Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Plunk

I heard the plunk
of the desiccated mummy as
I went to pluck
the high-strung steel guitar.
I’d wondered
What had become of him.
Had thought
that his chances were really quite dim;
back when he was just a little frog.

Climbing up into that big, black case
into the hole
the safe-looking carapace;
I’m sure that he’d thought he was doing much better
than that big, bright, enclosure of glass.

Though he had all the food, and the warmth, and the water,
and the safety any amphibian ever could have asked for
He’d chosen the death trap of that dry, dark, dead, wooden, sound chamber.

Sometimes limits aren’t prison.
Sometimes freedom is dust.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Remember (2 Timothy 2:8-13)

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

It is mere happy coincidence that this passage is coming up here on Memorial Day. Paul continues his appeal to Timothy—the appeal that Timothy join in suffering—by pointing out exactly that for which Timothy is supposed to suffer: the Gospel.

All the hard work, all the endurance, all suffering a believer is expected to experience is for cause: the advance of the story of Jesus Christ. Here in this passage Paul gives the most simplistic, basic description of this all important truth; but remembering Jesus and what He has done is a focal point of the believer’s life. We can never exhaust the wonder, the implications, the life-changing influence that this story will have on our person. Beyond the forgiveness that it makes possible, and the salvation it offers to everyone we know, it changes us. We should always remember and reflect on the Gospel.

Beyond that, it is the reason we are willing to suffer. We can never face the amount of hardship—the difficulty—that Jesus did. Here Paul is in chains for the story, and yet the story is never chained. It will go forward and change the world despite imprisonments, persecution, and even the threat and reality of death. That being said, it is also unstoppable in our lives. We will never finish understanding the whole reality of the Gospel. Remember and reflect.

Just a handful of the implications are listed here by Paul, in a verse of sorts. Our death to self, in Christ, is a key to our living the way life was intended in its fullest sense. Our suffering now is a promise of a better circumstance in a creation as God designed it to be enjoyed. To deny the truth of the Gospel once it is seen (if that is possible for “the elect”) is the way to have that power not applied to our situation. And, even in our imperfection and weakness, God will never abandon His children.

Don’t just take time to remember and reflect on Christ today, this is a daily activity.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Story Structure is Showing in “The Name of the Doctor”


Doctor Who’s structure is showing again.

Not that that is a bad thing, or that good stories hide their innards, but it can be concerning for a show that is nothing if not innovative and creative.

Shortly after the re-launch a pattern began to emerge that held fairly steady for the first three years the show ran. In that case the worrisome trend was that a show that could go anywhere in time and space chose to spend 80% of its time on earth in the current day, and when it did go somewhere it tended to be the same places over and over again. (In the chart below, the only episodes that truly went to “another time and another place” are highlighted in green.)


Since Moffat has taken over the show, things have changed. None of his seasons have fallen into a predictable pattern like earlier ones, but the predictability is there. Namely, a threat is set up, built up, and then, just when no one can image how the Doctor is going to escape inevitable death… we get tricked.

Season five/thirty one saw cracks in time that were leading to the destruction of the universe. How could the Doctor stop it? He couldn’t, but inexplicably he just rebooted the universe.

Season six/Thirty two had the Doctor killed at the start, and then had us salivating as to how he could change that timeline. He couldn’t, but it was all a deceit in the end, used by the Doctor to accomplish his purposes.

Those were all a bit annoying but the stories told along the way and the style with which they were delivered made up for it. In the latest story, “The Name of the Doctor” we believed we were going to see the resolution to a couple of big set-ups. Who is Clara? And what will happen when the Doctor’s name is revealed? In typical fashion, we get the carpet pulled out from under us. It could be that more answers are coming in the 50th Anniversary show in November but we are learning not to expect too much.

I, for one, will be happy to put up with it all if the writing gets better and the ideas get imaginative again.


