Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dogmas, Beliefs, Ideas (Part 1)

Rufus: Why, Bethany Sloane, are you saying you believe?
Bethany: No. But I have a good idea.

Introduction: [part 2, part 3, part 4]

The 1999 film “Dogma” may be one of the more controversial films ever made. It is a satire, one of those stories designed to comment on things in society and culture that are broken or simply don’t make sense. Satires generally rub some people the wrong way, especially people who are happy with the things being critiqued. In this case the whole satirical arsenal is being squarely aimed at religion—something most people are sensitive about. The whole idea with satire is to get the audience to think about and even question the status quo. When it comes to religion some think that thought—and most definitely questions—are not allowed. In a way the film is most concerned with this aspect of religion, thus the name: “Dogma.” Dogmas are beliefs and teachings that are authoritative. You are not allowed to question them, they just are. They are not exclusive to religion, but they are a dangerous aspect of any ideology where they are found. More on that later.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


All chance occurrence,
a coincidence,
does not invalidate designs or plans.
Not all convergence
nor pure happy luck
make chaos the mother of clock and span.
But the same applies
from the other end…
Concurrence don’t demand conspiracy

Monday, August 26, 2013

Authority (Mark 1:21-28)

“…they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

Most completely miss the point of this story. It isn’t hard to see why. We see something outlandish and cinematic like a demonic possession—no wait, an exorcism—and we assume that is what the story is about.

How impressive must Christ’s teaching have been if it overshadowed His exorcism skills?

This is the first of seven stories demonstrating Christ’s authority here in Mark. Later we will see stories showing His authority over natural maladies, supernatural maladies, and sin, the natural realm, the supernatural realm, and even death. However, this first one shows people being amazed at His teaching. Not His ability to teach per say, although that was likely top notch, but the content. His message had authority because he wasn’t teaching ideas or theories he had learned or created. He was teaching truth.

Oh, that and He is God. So while we can pass His teaching along by teaching what we learn from Him, we can never aspire to this sort of teaching on our own part. This story is an example to learn from but not one to try to emulate. It is probably a good idea to remember no matter how certain we are in our own understanding of things there is always the likelihood that we are missing something or even misunderstood things. Let Jesus teach with authority and stick to humility.

Friday, August 23, 2013

"Das letzte Schweigen" (2010)

At first glance, “The Silence” is just another depressing, hopeless, crime drama like every other popular dark story emerging from Europe these days. Two girls are killed two decades apart in the same way on the same spot and police attempt to finally apprehend the monster that did it.

However, this is not a story about the “first glance” of things. It is only a mystery on the surface. The real story being explored here is the way society—and in particular, German society—reacts to the terrible, the horrifying. And this study is spot on. German society is carefully constructed to avoid… to avoid things like discomfort, fear, the unknown, or the important questions in life. Routine is not just a way of life, it is a coping mechanism, a pair of blinders, one might even dare to say it is a crutch.

When routines are interrupted by a terrible surprise such as in this story everyone in society is knocked off balance. Who wouldn’t be? However, instead of addressing the horror and the questions it raises—the way it lulls us to look inside and discover deeper things about ourselves—the people in this story go numb. They initially fall apart, but they very quickly find a way to resume the daily routines that are automatic. Maintaining a room exactly as it has always been, running the same route every day, going to sit at an office, or following procedure to the last letter without stopping to think.

The police commissioner in this story comes across as a joke, but he more than others perfectly illustrates the point of the story. His job is not to investigate or give any thought to the hows and whys of the atrocities. He is simply there to follow the routine of procedure. In the end he doesn’t really care about the truth or capturing the monster he is chasing. His job is to facilitate everyone getting back to normalcy as quickly as possible.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


“Whitechapel” is another of a very large crop of quality, modern crime/detective TV shows being produced by the BBC. The story starts out with a season/series long look at a Jack the Ripper copycat, and then tells other stories of crimes being solved informed by the history of crime-fighting cases going back centuries. It is intelligent and suspenseful—even scary at times. However, it manages to convey the violence, gore and intensity of its stories without dulling the viewer through overexposure. There is gruesome stuff here, but most of it is conveyed through suggestion.

Another area where “Whitechapel” differs from the likes of less than subtle American crime drama is, unfortunately, in the worldview being presented. America may indulge special effects and the ability to show more blood than Europe, but it tends to still tell optimistic stories. We still like to believe good can win out over evil. “Whitechapel” has a decidedly darker outlook. The crimes are solved, but usually not in time to save lives. Often the criminals do not really face justice even though they are “found out.” And our main character can’t catch a break in his personal life.

