Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Gwoemul" (2006)

I finally got around to watching a film I have been wanting to see for years, the South Korean film “Gwoemul” or “The Host” as it is more commonly known. (Not to be confused with the other “The Host” coming out this year, inspired by another book from the author of “Twilight.”)

Conclusions? It is indeed an astoundingly well-made creature feature, with stunning visual effects, great acting, and solid directing. Like all really good horror, it has something to say beyond all the thrilling and scaring. Most of that comes in the form of some (admittedly well-earned) America bashing. If the opening scene/set-up feels too “on the nose” it was simply ripped right out of real life. The scene where our hero is questioned by an American official—who asks him why he didn’t go through any official channels for help—is one of the better moments of drama in the film. Heartbreaking and enraging all at once.

However, the main thing I came away from “Gwoemul” with was a question. Why? It is not just this film, but rather a common thread of horror films from the past decade. Why tell these stories in particular?

Storytellers chose their stories. They select or create them to entertain and inform. To educate and to change the culture around them. They have all-power over their story. They chose where to start the narrative and where to end it. Some are good and some are not so good, but the good ones inspire.

In this story one wonders why you create this exact set-up—girl presumed dead, revealed to be alive, family sets out to rescue her—only to not allow the driving force of the story to be successful?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ministry Implications for Social Networking

Attractional/Sales Models of Evangelism Do Not Accomplish Our Aims

A lot of the way that social networking is being used (beyond the actual social purpose for which it is intended) is in marketing and sales. Initial attempts to use Social Networking in ministry have tended to follow the research and approaches developed by these sales experts. For decades the church had been using these same sorts of strategies outside the internet in an effort to fulfill the Great Commission. This has proven ineffective in truly making disciples, multiplying Kingdom growth, and planting the sorts of churches that will plant more churches. In Central Europe, preconceptions about organized religion and suspicion of ulterior motives in salesmanship have shown these methods to also be ineffective in creating conversions (which isn’t even our goal). All of this leads us to the realization that we should not use a marketing approach to ministry in Social Networking platforms.

Branding and Platform Models vs. Cultivating Reputation (Presence)

Most people doing missions today would hold to some form of incarnational model of ministry. We need to live amongst the people we are trying to reach. However, the way that presence looks can vary along a very wide spectrum. Beyond issues such as location (you need to live where they live—near is good enough—a visiting presence for a couple weeks a year will suffice), the WAY one’s presence is lived out is highly debated today. Independent of access issues, some argue that a platform other than “ministry” is necessary. Other’s take the platform a step further and create a brand of their own to promote, that can then be used to pull people towards the Gospel. A Biblical approach to presence, looking at the examples of Jesus and Paul in particular, would emphasize reputation over platform or brand. Jesus and Paul became known as spiritual people who were on mission. People approached them because of the answers they offered. Paul was surely known as a spiritual teacher who happened to build tents, not a tent builder who happened to teach.

On the internet, and particularly in Social Media, platform and brand are very common approaches. Used as sales techniques, a person or company’s presence is promoted to attract followers. This can take the form of a platform that hides the true identity behind the brand, or can be as simple as promoting one’s identity as the brand.

Presence is an important aspect of social networking online. It is what differentiates between simple online “surfing” and participation in a network. One has to develop and maintain a presence in the form of a profile. However, the networks with the most impact (such as Facebook) tend towards authenticity amongst participants. (This is why security and privacy are such important topics.) We should treat our online presence as an extension of who we truly are—a supplement to the presence we have in our cities, developing a reputation as spiritual people and followers of Jesus, not people trying to promote a brand or sell an idea.

Households of Peace and Networks of Relationships are Biblical Models

The Biblical picture that emerges when we look at the way Jesus, the Disciples, and Paul did ministry is one of two parts: creating a reputation through public speaking or teaching (message), and expanding influence through training (method) in the networks of relationships in the regions they inhabited. This model lends itself quite well to the online sphere. We develop our reputation and share our message where large groups can see them and establish relationships through the networks of connection online. If we are intentional about the way we do this we can use the online means to strengthen our message and our relational networks outside the internet where we live.

click here for a look at this the other way around

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Pastoral Conclusion

The inescapable conclusion one arrives at after a trek through the Pastorals, is that Doctrine is one of (if not THE) most important issue in church leadership. Having been in leadership for decades and on the ground floor of several church plants, that conclusion rings true.

However, it is not doctrine in the way many would think that subject would be handled. Paul emphasizes the need for leaders to guard the way doctrine is taught, not exclusively teach it. Leaders need to help people understand and pass on correct doctrine, not hold a monopoly over it. The stress is on the simple, basic doctrine that the Gospel delivers in favor of elaborate teachings of men and traditions. Not that the Gospel is easy.