Friday, May 24, 2013

The Parable of the Zoo Keeper

Quint was a zoo keeper for the Capitol City Zoo. He was the master keeper of the big cats. He had worked his way up through the ranks, first cleaning out general areas in High School, then apprenticing under the baboon keeper before going to college. With his degree in Biology he had returned and gotten a post as the junior keeper for the Bobcats until the main keeper post for the Lions opened up. He was a natural and it wasn’t long before the director had promoted him over the whole building. It was one of the most popular in the Zoo, and Quint loved his job.

The problem was that, not long after assuming this important position, things began to unravel. Some of the cats began to get sick, and one of the Ocelots even died. Sure, it was the oldest cat in the collection, but it should have had several good years left. For the first time in his career, Quint couldn’t just rely on his instincts and natural talents. He needed to make more of an effort and expand his knowledge.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Once Upon a Time" Season 1

“Once Upon a Time” is the direct descendant of “Lost.” It is inspired by, structured after, written like, and aimed at the void created by that shows absence. Both series dealt with important issues of life like faith, truth, and right vs. wrong—good vs. evil. Whereas “Lost” involved people from our reality trapped on an unexplainable island—with flashbacks to the real world filling out characters’ back stories—“Once Upon a Time” takes place in a reality like ours, but populated by people ripped out of a fairy-tale land. The flashbacks to their former lives help us understand them better, and the story-arch of the season involves their rescue from the evil curse that brought them to this mundane world.

The writing and acting are good, the art direction and special effects are done on the cheap. However, the thing that makes this show so compelling is the way that it illustrates true faith. Faith not done in the Postmodern way seen so often today that says, “whatever one believes, if believed earnestly, will be true,” but rather a faith that is needed to see reality. The characters’ reality in this show is that they are from another world and the current lives they live are a lie, are unfulfilled, and even a curse. That curse renders them incapable of seeing the truth, unless they chose to believe. In one crucial scene near the end of season one, the man that used to be Pinocchio is trying to convince the heroine of the truth. It should be simple for him to do so because he is truly turning back into a puppet. He tries to show her his leg, which is now completely wooden. She can’t see it.

August: You don't see it, do you?
Emma: See what?
August: Your denial is more powerful than I thought. It's preventing you from seeing the truth!
Emma: Okay, one of us is losing it here and it's not me.
August: You don't want to believe. After everything you've seen, why can't you just do it?!
Emma: Why it so important to you that I do?
August: Because our town, everyone, needs you!
Emma: I don't want them to need me!
August: Well that's too bad, because we all do.

Later on, once she does believe, everything literally becomes clear. This is the way true faith works. It takes faith to see reality. Unfortunately, cheap imitations are abundant. And the problem with false faith is that it can also change the way people see the world. The key is to not have simple, blind faith. As in “Once Upon a Time” the ability to see reality holds up to the test. It isn’t just a belief in a story, but an awakening to the deeper reality conveyed in the story.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Suffering and Hard Work on Mission (2 Timothy 2:3-7)

In this passage Paul instructs Timothy to suffer, and then to consider what he (Paul) is saying. That is because Paul uses three mental pictures to clarify what he means by suffering.

Timothy is to suffer the way a soldier would. Paul says the soldier gives up things in life in order to please the one who enlisted him. You do not waste effort and energy in activities that do not help you accomplish your mission.

Timothy is to suffer the way an athlete would. This applies to the way that an athlete follows the rules and guidelines imposed by the contest. You do not engage in activities that would render all your efforts worthless.

Finally, Timothy is to suffer the way a farmer would. Farming is tough, hard work. However, if the farmer does not do the work well, then his livelihood and that of the people depending on him would be in danger.

Paul asks Timothy to carefully consider these instructions. This is something people don’t always do. The assumption of many is that these pictures are all there to highlight the reward. That this is one of the passages (and there are such passages) justifying professional ministry work. Here this is not the case. The theme in this passage is suffering. Not exactly persecution suffering, but that other kind of suffering that we don’t like to talk about as much. Hard work.