DI Chandler has got to be the loneliest, most trapped in isolation, main character going. That may be the greatest drawback to this show. Other shows like “Luther” may have less atmospheric, interesting cases to face, but the characters are people we can’t get enough of. “Whitechapel” has excellent acting, but the characters themselves are not people with whom we find ourselves wanting to spend our time.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Seen on my run today…

German culture can be a challenge to outsiders trying to adjust. One perception that can seem mean, self-centered and downright annoying is the way that some people in German culture can flaunt their rights in the face of those around them. It is probably more a case of the German drive to do things the right way, but it comes across as a case of a giant “in your face” to others while exercising the right OF way.

It plays out at intersections where a car is given the right to turn by a green light, but has to wait for the pedestrians—who also have a green light—before proceeding. It seems at times that the pedestrians’ pace slows down while in the cross walk. Just perception though, isn’t it?

Today I saw the ultimate case of this phenomenon on my routine run. As I approached an intersection an ambulance was approaching from the opposite direction. All the cars slowed down and moved to their respective sides in anticipation of any number of things the ambulance could be preparing to do. As it turns out, it was going to come straight through the light which was green. However, as it got to the intersection the light turned red meaning that the cross traffic now had the right of way. Of course no cars exercised that right. Lives were presumably in the balance.

A pedestrian did.

I wondered at first why the ambulance had stopped in the middle of the intersection, but as I looked I could see. A young woman was slowly ambling across the street. Based on her gait I would have judged her to be in her mid to late seventies and in need of one of those walkers with the tennis balls on the legs. But she was clearly somewhere in her mid to late twenties. She took a long time moving 30 feet.

I don’t understand that motivation, but I see it too often to dismiss it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Essential (Mark 1:16-20)

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”

The first account we get of Jesus’ ministry, following the summary of His message, is a disciple story. Specifically we see Him calling His first disciples. This is no coincidence, and not simply a case of Mark giving us a chronological account of Jesus’ ministry. Mark is highlighting the importance of discipleship. He structures his whole account using stories and teachings about the disciples and discipleship.

Here Jesus makes very clear the point, the purpose, of discipleship. He does not issue a call saying follow me and I will “show you your best life now” or “show you how to have better fellowship” or even “teach you all the secrets of God’s will.” He makes it clear that discipleship is all about reaching others. Those other things: better choices in life, genuine fellowship, and a better understanding of God, may be side products of discipleship but the point is learning how to reach others with the good news.

Knowing the most about the Bible does not make one a disciple. Making the best choices in life and avoiding mistakes does not make you a disciple. Trusting Jesus for you salvation does not make you a disciple. A disciple is one who walks with Jesus and shows others the way to walk with Him as well.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Blue Bloods (Season 2)

Season Two of “Blue Bloods” continued the excellent character development and story structure seen in the first season. Something that developed even more over the course of this season was the faith aspect. Both religious issues and the idea of faith and spirituality were dealt with head on. Specifically, the episodes “Black and Blue” and “Leap of Faith” stood out in this regard.

“Black and Blue” tells the story of the NYPD confronting a church, and not just any church, but one run by a politically motivated, self-promoting, black preacher. The episode is not afraid to present both sides of the issue in a compelling way. What is most surprising perhaps is the way the story is concluded. Reverend Potter is then brought back later in the season, not as a returning villain, but as a person Frank has to deal with. Religion in “Blue Bloods” is shown as the complex, cultural political institution that it is.

However, the more spiritual side of religion—faith—is also dealt with in “Leap of Faith.” Here, belief is not an issue to be explained or even simply tolerated. In this story we have inexplicable circumstances brought to bear in a mystery that Danny is investigating. It is done in an undeniable, yet realistic manner. Is Danny’s witness really in contact with God? Ultimately it is a matter of faith, but Danny’s helps him deal with the uncertainties.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Travel vs. Life Abroad

This is a theme that comes up sporadically here at NonModern, only because it is raised again and again in this sort of life I lead. There is a huge difference between the romantic ideal of “life abroad” and the reality of mundane life anywhere. In terms of “missions” it could be a churchy version of the grass being greener on the other side of the ocean. Sure, for most believers there is still the classic prayer, “please don’t send me to Africa!” but for increasing numbers there is an idealized picture that has developed of how wonderful it must be to live abroad. This is due in no small part to the growth of short tern mission trips.

