hiatus” and nearly a decade before its eventual return, an attempt was made to bring Doctor Who back to television—American style. The movie/pilot was not successful as it did not produce a series. (In many ways, we can all be thankful about that, as the series was too American, too nineties, and a mess.) However, it did produce a new wave of stories in book and audio form, both for classic incarnations of the Doctor and this new Eighth version. Indeed, nearly all of the Eighth Doctor’s stories are in books or on CD. Some even wondered after the new series was launched if this new Doctor was a part of the “canon” or not. The new series has since established that he is.

Even so, this has caused huge problems for Doctor Who fans. The movie quite simply cannot be reconciled with the story of the Doctor that came before. Apparently, several books and stories have been told in an effort to explain away many of the problems the movie created. Funny how so much can go wrong for a story after it is told by hundreds of people over a period of many years.

All of that makes the continuity and consistency of the Biblical message pretty amazing. Over thousands of years dozens of writers compiled a history and teaching that is amazingly cohesive. (The reports of its inconsistency are highly exaggerated and made by, shall we say, non-fans of the property?) It helps, of course, that the historical aspects of the story are just that—history. The teaching is simply amazing, though. For hundreds of years, many of the points being made were largely missed by its authors and teachers. Even so, when the full mystery was revealed, it not only did not contradict what came before, but made it all the more meaningful.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

The Hole in Our Gospel is part inspiring biography, part convicting sermon. It is the story of how a successful CEO allowed his convictions to determine how he would live his life in a world full of suffering and need. It is also a call for the Church in America to allow those same convictions to change the way it does ministry in the world.

The need in the world is made ever so clear in the stories and statistics Stearns shares in this book, but he is also quick to point out that it is not a hopeless situation. The saddest thing about Stearns message is the discovery that the Church could be doing so much more. The book does a good job of exploring the reasons why more is not being done, but ways that can change are presented as well.

This is a timely book. It is highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a Christian in Western Culture today. Just be prepared to face some unpleasant realities both in poverty stricken regions of the world and perhaps in your own way of thinking.

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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, May 26, 2010

Immigration Irritation

There are two incomprehensible things being repeated over and over when it comes to the immigration debate currently raging in America. Presumably, people hear them and think they sound reasonable or smart so they repeat them, tweet them, and put them on their status updates, spreading the word like the herd tends to do. The only problem is that they would not be so quick to latch onto these arguments if they thought about it just a little bit.

The first goes something like this: “Illegal immigrants are breaking the law. They are by definition criminals and should be punished.” While that statement is true, you do not want to build your standard of right and wrong on what a law says. Laws can be wrong. Just because a law says it is OK for a woman to kill the baby living inside her does not make it right. Just because a law used to require people of different skin colors to stay segregated did not make it right. When the law of the land considered people in slavery to be property it did not make it right. So, go ahead and be against people coming into the country willy-nilly without any process or approval, but don’t build an argument against illegal immigration based on it being illegal.

The second statement one sees a lot from people trying to defend Arizona looks like this: “In Mexico, illegal immigrants receive terrible treatment from corrupt Mexican authorities.” The idea here is to point out that the Mexican government treats illegals even worse than we want to. Once again, the argument here is on shaky ground. Do we really want to justify a policy by claiming others are worse? America should always hold itself to the highest standard of right over wrong regardless of what other countries may do.

Say what you will about the issue of immigration, but build your arguments on sound reasoning and a desire to do what is right. Of course, that makes the issue complex and hard to resolve.

While you are at it, ask yourself why the current administration is so content to have this be the issue of the hour. Isn’t it better to let “conservatives” be defined by the racist, fear mongering fringe of the movement when health care popularity is tanking and the Gulf of Mexico is filling up with oil?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lost in the Wrong Motivations

or: The Beginning and The End, or the Mystery in the Middle

“Man no longer lives in the beginning--he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Creation and Fall/ Temptation)

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” –Also, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It is entirely possible that the creators of Lost had Dietrich Bonhoeffer in mind when creating the series. The problems and frustrations a lot of people had with the series and its final season were largely based on the desire to know about the beginning and endings of things. People wanted to know exactly what the island was and how it all came to be. They were sent away disappointed because, just like in real life, such questions are not knowable to those currently in the middle of things.

What answers did the series provide? That:

In life we all have a purpose.

We cannot hope to fully understand every little detail about our lives.

We can fight that impossibility and never find fulfillment, or that we can choose to trust that someone does know how our lives will best be lived and live in that faith.

There is a real difference between good and evil and that we do not decide which is which, they simply are.

We all must choose which side we will follow and accept the consequences of our choices.

Repentance and forgiveness are possible and people can be redeemed.

Not a bad sampling of things you can know for sure in the story known as Lost. The Bible is very similar in some ways. Those looking for answers to questions such as: How exactly did God create everything? How exactly will the world end? will ultimately be disappointed. All the Bible says is: God made everything and in the end His plans and ways will be victorious. However, when it comes to the stuff about the middle—the journey every one of us is on now—there are a lot of answers to be had.

In the end, our meaning is found in the now. Who do we trust? Who do we follow? Are we fulfilling the purpose that we were created to fulfill? Are we telling a story that will be worth repeating when the finale has aired?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost Season 6

Lost concludes a 6 year run in the same way it began: literally with parallel shots—but stylistically as well. When you boil it all down to its essence, it is not a story of whys and hows, but rather a story about people. The people audiences have come to know and love throughout the run of this series are real, flawed but redeemable, changing and growing in understanding of who they are and what they were meant to be.

