Thursday, September 30, 2010


Fifty years ago today The Flintstones aired for the first time. The Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich decided to use the opportunity to bemoan the way it and other Hanna Barbara cartoons continue to encourage mistreatment of animals. My wife would look at it as simply another one of those “stupid man” shows that all play on the misunderstanding between the sexes. It wasn’t the first (The Honeymooners), and wouldn’t be the last of such shows (Home Improvement, According to Jim), but it was a prime example of it.

NonModernBlog would like to take this opportunity to stretch at least as far as that Bavarian newspaper, and use The Flintstones as an opportunity to discuss missions and the missional lifestyle. It is not as farfetched as you might think.

The Flintstones was entirely constructed on the premise of cavemen living precisely as 1950s American culture did. The whole gimmick was presenting the current culture through a caveman lens. In doing so, it caused people to laugh at themselves through a prism that gave them enough distance to be able to see where they were silly or even wrong. Nothing exposes the core of a culture or philosophy as when it is lived out outside its context.

That is where The Flintstones is relevant to cross-cultural living. Many times in the past and even today, missionaries move halfway around the world to a different culture and then proceed—not to adapt to that culture—but to find ways to live out their own culture in the new context. They come across as silly, just as the Flintstone characters looked silly living as 1950s American in the stone-age. Their message is lost in the cloud of Americanism that they can’t escape because they carry it everywhere they go.

At the same time, it IS the job of the cross-cultural witness to live out their alien Christian worldview in the world. The challenge is letting the Christian perspective on the world emerge; all the while filtering out our cultural biases that get in the way. We want to be different, but in the right way.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Body, Mind and Spirit

A unique aspect of the Christian cross-cultural life—especially for someone not looking to merely cope and exist, but adapt to, influence and impact the new culture—is the amount of work that goes into daily living. Things that you normally learn to do gradually over years of your life, are done in completely different ways in the new culture, and you have a lot of catching up to do. Some cross-cultural workers take a few months to “learn the new culture” and then jump into “work” with both feet. They either quickly burn out or else they make sacrifices to their family, health or integrity that undermine everything they have tried to do.

Vocational ministry is never just a job, and if anything the close connection between life and ministry should be emphasized everywhere. However, in cross-cultural ministry this connection is vital to the survival of the work. In other words, every Christian should actively seek to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy, but people involved in cross-cultural ministry need to see this as part of their life’s work.

I once had a spiritual mentor who made a point of not doing his personal quiet time while he was “on the clock.” He argued that “normal” Christians didn’t have the luxury of reading the Bible at their jobs so neither should he. The problems with this thinking are many. Does ministry only occur during working hours? Are our home life and our ministry separate things? If your effectiveness depends on your health and spiritual vitality, can those things be afterthoughts? If your ability to live in a setting depends on your being healthy enough to walk many hours a day, does maintaining your health not become a part of your job?

When Christians make the choice to plant their lives in another culture in order to share their faith, they are effectively giving up an idea of “vocation” and instead devoting their whole lives being witness. They leave behind the 40 hour week and are on the clock 100% of the time. They need to realize, though, that that 100% includes things like parenting, eating right, continually learning language and culture, dealing with local bureaucracy, and maintaining a healthy spiritual connection to God. If they don’t take care of these “mundane” activities they are presenting a partial and incomplete picture of the Christian life.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Rest...

So we come to the last installment in the “Anticipated movies of 2010” train of thought. Normally, these last films would be the ones that were anticipated all year long—the true top ten, if you will. For some reason, though, the announcement of movies was not done very early, and some films even slipped out without much buzz. (Some of the best films thus far never made any of my anticipated posts.) So, here we have eleven more films for a grand total of 40.

11. Red
This one just looks fun.

10. The Black Swan
This one may end up being nothing more than offensive, but the promise of scares and good old fashioned psychological terror put it on the list.

9. Skyline
I don’t have high hopes for this one, and it looks pretty heavy-handed so far. However, the potential for generating thought is always there with this genre and the visuals look promising.

8. The Social Network
This one is directed by David Fincher, a fact that earns it an automatic spot on the list. It doesn’t look like normal, nonmodern-genre fare, but it does look rich in social commentary.

