Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Social-Media-Sphere

It is clear that humanity has not yet grasped this whole social media thing.

The world has truly gotten smaller. We are now able to stay in touch with everyone we have ever known; anyone we meet, regardless of where they now live. And while you may not have stopped to ask why you want to renew acquaintances you were overjoyed to let lapse since middle school, those are likely not the only “friends” you have since regretted but initiated simply because you could and it was so cool. AND as we are beginning to discover many knew and unforeseen potentials to this whole new sphere of existence, we have also stumbled upon bad applications—too many to count.

For instance, the “topper” or “eat-your-heart-out” post. Actually a sub-set of the whole phenomenon of the carefully-edited-perfect-life-online, this is the erroneous practice of merely sharing the best things that happen in one’s life. Or—even better—the exaggeratedly, slightly better than really best things. We share our good news, our trips, and even things that didn’t happen, but almost did…without that last detail.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Revisiting "About Time" and 2013

About once a month I get together with people to explore the ideas and messages of a film, especially as it relates to the truth found in scripture. This month, coming back from the summer break, we weren’t prepared to do an elaborate effort. I was asked to pick a film that we could simply watch. One with a straightforward message. One that didn’t require a lot of work. I remembered seeing (and reviewing) “About Time” a couple months back, and chose that film. I remembered it being a bit convoluted, having some questionable character issues, but as also having a charming and inspiring message.

This second time around, it spoke to me even more. Having seen the film I was not bogged down with the (admittedly only slightly) complicated plot. I was not attempting to make sense of all the time-travel paradoxes. I didn’t get hung up on the questionable (and out of character) moral issues early on.

And I was simply open for the emotional core of the story. The love. The wonderful father character. I really, really liked this movie. A lot.

So much so, that I substantially revised my top films of 2013 list. I knew it was way to early to nail it down when I made it. But I feel fairly confident this will remain my favorite film of the year for quite some time.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Lord's Supper (Mark 14:22-25)

In the institution of the Lord’s Supper in Mark’s Gospel we see two things clearly.

First, Jesus understood and applied His sacrificial death as payment for sins. He was clear about this before the cross. We have already seen this in His predictions, but here we see that the mechanics were also clear. This was the plan. It was the means of entry for sinful humanity into the holy Kingdom of God.

Second, this was not a sterile, methodical symbol. In reading this passage (and others) we are reminded of how much has been lost in this ordinance. Where did we go sideways on this? Perhaps it was when church tradition started to see all of church life and activity as occurring in a worship service. Or maybe it was when we started seeing size—and not fruitfulness—as the goal. It is hard to get a congregation of a certain size around a table. But when we insist that the Lord’s Supper has to occur in a certain context with certain people present, it limits us.

There is something special about having the Lord’s Supper around an intimate table, following or as a part of a real meal. When you insist that a “worship service” accompany it, then let me invite you to experience the wonder of a service in that same context, perhaps in the living room near that table.

However, a warning here is appropriate: it is hard to be a mere observer in such a context. You may find that you have to be the church when you worship in a home. And, if you are in your own home, it is hard to “leave” church and go back to “normal life.”

But that may be the very point of the Lord’s Supper. Making our community of faith all about normal life.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Star Trek DS9 (Season 7a)


Season 6b -- "Once More Unto the Breach"

DS9 has hit its full stride going into season seven. We have already seen the huge stakes that face the Federation and our crew, as the war has taken one of the main characters, there from the start. Not only is the war a concern, but the religious side of the political intrigue reached a peak as well at the end of season six, with the “demonic,” evil side of Bajoran religion proving to be real. Its release trigger the permanent collapse of the worm hole, trapping the extra-dimensional aliens known as the Prophets.

All the religious/faith (and war) issues in DS9 are fascinating, not because they communicate something deeper in and of themselves (the religious ideas aren’t any more interesting or valid than any mythology) but because in them Deep Space Nine pushes against the prevailing Secular Humanism inherent to Star Trek. This is not a perfect universe, attained through the tenants of SH. The future is just as fallen, evil, and full of unprovable beliefs as the present.

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Godzilla" (2014)

A few critics have complained about the new Godzilla movie. Either they lament the fact that Godzilla barely features (His role, time-wise is only about as big as Sandra Brody, who dies in the first scene), or they grouse about the failed attempts to make this a “realistic” monster movie a la “Batman Begins.” Mostly, people have complained that there is no active, heroic character. And, admittedly, Ford Brody is a pretty passive—if mobile—hero.

