Monday, April 30, 2012

"The Avengers" (2012)

“The Avengers” is pop-corn. It is an action heavy blockbuster. One does not normally look to such movies for stories exploring deep truths. They are out there; it is just not the main thing in these sorts of films. Two things cause “The Avengers” to be a bit more than the sum of its blockbuster parts: Joss Whedon, and well… the sum of parts in question.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rejoice! (Philippians 3:1)

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” (3:1 ESV)

Joy is a strong theme in Philippians. Christians are to be joyful people. That is something that has been neglected or misunderstood by believers throughout history. We either have the old stereotype of the dour, sour Christian who could find the negative in anything; or the more contemporary mentally vacuous, emotional Christians ever chasing the next “high.” The former saw faith as a series of rules that everyone tended to get wrong. The later seems to see faith as a feeling devoid of understanding.

True joy is not an emotion exactly. It is a state of mind, a choice. In our current condition it has a bit of a bitter sweet aspect to it. There is a lot of longing (sehnsucht) in joy. It is a desire for the pleasure of something that we know, that we sometimes taste, but that we treasure all the more because we know what it is like to not have it. In the case of Jesus’ followers, we rejoice in Him. We have had the experience of life without Christ, so we know the treasure that life is with Him. We also know that life in this fallen world is such that we do not get to experience His presence fully all the time the way that we one day will. The tastes we get are enough to give us a tremendous desire. That is the feeling of joy that we cultivate.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Foodie's Meat List

[Updated]

In college, studying biology, I was taught that the vast majority of the earth’s population relies on a mere dozen species of plants for food. Of the thousands that we can eat, we only do eat a handful. That is something that needs to change for a whole lot of reasons.

The same is basically true for animal species. Those of us who eat meat tend to rely on about three animals 90% of the time or more. I sat down with some friends the other night trying to come up with a comprehensive list of all the meats that are eaten. Regardless of how gross certain aspects of eating meat can be, it is an experience. Here are 100 “types” of meat that are eaten somewhere in the world. How many have you tried?

(Incidentally, I am now sitting on 49 out of 100.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

"The Incredible Hulk" (2008)

The 2008 film, “The Incredible Hulk” was quite a bit less artistic and ambitious; and therefore it is a better film. It is not as concerned with the ideas and metaphors behind the story, but it doesn’t forget to really tell a story.

This film is a return to the basic ideas of the television series, which in many ways is more appropriate for the medium. When you do not have months and months of serialized comic books to expound upon ideas, it is best to keep things simple.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Advertisement-Induced Thoughts on Parenting

There is a commercial making the rounds lately that causes me to have mixed feelings. It is the one about the mothers of Olympic athletes. It starts out with several scenes of moms being moms. It is moving and we see women investing their lives in their children. The message is that a mom’s job as hard as it is, is an important—one of the most important—jobs.



Of course, the undercutting subtext is that these moms have an important job because their kids are world-class athletes. As if “normal” moms wouldn’t be just as important. Actually, I always have had a lot of sympathy for the Olympic Athletes, because a lot of them have never known a life of their own, only the one that others—the government or parents—have prescribed and ordained for them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Hulk" (2003)

The Hulk is not really a superhero, he is a metaphor. Ok, so he is a Marvel Comics character, and therefore he is a superhero of sorts, but he was nearly as often a villain as he is a hero. He is a representation of the worst, base instincts of mankind, our anger and fear. What a believer would call “sin nature.” Bruce Banner, the scientist who is the Hulk, created the monster within him and fights it as a true enemy.

For those of us who are children of the late seventies/early eighties, the quintessential Hulk was the TV version portrayed by Lou Ferrigno (and Bill Bixby.) That show presented us with a terribly problematic tension every week. Banner spent every episode trying to avoid his uncontrollable alter ego, but he was always put into situations where the viewer rooted for the monster to emerge and save the day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 6b)

<--Season 6a Season 7a-->

From the perspective here at NonModern, the second half of season six of TNG is a high point. Nearly every episode deals with important issues about life and belief, and they do it from a mostly perceptive position. It is sometimes hard to remember that this is a Secular Humanist, atheist creation. “Deep Space Nine” had just started up at this time and, paired with the death of Roddenberry, the shows began to be more open to looking at issues like religion.

