Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Illusion" by Frank Peretti

Imagine a story where magic is really possible. Not just possible because it takes place in another reality—it really is possible in this world. This is the essence of any story of magic realism, but somehow this feels more plausible. Maybe this is a science fiction story. Well, as you read “Illusion” that will be part of the mystery—what exactly is going on here? That is not all the mystery, however, because the story itself has some of the traditional elements of a mystery. Top it all off with great conflict, a strong desire to see two people connect, and important spiritual ideas being explored, and you have a good read on your hands…

Friday, March 30, 2012

Try Again

Will she fly again
to gain height on wings, unbroken in time? 

Will I try again
to gain back on love that once was mine?

Trust the wind
the air under wings
dare to fly
beyond doubts and leave
high to the sun ‘till all below

 Is lost beyond clouds of golden glow

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Tip To Travelers


Falling in love
Is easy to do.
Getting out, though
Is quite simple, too.
Sometimes, you climb
Other times, you're thrown
But, eventually,
You’re back all alone.
So, on this trip,
Down this road called life,
Avoid the potholes
And save yourself strife.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Prayer: Introverted Insights

There is no shortage of “inspirational” stories of the prayer lives of the heroes of the faith. You always hear about people who would get up extra early to pray for hours each day… and how they would devote time to extra prayer on days that promised to be busy.

Stories like that might do more damage than good. They create an impression that one should learn the discipline of being long-winded. Is that really what God desires? Have you ever had one of those friends or acquaintances that can string together a good hour of verbiage without seemly taking a breath, let alone allow anyone else to get a word in? Right.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 5b)

<--Season 5a Season 6a-->

In the second half of the fifth season, STNG strung together several episodes that could be argued to be the best among the franchise. There are stories here that do what all great Sci-fi tries to do—use the artificiality as a buffer to enable us to consider truly important issues without our preconceptions or bias. Well, almost. It is hard to have a completely fresh perspective on these things. And, in the case of Star Trek, one issue they always wanted to address finally gets shoe-horned in but it is too forced to really work:

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Has God Spoken?" by Hank Hanegraaff

“Has God Spoken?” is a book written in defense of the Bible. In a world where faith in general and Scripture in particular are questioned, attacked and even scoffed at, this is an important subject. Hanegraaff delves into defenses based upon textual evidence, archeology, scripture fulfillment and—perhaps most importantly—the correct reading and use of the text. He makes heavy use of acronyms as memory aids for those reading the text, presumably to aid them in retaining the defenses provided in the book.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Christ's Example (Philippians 2:1-11)

It seems like much of the usage this passage gets these days is to highlight the message of unity or its Christological aspects. Both are great uses of the text and this really is one of the great teachings on the Messiah’s ministry in scripture. However, both of those uses miss a point of this passage that emerges in the context of the letter.

Consider a possible summary of the paragraphs following the greeting in the letter thus far:

Paul thanks God for the Philippians’ partnership in advancing the gospel.-->
Paul’s difficult situation is serving to advance the gospel. -->
In fact, the ultimate purpose of the life of the believer is to glorify Christ advancing the gospel.-->
So walk and live in a manner that is worthy of the gospel.

It is all a very gospel heavy letter, not just gospel but the idea of its advance and the role of believers in that advance. Now, Paul goes on to list three examples related to this advancement starting with the example of Christ. Just as Jesus gave Himself to make God’s plan, mission, and purpose complete, we are to give ourselves away to advance that same plan—mission—purpose. This is not just a passage about being humble or united as a body. It is a call to give our lives and our rights and our desires up for the sake of the gospel.