7. Monsters
This one is getting a lot of buzz for being this year’s District 9. It looks like it could be even better.

6. My Soul to Take
This horror looks pretty straight-forward slasher fare, except that it is directed by Wes Craven. He has been known in the past for making some very thoughtful, philosophical takes on the genre.

5. The Tourist
This is the latest film directed by Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, of Das Leben der Anderen fame. It looks like one of those everyman-caught-up-in-international-intrigue stories, stars Johny Depp, and takes place in Venice.

4. Hereafter
For once, a film directed by Clint Eastwood that might have supernatural aspects. (To be fair, there was High Plains Drifter.)

3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
There is nothing more that I can say to justify this choice. Just look at the C.S. Lewis or Narnia labels on other NonModernBlog posts.

2. True Grit
I don’t have a lot of history with the Western Genre, but plan to remedy that. Plus, it is directed by the Coen brothers and when they deliver, they really deliver. Check out what Carmen has to say about this one here.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Of course…

Monday, September 27, 2010

Romans 5:1-8:17 (Outline Issues)

In reading and studying Scripture, one of the most helpful practices is to step back and take in the big picture. This is where it is recommendable to read an entire book through in one sitting a couple of times before digging into specific passages. It is also helpful to look at how different people outline the thought and flow of the book. Of course, sometimes a passage of Scripture is so complex and rich that this practice reveals just how much there is to grasp. Romans is one such portion of the Bible.

For example, Romans 5:1-8:17 has many ways in which it can be read. Some people include chapter 5 in with what precedes it, the part where Paul is talking about justification. Others (including our reading here) group it more in with what follows as a part of the discussion of sanctification. Dunn points out that the two parts of chapter 5 (1-11 and 12-21) deal respectively with individuals and then humanity as a whole. He then goes on to say that the next section of the letter does the same thing. Chapters 6 through part of 8 deal with individual issues and 9 through 11 deals with larger issues of humanity at large.

Another interesting reading that Dunn gives us of Romans is in chapters 6 through 8. Each of these passages has an “already, not yet” aspect to them. Paul is showing us how our salvation has already given us some qualities but for others we must wait for glorification to occur. In 6:1-11, we are already dead to sin in Christ. However, in 6:12-23 we are reminded to not let sin rule in our mortal bodies. In 7:1-6, we are no longer bound to the law, but in 7:7-25 we see how sin still uses the law to be active in our lives. In 8:1-9, we have the Spirit of life and are free from the power of the flesh and death. In 8:10-17, though, we are told that we must live in the Spirit and not in the old ways of the flesh.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Curiosity and the Ghost

It may be a bit ironic to muse interrogatively on the topic, but…


Why are we so often driven to know? Why don’t we, when we see a hint of evil or wrong doing, turn and run? As a race we tend to dig and search in an effort to expose the evil we encounter. Often that is a deadly pursuit.

Roman Polanski has a gift for exposing the sinister, the evil in the normal. Films where “ordinary” people are caught up in larger events like some Helen MacInnes novel (Chinatown, Frantic, The Ninth Gate and now The Ghost Writer) are entertaining because we all envy the prospect of stumbling upon a real mystery, playing a part in exposing a wrong.

The problem Polanski poses is that such an endeavor is not only dangerous; it may be futile. There is a character in The Ghost Writer that is seen over and over trying to sweep up a patio area on a beach. It is a job that will never be accomplished. That seems to be a commentary that Polanski is making… evil is everywhere and McGregor’s character—the ghost’s attempts to get to the bottom of this mystery is a lot like that man trying to sweep the beach. What is the point? What can one hope to accomplish?

The smarter alternative may be to recognize wrong, turn and run. The ghost even tells hid reflection at one point: “Bad idea!” but he continues to chase the clues and dig himself deeper into trouble. Polanski is, as always, a master at drawing us into the tension of the mystery. Instinctively, we know there is danger at every turn, but the situations are everyday ones: riding a bike, reading a manuscript, driving a car… it is the way Polanski presents these mundane activities that gets us. “Well all the words are there, they’re just in the wrong order,” declares the ghost at one point. He couldn’t be any more mistaken, and Polanski has pieced his film together perfectly as well.