Therein lies the strength of this series. Sure there are questions and philosophical explorations that are valuable and worthy of thought, but what had you crying as the series reached its climax: revelations about the origins and ends of things, or the montages created to remind the characters (and viewers) of the journey we have all been on. The whole story could be seen as an exploration of the philosophy of religion and belief (it is, in fact) but it is more than just a parable—it is a quality story. (More on that in tomorrow’s post.)

In season 6 we are treated to yet another new storytelling convention. Seasons 1, 2 and 3 gave us flashbacks, 4 had flash forwards, and 5 used time travel. Here in six we appear to experience flashes “sideways” but if you think the apparent is the truth you should know you are mistaken. In the “parallel” world, we meet familiar faces, but our characters are slightly different. It is a welcome reminder that the choices we make have a huge impact on the world. In the end, that is what season six is all about: choices. It has taken our characters this long to come to the point where they are ready to make the choices they have to make. Up until now they have lacked the faith and trust that are needed.

There is more to say about the themes of the series as a whole (tomorrow), but for now just a few notes on some standout episodes and moments:

Lighthouse (6x05)

An interesting episode in which we discover that Jacob has indeed been picking and monitoring people all along, and Jack finds out that his life indeed has a purpose. It is not only interesting THAT we find this out, but how. Jacob does not tell people things, but rather helps them to discover truth—and figure it out—on their own.

Dr. Linus (6x07)

A great episode for the titular character, but even greater for the moment between Jack and Richard, where we see Jack has worked out his faith, trust, and knowledge that he has a purpose in life.

Ab Aeterno (6x09)

Richard’s episode. Interesting here that we see a priest with completely messed up theology (it is not repentance and forgiveness, but penance and work that matter!); and that Jacob enlightens Richard as to why he never directly deals with people. He wants people to discover and crave goodness on their own, as if telling them directly would taint the process or cheapen its effectiveness.

The Candidate (6x14)

Sun and Jin. Enough said.

Across the Sea (6x15)

Answers given without enlightening. A lot of people were probably really upset by this episode. More on that tomorrow.

What They Died For and The End (6x16-18)

*SPOILERS* When we finally figure out that the alternate timeline is not a result of the nuclear explosion in season 5, but the far future where all of the characters have lived out their lives and died, it serves as a beautiful picture. Sure, there are those who will be upset that it is not a perfect translation of the Christian idea of heaven (if there really is a clear one at that), and there is that nice politically correct, all inclusive window in the heavenly church. However, the image of all of these characters reuniting in the end, after many of them have died and some have lived out experiences after the finale that we never got to see, (what must the island have been like with Hugo and Ben at the helm!) it is a wonderful picture of what heaven will really be like and a beautiful end to a wonderful story.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Apes, Apes and More Apes

The Planet of the Apes series of movies was a phenomenon of the late sixties-early seventies that has had a deep impact on popular culture. It is something that nearly everyone is still familiar with, later generations thanks in part to the rethinking of the myth done by Tim Burton in 2001. However, it had already been an important part of the collective unconsciousness before the new project came out.

(For thoughts on the newest effort, see here.)

The original movie released in 1968 staring Charlton Heston, was a political/social commentary more than a sci-fi thriller. Heston stars as an astronaut who has become disillusioned with the human race. He has volunteered for a mission that will take him deep into space, to see if possibly there may be a better race somewhere in the universe. Of course, as everyone now knows, he is somehow turned around and simply returns to Earth some two thousand years in the future.

Intelligent apes now inhabit the planet, and Heston's character is now in a position to see humanity in a positive light and becomes its defender. In the end he discovers that his hatred of humanity is justified, as they had destroyed the planet and created the planet of the apes.

The moral is obvious, especially for those living in the cold war atmosphere of the late sixties. Humanity has the power to destroy everything and therefore has the responsibility to control themselves and get along. Of course, beyond this most obvious message, the film takes advantage of the ape culture to comment on (and ridicule in some cases) human culture. Everything from race relations and animal treatment to science and religion are targets.

The four sequels spawned by the movie all carried similar social commentaries, to a lesser degree of success depending on the movie. Two television series, one animated, also carried the torch of the apes into the seventies.

Most recently, Tim Burton "re-imagined" the story of the original movie. It no longer carries the large social commentary against war. The story is not set on Earth, but on another planet altogether. The idea that does come through from the original is the use of the ape society to comment on our culture. It also is in many ways a send up of the original, reversing many of its lines and situations.

For those of you who do not want to give this series of films an entire day of your life, here is “The Nutshell of Apes Series” spoilers and all:

"The Planet of the Apes" (1968)

The movie relates the story of Col. George Taylor, a US astronaut who has taken a mission into deep space. Flying at near light speed, he knows he will never return to the Earth of his own time. He is fine with leaving, though, because he is disillusioned with humanity and their warlike ways.

Something goes wrong while the astronauts sleep and they crash land on an unknown planet far into the future. Exploring the planet, they discover a tribe of primitive, mute, manlike people. While they are observing the tribe, however, a hunting party of apes arrives and hunts them down! The apes capture Taylor and his throat is injured in the process, rendering him mute as well.

In captivity he discovers that the apes’ society is advanced, very similar to the humanity he left behind, although not nearly as developed technologically. He demonstrates his intelligence in ways that surprise his captors, who are used to humans with only animal levels of intelligence. Dr. Zira, the Chimpanzee in charge of him theorizes that he has ape levels of intelligence. He begins to communicate with her through writing.

