Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kill, Baby, Kill

Guest post by Ernie S. Toopy, Professor of Eisegesis. (All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of NonModern)

What Would Jesus Do? That is the most important question we can ask ourselves. And, we will find that we almost always have the answer within us, with a little help from Scripture. As believers, we naturally have the inclinations and “gut instinct” to know what Jesus’ approach would be in almost any situation. He was the ultimate good person.

Take the gun control issue as an n example. What would Jesus do? It is almost certain that He would own a gun. Probably more than one. Possibly semi-automatic at that. For those of you pacifists out there, we should probably site a passage before appealing to logic and reason.

It is true that when Jesus sent the disciples out as “lambs among wolves” in Luke 10, that he ordered them to go empty-handed. However, in Luke 22:35-38, as He prepared the disciples for his departure, he told them to go buy swords. Had they had guns in that day, we can be sure He would have had them buy guns.

It is often the world against believers. This is what we were told to expect. Do we expect God to intervene and protect His people, when they could take measures to defend themselves? Could it be that God would allow His people to face a world of violence and danger without the means to defend themselves?

Think about all of the time that has been wasted trying to convince people to believe the name of Jesus. Back in the days the Catholic Church used gunpoint in their efforts to convert the world whole continents were transformed in just a few years.

Some of the most evil powers the world has had to face have only been able to exert their influence after guns were taken out of the hands of good people. On the other hand, it is good, Christian nations with armed citizenry that have been able to hold even greater evil at bay. It may very well be the answer to the world’s problems. Go sell a cloak and buy one today!

…or, maybe that is all crazy talk.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"Twin Peaks" (Season 1)

“Twin Peaks” has long been on my to-see list of television shows for several reasons. It is seen as a precursor of the sort of show that I really like on TV these days. It has a reputation for being weird. It is a mystery. It belongs to that period of recent pop-culture history that I completely missed by being in another culture. The co-creator and writer of this show was the writer of one of my favorite guilty pleasure books of all time. The episode of the “Autopilot!” podcast dedicated to it made it sound like must-see-TV. So, when I found it on DVD for pocket change, I decided it was time to dive in.

Monday, January 28, 2013

No Privilege in Leadership (1 Timothy 4:11-16)

[11] Command and teach these things. [12] Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. [13] Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. [14] Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. [15] Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. [16] Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

This passage is often quoted in a way that probably violates the intention with which Paul wrote it. As a person who was called upon by churches at a very young age to serve in a variety of capacities, I know I was often directed to it. The idea most people lend this text is: “You are called by God! Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t know what you are doing! Embrace the authority you have been given!”

The truth be told, we often don’t know what we are doing. This is true even when we are old and experienced, but it is certainly true when we are young, immature, and haven’t done much of anything to inform our decisions and actions. It is perhaps most applicable when a person is fresh out of seminary and holds a degree in their hand that tells them they have all the answers that an ivory tower can give.

Friday, January 25, 2013

"John Dies at the End" (2012)

There is a tremendous value to be found in society’s hecklers, the satirists. They point out the problems in society that should be obvious. If they do their job right, they expose our blind spots in a way that causes us to laugh at ourselves. In spite of what some of them may think they are not infallible oracles of truth, but they usually merit consideration. Writers like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett spring to mind. Jason Pargin AKA David Wong, the mind behind the book and film “John Dies at the End” is not in this class.

It is too bad too, because he shows some promise. He has a quirky way of looking at things, and a habit of teasing us with interesting ideas that are barely brushed upon in the narrative, but that is where comparisons end. Adams and Pratchett have things they want to say about the real world and use disarming humor and wit to do so. Pargin seems to have no other goal aside from exploring weird ideas.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Live and Learn

It is amazing how prone we are to inertness. Our tendency is to stagnate. Even though life is all about growth and change, given our druthers we would rather remain the way we are. We want to sit, to sleep. We love the rut.

Even people that think they are explorers, cross cultural travelers, or life-long-learners have to fight this tendency. Even families like mine. You can uproot your family, move them half a world and a couple cultural degrees away, and you will find a routine that avoids challenges and growth. Oh, sure, you will be in “learner overload” for a couple of years. But eventually you will adapt to the new and cease to grow.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Lies We Weave

With the dominate stories last week being Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o, our culture is doing some serious thinking about honesty.

