Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Apocalypto" (2006)

The persistent myth of “the noble savage” is on full display in Gibson’s “Apocalypto.” The film is particularly effective at presenting an ideal, uncorrupted humanity in contrast to the corrupting influence of civilization. It is a silly, romantic dream. However, I am almost willing to tolerate it because that corrupting civilization is a reality of which we constantly need reminding.

The film presents an idyllic Mayan village on the eve of its destruction from more advanced, savage Mayans intent on feeding their sacrificial system. Once the hostages are brought to the Mayan city where the sacrifices are to occur, we witness a truly apocalyptic, nightmare scenario. This city is clearly more advanced in every way, but it is also clearly somewhere we would never want to live. In spite of its technology and science, the civilization is dying from illnesses and drought. The masses are being kept happy and hopeful through a religious institution requiring overwhelming amounts of sacrifice. (This aspect seems to reflect true history, although I always thought it was the Aztec cities that flowed with human blood from sacrifice.)

It is clear that the leaders of this civilization are manipulating and controlling the masses with their false religion. They know enough of astronomy to make the people think that an eclipse is a sign of appeasement from the gods, but we the viewers know that things will not get better. Especially when the ultimate reveal comes at the climax of the action. (Eliciting a laugh at my viewing of the film.)

As with all Mel Gibson films—which are really quite well-made and thought provoking—this film is over-the-top graphically violent.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Fulmination

(Poetry Scales 7)
see Proverbs 16

Don’t kid yourself.
Your petty, dogmatic hatred against people
Is nothing like Jesus and
His righteous anger against steeples.

God didn’t sanctify your sin
He justified your person,
Not your opinions, politics, shade of skin,
Language, culture, country, or sermons.

“He was always so quiet, kept to himself.”
Yet a thunderous storm brewed inside his head.
He didn’t go postal, but found a likeminded crowd,
Formed an institution and erected a cross instead.

Building a world that is moral in your own eyes
While cursing your ignored sin reflected in others’
Is no campaign against what is wrong in the world,
Just a contribution to the sum of all evil.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mark Outline Part 3 (11-13)

B. Jesus Confronts Jerusalem & the Religious Elite: (Mark 11-13) 
     1. The Triumphal Entry of the King     11:1-11 
     2. The Temple Cleansing Cursing the Barren Fig Tree     11:12-14 
               Cleaning the Barren Temple     11:15-18 
               Results of the Curse/ True Religion     11:19-26 
               Questioning Messianic Authority     11:27-33
     3. The Parable of the Vineyard     12:1-12
     4. The Testing of Jesus by the Religious Elite
               Taxes     12:13-17 
               Marriage     12:18-27
               Law     12:28-34 
     5. Jesus Teaching in the Temple
               The Divinity of the Messiah     12:35-37 
               Beware the Religious Professionals!     12:38-40 
               True Giving     12:41-44 
     6. Jesus’ Teaching about the End     13:1-37

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Escritoire

(Poetry Scales 6)

Art sat at his desk starring at the page
askew on blotter; pen cradled in hand,
deadline looming fast.
Struggle as he may he couldn’t resist
the lull of the void, the white of the blank,
a yaw of expanse.
An hour or so into his work (or
inactivity) he began to feel
a pull… a tug.

Flailing for a grip on handles of drawers,
tiny worthless nobs, Art grasped and he clawed
but soon realized that all was in vain.
A moment in time unfolded in awe,
an hour or so contained in a beat
with full clarity of what he could’ve scrawled.
That was not to be.
Inevitable, head-first, and sudden
he fell… and snap!

The Escritoire burped… and grinned.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Luke Skywalker (Star Wars Character Thoughts)

More Thoughts: Intro, C3PO, R2D2, Qui-Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin, Padme, Han, Chewy, The Emperor, Yoda, Vader, Luke

It is a common enough experience in the American Church, behind the scenes where most church goers never look: the political maneuvering, the power plays, the lives impacted and even destroyed. It may be that not every church experiences it, but most are not immune. A wise minister once told me. “A lot of people attend church to have somewhere in there life where they have a say. At work their boss tells them what to do, at home their spouse tells them what to do, in church—at least in congregational churches—they get to tell someone what to do.” All it takes is an influential person with a desire to control things and you have a recipe for disaster, at least from a Kingdom of God perspective. Because all you need is someone willing to play dirty in a place where most would never think of doing so, and you have instant power that remains uncontested.

