Friday, July 29, 2011

Harry Potter: Fin

It is hard to engage a movie critically when you have been watching the storyline develop for the better part of a decade. Pretty much all that can be said about the conversion of this wonderful story from the page to the screen has been said already in the reviews of all seven books and the seven movies so far here at NonModern. (Books: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7; Films: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7a Snape)

Wow. Ten years. When you count the time when the books began to come out and be read, this is a story that has been being told for over a quarter of my life. There are not a lot of things that can compare. To see the whole thing come to a satisfactory conclusion is pretty amazing.

The final book concluded the storyline in a way that makes these books classics on par with Tolkien, Lewis and even the old classics of world lit. The film in this last case delivers a near textbook example of how to change elements for a screen-telling. It does not change any of the major plot elements, but condenses some points that might even be considered as “dragging” in the book. The action element changes at the end are the sort that make events more visually stimulating without changing the meaning. In retrospect, how wonderful would it have been to see more of these films turned into 4-5 hour multi-parters? (Goblet of fire, this is directed at you.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 5a)

<--Season 4b  Season 5b-->

Season five of Buffy is an improvement over the drop that was season four. It does not rise to seasons two and three levels of entertainment value, but it has an even higher level of things to say about life and spiritual matters. (Which is why this season will merit 3 or 4 entries instead of two.) As always, check out the reviews over at Nik at Night.

The writers get away from both the tired college storylines and the out of place science fiction emphasis. This season, we get to see real life explored more deeply (sometimes too deeply and too real as we will see in the second half of the season.) There is also a complicated philosophical game played with very creative storytelling. The viewer is asked to make some leaps in plot lines where a lot of trust is given to the writers right from the first episode. Thankfully, they have their story under control and know what they are doing.

The main themes this season are identity and death. Instead of merely addressing life issues, the show delves deeper into the meaning of life and, not surprisingly death has a lot to teach Buffy about what is important. Also the main enemy this season is no mere vampire or demon, but a “hell god.” However, the show stays consistently ambiguous and only deals with a very limited level of supernatural forces. Even the gods in the Buffy-verse are limited, almost human beings more along the lines of the glorified creatures of Greek or Roman mythology.

To begin with, here is a look at episodes 1, 2, 3 and 5:

Episode 1. “Buffy vs. Dracula”

It took nearly 80 episodes, but the Buffy-verse finally addresses the most famous vampire himself, Dracula. The myth is played with very creatively, and most the popular elements are addressed. Some of the more important ones are not touched on however.

The idea of the “Community of Belief” is huge in the novel, but hardly ever dealt with in all the popular culture uses of Dracula. Here it is surprising that the dynamic between Buffy and all the Scoobies is not dealt with that way, but that may be due to the fact that they have explored this concept deeply already, most deeply at the end of season four in fact. Perhaps they did not need to develop that anymore just yet. They will go back to it again and again, which is something that makes Buffy (and made Dracula) better than your average vampire fiction.

The issue they do take advantage of here to develop, and that will be explored throughout the whole season is Buffy’s nature as the slayer—her identity. Beyond being a superhero fighting evil, what is the slayer? Where did the whole thing get started and what does it really mean to be one?

Finally, at the end of the episode we get one of the all time greatest moments in creative television writing. Sure we have been watching for four seasons, but we just now find out: Buffy has a sister!?

We have seen sloppy personnel changes in television before. The Cunninghams lost a whole child between seasons one and two of Happy Days, and we were just supposed to think it had never happened. Here, however, it is not a case of sloppy production or the writers changing their minds about something. It is a part of a plan that has been in place and even hinted at since late in the third season.