Everything in the life of the church traces back to sound doctrine founded on the Gospel. Conduct and interaction is governed—not by rules or a law—but rather by love inspired and modeled on the Gospel.

What we learn from the Pastorals is: keep it simple, keep it grounded.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Personal Dimension (2Timothy 4:9-22)

These personal passages of Paul are always some of my favorites. This one in particular seems to lay the curtain back more than others, but at the same time it simply exposes how much remains hidden. Paul discusses people and circumstances with Timothy who has enough context to understand things that we can never hope to. We sometimes find ourselves wanting more.

Of course, there is nothing more that would benefit us by knowing, or that is what we are to trust. As with everything else, we want to know more for the sake of knowing. We would like to see more of what Paul was like. Hear more of the circumstances that caused him to write these things. But that is never the point. What Paul has written in this letter that has survived for us to read is there for us to learn things that apply to us in whatever age and whatever place we find ourselves.

Here we get to see, if nothing else, that Paul and his contemporaries are a lot more like us than we might imagine Paul had problems, conflicts, enemies attacking him, friends leaving him behind—for good or perhaps bad reasons. He had struggles, he had fears. But in everything he kept his focus on the things that mattered.

Friday, July 19, 2013

"Limitless" (2011)

This film is an exploration of a great idea right up until the last scene, then something either went wrong or test audiences botched the process up.

What if there was a means that enabled us to operate at our full potential? (Assuming for a minute that we had a potential greater than that which we are already fulfilling. The whole “you only use X% of your brain” claim is not right. It capitalizes on a misconception about how our brains work.) In this story, we get to see one way that this idea could play out and it isn’t very pretty.

That is because the story-tellers understand something very important. Our problem as humanity is not that we aren’t tapping into our full potential. It is that our potential to do evil is unescapable. If we somehow maximized our abilities, it would likely also maximize our baser instincts and impulses as well. Rather than wish that we could manipulate the world around us, we should hope that we could control ourselves. We can’t, but there is help for that problem as well. This film isn’t concerned with that story.

The end of this film almost destroys every moment leading up to it, however. It is as if they decide in the last 60 seconds to throw out every point they were trying to make.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blue Bloods (Season One)

Because of where I live and the way I consume television, I always seem to be a step behind the current Zeitgeist. As a result, I am just now catching up with what may be one of my all-time favorite shows. “Blue Bloods” is incredibly well written drama. I completely missed out on the “Sopranos” phenomenon, but I now see a glimpse of what may have made that show one of the most well regarded ever.

What makes this show so great? They are telling great stories and developing some very real characters. It isn’t the fact that it is a show about a religious family. In fact, that is something that is misleading about the show. Religion is an important part of the Reagan family, but it is just that—religion. These are not particularly spiritual people. They are moral. That morality is something to admire, and it provides for some great story elements, but this is not a story about religion.

In many ways, the character of Frank Reagan is the classic American character. He is a man who lives by a code. Luckily for our series, that code is not arbitrary or inconsistent. It is the classic Judeo-Christian code. Half the fun of the show is to watch that code butt up against the criminal element in the ciry, but also against the pragmatic, political element. Frank Reagan is someone we can always count on to answer every adversary, every temptation, with well thought out wisdom.

The other joy for me in this series is the way it presents a family that has dedicated itself to a vocational calling. Every member has either become a cop, or is fighting the fight against lawlessness in some way. It is something I can identify with, albeit from the perspective of a family that has shared a slightly different vocational call.

As I continue to catch up with this show (starting season two) I can highly recommend it to others who have not yet given it a chance. As for those who are with the times… don’t spoil it for me!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Twitter Will Save You!

At first glance, the latest news story out of the Vatican induce a lot of eye-rolling, or at the very least some cynical chuckles. It was only a matter of time until the religious institutions found a way to make Social Networks work for them. “Follow the Pope on Twitter and avoid punishment in the afterlife!” Actually, the headlines are a little bit misleading. It isn’t as simple as all that.

However, the troubling aspect of this story is the same problem Catholic theology has always had. Instead of believing that Christ died for the sins of the world, offering free salvation for all who would trust in Him, the Catholic Church teaches that Christ’s death on the cross is something like a huge “Grace Deposit” in a bank account managed by the Church.