Polanski’s worldview in the end seems to be that some people are drawn to do evil. The rest of us are drawn not to do wrong, but towards it—even when we tell ourselves we are just exposing it. The warning if we could only heed it would be that we are better off avoiding it altogether.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise

The Avett Brothers have a relatively new music video out. It is pretty wonderful. As a pure piece of art it really adds the fourth dimension to painting. We are all used to seeing the illusion of three dimensions represented on a canvass. What this video does (and it is probably not the first) is add the passage of time to the painting itself. Unlike most animation, where multiple drawings are created and shown in sequence, this video is a series of photos taken of changes made to a single canvas. The time passes in a real sense in that what came before is gone. All that exists on the canvass is the present.

The story that the video tells is also about the passage of time. An empty field is bought, developed into a housing community and then a commercial center that eventually decays and returns back to being an empty filed. The song, as is often these days the case, is far less sequential or direct in its message. Many interpretations could be made, but one offered here…

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light,
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right,
And it comes in black and it comes in white,
And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it.

All of us in western culture—defined as it is by Christian values—have a desire and a belief that we desire to do good. However, we all have a dark side in spite of our best intentions. We are selfish, fallible and at times downright bad. Recognizing that is important, but as our culture has turned its collective back on God, we have also given up on conscience and guilt. We deny evil. That would have been unthinkable even nine years ago, but the track we are on is set by the prevailing worldview and not any of the daily evidence with which we are confronted.

When nothing is owed, deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man who’s elected
If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it.

Not only are we in denial of the wrong we all do, we have created a lie for a lifestyle that denies any guilt or expectations. Whatever we want is what we call right. There is no wrong. We turn to society for our needs. We convince ourselves that love is not demanding. We determine our own truth. We have deluded ourselves.

There was a dream and one day I could see it
But like a bird in a cage I broke in a demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream till I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out.

Those that see the lies upon which we have built society have an obligation to speak up. It is not enough to see it. To retreat into our own sub-culture committed to Truth. We need to impact the culture around us.

Here's a taste of the song:

Go buy the video on iTunes! It is worth it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Manipulative Church

One of the most annoying nuisances since people have been forgetting to turn their blinkers off has been around since the internet really caught on. Its latest incarnation seems to be in the form of Facebook groups, although it used to really dominate the e-mail forwarding scene. A typical example would be one that says, “If you have had God answer a prayer press like.” The conceit is that if you are a good Christian who believes in prayer, you will press the like button. The problem is that it is nothing more than tired old manipulative religion.

The first reason that this is so annoying is that it is a blatant attempt to make people do stuff—it is a power play. “If you are a REAL Christian, you’ll do what I tell you to do.” “What? You didn’t forward that e-mail with the God-story on it? You must not really believe what you say you do.” At least in the old days, religious power seekers made people do stuff like send them money or do their work for them. Now it seems they just want people to waste time.

The second reason this is really a worthy pet peeve is that so many religious sheep are doing what they do best—mindlessly following. Why do so many people try to prove their faith by doing stupid stuff like forwarding e-mails or liking Facebook groups when they could be demonstrating their faith by doing what Jesus asked them to do—like telling other people what the Gospel is all about? In spite of what you may have been told, it does not take any courage to be obnoxious on the interweb. Try having real conversations with real people about real Christianity.

Now on to the problem of witty-Christian-catch-phrases-printed-on-t-shirts—or maybe manipulative worship services…

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Production vs. Reproduction

Missional living is in many ways another way of saying cross-cultural living. Whether it be a Christian from one country/culture trying to show Christianity to a lost person from another country, or a churched Christian trying to show Christianity to the secular world, it is all cross-cultural. (It used to be that Evangelical America only tried to evangelize lost people from the church culture.)

That being the case, missional ministry cannot afford to simply “produce” results. Converts and churches are not enough. Missional endeavors need to strive for reproduction, or the work will not really make its way into the culture. We need converts who are disciples—those that will in turn make more disciples. We need churches that start out knowing what it means to plant churches and do so as a natural activity of the church. In that way, the message of the Gospel and the idea of Christian community will truly make its way into the culture and continue long after the cross-cultural Christian is gone.