Ministry is a difficult, demanding, thankless task. If you are engaged in missional living (professional or otherwise) and you haven’t realized that fact, you probably aren’t doing it right.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sci-Fi Television Lists

I recently encountered an interesting list of the top 50 Science Fiction themed TV shows of all time at IGN. It is not a new list, but it got me to thinking about what my favorite ones would be—and how limited my TV viewing has been in this, one of my favorite genres. Some of the shows would fit into a “guilty pleasure” or “fond memories of childhood list.” Shows mostly from the seventies and eighties like: “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Battle of the Planets,” “Buck Rodgers,” “V,” and "Robotech." There are some truly great shows here too, though. So, here are two lists of 15. The top 15 I have to seek out, and my 15 Favorite Sci-Fi Shows so far:

Need to See:

“The Prisoner”

“Star Trek: The Animated Series”

“Red Dwarf”

“Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr.”

“Babylon 5”

“Star Trek: Voyager”

“Stargate SG1”

“Roswell”

“Farscape”

“Futurama”

“The Lone Gunmen”

“Star Trek: Enterprise”

“Battlestar Galactica (2004)”

“Eureka”

“Torchwood”

Top 15

15. “The Invaders” (1967-68)

I have vivid memories of the few episodes I saw as a kid. The idea of an infiltration going unnoticed, and the desperation of a man trying to reveal the conspiracy is rich and has been tapped often since. The “give-away” here of the unbendable pinkies was a fun idea.

14. “The Wild, Wild West” (1965-69)

Goes beyond childhood fond memory as it still works for me today. Almost steam-punk.

13. “The Outer Limits” (1963-65)

Not quite as good as number 3 on my list, but the same basic show.

12. “Quantum Leap” (1989-93)

Sometimes a bit too melodramatic, and more about people than concepts than most Sci-fi. Still one of the best series of television ever.

11. “Millennium” (1996-99)

The X Files gone even darker and more foreboding. Not for the faint of heart. Boasting on of my single favorite episodes of television ever produced.

10. “Fringe” (2008-13)

Still working through this one, but the best true offspring of a show like The X Files.

9. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-99)

Also working through this one currently. For Trek, it is unusually concerned with conflict, politics, and religion.

8. “Star Trek” (1966-69)

One of the most influential TV shows, science fiction concepts, and religions (let’s face it, it is) of our age.

7. “Life on Mars” (2006-7) Season 1 Season 2

One of the more original TV concepts ever.

6. “Firefly” (2002)

Science Fiction meets Western with class and great writing.

5. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-94)

Still my favorite of the Treks. (But I do need to see more.)

4. “Lost” (2004-10)

Some felt that it lost its way towards the end, but I love the mystery.

3. “The Twilight Zone” (1959-64)

The best example of Science Fiction used to sneak real messages into the cultural conversation.

2. “The X Files” (1993-2002)

This is where this genre began to explore and be open to the unexplainable as an acceptable topic to explore.

1. “Doctor Who” (1963-current)

It’s been around forever (and enough to have some examples of the worst of Science Fiction television as well) and has a concept broad enough to explore anything the writers feel like tackling.

Friday, May 17, 2013

"Star Trek: Into Darkness" (2013) A Spoilery Review

The latest Trek film from Abrams and Co. is all it was supposed to be: exciting, visually stunning, moving, creative, and entertaining. It continues the trend in “new” Trek of exciting adventure along with the traditional Trek idea of delivering a serious message. Instead of just another sequel, reboot or remake, the filmmakers have perhaps invented a new category of film: the riff. Instead of retelling the second story from the first sequence of films, they took its themes, characters, and a few of its plot points and remixed it all into something new. A bit like cinematic jazz.

“I have no idea what I'm supposed to do! I only know what I CAN do!”