Episode 14: “Face of the Enemy”

This is a reasonable suspenseful spy caper. Troy has to play it gutsy and carefully, but there is not much more than the suspense.

Episode 15: “Tapestry”

Picard is mortally wounded, but gets the opportunity from Q to relive a crucial moment in his life that has always been a regret. Perhaps he can even change some things for the better. (Interestingly, once again, we have the view of the Universe being “designed” from Picard. It is just a throwaway comment, but he has done that before.) In the end, Picard realizes that even our mistakes are important in shaping who we are. It is a great illustration for some of the Biblical teachings of Paul, particularly in Philippians where he talks about our pasts shaping us but also about putting the past in the past. This is not a story about mistakes not mattering, but rather about how the things we learn—even the hard way—are things that have the potential to make us better people.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Ice-Cream-Headache that is Ursus maritimus

This article from last week is interesting for several reasons, all exposing the limitations and assumptions of dogmatic science.

You may recall that there was a big stir surrounding polar bear populations and the plight of the species as a result of man-made global warming a few years ago. The whole thing turned out to be an exaggeration fueled by doctored pictures and evidence. The truth is that populations are doing fine; they are even thriving in parts of their range. Here, however, the article tries to continue to capitalize on the old information counting on people to only remember or hear bad news.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:19-30)

Paul doesn’t just stop by relating the examples of Christ (obvious but difficult to emulate) and himself (an extreme case of placing the Gospel before self) but he goes on to give the Philippians even more examples worthy of imitation. It seems that those who worked with Paul, those who proved themselves useful to the cause of the Gospel, were those who gave little thought to their own desires, needs or even well-being.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rome Off the Beaten Path

Rome did not crack into my top ten list of favorite metro areas this past month when we got to travel there and check out all the sights. It is probably not Rome’s fault though, it’s me. That being said, there were several things about our trip that we liked that are not on most of the “Must See” lists out there:

5. The Olympic Village
We stayed in the actual Olympic Village where the athletes stayed in the 1960 games. It is now a (low rent) apartment village, but the apartment we rented was a great place for a large number of people to stay for little money and experience the “real life” side of Rome. Also, it is fun to think of the connection to history. Which athletes stayed in the very same apartment we did? We went down to “Bar Pigliacelli” every morning for coffee, and experienced life among the locals. (There is a slide show of the area here.)

4. Area Sacra
As you head from downtown toward Trastavere, you might notice a little block of ruins near the Argentine Theater. (Then again, you might not because ruins—both ancient and recent—are all over the place.) If you stop long enough to try to figure out what you are seeing, (it has something to do with temples) you will notice a cat amongst the rubble. Pretty soon you will begin to notice that there are more cats, dozens in fact. Apparently this area has been designated as a home for the homeless cats of Rome. You can adopt them but one wonders if they wouldn’t just make their way back to this Area Sacra the first chance they got. It looks like cat heaven.

3. Pizza Ciro, Piazza della Maddalena
From all I’ve heard (and now experienced) you travel all the way to downtown Rome, It’ly and order a pizza and you will get a frozen job simply reheated. Order spaghetti and it will likely come from a can. In fact the only difference from what you would have been served had you gone to a college dorm is the price. Rome’s will be about a 500% mark-up. However, there are good places to be found to eat in Rome. I think one is Pizza Ciro. The prices were fine and the food was great. Try the Risotto.

2. Villa Celimontana
This may be the nicest park in the city center. Located on one of the seven hills, it is a tranquil place to sit and relax without a lot of crowds. What they do have are wild parrots and a fountain that is home to dozens of turtles.

1. The Ceiling of… Sant'Ignazio
You can (and probably should) spend a ton of money and stand in a line of hundreds of people to be shuffled past a bunch of old art to finally be packed in like sardines to look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. However, you should not miss getting off the overcrowded path to spend no money at all to visit a place that not many seek out to see an even more amazing ceiling at the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius. It is quite amazing.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Romeo + Juliet" (1996)

The reason “Romeo + Juliet” is my favorite film of 1996 (edging out some other really great stuff) is not because of the story, but the way it is told.