The challenge for the missional Christian is letting the reproduction occur naturally. Sometimes the new culture will take the reproduction in directions the church planter hadn’t foreseen. Sometimes it will feel like the new cultural expression is too radical, or maybe not radical enough. The key is to introduce true Biblical DNA into the mix and let the new converts and churches find valid cultural expressions of that Biblical truth.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Romans 8:1-17 ("through the Spirit")

In today’s culture of hazy understanding and misunderstood doctrine, one often hears that all Christian’s need to just get along and minimize the differences that they hold. Recently at one of those events where various Christian groups were doing something together, and such sentiments were being expressed, the following statement was overheard: “I am personally convinced that Martin Luther was never baptized in the Spirit.” (Often it is in those conversations about the insignificance of belief that just such beliefs are impossible to hold back.)

That statement does more to speak to that person’s understanding of Scripture than the person’s opinion of Martin Luther. (Although for some reason more and more charismatic leaning people are being heard expressing such thoughts. “Sure, Luther took the first necessary step in highlighting the Gospel, but he completely missed the next step [insert outlandish personal revelation here.])

Here in Romans, we see just one example of where the Bible makes it clear that ALL those who belong to Christ (read saved) have the Holy Spirit living in them. If we truly have Christ as our savior, we are also indwelled by the person of the Holy Spirit. Most people who say that salvation and baptism by the Holy Spirit are two separate events fail to really understand the Gospel. They usually see “conversion” as merely intellectual agreement to a fact. It is more about faith than understanding.

Faith changes us. The same power/Person that raised Christ from the dead is in all those who are God’s children. Merely understanding that Christ died for your sins or praying a prayer is not faith—it does not save. If you ARE saved then you have the Holy Spirit living within you. Whether or not you are allowing yourself to live in that power or be controlled by God at all times does not change the fact that He is there. The Gospel as the Bible presents it makes salvation and spiritual baptism synonymous.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

1982 in Film

In between Raiders and Return, Octopussy and The Spy Who Loved Me, and basically two really good years for film, falls 1982. Probably more due to the year that it was for my family, I don’t think I saw any of these movies in 1982. There are some good ones here anyway, even if I saw all of them years later on tape. Of course, most of the most well-liked movies from 1982 including E.T. and Annie are not among them—the good ones, that is.

Personal Top Ten Films of 1982:
1. Blade Runner
2. Vincent
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
4. Evil Under the Sun
5. The Dark Crystal
6. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
7. Pink Floyd: The Wall
8. Das Boot
9. First Blood
10. The Secret of NYHM

Personal Worst & Disappointing Films of 1982
1. Halloween 3
2. Friday the 13th Part 3
3. Beastmaster
4. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy
5. The Trail of the Pink Panther

Films I Still Need To See:
1. Die Weiße Rose
2. Missing
3. The Year of Living Dangerously
4. Gandhi
5. Sophie’s Choice

Friday, September 17, 2010

Willy vs. Charlie

As is only befitting for the novel on which they were based, both Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) are highly imaginative and visual movies. The first is very much a product of its time while the later of its stylistic director. That is not where the differences end.

Willy Wonka does a great job of presenting the book’s two main themes: rotten parenting and the wonders of imagination. In this later department, the film does a wonderfully sweet job. The magic and beauty of the factory, the wonders that poor Charlie and his granddad are introduced too… it is a joy to experience them along the way. Imagination and creativity are presented as treasures to value, develop and work hard to develop. It is a shame that this quality is not as valued and never has been as much as it should. The other kids in the film take imagination for granted. People today seem to think that it is a waste of time.

Tim Burton’s vision is—as always—a lot darker in tone. That being said, it is still beautiful. Ironically, Burton’s version stays a lot closer to the book itself. The most annoying aspect of the 1971 version is that the story is changed in ways that make Charlie less of a heroic character. In Burton’s version his is truer to the character in the book. Willy Wonka is not. Deep’s portrayal may be interesting and well crafted, but he makes the character anything but appealing. The back-story that the film adds does nothing to help.

So, even though it is less faithful to the book, the fans of that book probably favor the older version to the newer. Anybody would do well to read the book before seeing either.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Real Expertise

Reading Mark (and Wild at Heart and probably dozens of other sources) one is reminded that Jesus didn’t often do things the same way twice. He healed several blind men, but used different methods. He fed thousands of people with just a few pieces of food, but once again the circumstances and results were different. He cast demons out, healed many sick, raised the dead, and taught people about the kingdom but he always did these things in different ways.

God does not push one methodology. His consistent practice is to do amazing things through ordinary people, but always in new and varieties of ways. This makes expertise in kingdom accomplishments difficult. It is hard to really say that God will grant success if certain methods are followed when God does not work that way.