Everyone (or nearly everyone) loves the adventure of travel. The exotic experience of another culture and another scene, maybe a different menu and the pampering that is life in a hotel or even the test of a stay in a hostel or some other low comfort housing.

Unfortunately, that is not what life—as opposed to a brief stint—abroad is like. Life is life no matter where you are. You see the same things every day, you eat the same sorts of things. You have to clean and wash up and you have stresses and undesirable things that have to be done no matter where you are. Do THAT abroad and it can and likely is even worse in the long run, because all of that “mundane-ity” is harder because you haven’t grown up doing it.

The point is, we are all “stuck” wherever we are. The key is to recognize the adventure in everyday life wherever it may be. The sure fire way to miss out on that adventure is to constantly be dreaming of the place where you are not

That being said, there are those that have split their lives up into significantly long enough periods of time in very diverse places and cultures to have seen “the mundane” of multiple continents. Not really travel but also not a lifetime. What would you call that?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Distilled Gospel Message (Mark 1:15)

“The time has come near and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and put your trust in God’s message of good news.”

When we compare Christ’s gospel presentation to the ones that we favor today, we notice quite a few distinctions.

For one thing, there is a distinct lack of detail in the summary of Christ’s message as presented by Mark. It could be that this summary is just that… a mere summary of a larger message. However, nothing truly important is left out of this summary. The two elements that are included, repentance and trust, are about all that is essential.

Of course, our gospel presentations today tend toward the technical. They can often appear as diagrammatic explanations of the process that God has used to achieve salvation. It is, when you think about it, as if we have added a third requirement to the salvation process that Jesus did not put in His presentation. In addition to repentance and trust, we have decided that understanding is also required for salvation.

Is that really the case? In other places we read that Jesus said that our faith had to be like a child’s faith in order for it to be effective. That goes to an important aspect of faith in the Biblical sense. Whereas we emphasis the mental aspect of faith—what we believe—the Bible always sees faith as a trust issue—whom we believe in.

To use an age old illustration of faith, imagine a child in a second story window of a burning building. The child’s father stands below with arms spread wide calling for the child to jump to safety. Is the child going to jump because it understands the physics of the situation and the capacity of the father to safely catch its weight, or is the child going to jump because it believes in its father? More importantly, isn’t the child who doesn’t understand but simply trusts also going to jump to salvation? And, if trust exists, does understanding make a difference?

Jesus’ message was simple. Recognize that you have a problem and, trusting God, throw yourself on His mercy and grace.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Top Five States

My life has taken me to more places than the average person—at least in terms of residences if not simply visits. That being said, I have been in less than half of the 50 States in my home country. Here (with a few cheats) are my five favorite States along with the five I would most like to visit that I haven’t yet.

The States I’ve been to that impressed me the most: 

5. California

I have not seen much of this state, but the part I did was nice. Still want to see San Francisco, the Redwoods, and the north someday.

4. Maryland/Washington D.C.

I love our nation’s capital, and from what I hear my birth state is quite impressive. Someday I need to see Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay area.

3. Wyoming

I have only seen a small portion of this state but need to get back to see more as some of the top places on my “to see” list are there.

2. Texas

This may be the most amazing state in the Union, but some of the vastness is less than impressive and drags the better parts down to the second slot on this list.

1. Colorado

The challenge with Colorado is coming up with something not to like.

The States I haven’t been to that I most want to see: 

5. Hawaii

I don’t think I will like it as much as most do, but it looks like a must see.

4. Maine

Or anywhere in New England.

3. Arizona

I would not like to live there, but I do love the magic of the Southwest. Arizona has places that I really hope to see before I die.

2. Montana

If Colorado and Wyoming are great, I am going with the idea that the Rockies just get better the further north you go.

1. Washington/Oregon

Growing up in southwestern South America, I always heard that it was similar to the Pacific Northwest. That I have to see for myself.

(Pics are from Wikipedia)

Friday, August 9, 2013

“This is 40” or How Nihilism Plays Out in Comedy Today Too

For the past decade or more I have failed to see most of the comedy films that are being released. It is not that I don’t like comedies, I just seem to be out of step with the current popular trends. The other day I decided to try one out, one of these Judd Apatow films that seem so popular. I had known that they tend to rely on shock rather than humor and that they are crass fare, but this one was advertised as being more mature, so I gave it a go.