The theme this time around is Kirk’s continued journey towards becoming the great leader we all know him to be, in the context of a society threatened by terrorism. The missing ingredient that he has to obtain is the ability to distinguish between the right and wrong decisions of command; something that is far, far more intricate than simply seeing good and bad.

We open in the midst of an exploration mission of the Enterprise, a test run for the five year journey that the original series entailed. As Kirk is prone to do, they are in the midst of testing the limits of the Prime Directive. It seems that the planet they are observing is about to be destroyed by a volcano. Rather than sit by and watch that happen (as any objective, scientific observer would do) Kirk has decided to do good and save the planet and its primitive inhabitants. In doing that he has placed his first officer, Spock, in mortal danger. The “correct” thing to do according to Star Fleet directives would be to let Spock die. Kirk decides to risk influencing the primitive culture and save Spock, inspiring a new religion in the process.

Back on Earth, he is stripped of his command for his actions. At precisely that moment, an act of terrorism is triggered against Star Fleet leading to much of the command structure being destroyed. Kirk quickly figures out where the terrorist is hidden and requests permission to do good again—to take out the threat against Earth.

Kirk’s problem is that, for all his smarts, he is too dumb to embrace humility. He thinks he can solve any problem. He fails to consider that he may not have the whole story, or that an antagonist could be smarter than him, could be playing him. Everyone around him sees the dangers he is blind to, but he won’t hear any council.

He even plays the “the enemy of my enemy” card, to his detriment. In this case the enemy is a wonderful parallel of Kirk. They share many of the same motivations. Every bad thing that happens in this film seems to be born out of the motivation to save loved ones, to do good. Again and again Kirk tries to be the hero, only to place his crew—his family—in danger.

Ultimately this is something Kirk does learn, that he lacks the ethical foundation to distinguish between good and right. It comes a bit too late, however, as we get the inevitable remix of the most famous scene in Trek history. The differences are there, though, and in this case the switch is: (a) good, because the way it is done helps our most important bit of character development along in a stronger way than the original version did, but (b) bad too, because we never imagine that the film will commit to the moment the way “Wrath of Kahn did. In fact, if we have been watching the film closely at all we know that it won’t. The foreshadowing is so forced it feels out of place. You can’t fault the film, though. Audiences could not handle a death of that magnitude anymore. They couldn’t really even back in the 80s, and “Search for Spock” revealed.

Overall “Into Darkness” is great. One of the better, if not the best, Trek yet.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

No Really, Something Worth Fearing

Ananias sipped his cappuccino and sat down with his laptop to check Facebook. He scrolled down the wall through posts from his friends. Colleagues from the tanning shop, classmates from the synagogue, distant family. He actually only had a few people’s posts tagged to show up on his wall, mostly others who were “of the way.” The times were too charged and dialogue a little too heated for his taste otherwise.

He had even considered closing his account down. Why have it? He hardly ever posted. Even some of the way had become a little overbearing for his taste. The chance of being forced to stand up for one’s beliefs before the Emperor Cult was a real risk that seemed to be made light of with all the postings demanding that one “like” or “share” to demonstrate one’s sincerity. Jesus had warned against denying Him before men; but Facebook didn’t seem to be what He had been talking about.

With the persecution against the way from Saul, many of those who had been actively “demonstrating” their commitment to Christ with silly “likes” and social media posturing were closing down their accounts or getting off the web altogether. Forget “likes” and “Shares.” Ananias knew that his life of open faith in the city was just as damning if not more so than a designation on his internet presence.

“Oh no. What is this?”

A news item was peppering a lot of postings this morning. It seemed that Saul had obtained papers from the synagogue allowing him to arrest more believers. And it seemed he was headed to Damascus. Ananias looked around the coffee shop nervously.

One of Ananias’s more dramatic Facebook contacts—one of those that had lately clogged the wall up with “Like if you love Jesus” or “Share if you won’t deny Him” postings—had a new ax to grind. This time it involved Enemy Number One of the Way, Saul himself.