(He reminds one of last year’s hero in “World War Z” a composite of multiple of characters in the book, who travels all over the world in unbelievably quick fashion. Here again we have a single human witness to a disaster spanning half the globe.)

I contend, however, that the real story here is exactly that… one of human limitations. This is a very un-Hollywood approach to disaster and survival. Sometime we humans have to sit and watch while the world around us becomes unmanageable. Some things are beyond us.

This is clearly conveyed in the opening scene. The power plant is breached and automated systems are about to lock away the dangerous radiation. However, Joe Brody (our apparent hero at this point in the film) orders them switched to manual override so that he can ensure his wife, Sandra (who is inside the plant) will get out.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Dirty God" by Johnnie Moore

“Dirty God” is one of those devotional, almost an extended sermon, kind of books that intertwine Biblical commentary with personal story, all in an effort to evoke a response. Moore talks about his experiences around the world, thoughts inspired by Biblical stories, and quotes from other writers in thinkers, ultimately revealing his conclusions about the Gospel and the Christian life.

And his conclusions are pretty spot on for much of the book. It almost feels like a collection of pastoral clichés. Stories and conclusions many will have heard over and over again. But that is largely because they are true. The truth about the Gospel is that there are no new discoveries to be written, just tried old truths to be remembered. And, this generation of believers does need the constant reminders that the Gospel is not about rules and it is not about license. It is all about Grace.

Towards the end of the book things steer off into the current trend of many writers and thinkers today, who seem to conclude that a return to this understanding will usher in a world-wide solution to poverty and suffering as Christians everywhere become sold out devoted humanitarians. That may be a possibility, but this reader thinks that is an incredibly small and perhaps misguided understanding of God’s grace and God’s plans.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stridulation

(Poetry Scales 20)

     Echis: 

undulating sand
bustle hiss, dangerous fear
striking poison chords

     Orthoptera: 

interrupt silence
darkness piercing, rhythmic Kreech
bleeding through the gorse

     Hemicentetes:

raspy scratchy tone
tiny quills click-a-clacking
áspero y coarse

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Doctor Who 8.5 "Time Heist"

Every once in a while one desires a little mindless entertainment… apparently. In “Time Heist” there is entertainment to be had, but you had better check your brain in at the start, because everything falls apart once you really think about things too much. Never mind that the big “mystery”—Who is the architect?—is fairly apparent from the start.

Too many other questions keep rearing their heads. Why does the Doctor take Clara with right from the moment he answers the phone? (Why does he at all for that matter?) Did the architect really think that multiple people on his heist-team would be prepared to commit suicide? Did he think banking (sorry) on that eventuality was a good idea? Was this whole elaborate scheme the best way to accomplish the goal? (One need remember that, with a time machine the intended wrong-being-righted could have been prevented easier than resolved.)

All that said, it is a fun episode. The Teller is a fascinating alien. The jokes (“It’s just a phone call!”) are well crafted. And the banted between the new Doctor and Rose is solidifying well. (I will never tire of his endless inability to see Clara as a pretty, young woman. That is a refreshingly alien trait that the show has failed to bring since the re-launch in 2005.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Betrayals (Mark 14:1-52,66-72)

Chapter 14 of Mark really deals primarily with the betrayals that lead accompany Christ on His route to the cross. From verse 1 to verse 52 there are 10 paragraphs of text, and every even numbered paragraph deals with a betrayal of one form or another. (1,2; 10,11; 17-21;26-31; 43-50)

First, we see the conspiracy from the religious leaders (1,2). After Jesus enters the city, they set about very carefully and in a calculated manner to find a way to murder Him. Their motivation is religious. They see their system under threat. Their power and control is slipping. They no longer see a way to undermine Jesus, He must be done away with. However, they dare not move during the religious festival. Their goal is to remove a threat to their position and culture, not to drive a stronger wedge between them and the people. They want to maintain a kingdom of sorts. “God’s Kingdom” as they have always understood it should be.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Labor Day" (2014)

In another case of “viewer remorse” this week, I was let down by one of my most anticipated films of the year. I had said “Labor Day” looked like a melodramatic soap opera of a movie, but I was sure the filmmaker, known for good work in the past, would rise to the occasion and break the mold.