(It is a great story, of course. Shakespeare tended to tell some great ones and this is one of the more popular. Any story with the staying power that this one has must be pretty good. And it does explore some great themes—themes that have been far more eloquently discussed elsewhere. Suffice it to say that it does more than just about any other tale to expose: that hatred and prejudiced fighting is stupid. That teen-agers can be really stupid. That love can overcome and ridicule hatred. That people ought to stop and think more about everything they do.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Faithful Till the End

To Cheryl

When I get to Heaven
There are people I want to meet.
I want to see Jim Elliot,
Abraham, and Joshua Dietz.
But when I get to Heaven
I have one wish and request.
I want my house right next to yours
And to keep us as best friends.
You, and Jesus, and me.
We’ll get up every morning
And meet down by the beach.
We’ll play all morning in the crystal sea,
And have a fireside, fish-fry feast.
We’ll climb every mountain
And thank God for His love.
And together we’ll see all the beauty of Heaven
From our viewpoint up above.
You, and Jesus, and me.
But until that day arrives
I will promise you.
I’m going to stay right by your side
And be a friend that’s true.
You and I and Jesus,
We will stay best friends.
He will be our source of love
That’s faithful till the end.
You and Jesus and me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Kongs

I have faded memories of watching Dino De Laurentiis’ “King Kong” on television. That was an unfortunate moment in my cinematic upbringing. It skewed my appreciation for the story in an unfavorable way. I had a hard time understanding the way filmmakers held it in such high regard; they way they held the original film experience to be such a formative moment.

The fact is that the 1933 film by Cooper and Shoedsack truly is a masterpiece. It deserves a place in film history alongside the likes of “Star Wars,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Snow White,” and “The Jazz Singer.” Nearly eighty years on, it still has the ability to capture the imagination and entertain.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A “Supernatural” Shift in Television

Supernatural storylines in fiction have always been popular. Whatever the culture’s current take may be regarding such things may influence the way the stories are told, but they are an ever-present popular segment of lore. There prevalence is on the rise today, not exactly because post moderns are more open to the supernatural, but because they find it an excellent story-telling device for exploring truth.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Illusion" Giveaway Results

We have a winner. My good friend Phil from New South Wales will be getting the extra review copy of Peretti’s new book in the mail sometime soon. (What’s the post time like between Austria and Australia, I wonder?)

Let’s give this another shot. I have an extra copy of the recently reviewed book “The Sacred Journey” by Charles Foster. It is the book on pilgrimage from The Ancient Practices Series, and is quite the thought provoker. Having recently observed some of that first hand on our trip to Rome, it is something that is on my mind quite a bit again.

Either go to that post and share your thoughts on pilgrimage, or comment on any post here at NonModern to enter the contest. In a couple of weeks I will randomly draw a name to choose who will get this book. So, don’t post anonymously!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Paul’s example of joy (Philippians 2:14-18)

"Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me." -Philippians 2:14-18

The mental definition of a believer in a lot of people’s minds these days would probably be someone who complains about everything being the way it shouldn’t be. They are those people who would like to force everyone to do things that way that they would like for them to be done. The ones who want to impose their idea of “the best” on everyone else.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Artiodactyla: Even-Toed Ungulates

Continuing with the personal-thought-project of listing my favorite animals (started with Anura) I stumbled upon a group that would not really rank very high on my list of favorite favorites. The Artiodactyla are a boring order of mammals. They have even-toed hoofs. (There are also some odd-toed ungulates like horses, zebras and rhinos, but they don’t go on this list.) When I go to the zoo, most of these are ones that I breeze past on the way to the interesting animals. There are about ten extant families, four of which (Suidae, Tayassuidae—the pigs—and Moschidae and Tragulidae—some deer) don’t represent on this list. There are some however that I like, that I know, and that I would include among my favorites:

7. Blue Wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus 

Bovidae is the large family composed by the cows, the sheep and the antelope. Not particularly exciting animals. The Gnu, however, is an impressive animal. Also known as the Wildebeest, it is among the most dangerous animals in Africa. (Not quite in the top six, but number two is another Artiodactyla.) The impressive thing about this species is their incredible migration. If you get a chance to see it—even on film—check it out.

Friday, April 13, 2012

For the Lovers and Dreamers

For a child of the eighties, “The Muppets” was a cinematic highlight of the 2011 releases. It should be for anyone. Some have added it as just another note in the nostalgic melody that was cinema in 2011, but in this case it really is a case of “things as they should be.”