On the one hand we have a man who lied to us for years and controlled a system of deception. Admittedly, to the unfaithful he always HAD to be lying, but he sure was good at not telegraphing his lies. Pathological perhaps?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wastes of Time We Love (1 Timothy 4:6-10)

[6] If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. [7] Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; [8] for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. [9] The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. [10] For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (ESV)

People love “silly, irreverent” myths. We are fascinated with strange stories, the more mysterious the better. I remember as a kid in the eighties, it seemed like all Christians were interested in were Satanists and occult conspiracies. We loved inventing all kinds of teachings about the evils of 4/4 rhythm and all the other ways you would surely open the doors of your heart to demonic influence.

These days we have become a bit less outlandish, but we still have our crazy theologies. Things like: true believers must have the “right” political leanings, the King James Bible is God’s divinely inspired translation, and Jesus wants all good believers to own a gun, lest the Nazis see a return to power.

The fact is that far too many Christians are consumed with far too many distractions in the name of faith. We need to recover a disciplined mind that focuses on the things that really matter. We need to become people obsessed with the Gospel. If you could spend all of your time meditating on the things God has done to redeem creation, why would you waste any of it speculating on the hierarchies of demonic realms?

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012)

In running down a list of 2012’s Best Picture nominees, “Beasts” may have been the wrong place to start. At least the Oscars are sticking with their tradition of not picking the best sampling of films for the year.

That is not to say that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is bad. It is competently shot and a creative piece of storytelling. It just fails to connect. It could be due to the distracting hand held camera work. Sure, it was done intentionally and for good reasons—it still takes one out of the story. Or maybe that is where the problem lies. The story here is underdeveloped and told in a meandering way that ultimately feels as if it doesn’t know what it wants to do.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Semantics of Mercy and Grace (3)

(part 2)

The lawyer had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He wanted to know if there were some people we could ignore in the command to love. Jesus did not answer that question. The clear understanding is that everyone is included in the command to love. Instead, Jesus showed us how to love. He didn’t differentiate between who is my neighbor and who isn’t; he showed who is a real believer and who is merely religious.

The law does not just exist to convict us of our sin; it points us to the life God intended. We are to live guided by love. The Old Testament does not just consist of the law; it is also a record of the way God has intervened in history, out of love for His people.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Semantics of Mercy and Grace (2)

(part 1)

How do you lose weight? Cut calories or increase activity. This lawyer’s question is like someone asking a personal trainer, when told they can no longer eat desserts, “What exactly is a dessert?” He wants to keep eating chocolate and not have it count against him. If we could somehow take a magic potion that would instantly make us have the ideal body weight, most of us would love the result (our health, look and the way we would feel) would be a big encouragement to maintain that health.

Similarly, we have been forgiven while we were in dead in our sin. As a result, our thankfulness in our forgiven situation should compel us to be merciful toward others. Jesus uses a story to illustrate this point.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Semantics of Mercy and Grace (1)

I saw a good illustration of the concept of semantics the other day: If you google the word “sombrero” for images, you will get a series of pictures of traditional Mexican hats. Of course, if you use the version of Google from a Spanish speaking country and do the same, you will simply get a series of pictures of hats; all sorts and varieties of hats. In Spanish all hats are sombreros. Sombrero is the Spanish word for hat. In other languages it has simply become the word for that particular style. This is the confusion caused by semantics. Even within a single language, we can have this problem. Two people can have different, even valid, understandings of the meaning of a word. This can cause some silly arguments. I personally have had the experience of arguing with a person where we both were saying the same thing, just insisting that our particular way of saying it was the right way.

However, sometimes the meaning of words can be vital. Like when we speak about what it takes to be right with God. In Luke 10 we have an example of an encounter with Jesus where the meaning of words was an important thing to understand for eternal salvation:

Monday, January 14, 2013

So, Which Demonic Teachings Do You Follow? (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

This passage is a bit of a key passage in the worldview espoused here at NonModern. Paul implies that the world is full of deceitful teaching designed to lead people away from the truth, from reality. He indicates that not all of these teachings are simple mistakes of men or even the product of men trying to increase their own influence or power. Some of these have spiritual origins. That means that people need not only guard against faulty philosophies or sciences founded in faulty or limited reason; we have to guard against false revelation.