The first scene set the tone. It should have been a “turn off” moment, but I thought it might be a case of “the worst scene first” and stuck it out. At a certain point I realized that I wasn’t laughing and this wasn’t even a comedy anymore. At that point I was only there out of curiosity. What is our current cultural answer for lives as messed up as these?

“This is 40” is the study of a couple who are extremely messed up relationally. They fight. They hate each other. However, they also find ways and moments where they remember what it was that brought them together in the first place. As they hit mid-life, they decide to try and improve their lives, but can’t seem to do anything right.

Part of the problem is that they are completely un-self-aware. Their daughter blows up at them half-way through the film and uses the worst possible cuss words. Their analysis of the situation when they are alone later is, “Where the f--- did she hear that? We don’t f----n talk like that!”

The answer to my cultural curiosity was pretty disappointing. The resolution of the film has our couple deciding that it was a mistake to try and improve. They should simply be happy with their royally screwed up lives as they are. That is the happy ending. “If your life is unfulfilling and all your relationships are broken, you should just accept it because you can’t change.” And we know they are going to be at each other’s throats five minutes after the credits role, because that has been the trend the entire film.

(The "Not a recommendation" tag really applies here.  This movie has every possible offensive content.  Shock rather than humor is the path to laughs intended.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Swimming Pools

We took the kids swimming last week as the current heat wave sweeping across Europe is driving us all out of our minds. Mind you, it is only a heat wave relatively speaking. Upper nineties is only bad for those who are used to much lower temperatures and, as a result, do not have things like air conditioners. Actually, as far as swimming goes, our current climate is what I have dealt with wherever I have been for the majority of my life.

When I was a kid in Colorado, we used to call the bank every thirty minutes most summer days, waiting for the temperature to hit the magic level of 90+ so that we could go to the outdoor pool where, at that level of heat, the water was ice cold. Later on in Temuco, Chile we would go to the Piscina Municipal under similar conditions, only around Christmas time when they had their mild summers. Now that was a wonderful pool! But, once again, you had to deal with the initial plunge into frigid waters.

It was the same thing here in Dresden last week. They key to cold water is getting in quick and having it over with. Once you get your head wet, everything is just fine—exhilarating even. Going slow is terrible, because your lower extremities are sending alarms up to your upper body screaming. “Go back! Get out! Danger!” Of course, they tell you the shock of a sudden plunge can be detrimental, but tell that to people I knew in both Colorado and Chile who loved to go back and forth from extreme cold to hot. (In Colorado it was alternating plunges into a hot tub and snow, Chileans preferred hot springs and mountain streams.)

Somewhere in there is a lesson for life. When we are caught in the lie of a comfort zone and we know we need to take the plunge into the exhilarating rush of a purposeful life, a gradual change never seems to work.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Applaus, Applaus" by Sportfreunde Stiller

There is a song on the radio here in Central Europe that is getting a lot of play that I really like. I try not to hear it too often less I get sick of it and cease to enjoy the way I am seeing its message. It is probably intended and being seen as just another love song, but I see it as really communicating a great aspect of love. Personally I like to think of it in particular as speaking to one of the ways that I love my children.

Loosely translated it goes something like this:

If my hand is a fist, you open it up and place yours in mine.
You whisper sentences of caution into all the noise,
as though you were my sextant and compass.

Applause, Applause, for your words
My heart opens up, when you laugh.
Applause, Applause, for the way you inspire me.
Never stop. My greatest desire, is that you never stop.

When my world is flat, you make it round again.
You show me in gentle ways what wisdom is.
When I want to put my head through the wall,
You place a helmet and hammer in my hand. 
The video is a bit of silly fun too.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mark Introduction and Outline (Mark 1:1-15)

My favorite Gospel tends to be whichever of the four I am currently reading. Mark, being the current one, has a lot to argue in its favor. It is short. It is fast paced and action packed. It has some wonderful structural patterns. And its central theme (outside of the Gospel message itself) is discipleship.

The Gospels tend to be less straight biographies and more a text after the style of a film documentary. Mark is especially so. The evangelist takes moments, teachings, and events from the life of Jesus and places them together in such a way as to accentuate the message of His life and mission: the Gospel message. The central passage that bridges Jesus’ public ministry and His passion is 8:27-30 where Peter spells out clearly who Jesus is, the messiah come to save His people.

Structural features throughout the book are apparent and insightful. The first half is constructed in three parts, each beginning with a disciple story and ending in a summary of ministry. The healings and miracles all accentuate Christ’s authority and the faith of those whom He helps. There are seven passages that are set up where one story is “sandwiched” into another event that helps us see the reason why Mark is telling these events, what the point is that he is trying to make.