It is a call to die to self.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

1950s in Film

[Updated 2/15/13]

The further back I look in film history to evaluate it, the more I realize my knowledge and experience is inadequate to the task. For one thing I still need to see or revisit such films as: “The 400 Blows,” “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still” [seen, see below], “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Hidden Fortress,” “I Confess,” “Ikuru,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Kiss Me Deadly,” “Limelight,” “Night of the Demon,” “The Night of the Hunter,” “On the Waterfront,” “Rebel Without a Cause” [seen, but not on this list], “Rio Grande,” “Roman Holiday,” “Some Like It Hot,” and “The Wrong Man.” Wow. That being said, here are my favorite films from those that I have seen from the fifties:

26. “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) Dir. Jack Arnold
25. “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) Dir. Billy Wilder
24. “Strangers on a Train” (1951) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
23. “Rio Bravo” (1959) Dir. Howard Hawks
22. “Kumonosu jo” (Throne of Blood) (1957) Dir. Akira Kurosawa
21. “Dracula” (The Horror of Dracula) (1958) Dir. Terence Fisher
20. “Cinderella” Prod. (1950) Walt Disney
19. “Lady and the Tramp” (1955) Prod. Walt Disney
18. “The Trouble with Harry” (1955) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
17. “The Naked Spur” (1953) Dir. Anthony Mann
16. “The Far Country” (1955) Dir. Anthony Mann
15. “Winchester ‘73” (1950) Dir. Anthony Mann
14. “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
13. “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) Prod. Walt Disney
12. “Rashomon” (1950) Dir. Akira Kurosawa
11. (Tie) "Ben-Hur" (1959) Dir. William Wyler
11. (Tie) “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) Dir. Otto Preminger
10. “The Searchers” (1956) Dir. John Ford
9. “To Catch a Thief” (1955) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
8. “The African Queen” (1951) Dir. John Huston
7. “Seven Samurai” (1954) Dir Akira Kurosawa
6. "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) Dir. Robert Wise
5. “Singing in the Rain” (1952) Dir. Stanley Donen
4. “High Noon” (1952) Dir. Fred Zinnemann
3. “Vertigo” (1958) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
2. “North by Northwest” (1959) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
1. “Rear Window” (1954) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Friday, March 23, 2012

"The Hunger Games" (2012)

Some who read NonModern have probably gotten the impression that I did not enjoy “The Hunger Games.” In my reviews of the books [1,2,3] (the first two in particular) I tried to make it known that they are fun and well written and that they work as entertainment. However, I felt compelled to highlight the underlying problems with the worldview presented; especially considering the young target audience.

The first film, on the other hand, is a powerful piece and does not share a lot of the shortcomings of the novel. Most movies tend to fall short of the source material because a book can have so much more detail and let the reader into the minds of characters and explore the underlying themes more thoroughly. In this case, the fact that a film is open to a broader range of interpretations is a good thing. One can focus on positive interpretations of the material. In some ways, the film lets us into other aspects of the plot that the novel did not explore, even, setting things up better for the coming films.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Discipleship: Accountability vs. Supervision

Followers of Jesus are called to be contagious—to help other people become followers as well. This is seen multiple times in Scripture, in passages that are collectively named “The Great Commission.” In it, Jesus commissions His disciple to make more disciples. Not convert people. Not evangelize. Make disciples. He goes on to say that, in making disciples, they are to teach people to “observe all that I have commanded you.”

That obeying Jesus’ teachings bit is simple, but not easy. It is simple because we have Jesus’ teaching available and there is not a lot of it. It is not easy because he didn’t spell out every aspect of life. He mostly told us to do things like listen to the Father and do what He says. That is the most important thing a disciple can be taught to do.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reality of Love vs. Religion of Law

One of the best illustrations of the differences between the relational reality of the spiritual aspect of life—real faith—and the legalistic institutionalism of religions, can be seen in the current state of environmental attitudes.

Much has been made lately on the blogosphere and even in the traditional press, of the religious nature of environmentalism in central Europe, particularly Germany. The German people have long been lovers of nature and prided themselves in their good stewardship of the resources around them. However, since that attitude has become a source of political power, things have gotten out of hand. Rather than celebrate the natural, German care of nature, government has taken to regulating every last little detail of life. This too is a German characteristic, after all their success on the world stage is largely thanks to their very efficient bureaucracy, but the system can usually be shown to make sense or have a logical justification for everything. That is not the case anymore with many “green” policies. People are compelled to presort their refuse into 5, 6 or more categories—often to simply have the trash burned, for example.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Illusion" Giveaway!