“I don’t care what his motivations are! I don’t want to know how someone could be moved to do this to other people, simply for the way they interpret Scripture and choose to believe. I don’t need to understand him! He should be captured and imprisoned himself!”

Ananias’s initial response was to concur. He had heard the stories of the terrible things Saul had done. And now he was headed this way! Fear and loathing were easy and natural responses.

Then it was as if a voice spoke in his ear. “I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Did Jesus really mean that? Ananias did not want to understand Saul. He wanted to hate him.

[Ping]

An IM popped up at the bottom of the screen. Ananias looked down to see who it was.

“What?” Ananias looked around. The IM said that it was from the Lord. He didn’t recall friending Him, not on Facebook that is.

[Ananias]

Ananias typed.

[Here I am, Lord]

[Get up and go to the street called straight and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.]

What? Go help Saul? Ananias vacillated. Could this be some joke, or worse, a trick? It all seemed too crazy to be true. The house of a Judas? Really?

[Lord, I have heard from many of this man. He has done a lot of harm to your saints in Jerusalem. And now he is here to capture all the people who call on your name.]

[Ananias, go. For he is a chosen instrument of mine. He will bear my name before nations, kings and the sons of Israel, and I will show him how much he will have to suffer for my name’s sake.]

Ananias thought for a moment. He thought about all those posts demanding “likes” and “shares.” How easy that sort of belief had been; laughable as it was. He drank his cappuccino. He looked back at the screen.

[OK, Lord.]

Ananias gathered his stuff together preparing to leave. He typed “Straight Street” into Google Maps. Then, before he closed his laptop, he deleted his Facebook account.

Title Reference 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

“Iron Man 3” (2013) Mini-Review

It seems strange to me that I can come out of these blockbusters that would have seemed miraculous 30 years ago with the thought that it was a nice “minor” effort. However, by today’s standards the dazzling display of an “Iron Man 3” is almost routine. It is crazy how fast we adjust our expectations. Looking back on “Lord of the Rings” or “Spiderman” today, one can really see the seams. What really seems to disappoint most of all is that we come out of a popcorn movie and are disappointed that there wasn’t a lot of “message.” It can’t be faulted for that. Blockbusters are supposed to be brainless entertainment.

But if you really think about it, “Iron Man 3” does have a message by design. It is not just rhetoric that the Mandarin speaks about fortune cookies. Hello, and empty shell metaphor in a movie about a super-suit? Add to that the fact that our hero is traumatized and afraid after his adventure with super humans and aliens, and the idea that this broken, limited, reluctant hero is faced with fighting bad guys who are trying to make people truly super-powered… There is some commentary here about our American idea of heroism that is accompanied by swagger and conceit. By the end of the film Tony Sparks has learned to simply be the man that he is and we are left wondering if he will really be back, despite what the credits imply.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Doctor Who "Nightmare in Silver"

This seventh (or 33rd) season of Who has been disappointing for people who believe we are essentially the sum of our actions. The Eleventh Doctor as portrayed by Matt Smith is one of the most entertaining personalities of the eleven, but his adventures this season, and especially this second half of the season have been very disappointing. Moffat has created some of the most interesting situations and monsters the series has ever presented in the past, but this year has lacked a lot. And Neil Gaiman’s first story effort for Who was one of the best stories. This one proved quite blasé.

It could be chalked up to the antagonist. The Cybermen have always been a bit disappointing. This episode promised to make them scary again, but when have they ever really been scary? It is hard enough to create true tension for a character like the Doctor, since we know he must win in the end, but this current run has been so heavy on the convenient solutions one fails to find anything truly scary.

That being said, there was an interesting twist this time around. When your hero challenges the enemy to a contest (such as chess) to determine the fate of the universe, you just know that the bad guy is going to cheat. It was nice to instead see the good guy truly grasp the nature of the game and do what was needed to save the day.

Next week is the episode that will presumably save the season. I am sad to say that I am not holding my breath.



