Monday, February 28, 2011

The Fullness of Christ (Ephesians 1:15-23)

In this second lengthy sentence Paul writes in his letter to the churches around Ephesus, he gives his standard thanksgiving and tells of his constant prayer for them. Namely, it is a prayer for knowledge. It is quite telling that Paul would pray that the churches he had helped start would grow in knowledge, and he doesn’t just do that in this letter, but elsewhere in his New Testament writings. For believers and communities of believers, growing in knowledge of God and His word is very important. Knowledge is not necessarily a prerequisite for justification, but it is so important for our growth in holiness.

Specifically, he prays that they will grow in their understanding of the hope of God’s calling, the riches that God’s inheritance (read here God’s people) represent, and the power that God wields as seen in the resurrection. All three of these items speak to what God is doing in the world, and to specific aspects of each individual’s relationship with Him, but perhaps primarily they speak to who the church is in the world and what the church is capable of in the world. Better yet it speaks to who and what churches are and are doing in the world.

This thought is capped off at the end of this sentence in verse 23. Here we see that the church—not the heavenly concept of the Church universal, but church as seen locally in the world—is the fullness of Jesus Christ in the universe. That little gathering of individuals that God brings together in Christ but also in a specific place and time is Christ in the world.

Chew on that for a moment.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

2010 in Film

[Updated October 2013 & September 2015]

2010 was a busy film year. It seems as though more potentially interesting films than usual were released. Many of these turned out to be disappointments, and the rewarding ones are not the type that will likely be considered among the greats of all time.

Top Ten Personal Films of 2010:
1. Toy Story 3
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
3. True Grit
4. The Ghost Writer
5. Shutter Island
6. Inception
7. How to Train Your Dragon
8. The Secret World of Arrietty
9. The Kings Speech
10. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
11. The Book of Eli
12. Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang
13. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
14. The Social Network

Bottom or Most Disappointing Films of 2010:
-5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid
-4. Repo Men
-3. The American
-2. Legion
-1. Jonah Hex

Some of the Movie I Have Yet to See:
The King’s Speech (Seen)
Never Let Me Go
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World  (Seen)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Seen)
Hereafter (Seen)
Black Swan (Seen)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Small C Big P

One of the more pleasing family film series of the past few years, even while not managing to be great, are the Nanny McPhee films.

They are not quite as polished as one would like, and they do not always achieve everything they set out to do, but in their favor they are intent on being fun, they relish in going to extremes (in both their art direction and willingness to make a mess), and they have a quality of fairy-tale or perhaps magic realism.

In the first film, the blatant message was that kids need parenting—namely that they need to be taught to behave. Even parents with the best intentions and greatest love fail in their job when they do not discipline. This does not translate into a call for spanking, merely an appeal for adults to be adults and for children to do as they are told. Children, the story seems to imply, thrive best when they know there are boundaries. As it happens, this is true.

The second film, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, does not repeat the lessons of the first film but instead tells a story of Nanny McPhee teaching another family a new set of lessons some 60 years after the first one. The new lessons are more about getting along with others, working together and having faith. Once again, these are lessons that more parents should be teaching their children these days.

A particularly refreshing aspect of these films is the way they add in elements that would usually be shocking for a children’s story. In the first film there is the vulgar and dirty-minded widow whom the father almost marries. In the second film, we have the two female hit women who are prepared to gruesomely kill a man over his gambling debts. All the best “children’s” stories have this edginess—from Grimm to Dahl to Lewis.

There is hope that a third McPhee film may be coming soon. That would be good.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winter's Bone

Winter’s Bone is a story about organized crime in the middle of nowhere. It is the story of a girl’s quest to save her family from losing everything to the forces of the law by facing the perhaps scarier forces of inbred meth cooks.

It is a well made independent film, but it has its problems. It is slow. It is depressing. Yet with all that, there is the smallest hint of hope. The protagonist is determined to save her family, and—even though we know this is a movie and protagonists usually come out on top—we never doubt that she will find her way.

In the end the little hope that this story offers is too little. The family will survive, but how long will it be until they will sink under the oppressive force of poverty that causes every relation to turn to an easy way out?