Episodes 2. “Real Me” and 5. “No Place Like Home”

After revealing the shocker last episode that Buffy suddenly has a sister, the show spends an episode getting us accustom to this new reality. Dawn is roughly the age that Buffy was when she was made aware of her destiny. It is quickly clear that everyone thinks she has been around forever; everyone has slipped into the new reality the way they did in “Superstar” last season. Hints that we haven’t simply been asleep for the past four years: an insane man on the street tells Dawn that she doesn’t belong, and Dawn herself writes in her diary that Buffy is in for a surprise regarding her. That is a cheat, though, because as far as Dawn knows, she is really Buffy’s sister. For now her identity is what everyone including her has been told—she is the 14 year old member of the Summers family.

In episode 5 it is revealed that she is an energy sought out by a supernaturally powerful, evil woman. And suddenly we have our Big Bad for the season. This is a break from the pattern we saw in seasons 2,3, 4, and will again see in 6. Instead of a smaller threat for the first half of the season giving way to the main threat in the second half, we will deal with this major threat throughout this time.

Episode 3. “The Replacement”

Xander is hit with a spell designed to split Buffy into two parts: normal girl and slayer essence. Instead, it turns him into the best possible and worst possible halves. One side is thoughtful, responsible and insightful—all things we have seen Xander be. The other is a helpless, spaz of a boy, unable to pull himself together—also something, especially of late—of which Xander is fully capable.

This is a particularly good episode in the sub-genre of “evil doppelganger” stories. We are never sure which half is the real Xander and which is the imposter, something that makes more sense as the episode progresses. It is a huge turning point for Xander’s character, as it serves as a wake-up call that ushers him into adulthood. He finally begins to take responsibility for his life and becomes the character we saw hints of in the High School years—most of the time, anyway. From this point on in the series, he will serve as the perceptive voice of wisdom next to Giles’ knowledge.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Extreme Religion

It seems that more and more there is an atmosphere of fear and intolerance in the world today. Not that more and more people are necessarily going to the extreme edge of religion, but perhaps more that the minority of people who do have more power to make their impact.

Last week, a man apparently acting on his own (although that may change as information continues to come out) initiated a private war against society. Even though he admits to killing dozens of innocent people, in his warped mind he has broken no law because the society that imposes that law is invalid. He claims to be fighting against Marxist and Muslim influence on the culture. He seems to fit nicely into the religious extremist camp, only this time it is the “Christian” variety of extremism.

As Muslims have been insisting for years, this man and his views are not representative of the faith with which he is being labeled. However, it is an extreme that the religious variety of Christianity is in danger of producing. Any religion can lean this way.

The majority of people who truly believe and try to live by the teachings of Jesus Christ do not strictly fit into a “religious” classification. Jesus actively taught against official religion in His day, and instead called upon submission to God and a relationship with Him.

The danger with the religious leanings of many “Christians” today, especially in America and Europe, is that they breed fear of anyone different and at extremes a violent reaction against said differences. This is made worse when religious leaders teach that political power and religious control should be given to the same people.

At the very least Baptists should return to their roots as the main group pushing for religious liberty and separation of government and religion. Not only were they instrumental in the creation of the Bill of Rights, but they were founded by men with extreme understandings of religious liberty.

John Smyth, founder of the very first Baptist church wrote:

“That the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine: but to leave Christian religion free, to every man’s conscience, and to handle only civil transaction.”

And he would not just argue for this freedom for Christians, but all religious ideas. Much as would Roger Williams, the founder of the first Baptist congregation in America:

“It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries: and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer: to wit, the sword of God’s Spirit, the word of God.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Missional ≠ Missions 2

For some, the concept of “Missional” is an idea that can be confusing. This is especially true for people in the context that has been traditionally termed “Missions,” as the term Missional was coined for believers and churches in a “national” context.

Churches have become so culturally different from the societies around them that they really need to apply cross-cultural methods to reach their own culture. They are to use the missionary and their approach as an example. In the same way that missionaries move to a new culture and adapt their whole lives in order to translate the message of the Gospel to that other context, believers in Western, secular culture need to translate their own understanding of the Gospel in a way that makes sense to the world around them. The Christian ghetto has developed its own culture so much that it is “foreign” to the prevailing culture where it lives.