Monday, May 13, 2013

True Discipleship (2 Timothy 2:1,2)

For years and generations believers have been turning Christianity into a form of Gnosticism. In part that has been because the teaching that has predominated the church has been that it is WHAT you know that saves you. Faith has been reduced to an intellectual assertion, and growth in faith has really been just accumulation of knowledge. Maybe it all came out of the good intentions of Sunday School, or an academic understanding of discipleship. In any case it was never intended.

When Jesus commissioned His followers is was to practice discipleship the way He had modeled it. His was never teaching for knowledge, but to change lives. He taught not just information, but a new way of living—obedience to the Lordship of God in our lives. His Great Commission was not just to “make” disciples as in some membership drive, but rather to teach followers how to obey what Jesus taught. We pass on a way of living… not a list of does and don’ts but a faith that influences action.

Here Paul elaborates on another aspect of discipleship. It is generational. He modeled and taught Timothy who, as a part of what he had modeled, will pass it on to others. And, if he does it right, they will pass it on down the line. True discipleship is reproductive. We don’t assemble a bunch of followers or a flock unto ourselves. We inspire others the way we were inspired—in a way that will be contagious and will carry on.

Jesus commanded us to make disciples. Based on this passage, we have not accomplished that task until the people we have introduced to Christ and His way of life have introduced Him and it to others as well. Evangelism won’t cut it. Bible Study won’t cut it. Church the way we practice it today won’t cut it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"The Crimson Horror" and More...

The latest episode of Who was a treat. Plot-wise it is a simple, ultimately throw-away concept, but the way it was told! The writing, the directing, the creative devices used are all wonderfully done. Where it lacks in cutting edge concepts or herd science fiction it makes up for in humor. This is the best trip to Victorian England for the Doctor since 1977’s “The Talons of Weng Chiang.” That one has a creepier and more interesting villain, but this one comes pretty close in the atmosphere and fun departments.

Of course, where some people look back at that old adventure and are offended by racial insensitivity; others will look at this episode and take offense at the way religious people and movements are portrayed. The question is: should they be?

In this latest episode the horror comes in the form of a revivalist branch of—well it is never called Christianity, but the assumption is there. It is nothing like true, Biblical Christianity of course so people should not be oversensitive and take offense. Or maybe that is exactly why it could rub believing viewers the wrong way. But—wait a minute—is it a fair portrayal after all.

Even though it is not Christianity or anything resembling the Biblical faith, it is a pretty spot-on representation of an outsiders understanding of what a lot of churches do. The revival in “The Crimson Horror” is all about finding the best people, washing them in the blood, and preserving them safely away from “the world” awaiting the apocalypse. In this case it is all a bit too literal; people are truly dipped into a red substance and preserved in giant jars. However, it is a bit too close to the approach of some churches.

To some Christianity is really all about finding the “good” people and isolating them in the “safe” community of like-minded and correct-behaved worthy people set apart to judge the world and its sins. This is an erroneous understanding of what Jesus was preaching, but only because that is what too much of Christianity has become.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Oz the Great and Powerful" (2013)

The 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” is arguably one of the most influential, beloved, and greatest films in the history of cinema; so the following thoughts need to be kept in context. That being said, Sam Raimi’s trip into the Land of Oz is a very enjoyable one. The visuals are beautiful. The concepts imaginative. The tie-ins to the original film and the inspiring story are well thought out. The homages are respectful and avoid stepping on MGM’s toes. I would not mind revisiting this vision in further films.

There are some interesting ideas here as well. Maybe not completely insightful, and some may even see some things here as an attack on faith, but that too is a problem some have with the original film.

Here we get to see the origins of the Wizard of Oz, the man. He is a figure foretold—a prophesy fulfilled if you will. Only, much in the same way the prophecies of Scripture play out, the expectations and reality don’t match up exactly. The people of Oz were waiting for a supernatural being to free them from the evil of the witches. Instead they get an ordinary, but resourceful man. In Scripture, the Jews were waiting for a powerful military genius to free them from Roman oppression. Instead they got a Messiah that was more concerned with the universal spiritual condition of humanity and less with regional politics.