We hope that Ree Dolly will stay true to her values, but where is her way out? This is a problem that poverty creates all over the world and unfortunately the most common Christian response to it is, “People need to do what is right, then they wouldn’t have such problems.” Instead, the case is often that people turn to wrong when they see that as the only way out of their problematic circumstances.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Struggling with The Social Network

There is a point in The Social Network where Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, is correctly appraising the society we were embarking upon in the mid 2000s: “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we will live on the internet!”

The distinction of Facebook when it first hit the public consciousness, the thing that distinguished it from things like MySpace and other networks, was that people on Facebook were real. You didn’t go onto Facebook and create an alter ego, or pretend to be someone famous. It was a place where people went to be real and to connect with the people who really were, or had been a part of their real life. People do—in a very real sense—live on the internet. Our relationships and lives have been unimaginably enriched through this medium of internet. For a mobile society, where people regularly move and move vast distances, Facebook allows us to stay connected with people across our entire lifetimes and across the whole world.

However, a movie about the creation of something as mundane as an internet application was greeted with skepticism. How interesting would it be to see a bunch of computer geeks sitting around for weeks, months, and even years writing code? The answer is that it is surprisingly compelling when you have a gifted writer supplying a gifted cast with a story of basic human motivations, all being captured by a gifted director.

The problem is that this story has a lot more in common with MySpace than Facebook. In much the same way that people went on MySpace with a fake name and a made up identity to be someone they were not; this story is a fabrication attempting to be more than it really was. Aaron Sorkin is a gifted writer. His dialogue is a joy to hear. (Incidentally, dialogue and interesting speech seems to be a theme this year: The King’s Speech, True Grit, and Winter’s Bone all rely on the interesting use of the English language as well.) The problem is that Sorkin wants to change history for his own purposes but still insist that the “reality” of the story is the draw.

2010 was a year of “documentaries” that explored the nature of truth. Movies like “Catfish,” “I’m Still Here,” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop” purported to be real documentaries but were obviously exercises in manipulating reality. The Social Network is biopic that is really more of a biofiction. With no disclaimers and an insistence on its historical roots, how much has public opinion been influenced by the wide sweeping lies upon which this story is built?

The themes here are real and important. The film itself is well made and compelling. Fictional stories are great for holding a mirror up to society and allowing us to analyze our culture. How much of a problem should our culture have with the fiction when it is presented as truth, and it makes real people out to be monsters that they aren’t?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 2a)

This post is inspired by the ongoing Buffy Re-watch being conducted over at Nik at Night. Check them out for a better, more detailed look at each episode every Tuesday.

<--Season 1  Season 2b-->

Season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the beginning of the greatest period in the show’s run. There were still a few “monster-of-the-week” episodes but these began to feel like chapters in a larger, ongoing story. Whedon and company continued to explore High School in a horrific universe as an allegory for important issues in the real world:

When She Was Bad:

Season two starts off right away by reminding us we are not in traditional TV land with this series. The events of the previous season finale would have been quickly forgotten in a normal series; here they are still having an impact. Sure Buffy defeated the Master last year, but she did die in the process and all the while she is a 15 year old girl. Even with this whole episode to process all these issues, the writers will continue to deal with the repercussions of things in season one for years.

Some Assembly Required, Inca Mummy Girl, and Reptile Boy:

Three “standard” monster-of-the-week episodes, but with a higher level of message as is expected with Buffy. The first of these may be the worst of the season as it riffs on The Bride of Frankenstein with little to no new ideas. The mummy episode makes an attempt to explore Buffy’s situation as the chosen one by comparing her to the sacrificed Incan teen. They will do a better job of this in later seasons.

Reptile Boy is a little better. It falls into the category of “preachy” episodes that come every so often in the series. The lesson here is: frat boys are bad. There are interesting if not so deep explorations into religion. The Buffy approach to religion tends to be very similar to the Christian idea of false pagan beliefs; namely, that all religions have a supernatural origin where a demon is behind the object of worship. Appropriate for the frat-boys-are-evil theme, the demon here is a giant phallic symbol.

School Hard

This is a landmark episode for the introduction of Spike, an important character that will remain important right up to the end. The religious nature of vampires is explored in this episode as well. It seems vampires in the Buffy-verse crave religion and people telling them what to do just as much as people.


This monster is more sci-fi than supernatural. Where the plot is thick in cheese, the character exploration here is very well done. If your story is built around a teenage girl with super strength who kills monsters, at some point you have to address the question: what happens if she kills a normal person by accident?