So Missional lifestyle and Missional ministry is not the same as Missionary ministry. Missional is a reminder to all Christians (including missionaries) that they are to translate their faith and witness into a culturally meaningful message that applies to all aspects of life. The Missionary vocation, however, demands more of a person than simply being “paid Christians.”

A Christian carpenter does his carpentry and hopefully lives out his faith in all aspects of his life. As believers, missionaries should also live out our faith in every aspect, but as “Missionaries” their day job is communicate the message in such a way that it impacts the culture leading to change seen in the planting of churches. Sometimes people think that missionaries have been sent “over there” to just be Christians without having to work for a living. That would be a wonderful life of luxury, but it is not the case. They have a job to do in addition to all the demands that being a follower of Christ requires. They are no different than the above mentioned carpenter; they simply “build” community rather than tables.

further thoughts

Monday, July 25, 2011

Introduction (Colossians 1:1,2)

Most people think that Colossians and Ephesians were written around the same time and sent out to be read by multiple churches in neighboring regions. (Along with Philemon, sent to an individual at one of those churches; and perhaps during the period of time when Paul wrote Philippians.) They certainly are very similar in tone, structure, and even to a degree in themes. Sometimes they are referred to as twins.

This may be in part, however, to a larger pattern of teaching that Paul used everywhere he went. He certainly did stick to a general pattern of teaching. This has been pointed out by, among others, people like Tom Wolf in his Universal Disciple material, where Ephesians and Colossians serve as the most obvious example of Paul’s “pattern.”

There is a huge difference, though. Whereas Ephesians teaches mostly about the body of believers, and the riches they have in Christ as the Head; Colossians focuses instead on Christ as the Head, and the way that the believers find their fulfillment and life in Him. So Ephesians is more about the Bride and Colossians more about the Groom, to borrow a Pauline metaphor. Perhaps Colossians was written first, or at least should be considered first, but it comes second in the way Scripture is ordered currently, so that is the way it is being read here…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Look, and Ahead

Here is one written about 16 years ago that applies well to our lives today:

Time and memories
(Scenes, temporaries)
Life is full of places
Where we’ve gone
And the faces
Of people gone past.

Look and ahead
(Life relived is dead)
Create memories today.
When all is gone
Then you stay
And live in the past.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sumptuous Steiermark

We moved to the Steiermark region of Austria at the height of Marille season. Marille is the Austrian word for what Germans call Aprikose, or what the Swiss call Barille. When we first started seeing the signs for them being sold at roadside stands, we wondered if that might be the case. Growing up in Latin America, one found that fruit names are often what vary from country to country in a single language. Take fressa, fresón, or frutilla for example. Or even more appropriately, a durazno or melocotón.

Food is a big deal in the Steiermark. It is the capitol of Austrian cuisine. Food is already considered better in Austria than Germany, especially when it comes to pastries and desserts, but Graz and the surrounding area are particularly renowned for their cooking. Other important produce in the region, beyond the Marille, are apples and pumpkins. There is no end to the variety of pastries one can find using apples, and pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil is on everything. Even the Schnitzel, common throughout Germanic Europe, is given its own twist here, with pumpkin seeds mixed into the batter.

It should be a great year for our taste buds. And we are starting it out with these wonderful, fresh apricots. Most people do not think of apricots among their favorite fruits. That may be because you can’t find good fresh ones anymore. There is no better way to eat any fruit than straight off the branch, unless perhaps in the case of apricots. It has long been my opinion that God created apricots knowing that one day, man would come up with the idea of marmalade—for there is no fruit better suited to being canned and then spread on fresh toasted bread with real butter.

I think I better go get a snack!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2

“Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but that doesn't make you who you are. It is the rest of your story, who you choose to be...”

That quote, that in various was is spoken by multiple characters in the Kung Fu Panda sequel, is the theme of the story. In that regard, the film is better than its predecessor, because it is a theme that reflects a couple of important truths in life, as opposed to the unfortunate nonsense in the first one.