In both cases we get a religion established with a sacrificial death. In Oz that is an elaborate con designed to trick the evil power into thinking it is defeated. That is where either (1) the parallels between Oz and Christianity break down or (2) you take offense. For some, faith is less about what you believe and more about the effects that belief has on the believer. A lie is just as good as the truth in that scenario. For a Christian, the faith we hold is meaningless unless it is true. It isn’t just a matter of improving life; it is an understanding of reality that determines every aspect of the way we live our lives. Or that is what it is supposed to be. For a lot of Christians, their faith is quite a lot like the story Oz is offering.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"The Shining" (1980)

Most filmmakers are story-tellers but not all. Some are poets. Others, like Stanley Kubrick, delved into film as abstract art. A hallmark of this modern movement is that the artist relies on the observer to give the work meaning. In some cases, like Elliot or other modern poets, the artist has a true intention hidden amongst all the references and allusions. It is up to an informed and observant audience to arrive at the intended meeting, the authorial intent. In other cases—and I am convinced Kubrick falls into this category with some of his films—there is no precise intent.

In some of his films there is a pretty strong “Emperor’s New Clothes” element. People are too scared of coming across as stupid to admit that elements of “2001” have no meaning. It is part beautiful visuals, plus a gut feeling of an idea, plus extra dressing to keep people guessing.

In “The Shining” there seems to be an even stronger example of this going on. The story is very simple. A family moves to a hotel for the off-season and the dad losses his marbles. However, the film has more going on than just this story. The decent into madness is accompanied by a highly subjective perspective. We see the events through the eyes of people losing touch with reality. Every scene and every shot is called into question. We truly cannot trust anything we are seeing.

Based on my above thesis, I do not think there is much more going on here; not more than meets the eye anyway. Other interpreters of this film embrace Kubrick’s let-the-viewer-supply-the-meaning approach and go to some comical extremes. (For more on their misguided approach to interpreting see my post here.) But there are two take-aways here: (1) isolation and disconnection is bad for us as communal beings, and (2) subjectivity makes isolated interpretation of reality problematic.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Examples, Good and Bad (2 Timothy 1:15-18)

These four little verses in 2 Timothy are great. Sometimes it seems like these little interludes are out of place in scripture. They are like the little bits of detritus that got attached to all the teaching God was imparting through inspiration; the inconsequential parts.

Rather than ignore them, some try to squeeze out the hidden codes, the secret meanings that show these verses are still relevant to us today some two millennia later. How do Phygelus, Hermogenes, and Onesiphorus exemplify the way believers should (or should not) live and minister today? That may not be a bad idea, but I like to take a different approach.

This is a wholly recognizable experience of the life of someone working in church life. It is good to see Paul come across as a normal human being with feelings and struggles and not some super confident hero of the faith. Here he has suffered greatly and been imprisoned for his faith; and some believers have abandoned him in his hardship.

We can’t be too sure of the details, but you have to imagine that Paul had people who never really liked him. Once he was imprisoned I am sure there were those who used that opportunity to advance their own views, knock him down a bit, or justify the bad things they had been thinking and saying about Paul all along. We see this sort of thing today amongst people in churches, and not always between people whom we would consider worldly or “weak” believers. Sometimes good men and women in leadership disagree with each other in petty ways.