The scientific/religious leaders, headed by an orangutan named Dr. Zaius, are threatened by an intelligent man, and decide to kill him, but he escapes. His throat has recovered enough that when he is again caught in the city, he speaks in front of a crowd, proving that he is indeed as intelligent as Dr. Zira contends.

He is put on trial, (even though as a man he has no rights under ape law) and is sentenced to death. With Zira's help he escapes. Zira's fiancée, Cornelius, an archeologist takes them into the forbidden zone to prove that Heston is not the only intelligent man. He has found artifacts of an ancient, intelligent human society.

They are pursued into the dessert and prove to Zaius that intelligent men did exist. Zaius lets Taylor go, but destroys the evidence of the intelligent men. It turns out that he has always known about humanity, and kept the knowledge secret.

As Taylor rides of to find a new life, he comes across the Statue of Liberty buried on the beach. The revelation that he is on Earth in the future—a post-nuclear war future, hits him. His worst judgments against humanity have come true!

"Beneath the Planet of the Apes" (1970)

The first sequel to The Planet of the Apes is perhaps the worst or at least one of the worst. It makes the mistake of most sequels, repeating much of the stuff from the first movie without much logical reasoning.

The movie opens with the end of the first one, and we see Taylor and Nova riding of past the statue. Taylor explores some fake movie effects giving instruction to Nova to find Zira should something happen to him. It does (surprise!) and he disappears. Nova rides off to find the apes again.

Along the way she comes across another crashed space ship. James Franciscus plays astronaut John Brent who has been sent out to find out what went wrong with Taylor's ship! (Here is where logic takes a vacation. Taylor's ship was never intended to return to his own present day earth, so why send out a rescue mission less than six months after he left?)

Anyway, logic aside, the movie repeats much of the first outings ape culture situations. It seems the gorillas have perceived a danger in the forbidden zone, (the same effects that Taylor disappeared exploring) and want to go to war against the threat. John Brent and Nova get there first and discover that humans have survived in the remains of New York. They are super advanced, speaking in telepathic waves etc. Yet with all of their advances, they worship an atomic bomb as God!

The movie culminates with the apes advancing on the humans, who decide to set of the bomb. Taylor and Brent fight to stop them, but when Nova and Brent are killed, Taylor sets the bomb off himself, destroying the whole planet!

This movie carries the religion critique further than the previous one had. The first movie had shown an ape funeral. In doing so it had the apes talking of being made in God's image etc. Of course the intent was probably to ridicule Christianity, but it really serves to highlight the vanity of many religions that merely elevate gods fashioned in our own image. Even Christianity tends to do this, when we limit God to our own ideas of who He should be.

However, Beneath the Planet shows a worship service for the bomb that sounds just like a Christian service, complete with hymns changed to mention the bomb instead of God. A perfect picture of how empty religion is, when idols are worshiped instead of God. (Though disturbing when we think so many Christians could merely be going through the motions of worship and might as well be worshiping a bomb and not the all-powerful God of the universe!)

"Escape from the Planet of the Apes" (1971)

Escape is another great ape movie, some even say greater than the first! This of course is ridiculous, although it is a lot more fun in parts.

The movie opens with yet another crashed space ship. This time however, it is apes that have crashed in present day America. (Present day being the 1970s.) The apes are first taken to a zoo, as the humans have not realized that they are not normal chimps, (even though they are twice the size of a chimpanzee, walk upright and wear clothes!) Animal psychologists analyze Zira, and find her extremely intelligent. When she solves a puzzle to get a banana but won't take it, they speculate:

"Why won't she get the banana?"

"Because I can't stand bananas."

The doctors take the chimps to a hearing of the government, designed to solve the mysteries of why chimps landed in Taylor's ship, and where is Taylor? The chimps speak for themselves, and reveal that they are from the future of earth. They become instant celebrities. This is the fun part of the movie as the chimps explore human culture. Cornelius decked out in a very "seventy's" bathrobe is memorable indeed.

Dr. Otto Hasslein, a scientific advisor to the white house has suspicions about the apes, and gets permission to question the apes in more detail. He discovers that in the future apes rule the planet, and that ultimately, just as the apes escaped, the whole earth will be destroyed by an atomic bomb! He convinces the government that the unborn baby of Cornelius and Zira is a threat and must be killed. The apes escape and have the baby. Zira switches her baby with a circus chimp in the care of a friendly man named Armando, played by Ricardo Montalban! (You know, "Fantasy Island.")

The government eventually kills the apes, but we know this is not the end because the movie ends with a baby chimp in a circus cage saying "mama."

"Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" (1972)

The fourth installment of the series is in many ways the first fresh look at the themes. All the others have had some element of the first idea, an astronaut landing on a planet of "others" and exploring the differences.

This one takes place in the 1990s with Caesar, the child of Zira and Cornelius fully grown. The earth is different. All cats and dogs were wiped out by a plague in the 80s and apes have become mankind's pets. They have advanced enough to be given complex chores to do for the humans, but are now treated as slaves more than pets.

Caesar infiltrates the slave system, and begins an underground effort to prepare for revolution. He is discovered to be the talking descendant of the space apes, but begins the revolution before he can be killed. The apes take over San Francisco, and the movie ends with the understanding that the revolution will continue, as normal apes have begun to learn to speak as well.

"Battle for the Planet of the Apes" (1973)

If the second movie is not the worst, then this is. Caesar is attempting to build a society where humans and apes are equals. He is thwarted in his attempts by the gorillas and mutant humans. All plot is given up for action and battle. Enough said.

"Planet of the Apes” (2001)

This movie is not a retelling or remake of the 1968 movie, but it does make many references to it. It is really a retelling of the concept based on the same book the first movie used as its source.