Both films are entertaining, funny, and have moments of genuine emotion. Both films have great art design and animation. These would probably have to be considered some of the best work DreamWorks Animation has done, and that is including the Shrek movies.

The two things that are so great about the theme of this second film are that life is indeed about choices and not about circumstances. In American society today, there is far too much emphasis laid upon all the things and circumstances in a person’s past that give them an excuse to do wrong, be evil, or simply not try to live a life worth living. This movie makes a case that even the most tragic of pasts need not shape who a person ultimately will be.

Instead, it is the choice a person makes that determines what sort of person they will become. Choice, not choices. The little daily decisions we make are not as important as the decision, at some point in a person’s formative years, which a person makes regarding what kind of person they will be. Will they take the road of responsibility and life lived by a standard, or will they simply go with the flow and allow circumstances to govern their character?

(Oh, and when will theaters come to the realization: I would pay even MORE extra to see these movies in 2D!)

Monday, July 18, 2011

111, 112, 113

Praise the Lord!
Praise o ye servants of the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord!
Blesses be the name of the Lord for all time.
From the rising of the sun,
To the setting of the same,
Our praise will be given to His name!

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks unto the Lord.
Great are the works of the Lord!
Splendid and majestic and perfect.
He has made His wonders,
To be remembered.
Through His works He has shown us His strength!

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord.
Blessed is the man who obeys.
His righteousness endures forevermore!
Light arises in the dark,
He will never waiver.
The righteous will be remembered forever.

Praise the Lord!
Praise o ye servants of the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord!
Praise the name of the Lord!
Praise the name of the Lord!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

1998 in Film

1998 was the year it happened. The American Film Institute came out with their top 100 list and prompted me to do something I had been thinking of for years. In high school I had a classmate who kept a notebook where he reviewed every single movie he ever saw. Now that computers were everywhere, I decided to do the same thing, only on a spread sheet. Fourteen years and over 1,000 movies later, it is still going. That being said, 1998 was not a strong year. Either I was just getting going and didn’t see enough, or the year was weak.

Top Personal Films of 1998:
1. Dark City
2. Saving Private Ryan
3. The Truman Show
4. The Big Lebowski
5. Shakespeare in Love
6. Prince of Egypt
7. Waking Ned Divine
8. Elizabeth
9. A Bug’s Life
10. The Mask of Zorro

Bottom Personal Films of 1998:
5. Snake Eyes
4. Primary Colors
3. Urban Legend
2. Mafia
1. Sliding Doors

Films I want to see:
Lola Rennt
The Wisdom of Crocodiles
Babe: Pig in the City
Apt Pupil

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Wild Bunch (1969)

This is one of those films that cinesnobs have to like, not because it is good, appealing, or entertaining, but because it is expected. The things that are brought up in its defense—what justifies it being on several AFI top lists and being selected for preservation by the National Film Registry—are its technical merits. It is cited as the first film to use the mixture of film speeds in editing its shoot-out sequences. It is held up as a “more realistic” portrayal of violence in the old west. All that is good and well, but you don’t see the same arguments being used to hail the Wright Brothers plane as one of the best airplanes ever designed, with people clamoring to fly the Wright Flyer I instead of say a 737. Give it its due as a pioneer, but don’t lose your ability to critically evaluate by calling it one of the ten best westerns of all time!

In most cases movies are about story, and the story here leaves a lot to be desired. In the late sixties, the new Hollywood wanted to show their frustration with the moral failings of the establishment, but they also were very careful to present the anti-hero as their archetype of choice. It was as if to say, “There is no such thing as a standard of good to measure people against, but we still want to call you out for not being good.” This makes a lot of the films of this period frustrating for thinking people. Even so there are well told stories that manage to work. This is not one of them. The idea that Peckinpah is trying to nail home is obvious; subtlety does not come into play here at all. The idea that you should not abandon the people you side with is clearly the standard held up as noble. The problem is that this bunch is terrible at it!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Search

Dream of utter happiness
Waking in complete sadness.
Could it be that I've only fallen in despair
And asleep, my sadness is only a nightmare?
Or will I never wake to find
My dream was reality
Not just a trick of my mind!