As a wise man told me, we need to work at being experts in obedience. We need to watch and be sensitive to see what God is doing and what He wants us to do. In God’s economy, it is not so much methodology as it is submission.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Parenting Lessons in a Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl’s books are great fun to a certain type of kid, or adult who hasn’t forgotten what it is like to be one. They are imaginative and fun, yet dark and edgy. Also, one of the main themes running through his books is that most adults are not quite right and can’t be trusted. (In that sense, he was way ahead of his time.) One book in particular, however, presents four kids as villains, although the argument could be made that those kids are the way they are because of their parents.

In Charlie and the Chocolate factory, we have one of the best ever presentations of how lack of parenting will ruin a child. The four children that attend the tour with Charlie all have their flaws, but they all boil down to the same problem: they are spoiled. Veruca is traditionally spoiled—she gets whatever she wants, but all the others are spoiled as well. Augustus simply wants to eat, and his mother lets him. Mike prefers to sit in front of the television all day. Violet’s is the most subtle of all forms of spoiling. Her crass and unpleasant demeanor is indulged and she is never taught how to behave properly.

Charlie is the one good kid in this story and at first it seems like his salvation is that he is poor. He cannot be spoiled because his parents can’t give him anything. The truth is that Charlie is a good, polite and unselfish child because his parents and grandparents teach him to be so. In his case, when one of his family members tries to give him their portion of food, it is not an act of indulgence, but rather an example of selflessness that he learns and imitates.

This is a timeless book that more children (and so-called parents) should be encouraged to read. It is not all about the moral point of the story either. There is a fun imagination at work here as well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wild At Heart by John Eldredge

In Wild at Heart, we learn about what it means to be a man (and a woman) as God as created us to be. Why are so many men living with no joy? Why are so many relationships broken—husbands and wives, families, and friendships. This book says that the problem lies in the fact that our culture (and our churches) has attacked the meaning of masculinity. They have tried to force us into living lives that God did not intend.

Nearly ten years after it was first published, (and after it has stood the test of time long enough to be relevant beyond its initial publication) I have finally gotten around to reading this book. While an argument could be made as to whether or not this book is giving us straight Biblical truth, I have to confess that it really spoke to me personally. What man does not long for adventure and to play a significant role in the world? (Especially those of us who are constantly accused of never really growing up.) It is wonderful to think that all those romantic dreams of accomplishing things that will truly make a difference in the world just might be God given dreams. It is scary to think that just maybe more of us should step out in faith and try to make some of those dreams reality.

Definitely worth a read, a revisit or maybe even some serious study and cross-examination.

-- -- -- -- --
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.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Romans 7 (Read This One Carefully, Please)

Sin does not lie directly in what we do, but rather in the motivations that are behind what we do. The law and legalism are tied into sin because they get at those motivations. Eating a cookie that is not forbidden is not a sin. On the other hand, if our authority (say mom, who just cooked the cookies) tells us not to eat one and we do so anyway, then we have sinned. Eating the cookie itself is not the sin, rebellion and disobedience is.

The command does not produce the sin either. It is not mom’s fault that I have sinned if I eat a forbidden cookie. When we do something we are not supposed to, or when we refuse to do something expected, it is our own sinful natures that are reacting against the authority. Rebellion, independence, and the pride that leads us to think we are the better authority—these are the roots of our sin.

Romans chapter 7 tells us that we have, in our salvation, died to both the law and our sin nature. Instead of being under a bunch of dos and don’ts, we are now new creatures that long to please God. We are free from the law that used to arouse our sinful nature. We are also free from that sin nature—in part. The struggle that we are now faced with is not a fight against ourselves. It is a war fought between our real selves (God’s new creation) and the old, dead sinful nature that is no longer us at all.

Legalism is often the route that Christians elect to attempt to overcome this struggle. In doing so they are shooting themselves in the foot. Legalism empowers the old sinful nature by creating more opportunities for sin. Instead we need to encourage our new desire to please God—an active pursuit of good rather than a list of prohibitions and requirements.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ohana & Change

Disney has struggled in the past two decades. With other studios giving the old animation studio a serious challenge, Disney has tended to blame all the wrong things for their decline. Animation styles and technology are not the reason why Disney has tended to come in second to computer animated and foreign movies. It all has to do with story, or the lack of story. Not everything Disney has done this millennium has been a bust, however. Lilo & Stitch is one of the better films they have made, both artistically and story-wise.