Mark Wahlberg is Leo, an astronaut for the U.S. Air force on a mission in deep space. He is a pilot, but is limited to sending chimps out instead of flying himself. The base encounters a storm in space and sends out a chimp to investigate. They lose the chimp and Leo goes after it against orders. He is catapulted by the storm into the future and to a strange planet. (We know it is not earth, because there are two moons.)

On this planet, Leo is hunted down by Apes and sold to Ari, a chimp who is a "human rights advocate,” (Similar to our animal rights advocates on earth.) played by Helena Bonham Carter. He escapes with other humans, and the aid of Ari.

They are pursued by Thade, a chimp general who hates all humans. He is on a mission to kill all the humans on the planet. He especially hates Leo, for he knows Leo comes from space and that the humans were once the masters.

Leo traces his base, who are somewhere on the planet already, they have apparently come to find him. However, when they get to the ship, they discover it has been there for thousands of years! The same storm that sent Leo into the future did not send them as far. What's more, the chimps and humans on the ship gave rise to all the current inhabitants of the planet!

A battle ensues between the apes and the humans, but it is interrupted by the arrival of a space ship. It is the first chimp that Leo went after in the beginning of the movie. His arrival exposes Thade as a mad-chimp seeking power and brings peace between the apes and humans.

The movie ends with Leo going back to earth through the storm. However, Thade has left after him and arrived thousands of years before him, for now the planet is run by apes!

This movie pretty much leaves all commentary and message aside for a simple action story. It is of the school of Science Fiction that relies on time travel for its entire plot twists. (A rather cheap way of being able to trick the audience, as there is no rule of timeline.) The only subtle message lies in the "messianic" nature of Leo to the humans on the planet. He is an unwilling savior to the planet. (Yet at the same time he is also the cause of all the problems.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why Aren't So Many Christians More Ashamed?

Mike Lux wrote an interesting opinion piece on AlterNet yesterday entitled “Why Are So Many Christians Conservative?” In it he simply divides the entire political spectrum into two halves that he calls Progressive and Conservative. As he is the co-founder and president of Progressive Strategies L.L.C, and the author of “The Progressive Revolution,” you can guess which biases his piece exhibits.

An initial reading reveals what you would expect from a short piece of this nature. It is over simplified, reveals huge ignorance and presumption about what the Bible says, and generally comes across as something written by a High School Senior with an overblown opinion of his grasp of the universe. Once you get past that you might proceed to think about what he has to say and how it affects Christianity today.

To start with, the simple answer to Mr. Lux’s question is: most Christians have an aversion to thinking about any difficult life decision and simply want their leaders to tell them what to do. Since the majority of the most influential Christian Leaders are Republican, then so are most Christians. However, that answer poses another problem: Lux’s column does nothing to correct or even acknowledge the problem American politics has with nomenclature. Progressive, Conservative, Liberal, Republican, Democrat have really lost any singular meaning.

Traditionally, the term “liberal” or even “progressive” referred to a political stance that favored more freedom for the individual and less government power over everyday decisions. In America, it has come to mean the exact opposite—or a better way of thinking about it would be to say that such a stance is conservative because that is the idea upon which America was founded. To make things even more inviting for Christians, conservative ideas tend to support traditional values that are shared by most religious people, not only Christians.

The problem that has struck a lot of people even before Mike Lux addressed the issue is that capitalism—especially without any Christian values—can be an incredibly evil system, disregarding the poor and increasing the gap between them and the rich. As America has lost its Christian ideals this has indeed become a problem of obscene proportions. Of course, Socialism without Christian values is no better a stance, and certainly not Biblical.

If Capitalism says: “What I have is mine and you can’t have it,” and Socialism espouses the view that: “Everything you have belongs to the State and you can only use it with their consent,” the more Biblical understanding of Acts is: “What I have is given me by God and I will share it with those in need.”

Given that last point, American Christianity at large has certainly lost it bearings. As an American Christian, you can label me: Ashamed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

9th Doctor

When the BBC finally decided to bring back Doctor Who in 2005, they did it right. If movies are a director’s medium, then TV is the realm of writers. The writing of Russell T. Davies is tremendous. Seemingly by design, he eased audiences back into the world of Doctor Who by making the first season more about the companion than the Doctor. Audiences identified with Rose and went on “the Journey of a Lifetime.”
The Ninth Doctor is decidedly non-human, and even a little bit grumpy. Rose’s influence throughout the season serve to humanize him again so that by the time the Parting of the Ways arrives, we have a brand new, lovable Doctor for the new millennium.

Rose (1)/The End of the World (2)/The Unquiet Dead (3)
In the first three episodes of the new series, the viewers get to know the Doctor through Rose. They then go on one trip into the future in space with aliens, and one into the past with historical atmosphere and… aliens. This is the stuff of classic Doctor Who only with a better budget.

Aliens of London (4)/World War Three (5)/Boom Town (11)
In the next episodes, Davies introduces some of his “new” alien threats, the Slitheen; but perhaps more importantly a brand new concept for Doctor Who. In the old show we were used to the Doctor operating in the past without changing history and operating in the near future where fantastic events would occur. When the show occurred in “present” day it was always plausible or things happened unnoticed by the world at large. In the new series “present” day events include alien invasions and a world where humanity at large becomes aware of an extra terrestrial threat.

Father’s Day (8)
Here the show takes a direct look at what changing historic events will do, at least now that there are no more Time Lords maintaining universal stability. Rose tries to change the fact that her father died when she was a baby. Not only is there a lot of science fiction in this show, but serious life issues are addressed.