But the righteous man cries out:
Lord, I seek Your face,
Your life, and Your grace!

And the Spirit, and the Bride
Say come as you are.
And let him who hears
Say come, who so ever desires
And drink the Water
The Water of Life!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Bugs' Bonnets" (Ephesians 6:10-20)

A Warner Brothers Cartoon from the classic period of the studio, “Bugs Bonnets” is a Merrie Melody released in 1956. In it we find Elmer hunting Bugs as usual, but in this one a series of hats rain down on our stars, changing their personality to fit the hats. Funny situations develop as the hats cause a lot of confusion.

It is silly, but we really can see how this cartoon illustrates the old saying, “The clothes make the man.” It is a true statement, in many ways. While perhaps not as literally as in the cartoon, we judge people by appearances and we even act differently according to our appearance at times. A uniform changes the way we see someone, and a disheveled look on a person causes an opposite reaction. Many a TV show has demonstrated the positive affect a “make-over” can have on a person. We repeatedly here how actors claim that a costume has the power to create the character they are called upon to play.

Spiritually, Paul uses the clothing analogy to illustrate the weapons and spiritual qualities we have at our disposal in order to face the spiritual forces in our lives. Since it is a spiritual concept, there is no costume we can put on to change our outlook and approach to life, but it is a change we need to make on a daily basis. Just as we dress each day for the task we have ahead of us, we need to cover our spiritual selves in the armor and defenses available.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Hammer the feather,
Fling in less water,
Four where more time,
Soul in a dollar.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Clothes Make the Man (Ephesians 6:10-20)

A lot is made of the issue of “spiritual warfare” these days. It is a concept that a lot of people are excited by, perhaps because it seems adventurous or dangerous or exciting in some way. Maybe it is at the level it is due to the fact that it is big in secular pop-culture with all the movies dealing with demonic possession that have been made since the early seventies beginning with the Exorcist. Maybe it is all thanks to Frank Peretti.

Whatever the case may be, it is all a little misguided and has gotten a lot out of hand. Here in Ephesians, Paul gives the most direct instruction regarding the spiritual conflict that the believer faces. His teaching revolves around standing firm in the face of difficulties and setting up a strong defense for daily challenges, not taking on spiritual entities and taking the battle to the enemy.

There are two things a believer is instructed to do in the face of spiritual attack: pray for God to intervene and then stand firm in our God given defenses. The “armor” that Paul describes here is not a real suit, of course. It is a symbolic way of looking at what God has given us to help us stand firm in hard time, to keep our hope alive. There are six items mentioned, but an apparent chiastic structure allows us to talk of three things really:

First, there is the Truth, or God’s Word. God has revealed truth to us through special revelation. The more time we spend reading and meditating on the truth of scripture, the easier it will be to keep our hope alive in hard times.

Second, there is the righteousness we have received in our salvation. We need to always remember that we have been justified and we are now new creatures who can stand in God’s presence. We have a relationship with God, and when He has our back, why would we worry about anything?

Lastly, we have the message of the Gospel. Through faith in Christ, we are at peace with God, and this exciting reality is something that should always be on our minds and the tips of our lips. This is the truth that we need to proclaim to a world in search of the peace that God is offering to everyone who wishes to receive it. The more we share this with others as opposed to wasting our time taking a fight to forces that have already been defeated, the better off we will be.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hereafter (2010)

From the publicity for the film, you would think that Hereafter is an exploration of the afterlife, an attempt to answer the question: is there anything after death? In fact, it is nothing like that at all.

What we do get is a very emotional look at three separate stories that in ever more typical Hollywood fashion come together in the end.