A traditionally crafted piece in a time when computer technology was the fad, it has beautiful watercolor backgrounds and a pleasing, original character design. Where is really succeeds, though, is in the story and characters.

One special thing about Lilo & Stitch is the message that it delivers. Stitch is a genetically engineered monster designed to destroy and bring chaos. The thing that ultimately changes Stitch is the unconditional love and acceptance of a little girl. In the film, the concept of “ohana” is explained. It means family, or in a Christian sense, community. Law enforcement, punishment, and force do nothing to affect the monster. It is the love and expectations of Lilo that cause Stitch to want to be good.

When Christianity and the Bible speak of people being changed, this is what is being said. People are not changed because of a list of rules. Rules only arouse rebellion. God’s acceptance and love made possible through the sacrifice of Christ compel us to want to please Him. We may not be perfect in that effort, but the sincere desire is a much more effective motivation for change.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Two Phrases in Mark 2

“Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

(I heard a sermon a few months ago that has had me thinking all this time. Here is where I am at in my thought process.)

How often is the church failing in its mission in the same exact way that this crowd in Mark did. We have been commissioned with bringing the world to Christ; through discipleship bringing people into a relationship with Him. All too often we instead act as a crowd that is oblivious to those around us that would be open to or are even searching for God. Even worse, through our actions, traditions or culture we actively repel people.

In spite of the crowd/church, God can still use individuals and groups to bring people into a relationship with Himself. That is the example of the four friends here in this story. Amazingly, the Bible says that Jesus forgave the paralytic’s sins because of the faith of his friends. The Bible does not exclude the paralytic’s faith in this statement, but it actively includes the faith of the friends. Four stories of healings in Mark make a point of saying that a person’s faith was what healed them. This is not a health and wealth understanding of having a strong enough faith to make the heavenly miracle machine work right, but we do see that people who believe in Jesus enough to go the extra length physically or socially are the ones that Jesus notices. Healing and forgiveness go hand in hand here, and the friends cared enough about the paralytic—and they believed that Jesus was the answer strongly enough—to do all that property damage and make a scene.

Is the church that you are a part of more like the crowd—focused on their idea of Jesus so much that they missed the point of what He was asking of them; or more like the friends—willing to risk everything to bring the lost to Christ?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Flip-side of Propaganda

“Well maybe I'm the faggot America.
I'm not a part of a redneck agenda.
Now everybody do the propaganda.
And sing along to the age of paranoia.” –Green Day

“F--- you, f--- you
Very, very much.
Cause we hate
What you do
And we hate
Your whole crew
So please
Don't stay in touch,” –Lilly Allen

Propaganda is one extreme of the artistic spectrum that, especially after the past century, is seen as of lower merit and really pretty clunky. “Real” art tends to be more subtle and get its truth across in an extraordinary way. Propaganda just tells you what to believe and doesn’t encourage independent thought. The message could be a good one, but the means used to communicate are manipulative.

If propaganda tends to be the voice of the system, there is also the voice of the opposition in art. Historically, these voices tended to be creative, subtle and subversive. They had to be most of the time, or their message would never be heard. For some reason, this is less and less the case. Artists who are praised for their creative dissent these days are anything but creative. Turn the radio on in this past decade and you hear stuff like Green Day’s “American Idiot” and Lilly Allen’s “F--- You.”

When did the art world get taken over by middle school mentality? Sure, both Green Day and Allen are very talented musicians. They write catchy music. It would just be nice if intelligent writing could go along with the tunes every once in a while.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Between Communism & Capitalism, Socialism Is No Happy Medium.

Two back-to-back radio stories last week here in the former East Germany were rather illuminating. The first was an interview of a politician concerning the new budget-cutting measures being proposed in Germany. The whole thrust of the interview (and there was no media impartiality here) was the unfairness of cuts being made to welfare pay-outs. In a country where taxes are taken from workers and given in huge amounts to non-workers (to the tune of thousands of dollars a month), even the politician said he thought cutting the money was unfair, but it had to be done.

