Saturday, November 30, 2013

The 2000s in Film (The Whole Decade)

Any “best of” list on this blog is subjective, of course, but I have gone out of my way to make this one so. Here are my top 50 films of the 00s, but where more than one film could go together I list them so, with an estimation of where they would fall on a true top 50 in parenthesis:

1. “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001) Jackson
  (2) The Return of the King (2003) Jackson
  (4) The Two Towers (2002) Jackson
2. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Adamson
  (10) Prince Caspian (2008) Adamson
3. Minority Report (2002) Spielberg
4. Signs (2002) Shyamalon
  (17) The Village (2004) Shyamalon
5. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009) Yates
  (8) The Order of the Phoenix (2007) Yates
  (9) The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Cuaron
  (11) The Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) Columbus
  (12) The Chamber of Secrets (2002) Columbus
6. The Incredibles (2004) Bird
  (14) Ratatouille (2007) Bird
  (15) Up (2009) Doctor
  (16) Finding Nemo (2003) Stanton
  (22) Monsters Inc. (2001) Doctor
  (26) Wall-E (2008) Stanton
7. El Laberinto del Fauno (2006) Del Torro
8. Batman Begins (2005) Nolan
  (19) The Dark Knight (2008) Nolan
9. Brick (2005) Johnson
10. Big Fish (2003) Burton
11. Coraline (2009) Selick
12. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Wererabbit (2005) Park
13. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) Verbinski
14. Sherlock Holmes (2009) Richie
15. No Country for Old Men (2007) Coens
16. Gladiator (2000) Scott
17.Moulin Rouge! (2001) Luhrman
18. Munich (2005) Spielberg
19. The Pianist (2002) Polanski
20. Inglorious Basterds (2009) Tarantino
21. O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) Coens
22. A Beautiful Mind (2001) Howard
23. Chicken Run (2000) Park
24. The End of the Spear (2006) Hanon
25. Casino Royale (2006) Campbell
26. Star Trek (2009) Abrams
27. Wo Hu Cang Long (2000) Lee
28. The Ninth Gate (2000) Polanski
29. Shaun of the Dead (2004) Wright
30. Chocolat (2000) Halström
31. Nanny McFee (2005) Jones
32. Children of Men (2006) Cuaron
33. The Bourne Identity (2002) Liman
34. Ocean’s Eleven (2001) Soderberg
35. Shadow of the Vampire (2000) Merhige
36. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) Jennings

Directors with Multiple Films: Peter Jackson (3); Alfonso Cuaron (2); Andrew Adamson (2); Andrew Stanton (2); Brad Bird (2); Chris Columbus (2); Christopher Nolan (2); The Coen Brothers (2); David Yates (2); M. Night Shyamalon (2); Nick Park (2); Pete Doctor (2); Roman Polanski (2); Steven Spielberg (2)

Number of films per year: 2000 (7); 2001 (6); 2002 (6); 2003 (4); 2004 (4); 2005 (7); 2006 (4); 2007 (3); 2008 (3); 2009 (6)

Friday, November 29, 2013

"The Worlds End" (2013)

The third of the “Cornetto Trilogy” is, like many third instalments in a series (even though this isn’t really that kind of trilogy), the least fulfilling of the bunch. Sure, it has the same look, style, sense of fun, and other commonalities. (It shares the same levels of harsh language and violence that prohibits its recommendation to the more “discerning” viewers I know. Although: the violence is less offensive since the blood is all blue and not really blood, and the language is, well… worse.)

However, the main reason “The Worlds End” is a letdown is the message. Each of these films has one. Either a call to live life more intentionally, or to balance society’s need for structure with the innate need for individuals to have freedom. Here the point seems to be a claim that humanity’s best value is their dogged self-determinism. Even when that means we are destined to be eternal screw-ups. At one point things look they are all merely going for irony, when the humans reject the “robot overlords” and the whole world falls into the Dark Ages, but not so much.

Perhaps one could even put a positive spin on things—there is still a stylish sense of fun to be had—but Simon Pegg’s character this time around is simply unlikable. And it’s not so that he can grow as a character in the course of the plot. He starts out and ends up as a self-absorbed jerk. Exactly the sort of self-absorbed, screw everything up, destroy every relationship he ever had kind of jerk that this films ends up glorifying and championing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Hot Fuzz" (2007)

Looking ahead to the third in the Cornetto Trilogy, revisited the second instalment “Hot Fuzz.” (“Shaun of the Dead” is a film I have re-watched a lot more frequently, as well as reviewed.)