Philosophies of men and materialistic Scientism are seen by most believers as being against God, but religion is just as bad or worse. Again, most followers of Jesus would be on board with that statement as well, but that is because they tend to think of Christianity and other world religions as being two separate things. It is easy to see where the idea of “Doctrines of Demons” could apply to several other religious beliefs and cults. Many explicitly declare their origin to be in a revelation given by an angel, and everyone knows that the Bible claims that demons can pose as angels of light. But “Christianity” is not immune from such false teaching. That is the whole reason Paul penned this letter to Timothy.

Look at the things Paul describes as doctrines of demons. The forbidding of marriage and other extreme forms of asceticism are taught by many groups in Christianity. And not just as good suggestions for life. They are often commanded legalistically. I am not just pointing the finger at the obvious example of the Catholic faith here; my own particular denomination is guilty of these sorts of legalisms. To be honest, I practice some myself. In my case it is a personal choice but if it weren’t I would still be bound to it by a church law.

When we read the pastorals it should awaken in us a strong desire to cleanse our theology and teachings, but the process must always begin in our own understanding and churches.

Friday, January 11, 2013

"Looper" (2012)

“Looper” is full of plot holes. It is a time travel movie. But then, it doesn’t care about the holes because it is about posing some interesting questions that people ask themselves all the time. The time travel, the story, the characters… they are all there simply as devices to play with “what ifs.”

There are two moments that telegraph this idea. In one scene, the younger and older versions of Joe sit at a café, seeing each other for the first time. Young Joe starts to ask the questions that audiences ask of every time travel story, and we brace ourselves for head-splitting paradoxes. Instead, old Joe dismisses the whole premise they are experiencing with a swipe of his hand.

“I don't want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we're going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Oscar List of Shame (?)

Today the list of Oscar Nominations for 2012 films was released. Nine films got the Best Picture nomination. This is the first year that I have yet to see a single one of the nominees. That leaves me about 7 weeks to try to see 9 movies. Of course, I don’t ever catch them all. Here is a list of what I have yet to see from previous years, just since 2000. Should I make the effort on any of them? (After this year’s crop of course.)

“The Descendants”
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
“The Artist”
“A Serious Man”
“An Education”
“Little Miss Sunshine”
“Letters from Iwo Jima”
“The Queen”
“The Departed”
“Good Night and Good Luck”
“Brokeback Mountain”
“Finding Neverland”
“Million Dollar Baby”
“Lost in Translation”
“Mystic River”
“Gangs of New York”
“In the Bedroom”
“Erin Brokovich”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Of Chainsaws and Champions

The number one film in the USA this past weekend was a seventh incarnation of the B-ist of B flicks. That will likely set off a new barrage of institutional guardians’ predicting the fall of Western Civilization. It isn’t. Back in the early seventies many claimed that “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was going to produce a depraved and evil generation. They were wrong. The film itself is a product of messed up people. We are all evil, whether we like it or not.

It is not such a new or surprising development in film. The cultural climate of the past decade or so has been similar to the times that produced the first Chainsaw film. And the “torture porn” subgenre has not been this popular since the days of Grindhouse cinema.

However, in a less the-world-is-going-to-end way and more of an art-reflects-the-times way, this latest film is disturbing. And not in your typical, intentional slasher story way.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"Luther" Season One

Season One of “Luther” was a very well written but hugely intense detective show. Detective Luther is a brilliant sleuth, but he is also incredibly emotional. Not in the cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat kind of way, but more in the way he gets enraged at the horrible people he has to defeat in order to protect society. Unfortunately, he usually has one hand tied behind his back; by the law he is trying to enforce.

It is a classic story that debates the system society sets up to protect people. We would all want to protect principles like, “innocent until proven guilty” if we were ever the victims of a misunderstanding. At the same time, we all increasingly have the suspicion that evil people are just taking advantage of our good intentions.