Halloween and The Dark Age

Halloween is a fun episode that explores our core characters through the device of costumes that possess their wearers. Xander gets to be brave and assertive. Willow learns to come out of her shell a bit. Buffy gets to see that her natural strength, while not traditionally “girly” is not all bad.

Giles’ past begins to be explored this season as well. We learn that he was not always a straight-laced librarian type. In his youth, he fell into a worse-than-usual crowd who played around with conjuring demons. Once again, people in the Buffy universe face long-lasting consequences for the mistakes they make.

Lie To Me

This episode is timely for the Twilight age. A group of misguided teens decide they want to be vampires. They have developed a romantic view of the “lonely ones” and want that life for themselves. They are typically arrogant in their beliefs and reject anyone who tries to warn them of the danger they are playing with. To them, vampires are not evil, they are merely misunderstood. Fools.

What’s My Line Parts 1 & 2

Since Buffy died at the end of season one, the next slayer has been activated. Buffy gets the chance she has been dreaming about. She could let this new slayer take over and have a normal life. In the course of this two part episode, however, Buffy discovers that what she has is not a job or an imposition, but a vocation. She discovers that she was born to do this and it is the most worthwhile thing she can be doing.

Bad Eggs:

Some consider this one of the worst episodes in the series. It is really quite fun and comic. The undercurrent here is teenage sex drives, and is a great build up for the opening of the second half of the season…

Monday, February 21, 2011

True Grit (2010)

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them.’” –Deuteronomy 33:27

The appeal of a Coen brothers’ movie, when it works, is that they are great story tellers. The bonus is that often their stories have a meaning beyond the pure pleasure of the story they are telling. Sometimes you get a well made entertaining comedy, like Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski and sometimes you get a well made study of human nature and the world like Barton Fink or No Country for Old Men. The anomaly in True Grit is that it is one of their simply entertaining stories, an adventure comedy, but it has a serious feel to it.

Not that the story does not touch on some of the Coens' pet themes. This is a story about greed, evil and the terrible things people are capable of, but here we have a bit of a twist. True Grit is not a study of evil, but how we cope with evil. Mattie Ross is a girl with a black and white view of the world. She is on a quest for justice and she has a high view of the law. For her there is a clear right and wrong way in life. Throughout the story and her experience with Cogburn and LeBoeuf she learns that when it comes to people things are not always perfect. People can be flawed and still seek to do right.

Mattie’s musical theme in the film is the Hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” This is the source of confidence she shows in the story—the worldview that allows her, at 14, to head out into the world to seek justice. She faces the unknown, hangings, nights with strangers and even death for company, all without fear. Her faith is not dealt with directly in the story, other than a single line: “You must pay for everything in this world, one way or another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.” One gets the impression first meeting Mattie that she is more a fan of God’s judgment than His grace. By the end of her story, we are led to believe that she has learned to look at others (a bit more) with God’s grace in mind.

However, mostly this is a story presented for our enjoyment. The language here—as with all Coen brothers’ films—is a delight to listen to. The humor that they milk out of most situations is laugh-out-loud funny. The suspense and tension in the set pieces is the sort that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The tone and technical aspects of this adaptation are in every instance better than the John Wayne adaptation. This one makes you want to check out the source material.

All in all this is a highly recommended entertainment.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Men Who Hate Women

Or: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first of the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson

Larsson’s books have been on the best seller lists in Europe and the United States for some time now. With the Swedish film versions of his books making a splash and American versions on the way, they look to be impacting culture for some time to come.

The simplest way of looking at Män som hatar kvinnor (the original Swedish title translates as: Men Who Hate Women, and it matches the story better than the chosen English title) is that it is your basic murder mystery. More specifically, it is a classic case of a “locked room” murder that occurred 40 years before the events in the book take place. That alone, however, does not do the book justice.

More specifically, the book is a sprawling tale of a 40 year old mystery, a hunt for a generational team of serial killers, a financial reporter looking for redemption, and a socially maladjusted girl who is a bit of a genius. Larsson’s pet interests in real life that make their way into the story are the evil of Nazism and neo-Nazis in Europe, the hidden societal epidemic of violence against women, and the injustices perpetrated by large corporations and capitalism. All of these nuances, along with the fact that he writes in a very readable and engaging style, make these books popular and well acclaimed.