How do you deal with such a situation? Is it ever OK to “fight fire with fire?” Do you need to engage in worldly things like politics and behind-the-scenes-dirty-dealing for the cause of good?

Star Wars is hardly the best place to look for answers, but the fact is that this is exactly the question set-up and dealt with in the Star Wars saga. The Emperor and Vader established power for themselves through evil and dark means, and the Jedis (those very few left after the slaughter of “Revenge of the Sith”) along with the Rebellion are fighting to reestablish goodness in the Galaxy. The problem is that the Emperor’s means (fighting, politics, and trickery) are in themselves wrong and to use those means against him will only further his cause. This is the quandary that Yoda and Ben realize and for which they prepare Luke to face.

The only way to defeat the Emperor’s evil is through self-sacrifice.

Luke turns himself into Vader prepared to die for his friends. He is there to buy them time to set their trap. But the Emperor almost beats him by using his emotions and sense of justice to turn him to the Emperor’s side. If that weren’t enough, the Emperor knows about the Rebellion’s plan because he deals in trickery, and has laid an even better trap for the Rebellion’s forces. It is only Luke’s true self-sacrifice that manages to break through his father’s deceived motivations and awaken him from the delusions under which he was operating. It goes against everything one would expect, but sacrificial love wins the day.

And this counterintuitive truth is the answer to the dilemma Christians, churches, and church leadership face when the world infringes and tries to infiltrate. Don’t fight fire with fire. Don’t out world the world. Self-sacrificial love is always to approach to take. Because in the end, we are not fighting our own battles nor protecting our own interests.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dalliance

(Poetry Scales 5)

I don’t want to flirt
with incognito death
however she is
     made-up or how well she’s dressed
don’t want to arrive
     without having reached the end
the destination
without starting the race
paint this circumstance
     as some goal or end vision
as if sheer dumb chance
     were my guiding complusion

I don’t want to drift
just manage to exist
I don’t want to stall
     inert watching life spin past
I don’t want to fall
     under a spell while it’s cast
caught in a stupor
sad preoccupation
chasing a fable
     illusion bred with rumor
chasing my tail or
     some queue filing towards nowhere

Monday, April 21, 2014

What Do You Want Me To Do for You? (Mark 10:46-52)

This story seems straight forward enough. Just another example of Jesus demonstrating His power. Just another case of Jesus healing someone; another blind man’s sight restored. Another demonstration of faith—trust—making someone whole. (This is the fourth story where someone’s faith has led to their wholeness. See here and here)

However, it must not be that plainly visible for all.

A lot of people “of faith” read this story and others like it in a very different light. They see God as some sort of cosmic vending machine where faith is a magical currency. If your faith is strong enough—if it is a valid form of faith/currency—then you will receive whatever you need. Health, wealth and the American dream. What do you want me to do for you? To this form of Christian, Jesus is there to meet their needs, to fulfill their dreams, to give them their best life now. It is all about them.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus does ask Bartimaeus the question, but it is not something He asks awaiting an order. In the last question Jesus asked the very same question, word for word, of James and John. In that case He did not fulfill their wish, but taught them what they really needed, and how they were asking for the wrong thing. Here, Bartimaeus asks for something he really does need: vision.

Bartimaeus was not healed to fulfill his dreams, to resume the life he could have had had he only been able to see. He was saved to a life he never knew was possible. He was saved to fulfill he purpose. He truly recovered his sight. In his new enlightened life he follows Jesus. He receives more than physical sight, he now sees what is truly important. It is not about him, but about Jesus.