Mark begins his Gospel rushing through events that we think of as major in the life of Christ. His coming, John’s ministry, Jesus’ baptism and temptation, are all covered in a mere 12 sentences. Then we get the content of Christ’s message. The thesis of the Gospel, really:

“The time has come near and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and put your trust in God’s message of good news.”

Outline for the Gospel of Mark

I. Introduction 1:1-15
II. The Public Ministry 1:16-8:26
  A. Authority “New Wine” 1:16-3:12
  B. Teaching “The Kingdom” 3:13-6:6
  C. Mission “The Call” 6:7-8:26
[Central Passage] “Who am I?” 8:27-30
III. The Passion 8:27-16:8
  A. Discipleship 8:27-10:52
  B. Judgment 11:1-13:37
  C. Death and Resurrection 14:1-16:8
IV. Additional conclusion 16:9-20

Friday, August 2, 2013

"No" (2012)

Pablo Larrain’s 2012 Oscar nominated recounting of the 1988 referendum was a film that I was anticipating for a year before it was available. However, that was a highly personal anticipation. Normally I would not have been drawn to this sort of film, and I doubt it would have generated much buzz for most audiences. Having lived through the events depicted, I wanted to see if it caught the moment in time, and if so, to indulge in some intense recollections.

Be it a positive or a negative quality, it did indeed capture the moment. It uses a lot of old footage from the time, and filmed its new material on old equipment with antiquated stock to match that archival footage. All of that serves to deliver something that looks rather bad by today’s standards, but it does take one back to the sort of stuff we were used to looking at on TV in that day.

In a similar “positive and negative” fashion, the message of this film is encouraging and depressing at the same time. It is exciting to see a people stand up for themselves and do the right thing. Pinochet’s regime needed to go, and it did not feel like an easy of safe thing for the people to vote how they felt. At the same time it was a scary moment in history. As bad as things were, there was no guarantee that things would get better in the chaos that could have followed. Where the film’s message is not so encouraging, however, is in the way this huge moment in history was accomplished.

Be it accurate or not, this film presents the idea that the results of the 1988 referendum were less about people doing what they thought was best and more about a clever marketing campaign. Could this moment in time have done more than change the fate of Chile? Was this when politics in the west ceased to be about right and wrong—about ideas with merit or not—and became all about a sales pitch? Whether this is where that began or not, it is the ways things have gone.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Social Networking Implications for Ministry

The Chaos of the New (Trolls, food and feet)

The internet in general and social media in particular are still new phenomenon for society. This has resulted in some strange behavior as people discover ways of using them that are not always helpful (or even sane). As believers we need to carefully consider the way we interact with people online and not just follow societal trends willy-nilly.

The relative feeling of anonymity online has led to people stretching the truth in ways they would be less inclined to face-to-face, or to the practice of trolling where personal attacks and belittling is done in a way that would never be tolerated in person.

Sillier but equally strange practices have also sprung up, such as people photographing every meal they eat or women posting pictures of their feet with alarming regularity. Why do people think the world wants to see such things is a mystery.

“Zombie” Accounts and Posts

Just as interesting as society trying to figure out the way internet interaction will really work in a way that isn’t just foot photos and sales pitches, is the clutter of empty profiles and unheard statements. A large percentage of profiles that are set up on social networks are rarely (or sometimes never) used. An even larger percentage of the content created and posted online is NEVER seen. Instead of the old “does a tree make a sound if it falls in the forest with no one there to hear it?” We could ask, “Does a tweet really exist if no one ever reads it?” Merely participating in Social Media does not guarantee that we will have an impact. We need to be intentional and we need to be smart about the time we spend and the energy we exert online.

The Junk Mail of the 21st Century

There is nothing more annoying than the reams of junk mail that fill up our mailboxes. Accept maybe for those soliciting phone calls we used to all get. Laws have been created to stop them. With the creation of email and now social networking, the problem seems to have gotten worse. Not a day—or even an hour—goes by in which we don’t get some 21st Century version of the “Chain Letter” or some manipulative post forcing us to “prove our faith” by liking or forwarding junk. There is a fine line between sharing the Gospel and simply annoying people with unwanted content. Which leads to the last point…

Internet Users are highly selective 

People filter what they see online. They seek out what they are interested in and ignore the rest. Attractional approaches rarely if ever work online.

click here for a look at this the other way around
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