If this completely unbiblical concept were true I am not sure what would be more troubling: that God left the eternal fate of mankind in the hands of a giant, corruptible, human, bureaucratic, religious institution? Or that they don’t then just make it easier for people to find that grace but insist that people pay for, or at least follow twitter accounts to earn a grace that the Bible says is freely given.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fulfilling the Call (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

Here is the most comprehensive charge to the Christian. Fulfill your ministry! Some struggle with this concept. How do we know when we have completed our mission, or our part in God’s mission. Paul makes it pretty clear. Whether or not you think Paul really did die shortly after penning this letter, or that he continued to minister some time, he thought he was at the end. For Paul the length of ministry is the same as that of life. Retirement comes one the other side of eternity.

As to what is entailed in Timothy’s (and all of us reading this letter) ministry it is rather simply. Share the story, preach the Word… the Gospel. We have already been told that Scripture is useful for teaching reproof correction and training. Now we are told to be ready at all times to do just that: correct, rebuke, exhort, and teach. Basically, we are to use the Word to inform everything we do as we train others in the life with Christ. And all with a good dose of patience. That is something we don’t hear too much these days in leadership training.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Anticipating "Saving Mr. Banks"

This trailer sells me in a way few have done in a long time. I have always had “Mary Poppins” amongst my very favorite films. It is charming, clever, entertaining, and has nearly everything someone with a childlike heart of any age could enjoy. However, that is not the main thing about the film for me.

To me, the most moving scene in the film is the one where Bert is telling the kids about their father; about how lonely he is living his life, facing the world. I always promised myself I would never be that man.

It is no exaggeration to say that I am reminded of that promise to myself multiple times every year. Without seeing the film, that scene pops into my mind again and again. Because, however determined one is, it is a struggle not to fall into the trap, the cage in which Mr. Banks lived.

So, the moments in this trailer for “Saving Mr. Banks” where: (a) Disney has missed the whole point of the story, and (b) when he realizes the truth behind the story, work together to nearly choke me up.

There’s no telling if the film will eventually pay off on this promise of depth, but for now the trailer is my current favorite commercial going.


Friday, July 12, 2013

"Attack the Block" (2011)

For a couple of years now I have wanted to see this film, mostly for the positive critical buzz it got. That buzz usually involved praise for the innovative writing, the authentic acting, and the original take on the familiar, alien invasion theme.

All of that buzz was truly earned, but then again, it is also in many ways more of the same old story. In this case, people try to appeal to the deeper meaning and message of the film to demonstrate its greatness. The fact that poor, disadvantaged, misunderstood thugs are presented in a way that causes us to see them as the people they are—not to mention the “turnaround” that Moses and his gang undergo in the story as they become heroes—are not enough.

The supposed change that many see in the film just isn’t convincing. You can’t escape the fact that these are teenagers who rob a woman at knifepoint simply out of boredom. Their heroics against the aliens are simply more of the same until it becomes serious enough to be motivated by survival instinct. There is not enough to merit redemption here.

However, even if this film is not great or truly unique, it is a good, suspenseful yarn. Be warned though, there is the violence accompanying blood-thirsty aliens and language one would expect from though, drug-dealing, armed and robbing thugs.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Topic: Gothic III

There was a spot there on the wall
Right near the far end of the hall
At first I hoped it might be mud
But truly thought it looked like blood
When turning… I saw a large, pale doll

From one hand hung a heavy maul
From ankle drug a chain and ball
Then I noted with fear like flood
There was a spot there on the wall

Faster than feet I managed a fall
No time to run I started to crawl
Desperate plan for escape… a dud
The last sound I heard was a thud
And though it was only quite small
There is a spot there on the wall

A Little Whisper in Your Heart


Why do all tongues insist on a different term for “conversation” when it pertains to Me?

It is honesty on your part though.

For ours does not have
the communication,
the fellowship
the communion,
of other conversations you know.

Instead you offer
superstitious formulaic chants,
a shopping list of needs and wishes.

You tell Me what you want and think.
You say you cannot hear Me.

But perhaps you do not listen.

I wish you would stop praying,
So we could really just talk.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Junkyard in "Labyrinth"

“Labyrinth” is a great film in so many ways it would be impossible to cover them all in a normal, 300-wordish long post. Among the many good aspects, however, is a powerful message delivered near the end of the film.

Sarah spends the whole movie on a mission to correct a mistake she made at the beginning. She is out to rescue her baby brother from the Goblin King. However, she eats a magical fruit that causes her to forget her purpose, and she is transported to a giant junkyard. In the junkyard Sarah meets a little old lady carrying an impossibly large pile of trash who helps Sarah find her own bedroom. There she finds all of the treasures she has collected in her life. Little toys and knickknacks that seemed so important to her once, but somehow don’t seem right anymore. The old lady keeps bringing more and more things to Sarah, piing them upon her back until Sarah remembers her quest and breaks the spell.