What questions are we asking of people, if any? Too many Christians go through life knowing exactly what everyone needs, and telling them exactly how they should live their lives. At our best moments, we impart the best we have to offer in the form of four oversimplified selling points. The problem is, we don’t know the people we are “helping.” We don’t know the individual needs people are feeling that the real Gospel could address. We don’t bother to find people who are looking, we dump a simplified—often falsified—version of Jesus’ story on everyone. Maybe we ought to start our efforts to help people—to share our wonderful news—with a question or two.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Passion and the Power (Mark 10:32-45)

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

With Jesus’ third passion prediction, we get another teaching opportunity. This time around, the prediction is noteworthy because it is highly detailed; Jesus knows what is coming and not simply in generalities. However, it is also interesting to see that this time it inspires fear and astonishment in His hearers and not simply confusion.

Whatever they think of these increasingly detailed predictions of Jesus’ death, the disciples are still gearing up for their positions in the new order of things. James and John attract particular anger from the others by asking for the two most influential and powerful positions in the new kingdom. Jesus sees this dangerous attitude as an opportunity to teach.

In the Kingdom of God, leadership is not about power. Jesus phrases His teaching in a way that could be read a couple of ways. When He says that those who desire “greatness” will be servants and even slaves, it could be stretched to read so that the desire for power will lead to a low position. However, what is really being taught here is that Kingdom leadership is something wholly other that worldly leadership. In the kingdom leadership is all about serving others. It is not at all about power, as power resides solely with God.

This is something with which Christian institutions struggle all the time. Ambition in the church and Christian organizations is a hard thing to gauge at times. We all fall victim to our worldly, cultural perspectives. What is usually clear to those who will see it is the fact that ambition to lead is something to be viewed skeptically. The best leaders are those who prove their worth when leadership is thrust upon them. They don’t pursue power but rather the opportunity to help others fulfill their potential, to succeed.

Unfortunately, we tend to persist in our understanding of leadership as power.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Cutural Conversation

I have yet to make it out to see “Noah.” It isn’t for lack of trying, however. I have been planning to see it with someone for 3 weeks now and we just can’t make our calendars match up. Some people I know think I have no business watching a movie like that, but for the life of me I can’t see why it isn’t actually my responsibility to go see it.

My highest purpose in life is to talk about God and make Him known. In a culture where God is not a popular topic of conversation—and faith in Him is even a taboo topic—I take any opportunity I can to jump into ongoing conversations involving anything remotely relating to the idea. So, if Hollywood makes a film adaptation of a Bible story or tell a story involving spirituality or faith, however poorly, I am going to talk about it.

And, while I’m at it, my slant is not going to be primarily about how bad the film was or how evil their take on it may be. The only people interested in that conversation are the haters and the self-appointed culture police. They think they already know all there is to know about God and I have no need nor interest engaging in that debate. I will seek out the curious, the interested people who—thanks to some secular film or book or TV show—are beginning to ask themselves questions they have never considered before.

Some would even go so far as to say it is a sin to support such filmmakers financially. To them I would say my individual ticket fee is not going to make much of a difference to a filmmaker, and any organized effort by any mass of people to have a greater impact through some boycott only increases curiosity—and profit—for such “entertainment.” And don’t the same people who criticize financially supporting such evils as movies tend to throw their money at companies or organizations that profit from gluttony, gossip, oppressing the poor, or other evils?

Truth be told, this is not an issue of entertainment. Most of the time these high drama or epic action movies tend to be unentertaining. They are either too preachy or too loosely adapted, or simply take themselves too seriously. But the point of seeing them is not a diversion. It is a part of a large, global cultural conversation and it is our responsibility as light in the world to take part.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Marvel Cinematic Universe So Far

In a mere eight years, the Marvel Comic Company has taken the characters and properties that they still own the movie rights to and produced something unlike anything cinema has ever seen. They didn’t just create another franchise. The intertwined a series of franchises into one cinematic world with no end in sight. Eight years and ten films, if one counts the instalment coming later this year “The Guardians of the Galaxy.” That film promises to blow the Marvel Cinematic Universe up into whole new levels of awesome, expanding things beyond superheroes into space opera. Hopefully they will pull it off.