The Empty Child (9)/ The Doctor Dances (10)
Here we get our first taste of Steven Moffat. (The only writer other than Davies to contribute to every new season and the new lead writer now that Davies has left.) His are consistently among the best episodes each year and they are often the creepiest.

Dalek (6)/The Long Game (7)/Bad Wolf (12)/ The Parting of the Ways (13)
Every season of the new show has seen the return of at least one of the classic adversaries of the Doctor. The first had to be the Daleks, and they always provide for serious looks at the nature of evil. True to the 2000’s mindset, this series also looks at how little often separates our attitudes towards those who do evil and the evil itself.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fun with Fiction 1

The little farm on the outskirts of town was strange to say the least. Rather, I should say it was a place where weird things happened. It wasn't that the people who lived there were strange; they were my best friend's family. We spent many a summer day there having the time of our lives. It's just that we had several strange experiences there.

I guess I should describe the farm in more detail, but it won't seem strange to you as you read about it. In all I guess there were about four acres of land, the house and surrounding "yard" took up an acre and sat against the lane. Another acre against the lane was devoted to a pumpkin patch that was harvested every year to be sold to kids and families for Halloween. It was to the south of the house so you had to drive by it on your way there from town. The back two acres were split between the barn and animal corrals on one side, housing one cow, one donkey, two goats and an assortment of chickens and turkeys, and a cornfield on the other.

Matt's dad wasn't a farmer really. The pumpkins, and animals were a hobby; the corn was for the animals and the family. It was really an afterthought at that, the whole county was devoted to corn crops, and so it was a natural choice. He worked at the technology plant in town, helping computers to talk to each other and stuff like that. Matt and I had all sorts of adventures on the farm that summer, playing in the irrigation canal, chasing the snakes and frogs we found, and generally getting into as little trouble as we could, considering we were two boys with no one to tell us what to do.

Like I said, there was nothing strange at first glance. You had to have your eyes open to see the weird. That's the way things are everywhere. The weird is there to be had, but most people ignore it. That's what you do with the stuff that doesn't fit into that we call "ordinary."

There are all kinds of stories I could tell you. The thing that lived at the end of the canal two farms to the East. The things we saw hovering over the mountains miles away after dark on moonless nights. What we saw the night before the crop circles appeared on the Birdwell acreage. So many things, that hopefully I will put down in time, but the thing that comes clearest to mind as I sit here was the Mueller’s scarecrow...

Monday, May 17, 2010

2 Corinthians 13:5-10 (The Test)

Reading passages like this or 1 Corinthians 9:27 or 2 Corinthians 6:1 through the “once saved always saved” lens can be tricky. Not that there is a problem with that teaching; the Bible as a whole really seems to teach that a person is saved for eternity. However, taken out of context and perhaps misunderstood, these passages seem to imply that a person can lose their saved status.

Well, this is just a suggestion, and by no means a theological assertion made with any authority nor confidence, but what if these passages are not referring to individuals but rather ministries or churches?

Reading the Corinthian letters as we have, as examples and “how to” guides for doing church, this reading would make sense. So here, Paul is not telling the Corinthians to test their salvation as if they could have become unsaved; but rather he is telling the church at Corinth to test itself to see if it is still “in the faith.” Is the church still being church? If that is what Paul is doing here it makes perfect sense in the light of history. Church after church has lost it vision and become busy doing everything except that which it was called to do. Churches lose their “first love.”

The true test of a church is not how big it is, how much money it collects, or how much ministry it does. The true test of a church is: is Jesus Christ in it? The basic function of the church according to Paul in the Corinthian letters is to be the body of Christ. We are to be Christ in the world.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

1995 in Film

Putting things in perspective is hard at times. Some of the films released in 1995 seem recent memories—other feel like classics that have been around forever. The whole thing can be personally measured by the fact that I was married in 1995. That was two entire incarnations of James Bond ago! The entire feature length canon of Pixar ago! Back when Mel Gibson was just a talented director and not cooky.

Top 10 Personal Movies of 1995
*. Braveheart
1. Babe
2. A Close Shave
3. Pride and Prejudice
4. Toy Story
5. Sense and Sensibility
6. French Kiss
7. Goldeneye
8. The Usual Suspects
9. The City of Lost Children
10. Se7en

Bottom Personal 5 Movies of 1995
1. Lord of Illusions
2. The Quick and the Dead
3. Mallrats
4. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls
5. Congo

Top Movies I Still Need To See or Revisit
1. Before Sunrise
2. Il Postino
3. Richard III

Friday, May 14, 2010

Contact (1997)

Back before Robert Zemeckis became obsessed with motion capture technology, he made some really entertaining and thought provoking movies. In 1997 he made one that some have compared favorably to 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of its being an intelligent philosophical science fiction. It was called Contact. Based on a novel and idea by Carl Sagan, it deals with the probable consequences of aliens making contact with humanity. Most of these consequences presumably would involve religious and scientific communities’ reactions to the news of extra terrestrial life. Therefore, the film ends up being an exploration of science and religion; how the relate and what their limitations are.

In the film Ellie Arroway, played by Jodie Foster, is a typical “seeing-is-believing,” materialistic, scientist. She has a brief relationship with a religious man named Palmer Joss who believes in God even though he cannot prove that he exists. Years later, when Ellie discovers a message seemingly from extra terrestrials, the two come back into contact when Joss prevents her from being Earth’s representative for her lack of faith.