One of the appeals of these films, beyond the well written comedy and great comedic timing of the ensembles, is the way they also endeavor to comment on some aspect of society. If “Shawn” reflected on the meaningless routine of modern existence, “Hot Fuzz” explores the tension between the order established in society through laws and the ways they are enforced, and the limitations that should be maintained against governments having too much control.

Nicholas Angel is the perfect example of a police officer. He is so good, in fact, that he is sent away from London to a small village because he is making everyone else look so bad. His new assignment in the small village is the very definition of boredom because it is so idyllic and perfect. In fact, it is considered the safest village in all of England.

Of course, anyone who knows human nature knows that something must be up. And it does turn out that Nicholas stumbles upon a series of grisly murders that appear to be tied into a conspiracy to profit from a new highway scheduled to be built through the area.

As it turns out, the murders are motivated by a sentiment much closer to Nicholas’ own heart—order and standards in the village. By the climax the film has become a full-on parody of the high octane action flicks it is satirizing, but observant viewers are left with a pretty clever reminder that too much law and order is just as bad as none at all. The government, and a codified law, are merely societal controls and protections—not the means to change hearts and make the world a better place.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"The Day of the Doctor"

Spoilers ahead:

The 50th Anniversary special episode was, of course, excellent. It was well written, well-acted, and had a wonderful series of references to past material that made fans laugh and cheer. (Some of the humor was of that special variety that was truly funny, but that required a knowledge of the history of the show that simultaneously entertained and gave on a sense of belonging.) All of that said, it also offered a couple of special—if paradoxical—lessons.

The historical context needed to understand the overarching plot of the show concerns something known as the Time War. Ever since the series returned from its long hiatus in 2005, we have known that there was a war between the Doctor’s people and their archenemies known as the Daleks. We also know that the Doctor did something to end that war that completely destroyed both his and the Daleks’ world with both civilizations. Two simultaneous cases of genocide, if you will. However, the Doctor has been pretty tight-lipped as to details of that action.

In this special, we get to see the Doctor as he is preparing to end the war. To do so, he has stolen the Time Lords’ most advanced and devastating weapon ever conceived; a weapon so advanced it developed a conscience and was never used. As the show explains, “How do you use a weapon of ultimate mass destruction when it can stand in judgment of you?” Well, before the Doctor can use it, it sends him to his own future to see the men that he will become.

What he sees is the first lesson. That act of genocide, though necessary in order to save the universe from the evil of the war, is something that the Doctor has regretted ever since. In fact—even though he was a good man beforehand who always helped people and fought evil—he has become an even more tireless force for good, righting wrongs and saving lives. His past mistakes and regrets have helped make the Doctor who he is.

However, as the War Doctor returns to his own time determined to repeat his wrong (confident that it is his only option, and that it will make him a better person) he is joined by his future selves. Though they come to help him the oldest version of the Doctor (who has had the longest time to consider his actions) changes his own history. He sets in motion a plan that will save the universe, end the war, and not kill his people. (The Daleks will all still die, but at their own hands… er, plungers?)

That is the second lesson. Even when it seems like there is no choice but evil, the “necessary evil,” that is a lie. One can always do the right thing. It may not be easy, and it may cost a tremendous price, it is always the preferable choice. We are not time travelers standing in eternity, able to calculate all the outcomes. We may not have the power to change our history, but we can know someone who does see the bigger picture.

So, do good always and trust the outcome to Him.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saved from a Living Death: To Serve (Mark 5:1-20)

Our Terrible Story of Death: Humanity apart from God is spiritually dead.

The man Jesus encounters is tormented spiritually. He is forced to live amongst the graves. He runs around like an animal, screaming and hurting himself. It is an extreme image, but by degrees, all of humanity struggles with this living death. We are not the way we were meant to be. We muddle about aimlessly chasing our own half thought out plans; slaves to our impulses, making mistake after mistake.

We all, from the time we are children, are building our own little Kingdoms. We know what we want to be. We know what we want to do. The problem is that we find ways to destroy everything: our dreams, those around us, and our lives. Jesus came declaring the Kingdom of God and inviting us to find our place in it. The role we were created to play. A big problem, even for religious people who are prepared to believe in Christ, is we often still miss the point. We invite Jesus into OUR Kingdom. We ask Him to make OUR plans reality. The problem is, we are and have never been in control of our kingdoms. We are slaves to sin.

