Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Stand" by Stephen King

I have a love-hate thing going on with King. I think he is a great writer, and his writing is about more than just scaring the reader. He thinks. However, he goes beyond merely exposing and questioning disturbing aspects of life and culture; he tends to end all of his thoughts on an even more disturbing note than the bad things he is observing and highlighting.

When I was in college, my roommate claimed that “The Stand” was his favorite novel—not just amongst King’s works—period. At the time I had already read (and been disturbed by) “Pet Sematary” and “Salem’s Lot” and I was reading “It.” That one was even more unsettling. I put “The Stand” off… for over 20 years.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"The Quiet Ones" (2014)

The latest Hammer Horror Film is loosely (very, very loosely) based on a parapsychology experiment from the seventies known as the Philip Experiment. In that case, scientists hypothesized that a ghost or a haunting could conceivably be “produced” by belief. They created a backstory for a spirit and then tried to “believe” it into existence. Supposedly, it worked, but who’s to say they didn’t just get a spiritual being to play along in their charade? There is no way to demonstrate that they created a phenomenon.

“The Quiet Ones” takes the basic idea, but applies it to possession. The scientist in this story is convinced that all psychological maladies, even parapsychological phenomenon that look like possession, are produced by the mind. His hope is to prove his hypothesis by curing one patient. Predictably, this story has him mistaken in his belief.

Unfortunately, the story fails to address the questions and implications of its premise in an interesting way. And, failing that route, it also fails to do anything scary or even thrilling with the plot. We never fear for the characters and are not given much reason to start fearing.

This is an experiment you can safely forego.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Lesson of Pilate (Mark 15:1-15)

Mark seems to devote less ink to the trials leading up to the cross than other evangelists, certainly to Pilate. Our familiarity with the whole story of Pilate tends to bleed into our reading here in Mark. That said, how do we evaluate this character?

Sometimes it feels like we give Pilate a pass. It was, after all, the Jewish leaders that twisted his arm. He saw that Jesus wasn’t deserving of death. He even tried to find a way to get Jesus set free. And, it was God’s plan for Jesus to die on the cross. Can Pilate really be held accountable for some wrong doing here? Was Pilate perhaps open to more spiritual truth than the Jews? Mark says that he was amazed with Jesus. He also recognized the jealousy of the Jewish leaders.

No. In the end, and even though it feeds into God’s greater plan, Pilate is guilty of wrong. He sends Jesus to His death. He does so in spite of perceiving what is really happening. He does so in spite of the power he had to prevent sentencing Jesus. He does so for the worst of reasons. He wanted to “satisfy the crowd.”

And, ouch! Isn’t that one of the most common sins amongst “Christians” these days? We let the satisfaction of the crowd dominate our decisions far more than we are influenced by the satisfaction of our Lord and Savior.

It is sobering to think that we believe simple understanding is enough to make us right with God. Pilate was amazed (awed) with Jesus. Pilate understood intellectually what was going on in the trial of Jesus. However, he was led by the desires of the crowd. It is not enough to understand what Jesus did and to be awed by Him to be a follower. You have to obey Him in the face of what the world want to be His disciple. He is not Savior unless HE is Lord.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Real Lies of "Pretty Little Liars"

Those who are sucked into PLL hearing that it is a mixture of creepy mystery, “Mean Girls” and stalker murder story, only need a handful of episodes to see that it is a cheat. The show simply creates new tense situations and “mysteries” to keep the viewers trapped. Yeah, it is a silly little soap. But, what had this viewer stick around was the shock of the messed-up world view and the desire to see if it would ever endorse real-world consequences.

The world of PLL is a teen world. The “adults” in this show have the maturity level of the 15 and 16 year old central characters. Everyone makes terrible decisions in order to protect themselves from the bad things they have brought upon themselves. And, in the PLL world if it is a character we are rooting for, they get away with anything. Rob a bank—never get caught. In fact, the character that is about to expose your crime turns out to be a criminal. The “Lies” in the title have a way of compounding, the way lies do, but in PLL those lies will also save you.

The worst is the way PLL embraces the “go with your feelings” ethic of a Disney movie. It is interesting the way that this show tacitly equates homosexuality with statutory rape. Or perhaps the way that should be worded is that this shows mantra is, no one should ever oppose emotion. If you want to have a sexual relationship with someone of the same gender, it would be wrong for anyone to oppose that desire. If you want to have a sexual relationship with an adult as a minor, it is just as wrong for anyone to object. And all along, the most damning aspect of the show is that these choices are being made by immature, inexperienced, minors.