The very next story was a memory piece about the “old days” when communism was still in power. Back then people really struggled and didn’t have access to a lot—even to things that they needed. The thrust of this story was about how helpful neighbors were with each other. Society really came together to make sure everybody had what they needed. One line in the story went: “nobody in those days just sat on their couch waiting for better days. They rolled their sleeves up and worked hard.”

Growing up in the eighties we learned very clearly that communism was an “evil” ideology. The past decade has done a lot to demonstrate that capitalism is just as prone to evil itself. The solution in this case is not the old standby: a happy medium. Socialism may even be the worst of all possibilities. At least straight capitalism pushes people towards a work-or-starve mentality, and apparently communism did too.

The true solution is system where people across the board are governed by the ethical conscience provided by Christianity. Consider a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville:

“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

He is also the guy who said:

“Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

And, just to show you the insight this guy had, he also said this:

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.”


Monday, September 6, 2010

Romans 6:1-23 (Life and Death)

We have been saved by grace through faith and in no way have we earned any of God’s approval. Jesus did all of that for us on the cross. So, should those of us who believe and are trusting God for our salvation go on living our lives however we wish—counting on His graceful forgiveness? There are those who would say yes, and that is taught in many churches today. The problem is that someone who is truly saved will not want to live their life as they always have up until then. The desire of the saved is to please God. That is the nature of the new life that we live. Sin should now be unnatural.

The idea of this chapter is that we live in a choice. Having chosen to believe God, we no longer live under the lordship of sin. We are slaves to righteousness. We are no longer to present ourselves as weapons of evil. The choice that we made and that changed us needs to be an active and continuous choice going forward.

In the end it is all about life and death. Since we are alive in Christ, we should no longer serve the cause of death. The problem that a lot of Christians face is that they see the danger and evil that sin is but they fail to understand the process of sanctification. Having turned away from sin, they continue to live under the law. The law highlights sin and death. Its focus is death. Legalism does not aid sanctification—it highlights sin. We need to grow in grace and focus on life in Christ.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Who Wants to Live Forever?

A common side-theme in a lot of fiction about immortality is taken as the main message in the novel and film “Tuck Everlasting.” The basic idea is that immortality is a curse. The family in the story that cannot die is presented as not being really alive. They might as well be rocks, according to the father. One of the sons in particular had gotten to the point where he was actively trying to be killed. He was in terrible suffering because his wife and children, who were not immortal, had all died.

Therein lies the sticking-point for immortality in this world. We live in a fallen world full of suffering and death, and of course no one would want to be the exception to the rule in that sort of world. However, life eternal does not have to be terrible. Even the Tuck family in the story is shown to experience life on a better level than the average person. If it weren’t for the world in which they live, their curse would be a desirable gift.

So, here and now, death is a gift. The Bible even presents it as such after the fall. God, in chapter 3 of Genesis exiles humanity from the garden once they sin—not primarily as a punishment, but as protection. In the garden humanity had access to immortality in the form of the Tree of Life and God did not want Adam and Eve to be stuck in immortality as sinners. His plan to redeem humanity depended on the fact that death would reign in this world.

So here on earth, death may be a gift; in eternity things will be much better.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Smarts, Planets, Cars, and Chaos

One of the “smartest” teens I ever knew shut his own head in the van door on the day that I met him. We were headed to a middle-school camping trip. Later that day, he was very excited to discover and play with some “little black worms” he found in the river. As I tried to help him pick all the leeches off his legs, I was reminded that people with really high IQs tend to (a) think that their spatial reasoning and problem solving ability make them smart in all areas of life and (b) not be as intelligent as their quotient would suggest.

Stephen Hawking has released a new book wherein he makes a claim that some are touting has implications for astronomy similar to what Darwin did for Biology. Hawking states that God was not necessary for the universe to have come into existence. Now, that in and of itself is no new statement. Scientists have been claiming for years that chance, and not design brought the universe into existence. The thing Stephen is bringing to the table is proof. And while he probably has a lot of arguments and reasoning behind his claims, (one would hope so with it being a whole book) the first proof is a hum-dinger.

Are you ready for it? Here it is:

In 1992 another planet was discovered orbiting another star.

You see, according to Stephen Hawking, the fact that more solar systems exist means that chance could have produced them. Our planet is not a special as we thought it was.

The only problem is that more than one thing does not rule out design of said thing; chance is not more likely than design to produce two of the same thing.