That is where heroes like Luther step in. He’s ethical standards are so high; he doesn’t always let little things like the law stand in his way. In spite of the justice he enforces, it doesn’t really work out so well for him or those around him. He betrays people he cares about. He is only ultimately able to relate to a psychopath. He alienates the woman he loves. Then things get worse.

This show is not for everyone. But it is an interesting study of the vigilante attitude that seems to be growing in today’s culture. That and it has some great writing and acting. Consider the scene below:

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Community of Truth (1 Timothy 3:14-16)

In the middle of his letter to Timothy, Paul throws in a line about why he is writing. In doing so, he also presents three good pictures of what the community of believers is:

Household. This is more than mere family. In the context of the culture Paul is writing in, this includes everyone—family, friends, and in some cases the “help”—that shared life together. This is a good picture for believers today. Real “church” is not something you just schedule and attend; it happens wherever life occurs.

Assembly. This is the word that gets translated as church, but it really means a gathering or assembly. Even in the Bible this word is not always used to describe gatherings of believers. What it never is is a particular building. It is always a group of people.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Faith in "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"

On the whole, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is just another formulaic, romantic film. It isn’t really a romantic comedy because it is too slow and almost depressing to qualify. It is not totally unentertaining, but just has a pervasive sadness throughout. Maybe that is in part due to the fact that, in addition to the thrill of a developing relationship, we also get the demise of two others. That and the characters here are more reserved than one is used to in such stories.

What is interesting about “Salmon Fishing” is a through-line in the story regarding faith. The sheikh that is trying to convince Dr. Jones to introduce salmon to the Middle East points out that Jones is a man of faith in spite of his atheism:

“You're not a religious man?”
“No. No, I'm not.”
“But you're a fisherman, Dr. Jones.”
“I'm sorry, I don't follow.”
“How many hours do you fish before you catch something? Dozens?”
“Gosh, hundreds sometimes.”
“Is that a good use of your time for a facts-and-figures man? But you persist in the wind and the rain and the cold with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you're a man of faith, Dr. Alfred.”

At first glance, that might be something pleasing to a “religious person.” Christians—followers of Jesus—often refer to themselves as “people of faith.” But that is not saying much other than we are a part of the human race.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bond Lists

Another result of last year’s reviewing of all the Bond films is a series of lists—best ofs—beyond merely the films. Here are my own personal top sevens in the following categories:

Theme Songs:

7. For Your Eyes Only
6. Dr. No (The Bond theme, but also the songs, “Three Blind Mice” & “Undernneath the Mango Tree”)
5. Skyfall
4. Goldfinger
3. Casino Royale “You Know My Name”
2. A View to a Kill

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"Stardust" and Post-Christian Spirituality

One of the more popular songs in Germany these days is “Stardust” performed by Lena Meyer-Landrut. For those of you readers unfamiliar with her, she was Germany’s latest winner in the Eurovision Song Contest a few years ago. For those unfamiliar with that contest, just go with it…

The song is musically engaging. It is as though they composed it with scientific data as to what are the essential components of a moving, rousing anthem. The lyrics, on the other hand, are nonsensically stupid. They don’t really mean anything.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Season 3b)

Season 3a - Season 4a

The second half of season 3 gets considerably better—more Trek, more philosophical—and yet it taps into the accumulating plotlines possible due to its static setting. The explorations of the politics and religious power-plays become more and more the theme. So now we have Trek exploring interesting concepts, as usual, but in areas that are not usual for Trek. The religious themes are especially fun. The show remains largely Secular Human, but it is not afraid of belief the way it was when Roddenberry was around.

Episode 13: “Life Support” 

Medical ethics are not new to Trek. This is one area where the show has always been willing to explore both sides of an issue. Here, we ask the question: what are the limits of healing? When does extending life cease to extend what is human about us? A side issue in this story is the question of who gets to decide the risks we will take. It is close to a euthanasia debate, but the life-mission adds a dimension that makes this more than simply a suicide story. A man is choosing to kill himself in order to accomplish something, not just end a life he is not interested in living. It makes the issue a lot less black and white and therefore more troubling with which to wrestle.
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