No, it’s worse. In the PLL world the adults are possibly less mature than the teen-age girls. No danger of real-world consequences in this poison-apple fairy-tale.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wanderlust

(Poetry Scales 24)

to some the drone of a jet overhead
is more of a siren call
and explorer journals, atlases, even cheesy brochure maps
produce such joy above all

but others do not feel the pull
when they step out their door
to them it is simply banal
an atrophied appetite,
an ignored itch,
un-scratched, un-calloused
they have some sort of glitch

the desire, the need to see over the horizon
to find what’s around the next bend
I for one have it real bad
the wanderlust has me bewitched

Monday, October 20, 2014

Doctor Who 8.9 "Flatline"

The ninth episode of the eighth (or 34th) season begins by exploring a somewhat novel concept. What would an invasion of our reality from another, two dimensional one look like? It could be an interesting philosophical exploration, but that is not the story that is really being told here so that aspect quickly falls apart.

What this episode is really about, as most of this season has been, is exploring the Doctor/Clara relationship. In this story, the Doctor is effectively taken out of commission and Clara has to play his part. She sees things from his perspective and pragmatically comes to accept what she has thus far seen as his underhanded ways. In the end she happily declares, “I was the Doctor and I was good!”

The Doctor’s response gives one pause. “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara, goodness had nothing to do with it.”

It will be interesting to see where this goes in the next few episodes. We already know that the looming antagonist, “Missy,” was instrumental in Clara meeting the Doctor, and that the Tardis did not initially like her. Whatever the twist is, you can be sure we won’t see it coming.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Trust and Obey

…or how “evangelism” has almost killed discipleship. 

Too many Christians today believe Jesus died for the sins of humanity in the way that one believes that the earth revolves around the sun. It is a fact that has no bearing on their daily lives. That is not saving faith. Biblical faith involves two actions beyond an acceptance of a fact: trust and obedience. Biblical faith involves betting one’s daily life on the truth of the Gospel. Trusting God to do what He has promised and submission to His Lordship over our lives.

The way we have elevated conversion, or “praying the prayer” to the goal of evangelism has missed the mark. True salvation is the result, not of a verbal declaration of a decision, but the real-life proof that follows. Faith that affects. It is a bit like jumping off a 10 meter platform into a pool. Those “praying the prayer” are declaring their intention to jump. They are climbing the ladder. True faith is seen in the trust and surrender of the leap. We have far too many people today claiming to be believers who are simply milling about at the top of the platform, failing to take the plunge.

We need to be sure we are communicating a complete Gospel. Calling people, not to conversion, but to a life of discipleship, of surrender, trusting fully in and obeying God’s will as they discover it in His Word.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Star Trek DS9: "Once More Unto the Breach"


Season 7a -- Season 7b



DS9 once again explores aspects of things that Trek does not usually address, and likely never would have under Roddenberry and his Secular Humanist message: faith.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What's Really Scary About "Saw" (2004)

Ten years ago, a film blew the horror genre up, changing the way horror and suspense are done. Many—including this viewer—would say destroying it in the process. But, however much “Saw” (and “Cabin Fever”) inaugurated torture porn, it is not as gruesome as its reputation would have you believe. (One imagines the subsequent films majored on gore instead of story.) It is a slightly involving mystery/puzzle that almost manages to engage.

Where it really offends is in the message it delivers.

The “inspiring” message of Saw is that people take their lives too much for granted. The puzzle maker in the film places people into a life or death situation where they have to fight—doing things they would normally find impossible—in order to live. If they succeed (often killing others in the process) and live, the idea is that they will appreciate life.

This is supposed to be a positive message in some sick twisted understanding of the world. And the most disturbing thing is that it has seemed to strike a chord over the past ten years.

The more inspiring message that other franchises and age-old stories have told (and that reflects the Biblical message) is that a true appreciation of life is found in those who do not hold onto it too strongly, in those who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others, in those who do not fear death in a way where they can be controlled and manipulated by evil.