We need to examine our own lives and determine who is in charge. Is it Jesus, or do we still hold to the illusion that we are in control and He is merely a guest in our lives? In any event, we need to understand that the vast majority of the people in our lives are much like this man in the cemetery; slaves under the control of sin.

What is the solution to our problem?

His Wonderful Story of Life: Jesus, the Son of God, has all authority over the spiritual realm.

The demons here recognize Jesus, who He is and the power that He has. The fascinating thing here is the way this power operates. He does not force them out in a physical or mechanical way. Their will is forced. They resist, but know that in the end they must yield to His authority.

Of course the real power Jesus brought with His incarnation is forgiveness. While we were busy rebelling, building our own pathetic kingdoms, and generally screwing the world up, God had a plan. Jesus became like us, human, and lived life as God intended. God’s Kingdom came manifest in the life of Christ. Then He took the sins of the whole world—our rebellion, our mistakes, our designs and our evils—and He paid the price for it all in His death. Then He rose victorious over sin and death. We can remember the dead in Christ with hope today because of the death of Jesus in our place, in theirs.

Christ has that power over everything. He can and has made things right in creation, but people still have a choice. They can trust God and experience life fully in His kingdom, or they can continue to do things their way and carry on in kingdoms of frustration, error, and death.

So why don’t more people see their own hopelessness and accept the wonderful gift of life in the Kingdom of God?

The Frightening Aspect of the Kingdom Story: The Kingdom of God is scary to the world that is perishing.

Here we come to the part of the story where the pigs are possessed and killed. Why does Mark include this bit? Why did Jesus allow it to happen? Many commentators try to reveal the symbolic meaning in this aspect of the story. They claim Mark includes it as a veiled commentary on Rome, or that it is a political aspect of the messianic mission. I believe Mark (as well as Matthew and Luke) included this because it happened. As to the why, I believe Jesus was making an impact. We never see Jesus doing miraculous things out of any other motivation than to bring glory to God and to highlight the message of the Kingdom of God. Here, the killing of the pigs makes the event of the exorcism undeniable. It could still be explained away perhaps by people not wanting to acknowledge God, but something happened! The problem is that such a manifestation of power, while a great basis for a story that will impact a whole region, is also something that really freaks people out. Jesus is asked to leave forthwith. People see their own efforts—their kingdoms—threatened and move to shield themselves and their world from such power.

Many people today think that the key to reaching people with the Gospel lies in miraculous manifestations. What we see in Scripture would suggest this is not the case. For moments when the Gospel first enters a culture, powerful manifestations are seen, but even here we see the manifestation itself does not convince people. Jesus’ miracles tended to draw crowds for all the wrong reasons, or else scare people away. Here a whole region is impacted, but the only person convinced appears to be one of the two possessed men. Everyone else begs Jesus to leave.

So how will people hear about God’s plan in such a way that they can understand it and respond?

Our Story and His Story: When Jesus rescues us from death; His desire is that we share our story with others, beginning with our Oikos.

The whole purpose Jesus sailed to the other side of the sea and braved the storm to get there, seems to be to have reached this one man. When the man begs to be allowed to go with Jesus—to de His disciple—Jesus doesn’t allow it. Why? Because this man’s role as a disciple was not to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn more. He was to go to his home, to his family and friends, and tell his story. He was supposed to change the region by bringing tidings of the Kingdom of God. And we will see later in chapters 7 and 8, he does just that. When Jesus returns to the area later thousands of people swarm to meet Him and to hear from him. This is how the Kingdom of God spreads, as we tell our stories to our family, friends, and everyone we meet.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Pacific Rim" (2013)

“Pacific Rim” really was one of the most entertaining, fun films of the year. Sure, it was silly, Saturday matinee fare, but that is the target at which it was aiming. It took the ideas from those old 50s monster movies, particularly the likes of Godzilla; added in a good mix of those 1980s cartoons like “Battle of the Planets” or “G.I. Joe” and made something that was far better than any of its inspirations.

Now, it did not improve the source material to the level that “Star Wars” improved on space opera, or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” the classic adventure story. This is not an instant classic. Not even a slow boiler. However, with all of its cheesy dialogue and situations, it did something that just about any straight-up action film for the past ten years has failed to do.