Surely I do not believe that something as relatively simple as my car was brought about by a chance process. And when I see another car like mine driving down the street my suspicion is that whoever designed my car made more than one. Instead, Hawking says that two cars is proof that not only the cars came about on their own, but that the factory did too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Word by Any Other Name: A Study in Biblical Translation

A Brief History of the English Bible

The Bible in English is really born in 1611 with the Authorized or King James Version. Prior to the Sixteenth Century, the Vulgate (a Latin Translation from the 5th Century) was the most used Bible among English speakers. Some attempts had been made to translate the Bible to English (the Wycliffe Bible for instance), but these works were largely forbidden.

In the 1500s several factors led to the success of an English Bible. The Renaissance brought renewed interest in classical languages and scholarship, Greek and Hebrew scholarship increased, and Gutenberg’s printing press made the Bible affordable and readily available. In addition the Reformation made it desirable for everybody to have a Bible they could read for themselves.

All of these factors led to several attempts at Biblical translations culminating in the King James Bible in 1611. It was a combination of previous translations and new scholarship from the original manuscripts. For generations it was the greatest English Bible available.

Several factors have contributed to a need for newer translations over the years. Our understanding of the Biblical text has grown through textual criticism and the discovery of older and more reliable manuscripts. The King James translators had very few manuscripts at their disposal, none older than the Middle Ages. We now have at our disposal some New Testament manuscript fragments dating from the first century, and Old Testament Manuscripts from before Christ’s birth.

Evaluating a Translation

Four factors must be kept in mind when judging a translation of the Bible:

1. The Translators: Large groups of theologically diverse committees are always better than single translators or small groups of like-minded scholars. This prevents ideas of the scholars from becoming imposed on the text.

2. The Textual Sources: Most modern translations, save the NKJV rely on the best manuscripts and take into account all the resources available today. The KJV and NKJV use only the Textus Recepticus, a medieval body of manuscripts that have been shown to deviate from older more reliable texts.

3. The Translation Theory:

There are two basic ways to translate any language; word for word, or concept for concept.

The Word for Word method simply translates the text one word at a time and does no interpretation whatsoever. No translation does this completely, as it would result in an unreadable text. The advantage of this theory of translation is that it introduces no interpretation into text and allows the reader to make up his or her mind as to what the text is trying to say. The best example of this theory today is the NASB.

The Concept or Dynamic Equivalent method, attempts to convey as best as possible the ideas the text is trying to communicate. This theory of translation helps the reader understand concepts that are too foreign or archaic for the modern reader to understand without specialized study. The danger of course is that the translators convey the text as they understand it, giving only one of perhaps several possible nuances the text presents. Good examples of this theory of translation are the CEV and the NLT.

Some translations attempt to fall somewhere in between these two extremes. The NIV is a good example of this.

4. The Language: The clarity and quality of the language used in a translation is
important. The quality of language used for study may not need to be as high as one used for public reading in worship. The user must determine what quality of language will best suit them.

Modern Bible Translations

Today there are three basic types of translations: revisions, new translations, and paraphrases.

Revisions are works based on previous translations, although they do refer back to the original languages and make use of the most updated manuscript work. Examples of revisions include the King James Version (KJV, 1611), the New American Standard Bible (NASB, 1971, 1995), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1989), and the New King James Version (NKJV, 1982).

New Translations go strait to the original languages for a fresh start. Examples of this approach include: the New English Bible (NEB, 1961-1970), the New International Version (NIV, 1973-1978), the Jerusalem Bible (JB, 1966), the Contemporary English Version (CEV, 1995), and the New Living Translation (NLT, 1996).

Paraphrases are the work of a single individual, and are open about being interpretations of the text, reflecting the theology of the author. Examples of paraphrases include: the Living Bible and The Message.

Which Bible do I use?

For regular use in quiet time study, worship service participation, and general reading the reader should choose a version they are comfortable with and can understand well. Most translations today are of a quality that one can be assured of receiving God’s word. The Holy Spirit communicates as well through these versions as He could if we had access to the original documents penned by the various authors used of God.

For study, several versions should be used. One can never discover all the possible interpretations or nuances of a text by simply reading one version. Hopefully, at least one version from each of the translation methods should be used. Affordable copies of most all versions are available today, and there are several good volumes containing more than one translation in a “parallel” layout.
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