Torture porn sees more inspiration in the evil side of things. That is the truly disturbing side of “Saw.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vivisection

(Poetry Scales 23)


Once upon a time there is a lie
The limitless plasticity of individuals
Shifting looks
Changing faces
Shaping bodies
Skewing races
It’s not who you’re born
What you’re created
It’s not how you’ve torn
When you’ve placated
Tell yourself it’s your decision
Believe the imagined mutable motivation
Pretend repercussions are the stuff of fairy tales.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Doctor Who 8.8 "The Mummy on the Orient Express"

This episode of Doctor Who had a lot of strange, screwy things behind the scenes. From the “co-staring” role of a “popular” singer who ended up with no lines whatsoever to a train in space that had no purpose other than to homage the book that this episode is riffing. A 5,000… yes 5,000 year old monster that is so famous no one has heard of it, and yet there are experts enough to fill a train to study it, that just so happens to be the spitting image of the classic cinematic mummy without actually being a mummy at all. It threatens to fall apart…

And yet it is the best episode of the season so far. The tension between Clara and the Doctor is perfect. The scene where the Doctor just wants to tell his stories without comprehending the emotions Clara is struggling with is the best in a series of great interactions between the characters thus far. The concept of the 66 second count down, and the way they use that devise multiple times to explore the way people react to eminent death is powerful. And, finally, Clara’s realization that the Doctor is still doing good, he simply has a manner and a means of coping with pressure that she had failed to see. When she comes to grips with this new Doctor and decides to continue to travel with him, her joy is palpable

That likely does not bode well for the emotional state of viewers going forward…

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Jesus (and Peter) on Trial (Mark 14:53-72)

There is an interesting parallel between the accounts of Jesus’ trial before the High Priest. Peter’s three denials are well known. However there is also a pattern of three in Jesus’ case.

In verses 55 and 56, the priests bring false witnesses against Him, but their stories don’t match. Then again in 57-59, more false witnesses are presented and again their testimonies don’t add up. In both cases, Jesus does nothing to protest their accusations. Finally, the High Priest asks Jesus directly if He is the Messiah. Jesus gives testimony against Himself and tells the truth.

Peter faces a similar ordeal. Verses 66-68 show the first “testimony” against him. Someone had seen him with Jesus. Peter lies and denies the charge. Again in 69, he denies accurate testimony about his connection to Jesus. Finally, a bystander asks him if he is a disciple, after all he is a Galilean. Peter vehemently denies the charge and lies.

Jesus trusted God’s plan. He didn’t worry about the stories people made up about Him. He didn’t shy away from giving faithful and true testimony. He let the truth have its affect. Peter is more like us. Peter's life did speak volumes. People knew he was a friend of Jesus. But when questioned about his relationship, he let fear dictate his response.

The problem with letting fear guide us is that it may cause us to miss out on God’s plan. Of course, God’s plan comes with adventure and meaning, but also risk.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Order: Cetacean

The Cetaceans are some of the more fascinating mammals. An existence in the water makes them seem otherworldly, and yet, they may be some of the most intelligent beings on the planet. What must that be like? Here are my top ten:

10. Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Not a particularly beautiful or fascinating animal, unless you consider that they’re the largest creature in the history of creation. And, lest you think taxonomists lack a sense of humor, their species name means “little mouse.”

9. Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus

This is one of the lesser known large whales. It lives it’s life in the extreme environment of the arctic ice. It’s head is huge!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Umlaut

(Poetry Scales 22)

What is the inherent meaning contained in a sound?
Not a just sentence, or a word, but a syllable
How do we lay them aside once they have been found?
To explore another pathway still cognitional?

The ways we share ideas, the systems abound.
Are those means mere happy chance, growing traditional?
Or are the laws that govern languages more profound;
Are all our tongues coded primordially inextricable?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Odd Thomas" (2014)

Earlier this year, after legal disputes and delays, a little supernatural thriller was released on DVD and demand. “Odd Thomas” is the story of a man with a gift. He sees dead people and spiritual forces. He uses that gift to right wrongs, solve crimes, and bring about justice. He could conceivably be a “super hero” or at least a celebrity psychic, but he has a conviction that his gifts are from God and need to be used quietly and as led by Him.

In this story his little town is the scene of a significant evil plot, driven by Satan worshipers that Odd has to stop. It is exciting, a little scary and dramatically devastating in the end.

This is based on a book written by Dean Koontz. Apparently, he is a man of faith who tries to communicate some of his beliefs and opinions through his writings. What is refreshing about Odd Thomas is that it is mostly about telling a story, not preaching a message. However, the truths and ideas come through, without beating the hearer over the head.

The film is a lot of fun, but I don’t get the impression it will get any sequels, unlike the book which has several. I may have to check them out.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Doctor Who 8.7 "Kill the Moon"

Intentional or not, the creators of Doctor Who often use the character to explore divine qualities and characteristics. He is frequently a messianic figure. At the very list he is a savior. So it is always interesting to those of us of faith when they address theological questions head-on.