I have a copy of Frank Peretti’s “Illusion” that I will be giving away sometime in the next couple of weeks. More on how you can win it in a bit…

I have enjoyed Peretti’s work for years now. One of the best things about his fiction is the way he tells a great story that communicates and even teaches without trying to preach. His goal is to tell a story. (That is a rare thing in Christian fiction these days. For some reason many Christian authors feel pressure to deliver a message instead of a well constructed plot.) So, when I was approached to review his latest, I jumped at the chance. To make things even better, the publisher is sending me two copies, so I can give one away.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Trees

When I survey the wondrous tree
On which You died for me
Do I see the strains of Eden
Casting cruciform shadows?
For as you were raised up and risen
Drawing all nature to you
Ultimate good, terrible evil
Are there fully revealed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Costly Gospel (Philippians 1:27-30)

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” 

 How much have we cheapened the gospel of Christ? If you asked most active, committed, American Christians what they thought the gospel was all about, you would likely get a well rehearsed answer highlighting the free salvation aspect. Read carefully, this passage is a good reminder of what the message is really about.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Top Ten Smaller Cities to Visit

OK. This list is a huge cheat in a way. The real reason that there is a distinction between small cities with populations ranging from more than 10,000 to less than 100,000, and towns or villages of less than 10,000 people, is simply to allow me to promote more of the places I love. To make matters worse I am declaring two separate ties on this list AND sneaking in an extra city. Oh well,

1. Meißen 

Most who know of this city think of the porcelain that is made there, but that is not the reason to love Meißen. It is a beautiful, middle-ages style town with a stunning castle/cathedral complex built on a wonderful little hill along the Elbe River. Add to that the fact that it was until recently way off the tourist’s beaten path and you have a truly overlooked treasure that few have gotten to experience.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Prayer: A Dog Trainer’s Insight

When you get a new puppy one of the first things you have to do is train it. No one wants a dog that does its own thing, you want an obedient pet. Once you get it to not do the things that annoy, you may decide that you want it to perform some special tricks that will entertain people. Ultimately, though, all training is a process of learning how to make your wishes known to the dog, and make it want to fulfill those wishes. In some cases, like house-breaking, it can feel like the one being trained is the human. In a way that is true, because you are adjusting your life and habits nearly as much as the dog is.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Home is...

(This may be another “inside baseball” sort of post.)

It seems that there has been a mental shift in cross cultural ministry. It used to be that a person who responded to the call to leave home and dedicate their lives to another culture for the sake of the gospel did just that—they made a life-long commitment. To be fair, in the early days of missions they didn’t really have such a thing as retirement, and many of the medical and political circumstances that end ministries today ended lives back then, but something else is at work.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

TMI or TMMe?

This blog, all 1200 posts and counting, has always been about trying to bring rational, intentional thought to the discussion—albeit from a specific perspective. To some degree it has been a reaction against the self-absorption that endangers so much of the blogosphere. It is frankly amazing the stuff you can read out there. How do some people think it is a good idea to share the thoughts, experiences and choices they contemplate and make with the whole world? Is it a case of failure to realize that they are sharing too much information?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 5a)

<--Season 4b Season 5b-->

In its fifth season “The Next Generation” had hit its stride. We don’t see any more truly goofy episodes, but at the same time there is less experimentation—less risk being taken. Most of the fifth season episodes that are numbered among the greats of the whole series come in the second half, but there are still some good thought provocations among these first 13:

Episode 1: “Redemption II” 

As is often the case with second-parters, this one fails to match the tone and weight of the season finale. The most interesting aspect of the show—Data’s turn at command—is hardly explored.