In many ways it is a retread of other Muppet story-lines. It is a tale of hope, of belief in achieving dreams, of working together to make things better than they are. This is the ever-present message that Jim Henson built his empire on and that continues to this day. The noted new song in the film was “Man or Muppet,” (and it is a great song) but the tune that best encapsulates this story is the old “Rainbow Connection.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Alcohol and Legalism

This is a bit of a touchy issue, but a perfect illustration of the difference between legalism and love as described recuringly in scripture and referenced frequently here at NonModern. One of the largest Christian mission organizations in the world requires certain statements, agreements and promises from its employees. It is totally understandable and necessary when working with a large force of personnel spread out far and wide and with frequent supervisory challenges.

 One of those blanket policies involves alcohol. Employees are required to sign a statement stating that they will “not drink” the stuff while employed with the company. It can and has been grounds for termination when this agreement is discovered to have been broken. That is where the legalism side of this issue is on display.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Ben-Hur" (1959)

Ben-Hur is one of those classics that takes today’s audiences a bit of effort to work through. It is, after all, over 60 years old and styles have changed with the times. This epic is slowly paced, the sets a bit too perfect and unreal, and the acting… well obviously acted.

Still, the influence on today is obvious. There is no question why this film won so many awards and recognition, why it is so well respected still. Watch this today and you see that the best part of the Star Wars prequels had already been done!

Where the award lies is after the events in the circus: when Judah discovers his mother and sister are still alive but lepers, when he hears again about the man who gave him water when he was a prisoner, and when the message of the Messiah changes his heart. You would be hard pressed to get this sort of message from a main stream film today. It is positive, but not altogether satisfying.

Why is it, that pop-culture always gives us the story of the cross without the story of the empty grave? Is it that they did not have a problem with Christ’s ideals, but did with His divinity?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 6a)

<--Season 5b Season 6b-->

Season six of STNG must have been my first. The first one I specifically remember seeing (and that got me thinking along the lines that would eventually lead to this whole NonModernBlog) was from the second half of season six. Many fans consider this season to be lacking or at least “silly.” It is at times but there is still some good stuff here…

Episode 26/1: “Time’s Arrow (Parts 1&2)”

Entertaining silliness. Most time travel stories are. Somehow they pull this one off without pulling us out of our suspension of disbelief too much.

Episode 2: “Realm of Fear”

This episode, (and a lot of this season) feel a bit like those early “Twilight Zone” style attempts. At this point, however, the series is comfortable enough with its characters and style that it works for the most part. Ultimately its analysis of fear is superficial and even comical.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Interaction vs. Critiscism

“Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We’re not laying pipe. We’re talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? ‘Oh, I like Byron. I give him a 42, but I can’t dance to it.’ Now, I want you to rip out that page.”

It seems like a lot of people were confused and/or disappointed with the NonModern take on “The Hunger Games.” Part of that may be because this blog approaches stories in two different ways. Sometimes a connection point is highlighted, where the cultural conversation stumbles upon a truth that serves as a jumping off point to bring Biblical worldview into the dialogue. At other times a more “straight-forward” review is in mind, where the underlying worldview of a story is held up to reality and measured.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Reflections on John 20 for Easter Sunday

v.8  "and he saw and believed."

A hugely important fact in the story, but easy to gloss over, is that John believed when he saw the empty tomb and before he had fully grasped the teaching of Scripture. We often place too much importance on a person’s understanding in regards to salvation. Understanding is important, but only as it relates to belief and surrender. Complete comprehension is not necessary. What is more important is that a person recognizes their need, trusts in God for the provision of that need and the repair of the broken relationship, and that they surrender to His leadership and Lordship.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Most Viewed NMB Posts for March 2012

March was dominated by thoughts of the "Hunger Games" phenomenon.  A lot of people seemed to be confused by the approach taken here at NMB.  (More clarification regarding that coming up in a later post.)  But that was not all that people were drawn to...

Artisanal vs. Assembly Line

"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins

"Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

"Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins

A "Hunger Games" Alternate/Comparison

Anura

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 5a)

"The Hunger Games" (2012)

"Has God Spoken" by Hank Hanegraaff

"A Tip to Travelers"

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rambling Mental Rome-ings for a Good Friday

Italians love their dogs as much or more as other Europeans, but Rome is a city of cats. This is just one of the many Egyptian influences one finds in Rome.