On the other hand, this is one of those good against evil stories where the evil is clearly and blatantly shown, discussed, and thrust in your face. It is a hard read. The “good side” of the “good versus evil” aspects of this particular story is clouded by the fact that this is a decidedly postmodern take on the crime novel.

In a postmodern crime novel the truth might be discovered, but exposing it may cause more damage than the crime ever did. The authorities are not someone people can turn to for justice, because they are unable to see the evils that are being committed. The punishment meted out is determined and delivered by individuals acting as their own judge, jury and executioner. In short, it is messy. The crimes in this story are acts of terrible sexual violence against women. At the same time, the sexual lives of the protagonists in this story are about as casual as sharing a cigarette, risky and impulsive, and at times violent.

Perhaps this story is less about “good versus evil” and more about “progressively enlightened versus self-imposing power.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

McDonalds and Missional

If you walk into a McDonalds in Austria at breakfast time, you have the opportunity to order a sandwich on pumpkin seed bread. Eat at one in Great Britain, and you will be consuming fewer calories and eating healthier items, even though they are the same basic sandwiches you can buy in the States. Across Europe, McDonalds tends to taste better and be healthier than the original.

The reason for that lies primarily in the fact that McDonalds has a commitment (in Europe at least) to using local produce to make their product. The local commitment also extends to special menu items that give the restaurants there a unique flavor in spite of the international reach of the chain.

In the world of churches and church planting, a lot could be learned from McDonalds. Instead of the overly pragmatic tendency to try to duplicate one community’s success everywhere in the world—or worse, the attempt to actually franchise a local church and duplicate it worldwide—church planters need to recognize the cultural variety that God intended the Church to possess.

There are certain truths and qualities that identify the Church everywhere in the world. The biblical requirements for Church. Beyond that, every culture has different things that it brings to the idea of community. It is important for that to be a part of the community that is Church.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stories and Music

Music is a good example of how art impacts culture. Just about everyone has experienced the fact that music can influence a person’s mood and trigger memories, feelings and even ideas. Of course, in today’s culture many would attribute that to songs, which usually carry an explicit message or idea in the words, but the truth also applies to pure music.

Fewer and fewer people seem to enjoy that sort of music today. “Classical” music is not something people are exposed to as much these days and it is something of a learned appreciation. However, one area where people do consume music is in movies and on television. They may not realize it, and probably don’t buy the soundtracks to listen to independent of the story, but it is impacting them nonetheless.

Filmmakers and storytellers understand the impact that music has on us, and sometimes they rely on that affect too much. But the idea of music being used to tell a story has been a goal of classical music since the Romantics, even if the story was more implied than explicit. In the earlier days of film music, it usually just served the feel and atmosphere, but in the seventies people like John Williams started composing character specific themes and used them to help tell the story.

Two examples of composers working today who do a great job of writing original music that works independent of the medium and really transports the listener back into the story again are Murray Gold and Alexandre Desplat. The former has done the BBC series Doctor Who since its revival and Desplat has been very sought out in film the past few years. If you would like to check out some “pure” music and don’t know where to start, you could do worse than either of these guys.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Message in a Bottle

Traditional forms of church planting have often been exercises in building time-capsules. Most traditional churches are a snapshot of a community remaining in the mode and cultural form in which they were born. This quickly makes them irrelevant to the rest of the culture around them because the surrounding culture moves forward and changes with time.

The Gospel is not culturally stagnant or irrelevant. The Church was never intended to embody a single method or form. It was always intended as a community expression of the Gospel being lived in the culture. When a church is designed and born as a cultural institution rather than a living collection of personalities, it is built around the wrong things. The goal of such a church is its own survival and maintenance, not changed lives or cultural impact. Therefore such a church is concerned with things like attendance, programs and attracting more customers.

Instead, at its best a church should be a group of believers simply being. They think more about things like sharing life, experiencing relationship with God and each other, and spreading that existence around. They exist so long as their gathering makes sense and has an impact on the world. The goal is doing what they do—not continuing to merely exist.

Some see the measuring stick of church success in longevity. However, many a church continues to exist exactly as it was born long after it ceases to have impact. They are dead and simply fail to acknowledge it because they equate death with failure. Perhaps a better indication of success would be descendants—how many communities and generations of communities are left when the first church is no longer around. To some it may have died, but to the more observant it has been poured into numerous multiplications and continues in ever growing, new manifestations.