It managed to put exciting, awe inspiring, visual action on film in such a way that audiences could understand what was going on and still be amazed. The sloppy practice in action films since at least the release of “The Bourne Supremacy” have utilized has been to confuse audiences. Just show a jumbled mess of movement and close up shots that no one can identify and then tell them they just saw high impact action as it is really experienced.

The worst offender in this technique has surely been Michael Bay with his Transformers franchise. “Pacific Rim” does giant robots the way they should be done, and then it adds in giant, reptilian monsters to boot.

It is THE action blockbuster of the summer of 2013.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Adjustment Bureau" (2011)

If you are one of those people who enjoy contemplating the implications of the many Biblical paradoxes, or if you are someone who tries to simplify the Biblical message to weed them all out, then “The Adjustment Bureau” is just the sort of thought provoking entertainment for you.

Based loosely on a Philip K. Dick story, the film deals with a man trying to connect with the love of his life, whilst all the powers of heaven try to keep them apart. It appears as though at one point in “the grand scheme of things” they were fated to end up together, but decisions and circumstances have changed the plan. The whole story explores philosophical questions and concepts like fate and free will. Actually, it is more theology than philosophy. It does come across like the story in Genesis 18, where Abraham tries to influence God’s plans for Sodom and Gomorrah.

The reality of such issues is too grand and complex to be dealt with in one simple story, but the thought provoking way this story handles them is commendable. Even more than that, the art direction and concepts this film developed to present their ideas are some of the best seen in a long time. This movie finds its place alongside some other very well made, thought provoking movies from 2011 like “The Tree of Life,” “Jane Eyre,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” and “Midnight in Paris.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Brief Look at "My Neighbor Totoro"

Another example of beautiful animation, one can see why this film has produced one of the most well-loved creatures in animation. It also, however, highlights why Miyazaki is known as one of the best animators ever, not one of the best story-tellers.

“My Neighbor Totoro” is fairly anemic on story. A couple girls move into a country house with their father, and discover the local animistic deities that live there. Their mother is in a hospital not too far away, and when the younger sister tries to go see her mom and gets lost, it is prayers to the local gods that are answered and bring the girl back to safety. The real charm here is in the drawings, the animation, and the general artistic direction.

If one discounts the “cat bus” creature, the spirits and beings in this film are fascinating and cute. But the magic realism of this story doesn’t feel like a literary invention but rather a cultural reality for many in the world. Because even Theists (like Christians) who are in no way traditional animists, still often fall into a world view that is animistic. But there is a fundamental difference between believing in a spiritual dimension to reality and believing in local deities or powers.

But none of that really has anything to do with this film. It is really more of a pretty exploration into the world of a couple of girls who experience something amazing. Just not as amazing as one might find in other stories of this ilk.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Jesus Stills the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

There are three interesting things that standout in this fascinating but otherwise straightforward account of Jesus exhibiting power over the natural realm—the kind of power that only God has ever had in the Bible thus far.

First, that Jesus has a plan that requires Him to travel to the other side of the sea (and don’t think for a minute that He is simply being spontaneous) and that there may be forces that don’t want Him going there. That assumption makes this more than a tory about Jesus having power over nature, but that is better left for the next story when Jesus arrives at the other side. For now it is merely interesting to see Jesus use a similar approach to the weather that He employed against demons in chapter one.

Second, the contrast here with the story of Jonah seems deliberate. While their motivations and reactions are wholly different, Jesus and Jonah are both awakened on a ship in danger of going under by people accusing them of not doing what they should. Whereas Jonah was running from God’s plan and quite content to die however, Jesus is on God’s mission and comfortable in the assurance that nothing can work against God’s intentions.

Third, and likely the main point of the story the way that Mark tells it, is the fact that the disciples are still so ignorant and—even more importantly—so untrusting. Jesus had been teaching these guys the extra insights for some time now, and they were living with and learning from Him constantly. However, if there ever was a story that illustrated the vast chasm between knowledge and faith this is it. It does not matter how much one understands about the Kingdom of God or the teachings of the Bible; faith is a matter of trust and surrender. What God desires is faith. Faith seeking understanding is not a bad thing at all, but one should never assume that increased knowledge will help faith. Faith, not information, is the goal.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Man of Steel" (2013)

I hereby add myself to the list of detractors. “Man of Steel” is a failure on so many levels.