Episode 2: “Darmok” 

This is one of the more daring, conceptual attempts of the whole franchise. Whether it pulls it off or not is open to debate. For the first time in all of its interstellar exploration, a Trek crew encounters a truly distinct culture and language. These aliens think in a way that is foreign and their communication reflects it. It is a little unconvincing, though, that a language could be built purely on metaphor when one would need a base language with which to share the stories from which the metaphors would arise.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hosanna's Answer

They used to call Him king
Messiah did they sing
   Now they cry
   Crucify!

When will God free
Send us our king?
   Now they nail Him down
   The cross, the thorns, the crown.

Supreme Sacrifice
Sin's dear price. 

Now I see!
The Lamb is the King!
   Worthy is the Lamb. 
   The lamb of God.
   Worthy is the Lamb. 
   His only son.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hope vs. Escapism (Philippians 1:19-26)

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Paul had a pretty tough life. After he quite literally “saw the light” and gave his life over to the cause of the gospel, he faced all sorts of hardships and suffering. (Not the sort of thing some would promote as the life of a believer with all of the health, wealth and “your best life now” nonsense that is preached these days.) Here in Philippians 1, written from imprisonment, we have the answer and it is a wonderful way to approach life.

Paul’s life was about his purpose. He understood what his mission was and that everything that he did and everything that happened to him was for a reason. His life was in God’s hands and he trusted that God would use him for His glory. To live was to bring glory to Christ, to advance the gospel. And if things got to the point where his hardships caused the ultimate difficulty in life… well, that wasn’t really a difficulty for Paul.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Anura

As a kid, I always had a crisis when facing one of the most important childhood questions: “What is you favorite animal?” How is anyone supposed to narrow that sort of thing down to one? After a while, I began to break animals down into groups so I could have lots and lots of favorites. Maybe that is part of what attracts me to taxonomy so much. Here is the list of my favorite animals in the order Anura:

5. Texas Toad Bufo speciosus 

Yes, it is so ordinary. If you live in Texas as a kid it is pretty much guaranteed that you will have handled one of these. I think this wonderful little creature is a big part of the reason that frogs and toads are among my favorite sorts of animals. That, and the book “Frog and Toad are Friends.” I still have vivid memories of the time when I was three in Fort Worth, Texas and I caught a shoebox full of these. My mom gave me a pair of her hose to cover the box so they could still breathe.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Bit of a Leap Off of “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Martha Marcy May Marlene is promoted as a psychological thriller film. That is unfortunate, because people expecting that will likely complain that it is a psychological sleep aid film. In other reviews and critiques, much was made about the analysis of a cult in the film. That is also a bit unfair, because this is not an explanatory sort of story either. It is more of a meditation on the affects that such a group has on an individual. In this case it concerns a girl who leaves a Manson-Family-like group after realizing their true nature, her failure to reintegrate back into society, and her increasing paranoia that she is being pursued.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A “Hunger Games” Alternate/Comparison

As we wait for the teen-girl film of the year later this month, there is another story we can watch. It has life threatening action in a jungle, men against nature and people who would gladly kill them, a woman torn between the love of two men, tests of strength and endurance, governments and earthly powers playing with people and nations like objects, martyrs and the sparks of rebellion. Sure, there are no beautiful teens and no reality TV themes, but in a way that is refreshing. Plus the whole thing is based on real events.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins

Having read the first two books in the trilogy, I found myself frequently questioning the assumption I had that these were books intended for young readers. In “Mockingjay” my concern is not appeased, but my doubts are silenced. The themes are too clearly spelled out as if the reader needs help seeing the point. For one thing, the characters in the book highlight the connection to the "bread and circuses" theme, something that would be clear to most readers with a high school education. More disturbingly, there is the whole sequence early in the book where Katniss sings a song and then explains its meaning to the reader. At this point we see where the book is heading, and it makes it harder to continue—or we read on with a sense of dread.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

“Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins

After I jotted down my thoughts on “The Hunger Games,” I took up “Catching Fire.” Suzanne’s talent and skill for telling an engaging story are once again confirmed as I am unable to put the book down until the wee hours of the morning. It is even more impressive considering all the nagging problems that spring to mind throughout the course of the book.