Not surprisingly, every street corner in Rome seems to have a church building on it. What is more interesting is that they are all fairly empty, shells of cathedral-size proportions. The Catholic Church has more money than it knows what to do with.

For nearly every church in Italy, there is an obelisk in the square out front—much as the Egyptians would place them in front of their temples. This is a good reminder that the religious side of Christianity is often just a thin veneer painted over pagan beliefs. If you dig deep enough you might discover that the Catholic Church is not the only branch of Christendom where this danger occurs.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Beating Heart

Another old one, contrarian and ironic.  I never knew how I felt about the strong wording, even in irony.  What do you think?

Oh, to be a rocker,
To be so self absorbed,
To not give a hoot about anyone,
That doesn’t get you more.
Oh, to be a poet,
To have such abstract thought,
To not give a flip about anything,
That doesn’t sound like art.
Oh, to not be human,
To not have a beating heart,
To give a damn for nothing.
To simply play a part.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The End of the Tellings...

Then there is the “theatrical” telling. The events of “Operation Auca” were begging for this. They are one of the most inspirational stories in modern Christianity and that is what the “Hollywood” side of culture is always looking for: great stories to tell.

Does the recreation of these events cheapen them? Isn’t it somehow less that they have been turned into a dramatic presentation? Aren’t the events and the cold, hard, facts enough without the obvious emotional ploys? When we hear Steve Saint’s childish voice over the radio as his dad and the other missionaries are being speared, doesn’t the calculation take us out of the story for a moment?

Maybe, but this is still a story that inspires and more people need to receive its inspiration. Any form that can communicate these events to a wider audience is in some way a good thing. And this version has something that none of the other do:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Beyond History

The fascinating thing about events today—and even those that happened within the past century or so—is that we have all sorts of ways to preserve and present history beyond simply words on a page. We can assemble interviews, contemporary footage and reactions, and in some cases even footage of the events themselves. This is why documentaries are sometimes the most fascinating of films. They tell not just stories, but they present us with things that have really happened and had an impact on our world. (The sooner history education devotes most of its energy and resources to using more documentaries and fewer textbooks the better!)

Monday, April 2, 2012

An "Oldy" That Needs to Be Reintroduced

Sometimes it seems that we live in a culture of the “here and now.” No one is too concerned with classic thought or greatness from even a few decades ago. Everything is about the latest phenomenon. Christian culture is no different. The only variation is that believers aren’t really aware of what the culture at large is consuming. (Which leads to a gross failure on their part to fulfill their mandate to influence it.) Instead, in the area of books for example, they are only concerned with the latest tome telling them how to impact a culture with which they are wholly out of touch. (And none of those “how-to's” suggest picking up the latest best seller!)

Shockingly, not every great idea or story that merits hearing or reading has been published in the past six months. Some of them happened and were published years ago. They can still serve to inspire and educate today. One such example is “Through Gates of Splendor” by Elisabeth Elliot. Many people are still aware of this story having heard about it from “old people,” or they may have seen the recent documentaries or movies based on the same events. However, more people should pick this old book up today and read it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Works (Philippians 2:12,13)

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
(Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

This is a passage that some people feel has to be “explained away” or at least that it is a strange thought coming from Paul. Isn’t he all about salvation being a gift through faith and not based on works?

The truth is that generations of believers have been guilty of simplifying the Gospel and making it completely about something that is really only one aspect of the whole. The mechanism of salvation is indeed God’s grace, given freely and not based upon anything that the individual does or merits. However, the way someone is made right with God does not change the effects of that justification. True salvation leads inevitably to change. That change involves a new behavior—what people often refer to as works.

Whether you are saved by faith and not works but it leads to works or you are saved by the works themselves is a huge difference, but in outward appearance it does not look very different.

People who feel like they have to earn their salvation live out of a misguided motivation; however, the other end of that error is uglier. People who buy into the lie that salvation is a gift that is wholly separate from a way of life behave in a licentious, privileged manner that closely resembles the excesses of the Jews that God railed against in the prophetic books of the Old Testament.

So, understand that justification is not something you earn, but don’t stop there. Sanctification may be a work of God as well, but you need to cooperate with it every step of the way.

“Work out your salvation!”
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