Meanwhile, here is a personal ranking of the films they have released so far:

1. “The Avengers” (2012) Joss Whedon

The team-up film that no one thought they could pull off, and that every comic fan has always wanted to see.

2. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) The Russo Brothers

Great action AND it is also about something.

3. “Ironman” (2008) John Favreau

The film that made all of this possible, renewed Downey’s career, and made general audiences aware of a Marvel hero that wasn’t Spiderman or an X Man.

4. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) Joe Johnston

The period piece of the series. Also, Captain America is a boyscout superhero that really works as a concept.

5. “Ironman 3” (2013) Shane Black

Shane Black’s comic sensibilities really refine the comedic series of the bunch.

6. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) Alan Taylor

This is well-made nonsense.

7. “Ironman 2” (2010) John Favreau

This is where everything was teetering on the edge of failure. The story almost collapses under the weight of Marvel trying to set up further films.

8. “Thor” (2011) Kenneth Branague

Mixing a fantasy environment into the “real world” setting of the other films.

9. “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) Louis Leterrier

I’m not sure Marvel had a good handle on things at this point.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014)

The phenomenon Marvel has been creating in Hollywood the past decade or so has been a lot of fun. Even when the films are more flash than philosophy—more entertaining trivialities than idea-filled theater—the idea of creating a series of entertaining franchises that intertwine with each other and pulling it off successfully has been amazing to watch. Of course, part of the success lies in the fact that they do occasionally have something to say, like in the case of the first “Ironman” or the first “Captain America.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Faith is Alive and (Not) Well

People are not estranged from the concept of faith. In fact, in this postmodern era we live in they are more open to it than they were in the modern age. The problem is that faith, as it is understood today, has very little to do with truth or even with facts. People have abandoned the idea that truth can be known, and they have truly embraced the buffet approach to faith. Pick and choose what you want to believe, based on any old standard you like. Most likely based on how you feel.

People’s beliefs based on anything but fact range from the idea that we are causing a drastic climate change (that is apparently hiding out deep in the ocean since it isn’t appearing in any of the data) to the idea that life-saving vaccines are causing an illness that—while not identified until recently—has been around long before the vaccines they claim cause it. Whatever “works” for you is good for you to believe, and by “works” people don’t mean that your faith has to affect your life at all. It just has to be what makes you feel good.

People need to believe. Faith has been a part of human existence since humans have been around. The need to relate to truth beyond nature is a part of our reality. I would say it is how we have been made. We were made to relate to our Maker. But up until the past Century or so, that faith needed to make sense. It needed to prove itself true over time.

The worst part about all of this faith as feeling, about the way people treat beliefs as a matter of fashion choice—like selecting the type of underwear you wear—is that it makes having a real discussion about a faith that works nearly impossible. And that makes shining the light a challenging task.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Inheriting the Kingdom (Mark 10:17-31)

This is one of the more well-known and oft-repeated stories in Mark’s Gospel. And yet there are a couple lines that we in Western/American culture almost always overlook. The first is that which comes immediately following Jesus’ instruction to the young man that he sell everything he owns. Jesus says “come, follow me.” This is the same exact calling that Jesus issued his disciples when He called them. It is the same calling that all those who follow Jesus heed when they enter into a relationship with Him and join the Kingdom of God. (Not all who are called “Christians” have heard or obeyed this calling, but then again “asking Jesus into your heart” and accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord are not the same thing.)


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Rounding Out the Animated FIlms of the Teens So Far:

Here are the remaining animated films of the teens so far, ranked:

16. “Tangled” (2010) 
If “Frozen” is this generation’s “Beaty and the Beast”, this is their “Little Mermaid.”

17. “Rise of the Guardians” (2012) 
Problematic 

18. “Cars 2” (2011) 
I still don’t like the concept, but at least it is funny. more

19. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” (2013) 
“I’m gonna cut the cheese!”


20. “Puss n Boots” (2011) 
Taking the Shrek world to a whole new level of intricacy.