He didn’t.

Not only is this an example of the most typical, and unbelievable, love stories; it claims to be a “coming of age” tale as well. The end product is so amorphous, so unfocused, it fails to really deliver any poignant teen development, we don’t ever see anyone fall in love either. Not in any convincing, absorbing way.

The trailer suffices for anyone who has any interest in this story. The other 109 minutes do nothing to expand on the romance or the teen awakening. Everything you assume will happen does, and to be honest the trailer with its soundtrack elicits more emotion.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Doctor Who 8.4 "Listen"

The latest episode of Doctor Who may be one of the best in years, but it is hard to say. There is a lot here that feels familiar, reused by Moffat, the tried and true chiller techniques. Instead of “Don’t blink,” we get, “Don’t turn around.” A creature that you can’t see—the perfect hider—seems very similar to the Silence. And a whole story built around one really scary set-piece… that is what Moffat has excelled at in Who.

But there is more here. Or maybe less is more here. After all, we never really know if there is anything to be scared about in this story. In fact, I suspect the point is that there is nothing really there. It is all in the mind. The Doctor’s mind in this case. It seems as though the Doctor—this big, seemingly invincible hero of space and time—is afraid of the dark. That fear has been his motivation, his super power, the secret to his success.

One can argue whether or not Clara should have so much influence on the Doctor. This companion has already supposedly actively enabled every single successful victory the Doctor has accomplished throughout his timeline. Now we are supposed to believe that she triggered his formative moment that made him the man (timelord) he is today.

However, the scene in little Danny’s bedroom with the monster/prankster? Under the covers is perhaps the best scene in “Doctor Who” since “Blink.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Philomena" (2013)

In a classic case of buyer beware, “Philomena” is not what it is being sold as. If you watch the trailer (below) it looks like it is going to be a whimsical, heartwarming, funny story about a woman looking for her long-lost son. In reality, you are getting a harsh, heart-wrenching, expose of an evil convent that robbed teens of their babies and sold them for profit to Americans. Where the trailer very clearly conveys the son being found, the true story presented here is the much less inspiring discovery of a long-dead son. Every single laugh and grin is in the trailer. This is not the comedy promoted in the ad campaign.

Some may argue that it is still worthwhile as it exposes yet another evil of the institutional, Catholic church. True, but we don’t need a dower two-hour sermonizing movie to make us feel bad to know that such evils exist. Somehow, this film lacks an uplifting impulse to go with its exposé. The exemplary forgiveness of the titular character has very little if any impact.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Repertoire

(Poetry Scales 19)

My suspicion is
we each have a limited
list of ideas.

Quite scant in fact.

Most entertain
fewer than two,
at most maybe three,

Dozen sorts their whole life.

When was the last time
you encountered a new one?
Time to expand your range.

Discover something unthought.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy has become a bit of a summer phenomenon. Perhaps it is due in part to a poverty of decent film-fare (as the media seems to want to stress), but it is also due to the fact that it is a good entertainment. It relies a little bit on reference humor, but it also has moments of true wit. It also uses its eighties references and music to supply its emotional and dramatic weight, but that is done so well who can really complain?

Perhaps it is due to the fact that I fit squarely into the target demographic for this movie, but it is shaping up to be my favorite film of the year so far. Sometimes you simply want a fun story and exciting, creative imaginary world building. That being said, this film does have its messages, even if they feel cliché and trope-y.

All of our heroes in this film are loners who have legitimate reasons for hating the rest of the world. It is their decisions to come together and fight for something other than themselves that gives them the power—and luck/providence—to defeat the evil force that is threatening to destroy an entire galactic empire. As I said, cliché, but there is a reason such clichéd storylines persist and strike chords with us over and over again. There is truth at their core.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Secular Strategies of Evangelism (2 Corinthians 10:3)

When Paul speaks of walking and warring in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 10, he is using “flesh” in two different ways. His accusers have labeled him as “fleshly” meaning worldly, or not spiritual. He counters by saying that, though he is human, and therefore limited and imperfect, he does not conduct himself in worldly manner. He is a jar of clay, but his efforts and his ministry are divinely empowered. He is carrying a treasure with supernatural power. He does not do things the way the world does.