Which footprint would you prefer: time capsule, or civilization?

Monday, February 14, 2011

“To the Praise of His Glory.” (Ephesians 1:13,14)

God’s choosing, His plan, and His blessings are determined by His will. Everything that happens is according to his wishes. The people he chooses are determined solely by His will not merit. The blessings He distributes are determined by His grace and His plan not earned—they are not rewards.

Ultimately the aim of all God’s action and plans is His glory. He is not attempting to earn glory for himself, but rather the only fitting result of God creation is that His praise and His glory be magnified.

Understanding this truth is important to really understanding our purpose and meaning in life. God’s will for our lives is much more about Him and His glory than it is about us. Our daily decisions gain clearer perspective in this light. Both in the way we should choose what we do with our days and also in how insignificant many of our decisions ultimately are in the grand scheme of things. We need to balance the truth that most of our daily decisions are simultaneously vital and yet inconsequential. Often, how we choose is less important than how we then live out those choices.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Karate Kid (2010)

Remakes and re-imaginings are not always a bad thing. Classic stories are usually good enough to be told in a variety of ways and updating them for a new audience is often a great idea. However, where Hollywood is concerned, it often simply represents a lazy attempt to tap into an established audience and turn a quick profit. The Karate Kid from this past year is the worst sort of example of this.

Supposedly, this new version was never intended to be a remake. It was supposed to be called “Kung Fu Kid.” Apparently, when they lifted the major plot points and most of the scenes from the original almost line for line, they decided to just own up to the fact that it was a remake and name it the same as well. (That way they could be sure to tap into that audience.)

The big problem is the differences between this and the original. If you aren’t going to change anything, why remake a movie? But when you do change things, it is the differences that determine the worthiness of the effort. Three major differences stand out here:

1. The kid here is just that—a kid. It is hard to swallow all the adolescent angst, romance, and earnestness in these little tweens. Verdict: fail.

2. The location is switched from California to China. Apart from coming across as a major “yeah China!” commercial for the country, they handle most of the culture shock issues very unconvincingly. Verdict: fail.

3. Finally, there is the most famous issue from the original: the training. In the original, Miyagi has Daniel do chores and then reveals that those chores were in fact teaching him defense. Here this whole process is reduced to a completely idiotic exercise in hanging up a jacket. It only barely works for those who are familiar with the original and in that case it just comes across as lame. Verdict: huge fail.

Do yourself a favor and don’t watch this waste of time. Checkout or revisit the greatness of the original instead.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Herzog's Amazon

Werner Herzog is the film critique’s darling, and that is surely in part true to the fact that he makes art more than he makes films that people will want to see. His movies are not precisely stories or drama in the strictest sense of the word. They are the sort of thing you would reflect upon seeing them on a gallery wall more than a cinema screen.

This is especially true in Herzog’s poems to the futility he sees in humanity set upon the Amazon River. In Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes the futility is seen in a conquistador’s crazy quest for the golden city: El Dorado. In Fitzcarraldo, it is a man’s desire for an Opera House that drives him to pull an entire ship over a mountain from one river to another.

Neither movie is a story. Both movies are more about the just-as-crazy obsession Herzog exhibited in making the films as his protagonists exhibited in the films themselves. For the story of the trek down the Amazon on rafts, he filmed the movie floating down the river on rafts. For Fitzcarraldo, he really had a boat pulled over a mountain.

Both are hypnotically beautiful. (So hypnotic that some have a hard time getting through them!) Both are pretty astounding achievements. However, given the fact that Herzog’s message seems to be that man’s efforts are insane to a large degree futile, one has to wonder. What is Herzog saying about his own life’s work?

As with Nosferatu, (the film he made with Kinski in between these other efforts) the hopeless and pessimistic message is pretty bleak. This is the sort of product one would expect from a materialist with no understanding of meaning or purpose in life. How does one explain such an outlook pouring so much energy into the world?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Renewing Your Mind

German is a language with several challenges. As with any language, it has its own internal rules of grammar that create a logic that must be grasped to truly understand the German thinking. It creates a greater sense of nuance than a language like English. It also allows for greater creativity in that compound nouns can be made of almost anything.