First we have a French journalist who is in Thailand at the time of the devastating Tsunami. In fact, she is caught up in the wave and dies for a short period of time. After she returns home—lucky to be alive—her perfect life changes. She is unable to cope with the experience she had, and more importantly, what she “experienced” while she was clinically dead. She begins to investigate and discovers that scientific observation has long since proven that something is out there, it is simply being covered up.

Meanwhile, in England, a pair of twins are struggling to stay together in the care of their drug addicted mother. Just as things are looking up, one of them is hit by a car and killed, while he is on the phone with his brother. Needless to say, the boy is impacted emotionally. He starts seeking the answer to that pesky question. Pointedly, wacky-hateful-extremists and people who believe in Jesus are singled out as people who have to be wrong.

All the while, in San Francisco, a man is cursed with the ability to communicate with dead people. When he touches anyone, he is put in contact with their dead relatives. This is shown to be a curse because he learns too much about people, and as we all must assume, no friendship can develop between people unless they are allowed to slowly reveal and discover things about each other.

Climactically, (or let-downedly if you prefer) the three end up in the same place. The boy gets to hear from his dead brother (who does not really want to talk) and our psychic finally gets to find potential love. You see, since the French woman already died, when he touches her he just sees her dead in the water.

Or something like that.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Virtual Mob

There is something about a large group of people that can be very scary. The power of a mass of humanity has been referenced here already, and the way an otherwise normal person who wouldn’t hurt a fly can become compelled to cheer for someone to kill themselves is a demonstrated phenomenon. Every society has developed rules of one sort or another to keep the masses from destroying themselves.

The United States of America has been one of the most successful democracies in the history of humanity because it is not a democracy. It is a carefully constructed representative republic with clearly divided powers and a strict rule of law. On aspect of that rule of law is an exacting legal system that makes it hard to convict and punish people. The reason it is so hard is because we think it is better for a few guilty people to perhaps go unpunished than for any innocent people to be wrongfully convicted. In spite of that, there are still innocent people who are wrongfully convicted all the time.

Thankfully, our legal system is not set up where all convictions are delivered through a popular vote after the evidence and speculation has been transmitted over television. With our current reality television obsession, perhaps that is not so unlikely an idea. Of course, in our history there have been times when the legal system was deemed too weak and the masses took matter into their own hands in the form of a lynch mob. Those are not some of our prouder moments. Masses can be very scary.

Of course, the individual human is not much better at times. I find myself having unfortunate questionable opinions of people all the time. A couple days ago, as the latest example of how “failed” our legal system can appear to be was announced, I scrolled down my Facebook news feed. I wondered how many of the vocal friends I have would have been happy to join a 21st Century lynch mob if they could. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The other day I was early for a meeting mentoring a friend. It was pouring rain, not the usual drizzle we get here but really pouring. I had my umbrella so I waited outside, standing there in the downpour, enjoying myself tremendously.

As far as I can remember I have always loved umbrellas. They rank up there with nice pens, old books, and hats that are not just ball-caps.

In my earliest memories in Texas, the rain when it (infrequently) came was the scary sort that you don’t go out into. Later when we lived in Colorado we lived in the eastern part of the state where you are technically in a desert. I would occasionally see umbrellas, but don’t really remember any of my own. But then we moved to Costa Rica for a year and my fascination with umbrellas was allowed to flourish. We got rain every day for months on end! There were times where we got rain non-stop for days on end! It was great.

From there we moved to the southern cone of South America, into a Marine West Coast Climate much like the northwestern United States. Umbrellas there are as standard as underwear. If you weren’t blocking the water from the sky, you had to shield yourself from the splashes created by passing cars or worse, buses. There were long ones with hook-shaped handles, short ones that folded up on themselves and could fit in a backpack or purse, and best of all—the kind with a button that would pop open by themselves!

Umbrellas are portable shelter. They allow you to get out in the rain (where we all secretly want to be) without getting really soaked. The sound the rain makes on an umbrella is second only to rain on a tin roof in inducing joy. When the wind turns your umbrella inside out, you get a unique feeling of panic that is only calmed when you manage to reshape it without breaking it. A broken umbrella, especially when it is an old, faithful friend of an umbrella, is a heart breaking event.