This is the middle of a planned trilogy, so you expect a certain amount of transition and a lack of resolution. (Although that dissatisfaction begins at the beginning of the first volume; so who knows where the trilogy will end up?) However, in this story the transitional, place-holder feel is there early and persists. We begin thinking that the games are over and the quite telegraphed rebellion our heroine has inspired will be the topic of the book. The book seems to think so as well. The only person who never sees it coming, and overlooks all the hints piling up everywhere, is Katniss. In fact, her cluelessness is a bit annoying seeing as she is our narrator.

Nothing produces more frustration for the reader here than the romance, if you could call it that. The book spends far too much time having Katniss struggle to define her feelings for two guys who are so completely interchangeable. They are both perfectly good for her, and both perfectly boring. In most stories at least one of these guys would be bad news and we would have the other one for which to root. Not here. The love story is so difficult because there is no clear choice.

Monday, March 5, 2012

“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins



It has really become an age-old tale. Government uses violent “sport” to entertain, distract and control the population… “panem et circensus.” It is a favorite theme of writers looking to satirize or highlight negative aspects of the culture. Star Trek did it in “Bread and Circuses,” Doctor Who in “Vengeance on Varos,” Stephen King in “The Running Man,” and, most controversially, Koushun Takami in his novel, “Battle Royale.”

Suzanne Collins isn’t trying to hide the fact that she is telling this sort of story. She even names the country in which her story takes place “Panem.” It is not the originality of her idea that accounts for “The Hunger Games” popularity; it is her story-telling skill. She writes an engaging page-turner of an adventure.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What if? A Speculation on Humility (Philippians 1:18)

[12] “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. [13] Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:12-13 ESV)


 [16] You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16 ESV)

The fact that Jesus said that He would grant any request made in His name is something that is obviously open to misunderstanding. It clearly doesn’t mean we are going to get something like an ice cream Sunday just for the asking… not necessarily anyway. The context of both statements indicates that it has something to do with our work as disciples. Even then, experience does not indicate that we will get easy answers to simple requests like: “God, please bring revival and an explosive growth of your kingdom to central Europe again. …in Jesus name.”

OK.

We need to… wait, what?

Friday, March 2, 2012

"Strangers on a Train"

“Strangers” is one of Hitchcock’s better known plots, even if a lot of people who know the story haven’t actually seen it: Two men have a chance encounter on a train. One suggests that they each murder someone the other would like dead; to avoid the pesky motive problem. Guy, our protagonist, considers that a crazy idea and quickly ends the encounter. Only problem: the crazy guy thinks that they have agreed to the plan and kills Guy’s estranged wife.

 A lot has been made of the way Hitchcock accentuated the two men as doubles—opposite sides of the same coin, much as he played with the same device in “Shadow of a Doubt.” That is true but it is also too simple. It is the near double nature of the men, but also their pronounced difference that make this one of the more scary and disturbing stories Hitch ever told.

The horror is achieved by having the murder be one of those random acts of violence. Our victim does not know her killer and as far as she knows there is no reason for him to kill her. That sort of violence is real and disturbing. However, for Guy, the horror goes beyond that. There is a sense in which he has caused or been complicit in the random act of violence.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Artisanal vs. Assembly Line

“A NonModern Manifesto on Church Planting and Evangelism” (Part 3) (see part 2 here and 1 here)


Near Santiago Chile there is a little artisan market nestled around a Dominican church in Apoquindo. There one can buy all sorts of arts and craftwork made on the spot. Back in the eighties there was an amazing luthier who made some of the most beautiful charangos. I have no idea if he is still there today, but I have never seen better work. That being said, all of the best charangos—any lute instruments really—are hand-made. There are some things that just aren’t the same when made on an assembly line.

Not that assembly lines are all bad. They make those things that would normally take a master craftsman months to build in a fraction of the time and therefore for a fraction of the price. They also make it possible to maintain a consistency across the board in production, eliminating little nuances and mistakes. Most people who play a lute instrument are content to have a mass-produced model, but everyone would take a hand crafted one if given the chance.
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