This is an altogether unsubtle picture of the materialism that has trapped Western Culture today. We have forgotten our purpose in life and have replaced that meaning with stuff. Junk actually.

Friday, July 5, 2013

"Now You See Me" (2013)

Every once a while a trend emerges in Hollywood. Multiple projects about the same subject or theme will coincidentally be released around the same time. Back in 2006 and again this year, pairs of magic themed movies were released. In all four cases they were pretty much popcorn fare, even though we got four distinct stylistic approaches to the subject (comic, action, period drama, and sci-fi mystery.)

The problem with traditional magic tricks and approaches these days is that we are too informed. Just about everybody knows the basic techniques used to pull off such entertainment; so we are watching for things like sleight of hand and misdirection. This all means that modern day magicians need to be highly skilled—we will see little mistakes and slip-ups—and they have to be creative. We are not impressed with things we have seen before or that we can figure out.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Young Guns" (1988)

The opening of “Young Guns” clues you in right away that this is no traditional western. It is grainy and over exposed, but on purpose. Someone probably thought that it would look artsy and appeal to the MTV generation. In any case, this was the western for Generation X. Or, that was the idea anyway. They were counting on the most popular young stars to bring people into the “antiquated” genre. We get shots of each actor, looking at the camera as their credit is on screen. Is this a movie or a TV show?

I remember back in 1988 that this film seemed entertaining enough for a teenager just going to the movies. However, it did not turn me on to westerns. Today it is not hard to see why. This is a lazy attempt to create an American anti-hero. They take a moment from American history—the Lincoln County War—and turn it into a clear cut “good vs. evil” scenario. That way the Gen X teens would know for whom to root. (As Americans, we have at times been on the clear side of good in our confrontations, but we like to think of all of our wars that way.) Then, for good measure and once again to appeal to those Gen Xers, they make the main character a mindless rebel.

One can forgive the portrayal of Billy the Kid in this film. He was a violent outlaw and probably was a lot like he is shown in this story. We don’t really hold him up in any higher regard than the characters who ride with him. However, the white-washing of history going on here is a disturbing trait of national story-telling, no matter what nation doing the telling. And this film is regarded as the most historically accurate depiction of these events in cinema?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" (2013)

Every once a while a trend emerges in Hollywood. Multiple projects about the same subject or theme will coincidentally be released around the same time. Back in 2006 and again this year, pairs of magic themed movies were released. In all four cases they were pretty much popcorn fare, even though we got four distinct stylistic approaches to the subject (comic, action, period drama, and sci-fi mystery.) 

The first of these this year was a comedy, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” It is a bit uneven. By today’s comedic standards it is tame, but still crass and even disturbing in parts. Part of that is due to one of the film’s two primary messages. (Both delivered quite “on the nose” and even preachy in their lack of subtlety.)

Burt’s primary antagonist is a “magician” played by Jim Carey. He is really more of a stunt “geek” in the traditional, carnival sense of the word. These performers have always been around, but the point the movie makes is that today’s popular “magicians” reflect a decline in culture. We are no longer looking to be joyfully amazed. We need to be shocked. In the same way horror has turned to gore, and comedy has turned to embarrassment, our culture has turned from delight to discomfort.

That connection to wonder is the second theme of the movie. At the beginning of the story Burt has become a jaded success. He goes through the motions of magic and success without really living. It takes a fall from grace for him to remember what his life’s vocation is really all about.

It is trite and cliché but it does ring true.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Content of Our Teaching (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Our culture has a definite idea of success and winning. We see a direct correlation between popularity, fame, money, etc. and ability. The best pastors and teachers are obviously those that have the huge following, the book deals, and the “great lives.” We Americans also have a huge love affair with innovation. We think the best thinkers are those that come up with things no one has ever thought of before. How good can someone be if they simply teach the ideas that have always been around?

Well, the first part of Paul’s big, concluding charge to Timothy is to, “continue in the things you have learned.” He doesn’t value innovation when it comes to the Gospel, to Salvation and to God’s plan. The value here lies in Truth and, more specifically, revelation. It is Scripture that gives the pastor and teacher—every believer ultimately—all they need to understand about God’s plan for life. We are not on a search for new, “secret,” as yet undiscovered truth. The classic message suffices in every context, in every time.

That being said, we are also not pursuing a truth or a message that will bring us the world’s understanding of success. Paul cites the qualities that he exemplified that we should follow: his teaching, his conduct, his purpose, and his values: faith, patience, love, and endurance. All in the knowledge that the things that successful ministry will bring us are persecution and suffering. And that not primarily (or at least exclusively) from “the world” but rather from the religious elements of the world.
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