As a language learner you eventually gain enough familiarity to easily decipher large compound nouns by seeing the smaller words within. It is a matter of knowing where to break the word up. Take Gasanbieter. A new speaker would wonder: is it gasan-bieter? Or perhaps Ga-San-Bie-ter? How does one know for sure it couldn’t go more than one way? However, to the retrained mind it is instantly Gas-Anbieter. Even to someone who has never seen the word before, it is the only option.

This is the same process that the Bible is speaking of when it says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Many believers struggle with deciphering God’s will for their lives. Most end up turning to others: pastors, speakers, authors, televangelists, and “prophets.” They want people to tell them what to do in their daily lives. Instead, they should approach the Bible as one approaches another language. Jump in. Read regularly. The longer you live there, the easier it will be to recognize and understand God’s way of talking.

Just like learning a language, knowing God’s will is a lifelong learning process. You will never be completely fluent, but you will get better the longer you practice it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shadows of Ecstasy by Charles Williams (1931)

Shadows of Ecstasy was Williams’ first effort at a novel, but it was not published until after War in Heaven and Many Dimensions. It is easy to see this fact in the way Williams here has less polish on his story and more interest in communicating his ideas. He does this by continually exploring the (very dense and complexly worded) thoughts of his characters. This is a style that Williams uses in all of his novels, but here one gets the impression that he had several philosophical issues he wished to explore and almost forgot to attach them to an engaging plot.

The plot, so far as there is one, concerns the attacks on Europe from an African force, led by a humanist ascetic who has managed to live for 200 years. More important than this plot are the reactions to it by several characters of various world views that Williams would continue to explore in his writings. There is an older man who closely resembles a follower of the absurdist branch of agnosticism. There is a literature professor whose religion is poetry. Another young man is a devotee of romantic love. The most admirable characters, as Williams presents them, are a priest who is the orthodox Christian view, and the poet’s wife who exhibits Williams’ ideal of truly selfless love.

For modern audiences this book might be nearly unreadable. The vocabulary, writing style and sheer depth of meaning are not something people are used to anymore. Williams fails (more so here than in others of his efforts) to clearly and effortlessly present his ideas amidst the story in the way that C. S. Lewis and others do so well. However, it is a worthy effort and rewarding to those who enjoy examining and critiquing the beliefs that people follow.

Monday, February 7, 2011

God's Mystery Revealed (Ephesians 1:7-12)

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.

In the second part of Paul’s first lengthy sentence opening Ephesians, He teases us with another topic that he will expound upon later: God’s mystery. This is a truth that God had intended in His plan all along, but had not revealed until after the cross. (Although it was hinted at repeatedly in the lead-up, as any good mystery is!)

This mystery is an important theme of Ephesians, and it concerns God’s plan to unify creation in Christ. Sin has torn the world apart. Relationships—the most important part of creation—have been destroyed: the relationship between God and mankind, the relationship between races, families, and spouses. God’s plan was to restore these relationships, not only between humanity and Himself, but also amongst humanity.

This unity is another one of the blessings in Christ. The Church has been blessed with unity and it is an important blessing that needs to be guarded. It is not something we need to work to achieve—we already have it, but the work required to guard it is just as important and very hard. It is not a unity achieved by ignoring problems, sin or false teaching and that is part of what makes it so hard. It is a unity that brings a lot of diversity together. That being the case—that God wants a people for himself that represent the diversity of His creation—makes unity hard because it demands tolerance and humility.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Movie Review: Black Death

Black Death is a well crafted, little, (self proclaimed) horror movie from Britain and Germany from last year. It is more of a historical-quest piece, and it is clogged full with religious issues. This is no longer surprising in a post-Passion of the Christ world, but not all religious issues films are created equal.

It teases us with the question of natural evil: is it God’s punishment or a curse of the devil? In the end it remains just a tease, but can anyone really do better?

It also plays as though it might become a supernatural thriller, but the story here is firmly material, and there is not much to the “mystery” even though they feel obligated to explain themselves.

Ultimately this movie at its best is a rather clumsy analogy for the current political atmosphere with the issue of terrorism, and the West’s response dominating the plot. The fundamentalist knights stand in for the terrorists. The village is Europe and America. The leaders in the village are the political leaders that create a climate of fear to protect their power. The plague would probably best be called all the various problems that create terrorism in the world. Religion—in all its forms—stands in for… well, religion and other ideologies.