When a believer shares their story, they should be careful to keep this in mind. They should keep in mind that the message they are bringing to the world—the Gospel—is a powerful message that can change people in miraculous ways. They do not need to do things the way the world does with clever marketing and branding. They do not need to bait-and-switch people into finding God. The Gospel needs no sugar coating.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Doctor Who 8.3 "Robot of Sherwood"

I love this episode of Doctor Who. Not for the simple, somewhat already done plot, but for the ideas and messages it is delivering.

When Clara asks the Doctor to take her to see Robin Hood, he scoffs. Robin Hood is a mere legend. He doesn’t exist. When He takes her to Sherwood Forest at the right time in history to prove it to her, they indeed do meet Robin Hood. The Doctor spends the rest of the adventure (an effort to save the people of that day from some invading, alien robots allied to the Sheriff) trying to both prove that Robin is not real and solve the puzzle of why he is there.

It turns out that Robin, the legend is also Robin the real, historical person. This legend appears to be based in reality.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Brief Thought on Mark 13:10

In Mark 13, Jesus reveals a whole list of things—shocking and fear inspiring things like wars, natural disasters and famines—that are NOT a sign of “The End.” He knew what He was doing too, because that is exactly what people start to think when bad things happen. Even followers of Jesus who read their Bible. They always seem to forget this passage. They see everything as a sign.

Included in the discourse about all the things that are NOT a sign of “The End,” but rather the normal course of the world and reality for His followers, Jesus talks about persecution and the related task of the declaration of the Gospel. He declares that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God will be proclaimed to all nations. This too is simply a statement about something that will occur, not a sign of “The End.”

What He also does not say here is that this is a triggering mechanism for “The End.” But that is what a lot of people try to make this statement mean. Even worse, they see it as a way to manipulate God. (But they don’t likely realize that is what they are doing.) Their thought is that they can make Jesus return—they can trigger “The End”—by accomplishing this task.

Now, our job is indeed to proclaim the Gospel. Even to do so to “all nations” whatever that means. But we are simply to tell. To everyone. It is God that orchestrates the way in which “all nations” are reached. It is He that determines what and when that is. People who put too much effort in defining “all nations” and strategizing the way that those nations can be ticked off some all-comprehensive list are in danger of missing the “trees for the forest” to reverse a cliché.

And there is a possibility that the Gospel will be proclaimed to “all nations” and “The End” won’t come just yet. Just as wars and earthquakes and famines will all repeatedly occur without Jesus coming back, it just may be that the Gospel will be proclaimed to “all nations” multiple times before “The End.” Some would say that it even happened within the time covered by Scripture in Acts chapter 2.

The sign you are looking for if you insist on a sign is Jesus coming in the clouds. If you see that happen, you are pretty safe in thinking “The End” has come!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Quietus

(Poetry Scales 18)

In the still between the cross and tomb
The surrendered sigh of the last breath
We’re granted respite from fearful gloom
And quietus from our debt of death

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Doctor Who 8.2 "Into the Dalek"

In light of yesterday’s negativity regarding “Breath Deep,” a focus on the positive elements of “Into the Dalek” may be in order:

The Doctor. This promises to be a great Doctor. I for one have liked each of the new series actors better than the last, and I could see Capaldi becoming my favorite if things carry on as he has been portrayed so far. The open here where he is just now showing up with coffee three weeks after the last adventure because he became “distracted” is classic. And some of his interactions with Clara in both episodes have been perfectly executed. (The conversation in the restaurant. The “How much do I pay you?” “You are not my job, you’re one of my hobbies.” exchange. The “Am I a good man?” conversation. And the assistant/carer bit. And so on and so on.) The cold open where the Doctor saves Journey Blue here is great too. He almost comes off as scary.

The Opening. I love the look of the new title sequence, and the music is wonderful. The whole thing has a classic sound and visually it is the most unique take the series has ever seen.

The moral struggle. The Doctor has had this conflict before in the new series. Perhaps every season, in fact. There is a fine line between recognizing the true evil of the Daleks and the precarious prejudice bordering on hatred that the Doctor flirts with in combating that evil. The Doctor may or may not be a good man, but he has dedicated himself to trying to be. The hardest part of fighting evil is avoiding the slippery slope of becoming an evil in the process.