Ultimately, Ellie does make a trip to meet the aliens, but some questions are raised when she is the only one who experiences anything of the trip, despite her being hooked to multiple monitoring devises. As far as anyone is concerned she was never absent from Earth. In the end, a scientist realizes that she has just as many beliefs as the next person. We all, whether we acknowledge it or not, live our lives accepting things by faith.

This film is a bit surprising coming from a mind like Sagan’s, as it basically presents a compelling argument for faith and against things like Modernism and Scientific Realism.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

10th Doctor

The 10th version of the Doctor was played by David Tennant from seasons 2 through 4 (28-30) and in 7 Specials for a total of 36 adventures. Not surprisingly, after the series was brought back in an era of better production values, Tennant’s doctor is considered the favorite of many, barely beating our Tom Baker’s 4th doctor. The Tenth Doctor is a lonely wanderer and adventurer, quick to action and intolerant of those who are evil. He puts is enemies off guard with mock ignorance and wit, but seldom does the viewer ever feel like the Doctor is not in control of the situation. In the Tenth Doctor era the Time Lords come off near god-like and not just another advanced species as they were in the past.
Several of the stories are thought provoking or even downright philosophical:

The Christmas Invasion:
Having just regenerated into his Tenth form, and suffering ill effects from the process, the Doctor and Rose return to present day earth on Christmas Eve. Coincidentally, the earth is being attacked by scary aliens aiming to control humanity. The Doctor fights for the earth, but we discover that it is not just naughty, scary monsters from space that can do evil.
In this story, the Doctor declares that his new personality is the type that will give people just one chance to do what is right. He has no patience for wrong-doers. He proves true to his word with both an evil scary monster from space, and with an old friend who attacks the aliens unprovoked.
This doctor started (and ended) his career during Christmas Day specials. The messianic comparisons and allusions will be many during his run, and they provide for interesting explorations of the nature of good and evil, belief, and religion.

School Reunion:
This story explores the idea of what happens to the humans who travel with the doctor. How does it change there lives and what do they do after he is gone. The enemies this time are also after god-like knowledge and the ability to change reality to suit their purposes. The Doctor must face the temptation of using such a power to make the universe a better place.

The Girl in the Fireplace:

A girl in 18th Century France encounters the doctor at various points throughout her life; and some scary monsters as well. This is a wonderfully told story, as all the stories by Steven Moffat tend to be. There is an interesting idea about taking the good in life even when it comes with bad things as well. “The monster and the doctor. It seems you cannot have one without the other. One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.”

The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit:
A two part story exploring such light subject matter as the devil, the nature of evil, why people believe what they do and theology in general. The Doctor comes to terms with the fact that he to has a religion of sorts and that part of why he travels is to continually test his faith out on reality to see if what he believes can hold up to the new things he learns—“Faith seeking understanding,” if you will.

Love and Monsters:
Not one of the best Doctor Who stories ever told. It is not bad exactly, just not Doctor Who. However, it is an interesting thing to watch as a metaphor for church, where it goes wrong when it loses its vision/ purpose, and how easily churches can fall prey to charlatans and false teachers.

Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday:

Two of the doctors oldest enemies attack the earth at the same time and the Doctor must find a way to save the day. For one of the few times in the show’s run, and maybe the first time since the new series began, the Doctor is shown to be fallible. How he deals with this failure will impact the rest of the Tenth Doctors time. There is not a whole lot of deep thought here, but it is a great story just the same.

The Shakespeare Code:
The Doctor takes his new companion, Martha, back in time to meet William Shakespeare. The only problem is that some aliens are conspiring to use William’s gift of gab to destroy the world. It’s not exactly magic—more like scientifically sounding magic. Doctor Who does this a lot. They like to point out that science has a hard time explaining reality… it has severe limitations. Of course, Doctor Who assumes that science is just not advanced enough to explain everything yet. Someone as advanced as the Doctor shouldn’t have problems rationalizing all the strange things in the universe, but he does.

Human Nature/ The Family of Blood:
Forced to genetically change himself into a human to escape some aliens, we are treated to the Superman 2 of Doctor Who. As a human, the Doctor is free to fall in love and dream of a single lifetime and children etc. In the end will he sacrifice all of that to save the people he cares for? Ever since his failure last season we get the impression that the Doctor is a sad lonely and tragic figure.


Steven Moffat writes another incredible story. It is easily one of the creepiest stories television has seen. If you are going to have a time traveling hero, these are the sorts of stories you have to be able to tell—where the fact that he does travel in time is essential to the plot.

The Fires of Pompeii:
The Doctor takes yet another companion (Donna) back to ancient Rome. The only problem is they end up in Pompeii days before the end. This story explores the limits of what the Doctor is allowed to change in history. More interestingly, the show looks at false religion and false prophecy and how they can be confronted with the truth.

Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead:

Moffat’s fourth season entry is mentioned here simply because it is as always brilliant. It also introduces us to a new character: River Song. We have no real clue as to who she is, but she will be seen more in the future.

One of the more philosophical episodes of serial television ever produced. It is scary on an intellectual level. A lot of talking and not much else, but the study of how scary a group of people can be when they are threatened is not a pleasant thing to think about.

Turn Left:
Donna experiences her own version of It’s Wonderful Life. How would the world be changed if she had decided one little thing differently?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Danger of Bad Doctrine

NonModernBlog had addressed the issue of prayer before. At the time it was simply an exploration of thoughts and beliefs on prayer from a personal perspective. As it turns out, it has some very important implications. The statement “prayer changes things” is an example of something one says without having given much thought to what one is saying. If prayer changes things then it has power and it we have a problem with the sovereignty of God.