21. “Despicable Me” (2010) 
The better of the two “let’s empathize with bad guys” movies.

22. “Hotel Transylvania” (2012) 
OK, but so much potential, wasted. more

23. “Turbo” (2013) 

24. “Rio” (2011) 

25. “Megamind” (2010) 
The lesser. Mostly for lack of minions. more

26. “Arthur Christmas” (2011) 
I almost dislike this. more

27. “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (2012) 

28. “Shrek Forever After” (2010) 

29. “Gnomio and Juliet” (2011) 

30. “Dr. Suess’ The Lorax” (2012) 
Worst ever?

My Favorite Animated Films of the Decade (So Far)

Back in 2010 or so, I made a list of my all-time favorite animated films. Since then, some 40 more major animated features have come out. I haven’t seen 10 of those, amongst which are a few I really do want to see. (Winnie the Pooh, Le Magasin des Suicides, Epic, etc.) However, here are the top 15 ranked animated films of the decade so far:

15. “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” (2013) 
Not as great as I had hoped it would be, but entertaining none-the-less.

14. “Paranorman” (2012) 
Sort of messed-up, but kids stories lack a certain grimness these days.  more

13. “Despicable Me 2” (2013) 
I think the music pushed this sequel into greatness territory for me.

12. “Kung Fu Panda 2” (2011) 
Better than the original, especially in message.  more

Friday, April 4, 2014

"Frozen" (2013)

My second-favorite scene in “Frozen” is the one where Olaf is introduced and he sings his little song about summer. Olaf is more than just a comic-relief or a distraction for boys in this Disney Princess movie; he is a clear distillation of the struggle that all the characters in this film have, and the message that this story is trying to deliver. He holds a dangerous and false belief dear. Olaf thinks that summer and warmth must be the most wonderful things for a snowman to experience. He does so out of a misunderstanding about love. He thinks love is a feeling, much like the warmth of summer must be. Kristoff wants to tell the snowman that he is mistaken, and that his dream is a deadly one. But, it is a cute and even sweet lie, so Anna doesn’t want Olaf to know he is wrong.

This film is full of characters with fundamental misunderstandings about love and the world, and the film is so subtle and clever in the way that it sets up its lesson that I am not sure the target audience (kids and Disney loving adults) gets it. Oh sure, they see the clear and in-your-face message in the moment of its delivery in the film’s climax, but in the lead-up most of the audience is right there with the characters caught in the lies. And that is likely because Disney has long been the biggest proponent of those very misunderstandings.

Love is a feeling. Emotion will never betray you in the end. You need to fulfill your own desires and needs and not let others hold you back. If you follow your dreams, even by betraying or ignoring all the figures of wisdom or authority in your life, everything will work out fine.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars Character Thoughts)

More Thoughts: Intro, C3PO, R2D2, Qui-Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin, Padme, Han, Chewy, The Emperor, Yoda, Vader, Luke


The Emperor is the Big Bad in the Star Wars universe. He doesn’t really need much explanation, really. He exists to be the bad guy. His motivation is power accumulation and nothing else. And yet, in many ways that is the hardest of motivations to understand. Why does he want power? What is he wanting to do with the power? In Vader/Anakin Skywalker, we see a reason behind his quest for power, as ineffectual and flawed as it ends up being. One can only assume that Palpatine’s original motivations were somewhat similar, but by the time of the stories we are left with a man who’s every action and strategy exists to grasp more power—to no perceivable end.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cogitation

(Poetry Scales 4) 

Don’t think… feel.
Thought is an enemy
of successful biology.
Go with… Gut.
Faith seeking reason is
a dangerous theology.

Don’t concern yourself
with what is true,
what really works,
the right and wrong.
Truth is hard.
Ethics, choice, a hassle.
Your goal should be simply, “Feel good.”

Go simply
with the easy black, white
or more selective shades of grey.
Whatever you do
make sure you feel.
Don’t give in to cogitation.

Covetice,
All consuming desire.
Now THAT is a motivation.
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