The Questions. This has been Moffat’s modus operandi. Not all of the mysteries he presents get solved in a satisfying or interesting way (or at all in some cases), but they are fun to try to figure out. So far we have several things to watch out for: What are all the chalk scribbles? Who is Missy? Where is this “Nethersphere” of which she is the guardian? Does Journey Blue have anything to do with Danny Pink? Why does the Doctor look like a person from his past?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Doctor Who 8.1 "Deep Breath"

I am a fan of “Doctor Who” the show. It would take a lot for me to give up on the program. I have enjoyed aspects of every “era” of Who, and have things and stories I like from every incarnation of the Doctor. I have every reason to think I will like this new incarnation quite a bit. He is certainly one of the best things about “Deep Breath.”

And now for the “but” that the previous paragraph certainly forecast…

I don’t think there is much else to like about “Deep Breath.” Specifically, three things brought it down for me:

(1) Madame Vastra and Jenny’s sex life. And it isn’t just that they are completely different species (something that equally made the romance between the Doctor and Rose nonsensical and frustrating). Nor is it the less-than-subtle, even clumsy, homosexual implication. It is the overt (and superfluous) reference to sex whatsoever. Doctor Who is one of those “made for children, but good enough for adults” types of stories. Those are the best sorts of stories. C.S. Lewis was a championed that sort of story as the supreme variety. Fairy tales are a whole genre of that type of literature. And, they are capable of tackling important things like marriage and sex, but always in a sophisticated, hidden way. Doctor Who has a long history of teaching important and even controversial ideas in such a way that they do not hit the viewer over the head. Here, Moffat feels the need to bludgeon us over the head with it. Repeatedly.

(2) The unnecessary apologies and preoccupation with Capaldi’s age. Peter Capaldi is not that old. And, while he may be the second oldest actor to debut as the character, someone in their 50s these days in nowhere near as “old” as someone in their 50s was back in the 1960s. But, the character has trended younger and younger since the series returned, and it feels like the BBC was scared to death that the younger generation was only interested in a young Doctor. So, they did the character of Clara a huge disservice by having her freak out about the age-shift, and then had Madame Vastra berate her (and presumably anyone in the audience) for judging without really knowing. Seems that the producers could benefit from listening to their own sermon.

(3) The unoriginal ideas on display. There is a trend in comedy these days that is just lazy. Referential humor throws random information at the audience that is not really funny, but simply relies on the smug position of recognition. For those “in the know” they laugh (or at least grin) because they derive satisfaction in making the connection. Lately, Doctor Who has been engaging in a similar, self-referential, storytelling style. The robots of “Deep Breath” are not anywhere near the most interesting or original monsters the show has had to offer, but the hope is that fans will overlook any blandness because they are written with a connection to a much better, original concept from earlier in the series. “Doctor Who” used to be rife with original, novel concepts and ideas only rarely referencing past villains. That helped make things like Daleks and Cybermen special. Now we get them—and countless, lesser villains—repeatedly every season.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Jesus' Main Teaching Regarding "The End" (Mark 13)

Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, which prompts His disciples to ask Him for a time-table and warning signs for this event. Jesus does not really answer their request. He does mention some details about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, but He delves even more into signs and warnings about the ultimate end of the world and His second coming. Even more than that, however, He talks a lot more about a whole series of things that will happen in the world that are NOT signs of the end. Most of all, He calls for His followers to be alert in the world and the hard times to come.

That is something readers of Mark and Christians around the world throughout history have tended to miss. We make the mistake of thinking that Jesus’ discourse here is actually and answer to the disciples’ request for signs. We pour over this speech looking for clues, we look at current events and try to force them into Jesus’ predictions. We fail to hear and follow His real message. We think that is “being on guard” but it is really a case of us being distracted.

All you really need to take away from Mark 13 is the following list of truths: (1) Bad things will continually happen throughout history—wars, natural disasters, and famines. None of them are ever reason to suspect “the end” is nigh. (2) The world will hate and persecute real followers of Jesus. That is a part of God’s plan, our task as witnesses (read also martyrs) and we will be divinely assisted in playing our part. (3) No one but God the Father knows the time-table for these events and we have no need to worry about such things. Our only part is to remain alert, be on guard, and avoid being led astray from what we are really to be all about (the Gospel) through speculations on current political machinations and eschatology.
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