You see, some people actually believe that prayer is like magic. It really does change things, or more precisely praying people change things. They would say that it is all a matter of praying with enough faith. If you ask for something in the right faith, then God HAS to do what you ask. They would also say that you fail to see prayers answered in the way you would like when you lack faith.

Others today teach the non-Biblical thought that God CANNOT send Jesus back to the earth until the Church prepares the way with prayer and praise. They no longer merely see praise as something the God deserves and prayer as communication with our heavenly Father; it is the necessary magic ingredient in bringing about the end of the world.

Some even take it so far as to say that not only is God dependant on the Church to achieve His planes, but these plans can be thwarted. Some of these “Prayer and Praise” people are teaching that Germany was used by Satan in the 20th Century to PREVENT God from accomplishing His plans.

The implications if these false teachings are causing some parts of the Church to take their eyes off the task we have been given to devote time and energy to something that is wholly God’s occupation.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Uncanny Church

In robotics and animation there is a concept known as Uncanny. Basically it is that general sense of discomfort you get watching those Robert Zemeckis movies like The Polar Express and Beowulf. Anytime the human eye sees something artificial trying to look real, it knows. The closer an artificial thing resembles reality the more appealing it is—up to a point. At that point where it looks real but is just slightly off, it ceases to be cute or neat and looks creepy. Things that fall in between that point and reality fall into what is known as the “Uncanny Valley.”

This concept may work for more than just film and robotics. Take the idea of Church, for example. Ever walked into a service and felt like something was wrong? You may be stuck in a group trying very hard to be a real fellowship but sadly missing the mark. Real church is described as a body. It is a community of people sharing life and faith and living out incarnational mission in society. Artificial church gets together once or twice a week at a physical location and observes a program or participates in an organized set of activities.

Signs that you may be stuck in the valley: You say things like, “We are going to church.” You spend a significant amount of resources on infrastructure. You hire people to do the ministry of the church. You measure success mathematically. You schedule or program something called “visitation.” No one actually comes to said “visitation.” Fellowship and Worship are two separate activities. No one from the “lost community” ever “comes to church.” No one from “the church’ ever really interacts with actual “lost” people.

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Monday, May 10, 2010

2 Corinthians 11:1-12:18 (Picking Fights)

Paul tells the church that she has been gathered together as Christ’s bride. Any teaching or belief that diverts the church away from that truth or the instructions He left her constitutes spiritual adultery. Paul guards the church jealously. This is the pastoral aspect of his ministry. Those who teach false doctrine are compared to Satan. False teachers will not always appear false. Satan is often seen as a good guy. False teachers tend to be popular as well.

Paul discounts the false teachers’ reliance on their own credentials when he simply relies on his call and on God. However, since the Corinthians are impressed with selling points and superficial (foolish) things, Paul lists his. At the same time, he also points out that he is a nobody. Still, being a nobody is not important because he is God’s chosen apostle. This is a good model to follow in our own little “victories” and positions. We may be given small responsibilities and privileges in the Kingdom and we can rejoice in our usefulness but… all the while we need to acknowledge our own worthlessness and the source of our grace and abilities.

Sometimes, when reading Paul I get the impression I may not have liked him very much in person. Then again, it is probably the aversion I have to politics in the church in general. In that case I might have liked him a lot though, because it looks like when push came to shove he took no crap from the power seekers and deceivers.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Pianist

With tomorrow being VE Day, maybe you are considering a movie to remind you what this thing called World War II was all about. Maybe your kids are getting old enough to handle the serious issues that seemed to consume all of the 20th Century and are most evident in that one conflict. What do you watch? You could go with the epic and very meaningful Spielberg entries; Schindler’s List to remind us how much evil the world had to confront, or Private Ryan for the cost that that confrontation required. Most people have seen those films, however, or at least know what they are all about.

Perhaps you will consider instead watching Polanski’s “The Pianist.” It is not epic like Spielberg’s efforts. It gives us the perspective of just one man caught up in the events as they happened in Poland. One wonders if Polanski tapped into more than just the book he was adapting for the screen. Either way, you get a taste of what it might have been like for an individual Jew who was fortunate (?) enough to survive the war and avoid the concentration camps or the gas chambers.

The film’s first half shows us glimpses of the horror the Jews faced in Warsaw as the discrimination and persecution against them mounted. It is tough to watch. The second half shows us a different sort of tension, as the pianist has to hide to survive. He observes events that happen around him, but has to wait the war out so that life can go on.

For all of our apparent knowledge of World War II, we really have no ability to imagine the magnitude of evil that was done by man against man, especially if we pull our focus out beyond central Europe in the five years between 1940 and 1945. The glimpses we get of the Eastern Front in this movie do not give us a true picture of what happened when the German and Russian Armies experimented with who could take atrocity and evil to a higher level.

Think about the events of 65 years ago this week-end. Say a prayer of thanks that that war was brought to an end and similar active world-wide conflict has not occurred again. Be thankful also that evil was recognized for what it was, that it was confronted, and that the generations alive then had the courage to do what was necessary to stop it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Buffy Paradigm and Missional Strategy

Often, one of the best ways to short-hand a concept and make it widely understandable is to tap into the popular culture. A couple weeks after 9-11 the Center for Strategic and International Studies released a homeland defense document for biological warfare preparedness entitled: “Biological Warfare and the ‘Buffy Paradigm’.”

That’s right; our country’s defense is in the hands of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans.

Really, though, it is a great concept and it applies to more than just homeland defense; perhaps even to things like church planting and Missional efforts.