If you have an umbrella somewhere by your front door that is dry and unused and gathering dust, take it out the next rainy chance you get whether you have somewhere to go or not. Don’t move from garage, to car, to covered parking… that is no life worth living!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 4b)

<--Season 4a  Season 5a-->

Even with a couple brilliant episodes in the first half of the season (and a couple more in this second half) season four manages to be the second worst season of Buffy ever aired. (That’s right, there is worse than this awaiting us.) However, even bad Buffy manages to present more food for thought than most TV out there.

This half of the season starts out confirming what we have known all along: the initiative is bad in episodes 13. The I in Team and 14. Goodbye Iowa. Professor Walsh decides Buffy is a threat and tries to get her killed, and we see that the program has not only been trying to control evil power, but has also been artificially augmenting and controlling the soldiers it employs.

15. This Year’s Girl and 16. Who Are You? Do a great job of bringing Faith back in a body-switching plot. It is fun to see both actresses do a good job playing each others’ characters, and a lot of development and revelations are exposed in the process.

With episode 17. Superstar, the show embarks on a level of storytelling that is surprising for television up to this point, trusting the audience to be smart enough to follow the huge changes made to the entire concept of the show—all made off air. This is not the last time Buffy will do something of this nature, as those who go onto season five will discover.

Episode 18. Where the Wild Things Are, could have been a fun poltergeist show, but many rank it among the worst episodes of the entire series. This may be due to the fact that Buffy and Riley are reduced to cartoonish versions of college-age lovers who can’t get enough of each other. They spend most of the episode trapped in a possessed-like state where they can’t stop having sex or they will die! Yeah, it is that cheesy. However, the show is not preaching against sex the way Beer Bad did against beer. It is more about the religious approach to sex and the way it takes something that, while in the right context is a great thing, and makes it a dirty, always evil thing. Interesting points, if not perfectly executed.

One of the big themes that this season tries to tackle, which comes to a head in episode 19. New Moon Rising, is Willow’s exploration of homosexuality. This was a ground breaking series on this front, but it was really poorly done. Of course, the times must be taken into account, and they were probably not allowed to address the issue too directly. The result is a transformation that happens almost entirely off screen. The fact that it is a transformation may be a big part of the problem. In the Hollywood version of American sexuality we have come to know these days, sexual orientation is not a choice. Those who are gay are supposed to always be that way from the time they become sexually aware. Willow does not fit this mode at all. She has been attracted to specific men all her life, and the great love of her life up until early this season was a man. This issue will be dealt with more in coming seasons, but for now it is unconvincing at best.

In 20. The Yoko Factor & 21. Primeval we get the somewhat rushed end to the series arc, where our scientifically assembled enemy is defeated with a spell that combines our heroes’ best qualities into Buffy so she can defeat the otherwise invincible foe. It tries to make the recurring point in Buffy—that she is strong due to her relationships—but ends up being a bit too rushed. That is unfortunate because it is a good theme. This season had become too much of a mess at this point. Perhaps it was due to production and behind the scenes efforts being split between this show and its spin-off, Angel. In fact, there are moments in this season where, if you are not watching both shows, you might get a little lost.

22. Restless: The reward for watching season four of Buffy (aside from the greatness of Hush, Superstar, and perhaps Fear Itself) is the final episode. After the big battle where our heroes combined their essences, they gather at Buffy’s house to watch movies and unwind. Falling instantly asleep, we get to witness the four dreams they have as an unstructured, four act, surreal experience that is unlike anything television has seen before. The exploration of the four main characters we have come to know so well is insightful, funny and scary all at once. This show is one of Whedon’s masterpieces. And the music is amazing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Submission (Ephesians 5:18-6:9)

When looking at the “Household Rules” passage in Ephesians, it is helpful to remember the context of the passage, and that submission in each relationship—Wives and Husbands, Children and Fathers, and Slaves and Masters—are examples of a much larger concept: being filled with the Spirit.