This film could have been so much more. Some reviewers are praising it for its “nuanced view” but it is far from that. It could have been an interesting look at religious institution vs. real faith. It does come close to exposing some of the basic flaws of fundamentalism.

Religion is a wholly unsatisfactory way of relating to God. It does not allow for Him to behave as a person with whom we can relate, but as a force—a formula whom we can only deal with through a system of rules and behavioral patterns. In its fundamentalist expressions, it reduces its god to a weak force that needs men to protect it. It creates a system where men establish what is true, rather than truth being an external constant.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Duck Amuck" (Ephesians 1:3-14)

(This post is born out of a study I did of Ephesians a few years ago in which we turned to various cartoons to illustrate the truths we were learning.)

“Duck Amuck” is one of the best cartoons ever filmed. It was directed by Chuck Jones and written by Michael Maltese, the same team responsible for the great “Rabbit Fire” trilogy and the Coyote—Roadrunner shorts. In it Daffy Duck has some trouble with the creator of the short and we laugh at the troubles he goes through as Bugs Bunny torments him.

It could be viewed as an illustration of the reality of God’s sovereignty. We live in a world created by a person. At times it may even feel as though He is putting us through tough times for His pleasure. The truth is that He is a God who has plans for every one of His creation, and He is all about telling great stories of redemption. However, much like Daffy Duck in this short, we have the ability to choose whether we will cooperate with God’s plans, or fight against His complete control.

There is value to this truth once we discover it. Once we see that the world is created and controlled by God, we can have a better life by surrendering to Him. All we achieve when we fight the circumstances we are put through is we end up looking foolish and missing out on the plans God has for our lives.

Can you imagine living in a cartoon world and trying to tell the other characters about the illustrator? They might think you were crazy in spite of the fact that you would be right. This is the “Looney” truth we find in our world and in the Bible. First Corinthians tells us that the Gospel is foolishness or “Looney” to those who are lost. They must have their understanding given to them by God for it to make sense.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Defiant Joy by Kevin Belmonte

If you were arguing with a blind man about the color of the sky, what good would it do you to throttle him if he refused to see the truth? Somewhere along the line, Christian apologetics has been detrimentally affected by the uncivil tone of secular opponents. If your objective is to illuminate, and you have truth on your side, how exactly does bludgeoning help your cause?

G. K. Chesterton is an appropriate model for believing thinkers today. He managed to combine orthodoxy and an unambiguous view of the truth with humor, tolerance and respect. If you are unfamiliar with Chesterton, Defiant Joy would be a great starting point. It is the best sort of biography for an author. We learn all about his life, but also about his work. Not only does Kevin Belmonte tell us about the things Chesterton wrote, but he analyses Chesterton’s work with reactions from Chesterton’s contemporaries and thoughts from other writers right up through today.

The danger one faces with Defiant Joy is the fact that one’s “to read” list is guaranteed to grow exponentially. Not only do the many works Chesterton wrote become must reads, but many of the writers he wrote about will increase in appeal. You have been warned!

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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.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Bowls and Satellites

It wasn’t enough that Jerry Jones built the largest domed stadium in the world to host the Super Bowl. He wants to host the largest attended Super Bowl in history. In order to help him do that, people can pay upwards of $350 to stand in the stadium or its immediate vicinity and watch the game on TV. The ethical question this opportunity raises is: could you do that and then tell people that you had been to the Super Bowl? The obvious question is something more along the lines of: how many suckers are there in football fandom these days?

The ideal viewing experience for football fans has to be in a home with people you like watching the game on a large television. With all the bells and whistles the TV broadcast provides, you simply get a better viewing experience. Of course, the Super Bowl is a spectator sport for all save around 90 men every year.

The immediate parallel that jumps to mind in religious circles these days is the satellite campus church. In the west, church has become a spectator activity, and a celebrity culture just like everything else. Instead of being church, people go to church. Instead of impacting a community, people drive from miles around to the specially constructed facility where they are entertained, fed and generally made to feel better about themselves. It is hard to be church sitting in a room with thousands of people listening to a speaker you never speak to personally, but now some have decided there is not much difference between that and listening to someone piped in on close circuit television.

Remember your reaction when you first heard about Jerry Jones’ latest scheme to pay for that stadium of his? It is very similar to the one many communities of faith have when they hear about the satellite trend. You might do as well to stay home and watch a service on your television. Either way it is hard to be a community interacting with a personality on a screen.
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