To understand the Buffy Paradigm, it might be helpful to think of shows like Highlander or The A Team. In those shows, week after week the heroes would face a similar threat and deal with it in much the same way. You could predict McCloud’s final sword fight or the B.A. Baracus construction montage with a stop-watch. It was TV at its formulaic best.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was completely different. Every week the heroes would face a new threat and they would never know what they were up against or how to deal with it. Each episode they would have to learn about the problem and discover a new way to overcome it.

That is what our country faces in the post 9-11 world. We never know where the danger is coming from or how it will manifest. We have to anticipate and be ready for anything.

Missional work is really like that as well. Every culture or group of people need the Gospel communicated to them in a unique way and will respond to that message with a different cultural take on church. Every church plant is a new set of variables and personalities that has to be dealt with in a spiritually sensitive, follow-God’s-leadership way.

So why do we always try to duplicate other’s or even our own successes over and over again? Why do we think we live in an A Team world?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When Web-log becomes Dream Journal

I have a very high view of Scripture. I believe that God has supernaturally revealed everything a person needs to know in His Word. Christians should know their Bible and obey God’s instructions it contains. As far as daily living, in the words of that great “theologian” Rex Stout, “You are to act in the light of experience as guided by intelligence,” and your knowledge of God’s Word. I do not believe that God gives specific marching orders outside of the revelation He has already given.

A lot of people do not agree with this view. They think that some people are specially anointed and here direct (and even audible) instructions from God. They believe that they receive visions and dreams giving additional revelation. I do know that thee are many people in the world today, especially in the Muslim world, who are seeing a man in their dreams who tells them to seek out Jesus. I even have met some of these people. The difference is that these dreams lead people to Jesus, the Church, and God’s Word; they don’t supply knew revelation.

So, I believe that dreams in general are a window into our thoughts, not a channel to God.

That being said, I have had some crazy dreams the past two nights:

The first dream took place where I live, specifically in the building where part of our church meets, and where an evangelistic ministry is located. In the dream, the building next door (that does not exist in real life) collapsed in on itself as we watched. For the whole rest of the dream, I was dreading the fact that I would have to tell my partners in ministry that we would have to evacuate their building as it too was structurally unsound. When I did tell them, I realized why I was dreading it. They refused to listen to me.

Last night I dreamed of a former church where I used to work. In my dream, the sanctuary was dark but a service was taking place. The pastor was preaching a sermon. There was something “off” about the pastor (not surprising, considering who the man was—long story) and in the middle of the sermon he had to leave. As I went up to the pulpit to finish the message, I saw that he was simply reading directly from pages he had ripped out of a study Bible on the topic of Doctrine and how to recognize heresy.

What do you do with that?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why Who?

It must have been 1980 or 1981. We lived in a little town called Windsor, Colorado. To fully understand the moment I am about to describe, you need to know a couple of facts. 1. We did not have a TV at the time. 2. I was a child with a vivid imagination, perhaps too vivid, and… 3. I was fascinated with fear. At the time, it came across as simply fear, but I was interested in everything that I found scary.

One night at another family’s house, I caught a few minutes of a strange, wonderful and bizarre television show that was scary, exciting and almost incomprehensible to an outsider. It was episodic television. It was Science Fiction of the intellectual sort, and yet it had monsters and action as well. I asked my friend what it was. He told me it was called Doctor Who.

To make things even more fascinating for me, I went nearly thirty years without an opportunity to see any more of that show. Occasionally I would see a book about it, or I would catch a few more minutes of it late, late on Saturday nights on PBS. Then, after I had kids who were very similar to the way I was as a child, DVD presented us with a wonderful opportunity and a shared obsession. We watch the old shows, we watch the new series, and we indulge our desire to be scared.

And yet it is not just fun escapist entertainment. Throughout the decades Doctor Who—above all else—has been a show about ideas. It has influenced generations philosophically, politically, and intellectually—for better or for worse. Now that the show is in its eleventh incarnation and 31st season, I have decided to take a few weeks exploring (further, as I have hit this topic twice already) some of the major themes and ideas the show has presented to all us kids for all these years…

Monday, May 3, 2010

2 Corinthians 10:7-18 (Strongholds Continued)

It is perfectly appropriate that Paul goes on to talk about false teachers preying on the church after he has talked about spiritual warfare. Experience teaches us that that is often the norm. Sure, false teaching and spiritual strongholds come in “non-Christian” varieties, but you can lay money that they will come on stronger once people have turned to God.

A stronghold, spiritually thinking, is a lie that affects the way people behave. For example, the lie that Europeans have already had their chance at accepting the Gospel and rejected it generations ago—therefore they are no longer reachable. That lie affects the way churches and Christians in Europe approach evangelism and church planting, or don’t approach it at all would be a better statement. In the first few verses of chapter 10, Paul said such lies must be battled with words and ideas of truth.

Now, Paul goes into more detail about his work against such strongholds, and he is not focusing primarily on the lies outside the church, but the lies of teachers “within the fold” who are coming behind him with teachings that distract and incapacitate the church.

It is no different today. If you are about the work of reaching the lost and grouping people into new communities of faith, you need to reckon with the teachers that will inevitably show up courting your flocks. They will teach them things that distract them from the Gospel calling that has brought them together in the first place. This seems to be one of the primary actions of the enemy. If a church is started, everything possible will be done to get them comfortable and inactive, or at least inactive when it comes to interacting with the lost.

Somehow we need to come up with a way to prepare planters for this aspect of the task. It is something we should deal with proactively, not responsively.
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