First, there is the failure as an action film. The build-up, back-story portion of the film works pretty well, but it is as if the film gets two thirds of the way in and remembers it is a super hero film and that it must have a lot of action and violence. At that point it ceases to reflect on any interesting ideas and goes completely overboard on mind-numbing, forget-trying-to-follow-what-is-happening, obliterate-a-metropolis, action. In an amazing contradiction, the film becomes boring when it should be climaxing.

Secondly, there is the failure as an adaptation. Adaptations are not bad by their very nature, but this film fails to adapt the Superman mythos in any way that provides new perspective while remaining true to the core of the story. Some would argue that it does do exactly that, but the changes here either fall into the category of mere window dressing, or outright betrayal. It is as though one had made Sherlock Holmes a dunce, or Tarzan a sophisticate. That would be fine if this were a satirical work. Instead Snyder and co. have earnestly made Superman a killer.

Therein lies the ultimate failure of this film. People try to argue that this film had to do what it did because the story demanded it. They placed Superman in a situation where there was no other out. All that really says is either (a) the writers were not skilled enough to solve their set-up whilst guarding the true nature of the character, or (b) they were never really writing a Superman story.

Some will say that this criticism is a case of false expectations. That one should not demand a film meet some preconceived wish of the audience. To that I have two responses. If you tell a story about a beloved, or at least well-known character, you have to contend with such expectations. And, even if you remove the Superman baggage and have this film be merely a highly derivative action piece, you still have to deal with the first problem already stated above; this film is boring.

In the end, that tends to be a common problem with Superman stories. Maybe this film is true to its roots after all.

(Here is the best version of "Man of Steel," the trailer is amazing.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Ponyo" (2008)

My first exposure to Miyazaki was “Princess Mononoke” back in 1997. It was probably an unfortunate first impression. I had heard how this man was supposed to be the greatest animator ever, but it simply felt as though he was making some propaganda—albeit delightfully bizarre and beautiful. I need to revisit that film, but it felt at the time like it was a little too on the nose. Preachy.

I skipped “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” but kept hearing how wonderful things were and wondered if I should give him another chance when I saw the trailer to “Ponyo.” It didn’t help dissuade my impression of him as an artist more in the vein of propagandist. I let a few more years go by.

Now I have taken the plunge and watched a few Miyazaki films, starting with “Ponyo.”

First off, one has to admit the guy knows his art. Visually this is some of the most beautiful and stunning animation I have seen. I also am a sucker for the magic realism genre, so any film where bizarre things happen in the normal world and characters don’t react surprised is a good thing.

That being said, having thought about the “message” of the story for a couple weeks now, I have to call foul. It is not completely the filmmakers’ fault. Even though they have chosen the source material and “The Little Mermaid” is one of the most amazingly terrible fairy-tales ever. Yet the changes made to the tale do nothing to help things. In fact, it makes an even bigger mess.

Any story where a character makes bad choices that not only threaten terrible consequences for the protagonist but also to those they love—even the entire world—and those consequences are easily swept away simply by another’s love…

Oh wait. Maybe there is a truth behind the silliness here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Kernel (Mark 4:30-34)

The last of the Kingdom parables in this section is relatively simple and clear. The Kingdom of God starts small and unseen, yet it will eventually grow to be a home and a shelter to all. What begins with a simple, wonderful story will change the world. But Jesus doesn’t teach this principle directly. He tells His stories:

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

It seems Jesus did all His public proclamation of the Kingdom this way. He was cryptic. He tossed out crumbs that could lead people to the truth. He only clarified and expounded His message for those who followed. Those who believed.

The Biblical message is about faith, not understanding. It is about trust, not knowledge. Over and over again in Mark we see a process where Jesus finds His people, those looking for the truth. Once we belong to God’s kingdom we begin our journey of understanding, but that trip starts—and really is all about—belief. Jesus did not present a logical case for His Kingdom that would convince people on the evidence. He shared an understanding of the world that would resonate with those who were inclined to hear.

Today we do things very differently. We try to convince people of a truth that cannot be seen. We try to make the Gospel a reasonable and logical alternative to all the other ideologies men have cooked up. Instead of appealing to reason, we need to awaken faith. We are not here to debate, we have been sent to tell a story.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Voyeuristic Killer

I watched with fascination
as she did a thorough toilet
front legs, middle, then back
wings and body; wash, rinse, repeat
working mandibles and pulvilli
like a miniscule, fuzzy cat.