[18] And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, [19] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, [20] giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, [21] submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
[22] Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord…

The mandate here is to be filled with the spirit, which is further developed as an idea with the gerund verbs: addressing (instructing), singing, giving (thanks), and submitting.

Submission is a discipline that all Christians practice.

That does not mean, as some try to imply, that all Christians submit universally to each other. There are clearly defined lines of authority in life. Few would try to argue that parents need to submit to their children. However, especially in the West, we are far too loath to place ourselves under any authority. This is a spiritual symptom of the larger problem that we all struggle with… namely sin. Our submission should be given in response to our trust in and obedience to God, not as a reflection of how worthy a particular authority may be.

That being said, the harder task in this whole discipline might be the role of authority. However hard it may be to present a holy picture to the world of how believers respond to God, it is far harder to love and people the way God loves us.

Maintaining the distinction between authority in a particular role and worth as an individual is also a challenge for westerners, since we place so much of an individual’s worth in the roles they play in life. The fact that wives are called to submit to their own husbands does not in any way translate into women submitting to men in general, or even a particular woman, say Cheryl submitting to her husband Jason outside of her role as his wife.

The role of authority is visible:

…In Spirit-filled husbands treating their wives as their own selves—with all the benefit of doubt, striving to fulfill wishes and goals, and personal fulfillment that that implies.

…In Spirit-filled fathers helping children learn to live well without provoking anger or frustration in the child or demanding things of them simply because it is possible.

…And in Spirit-filled bosses recognizing that the authority they exercise in any vocational task comes from a source that holds all players involved in that task in equal worth.

In other words, authority should always be wielded in such a way that it benefits those that are under it, not just those who hold it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

The Good the Bad and the Ugly is a film that faces a lot of misunderstanding in popular consensus. It is a western, but takes place before that period and is really more of a civil war piece. It “stars” Clint Eastwood, but the film is more focused on Eli Wallach’s character, Tuco, or “The Ugly.” It is a violent film (for it time) but it is essentially a film against the futility of violence and war.

As a Leone film, one would expect for it to be deliberately paced and a reflective, thoughtful telling, but this epic is always taking time to stop and focus on the devastation and impact of the war even when the very basic plot does not require it to. That basic plot consists of three characters all chasing after a hidden treasure in stolen gold. The two key pieces of information needed to find the gold are known only to two of the characters, and therefore they need to stay together and alive to claim it.

Along the way, the nearly three hour film constantly has them diverted from their quest by one side or the other of the forces engaged in the civil war, making the war an obstacle to their goal. In one particular scene, a battle is between them and their objective, a battle over a bridge. The fighting and killing that occurs twice a day, daily over the bridge could be avoided completely if the strategic bridge were gone, but both sides want control of the bridge and are willing to sacrifice thousands of lives rather than destroy it. Our characters make everyone’s lives better and easier by simply blowing it up.

In the end, the gold is buried in a cemetery, and what a cemetery it is. Spreading out as far as the eye can see in all directions it is a huge, make-shift cemetery with thousands of shallow graves, all needed because of the civil war forcing compatriots and families to fight each other. It all seems so wasteful.

Tuco, the Ugly, finally gets to the gold he has been seeking ever since his rather aimless thieving way happened to stumble upon the information leading him there, and we think he has accomplished something that will benefit. Instead, he ends up with the gold and no way to take it with him, nowhere to use it, and no foreseeable way he can benefit. The incredible efforts he has gone to find the gold, the killing he has done and the betrayals he has repeatedly committed were all rather pointless. Much like the fighting all around him in the world has seemed to be.

(The trailer below reflects an error on the part of the translators. The Italian title is really "The Good, the Ugly, and the Bad" but in changing the order for the English title they incorrectly introduce the trio in the trailer.)
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