Here we are safe in saying that a man like Onesiphorus is the better example, of course. He provides a great service in sticking by, encouraging, and not being ashamed of Paul. Civility and love are approaches in life that can never be bad ideas. Even when you think someone is taking a bad approach it might be best to let someone else be their judge. It seems to me there may be some other passages about that very idea…

Saturday, May 4, 2013

1980s in Film (The Whole Decade)

Here is an initial attempt at ordering the best movies from the eighties, top 35 in ascending order:

35. “Ghostbusters” (1984) Ivan Reitman

34. “The Untouchables” (1987)Brian De Palma

33. “Silverado” (1985) Lawrence Kasdan

32. “The Great Muppet Caper” (1981) Jim Henson

31. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) Nicholas Meyer

30. “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986) John Carpenter

29. “Karate Kid” (1984) John G. Avildsen

28. “Lost Boys” (1987) Joel Schumacher

27. “Innerspace” (1987) Joe Dante

26. “Raising Arizona” (1987) The Coen Brothers

25. “Die unendliche Geschichte” (1984) Wolfgang Peterson

24. “Wargames” (1983)John Badham

23. “Labyrinth” (1986) Jim Henson

22. “The Great Mouse Detective” (1986) Clements & Musker

21. “Die Hard” (1988) John McTiernan

20. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) Rob Reiner

19. “Fright Night” (1985) Tom Holland

18. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984) Steven Spielberg

17. “A Christmas Story” (1983) Bob Clark

16. “Witness” (1985) Peter Weir

15. “Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985) Barry Levinson

14. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) Steven Spielberg

13. “Blade Runner” (1982) Ridley Scott

12. “Return of the Jedi” (1983) Richard Marquand

11. “The Princess Bride” (1987) Rob Reiner

10. “A Christmas Carol” (1984) Clive Donner

9. “Back to the Future” (1985) Robert Zemeckis

8. “Batman” (1989) Tim Burton

7. “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) Lawrence Kasdan

6. “Dead Poets Society” (1989) Peter Weir

5. “The Mission” (1986) Roland Joffe

4. “Anne of Green Gables” (1985) Kevin Sulivan (with the sequel)

3. “Amadeus” (1984) Milos Forman

2. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) Steven Spielberg

1. “Chariots of Fire” (1981) Hugh Hudson

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Journey to the Center of the TARDIS"

The frustration continues this season. There is some very minor development in the whole Clara Mystery, which has clearly become the only story that the producers are telling this half of the season, but that rug is pulled out from under us when…

We get yet ANOTHER one of those stupid the-story-you-just-watched-never-happened thanks to the very laziest of deus ex machina moments delivered via the now clichéd time travel paradox.

The classic Who fans were teased in by the prospect of being able to see a little more of the interior of the Tardis, but that ends up being a letdown as well when we get a very different classic Who experience. Running down a bunch of similar-looking corridors.

Harrumph.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chicago-Houston Comparison Flaws

A few weeks ago there was another of those gun-control memes going around. It showed a statistical comparison between Houston and Chicago. I am really not sure if it is a pro-gun meme, or a pro-gun-control meme. Most of the people who posted it are pro-gun types, making one assume that it is also in favor of guns. However, it simply isn’t. Then again, most of the people who are rabidly supporting gun rights are not what you would call reason-driven.

The problem with this chart is that it is more a joke than anything else. It takes two cities who are slightly similar in demographics. (It claims that they are highly similar, but the racial breakdowns are very different.) Then it has a set-up. It begins to show that Chicago, which does not have as many gun owners or stores, has a higher murder rate. The punch-line comes when the chart concludes that cold weather causes more murders.

It is a classic example of statistics being used to support conclusions that are coincidental rather than causal.

The truth is that Chicago and Houston are two very complex cultural centers. There are far too many factors in these cities to simply tie violence into a single factor like gun ownership—or weather. The solution to a complex issue like violence in society is never as simple as increasing the amount of guns in society. America’s huge problem with violence is going to take fundamental changes in the culture.

It isn’t even as simple as increasing gun control either. Comparable cities in European countries where gun control is much higher are unquestionably safer places to be. That is more due to the culture and its aversion to violence than any gun control laws. In fact those laws are more a reflection of the same cultural factors that also cause violence and violent crime to be a fraction of what it is anywhere in the USA.
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