As fun as it was to be
a voyeur to this private
quiet, countertop bath,
I decided to skew germs
in favor of visceral jelly
and ended her wash with a splat!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"The Fall" (2013)

Postmodern intellectualism has a real problem when it comes to art. It is always in danger of being taken in like the emperor shopping for a new outfit.

The key to success in these times is to be obtuse. Don’t ever have a message; don’t use your art to communicate an idea. Make your work so broad that the audience can make it say whatever they want to hear. If you do have a point, hide it as well as you can and never speak of it.

That is not to say postmodern artists never have anything good or true to offer, and I really like quite a few of them a lot. Artists like Eliot, Kubrick, and Bono spring readily to mind. All great skilled and talented men on their own; they are elevated by the audiences’ fear of being perceived as stupid. The thing that most elevates “2001: A Space Odyssey” to greatness is people are too scared to point out that it is basically naked. It may be beautiful to look at, but it has no idea what it wants to say.

Eliot was probably the forerunner of this postmodernity in art. He tossed a collage of ideas and quotes on a page and people were blown away. No matter what he intended to say with “The Hollow Men,” for example, everyone just takes it to mean whatever they want.

All of that brings me to “The Fall.” A police procedural in the serial killer subgenre, “The Fall” rises above its contemporaries on its obtuseness posing as brilliance. Is it about the fallen condition of humanity? Certainly. All crime shows are about the sinful tendencies of mankind; this one wallows in it. Is it based on Eliot’s poem? The killer quotes it, so it must be.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of “The Fall” is that it was made and succeeded. Our culture is in a place right now where we want stories about villains. We root for bad characters and we want good ones barely identifiable for all their brokenness. This show certainly fits the bill. The serial killer is a monster hiding in the form of a normal husband, father, and professional counselor. The detective is just as asocial and disconnected from the world around her, only she makes no effort to hide.

The show has been renewed for a second series, which is fortunate from one standpoint. This show is not a whodunit, but rather one of those tales where we know right from the start who the killer is and therefore we are merely watching to see how he will be caught. And at least on one point “The Fall” does mirror “The Hollow Men.” It ends, “not with a bang but a whimper.”

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How Do You Share?

A friend of mine posted a video on facebook today. It was a homemade trailer for “The Sound of Music” designed to make it look like a horror film. This is nothing new. I have seen versions made from “Mary Poppins” and “Back to the Future” among other films. They have even taken real horror films and “trailered” them as comedies. My friend accompanied her posting of the video with the comment, “the dangers of taking things out of context!”

Of course, that is the point of the trailer. This is hardly a case of someone mistaking a musical for a scary story. They are playing with conventions. It is amazing how much editing techniques and musical cues determine how we absorb information. Many a horror film has taken a story or situation that is not at all scary or disturbing and convinced us that we should be scared. (“Paranormal Activity,” I’m looking at you!) What this film illustrates for me is the importance of story-telling. How we communicate our stories is extremely important.

In my case, as a follower of Jesus, the most important thing I do in life is tell stories, my story with Jesus and His story for the world. If I tell it well, I communicate the most important, life changing truth anyone will ever hear. If I tell it poorly I run the risk of communicating an altogether different message. If I reduce the Gospel story to a rehearsed sales pitch, or a dry sermon with three points and a poem, I am most likely not communicating in a way that speaks.

How do you share?

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Mystery of Kingdom Growth (Mark 4:26-29)

“And he said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’”

We have developed a whole industry out of doing God’s work. By that I do not mean our portion in ministry—what God would have us do—but rather trying to do what only God can do. We have systems and methods, books and guides, we pay people to try to work in us the things that only God can do. It isn’t that we shouldn’t do our part; we just need to stop trying to do His.

We can tell our story. We can tell Jesus’s story.

We cannot convince someone to believe. We cannot change hearts.

We can help each other out on the road to being who God wants us to be. We can hold each other up and pray for one another.

We cannot make someone grow in faith. We cannot ensure that they will stay true to that to which they have committed.

We can gather disciples together. We can organize communities of faith.

We cannot fabricate the Body of Christ. We cannot create a movement.

However, we will be better prepared to experience God working in and amongst us when we stick to doing our part and quit trying to do His.

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