Spoilers Ahead.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"American Horror Story" (Season One) Murder House

Horror Television has exploded. For fans of “The Twilight Zone” or “The X Files” this is potentially an exciting time. There is an ever expanding list of shows to choose from in search of the subversive, critical, satirical commentary that only the horror genre can supply. “The Walking Dead,” “American Horror Story,” “Grimm,” “Stalker,” Penny Dreadful,” etc. etc. Showtime has even announced that they will be bringing “Twin Peaks” back to small screens. Unfortunately, there is a wealth of mere scares and thrills amidst the list with no effort to communicate anything at all.

“American Horror Story” tends towards the later in its first season. Each season is a different story in a different setting with different characters. That is one of the good things about the show. The idea of taking several episodes to tell a concise story and then ending it seems to be a slightly better approach than milking one concept till it is completely dry. But at its core, “AHS Murder House” seemed to be about pushing the limits of decency where horror television was concerned.

They claim the theme is fidelity/infidelity, but mostly season one tends to be about a house haunted by all the horrible people who have inhabited—and died—in it. Positive elements do include: the intriguing revelation/mystery as to which characters are deceased, the clever element exploring perspective and temptation where the husband sees the old maid as an over-sexualized French maid, and the true shocker regarding the daughter midway through the season. But the show tries to do so much that it loses focus and the story gets out of hand.

The real let-down comes in the last episode. The show has done the typical horror easy job of exposing evils and deficiencies in humanity and society. However, the idea that the core family finds peace and acceptance in a limbo-state of death, in haunting an old, dying building, is frankly more depressing than any of the evil put on display throughout the season.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Praying in the Garden (Mark 14:32-42)

We have a tendency to make everything a rule, don’t we? When I was a child I would hear this story and feel really bad. I would place myself in the disciples’ shoes (as I imagined the scene) and think, “I could never do what Jesus wanted!” I imagined the disciples trying to stay awake all night with their eyes shut, praying. Impossible.

Looking back at it now, I see something very different. Jesus is praying, but he asks his disciples to keep watch. The only time he commands them to pray in this circumstance, it is for them to pray that they will not fall into temptation (to sleep). He wants them to stay alert.

Not that praying, or praying a lot even, is bad or undesirable. However, I get the idea even now that Jesus doesn’t necessarily want His followers making a habit of spending all their time hidden away praying. Our relationship with God these days happens throughout life. As we go about our day, we go with God. We carry on our conversation with Him (or can) along the way. We do not have to stop every time we think of God, close our eyes, and offer a formulaic prayer.

Unfortunately, many only interact with God in these formulaic, habitual, recitative statements. That is not much of a real conversation!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Dozen (or more) Must See, Horrific, Animated Shorts

The old, animated cartoon shorts that used to screen before theatricals are a wonderful source of humor… and horror. They actually show how narrow the barrier is between the two, as many of the situations would be downright terrifying in a non-animated context. Then there were the ‘toons that really aimed to explore the horror genres, some of which are masterpieces. Here are the top 12 as ranked by NonModern, along with a few companion titles:

12. “The Skeleton Dance” (Disney 1929) dir. Walt Disney 

The first Silly Symphony by Disney was a horror themed film. It doesn’t really hold up to today’s tastes, but it is an amazing film for 1929.

11. “Porky in Wackyland” (Looney Tunes 1938) dir. Bob Clampett 

More of a piece of surreal art than a piece of entertainment. This strange film was remade in color as “Dough for the Do-do” (Merry Melodies 1949) dir. Friz Freleng.

10. “Duck Pimples” (Disney 1945) dir. Jack Kinney 

Donald Duck is a slave to his imagination as he listens to the radio and reads adventure stories.

9. “Transylvania 6-5000” (Merry Melodies 1963) dir. Chuck Jones 

Bugs Bunny ends up in the wrong place again as he travels with his naiveté in tow. He soon taps into his fighting mode when he realizes he is staying in a vampire’s lair.

8. “Feed the Kitty” (Merry Melodies 1952) dir. Chuck Jones 

Not really a horror story, but the way that perception can make the ordinary seem horrific have been tapped into ever since this film was released.

7. “Mouse Wreckers” (Merry Melodies 1949) dir. Chuck Jones

Claude Cat goes through levels of psychological horror the likes that Rosemary or any other character in a Roman Polansky has seldom endured. Followed by “Hypo-Chondri Cat” (Merry Melodies 1950) and “Cheese Chasers” (Merry Melodies 1951).

Friday, October 3, 2014

"The Conjuring" (2013)

“The Conjuring” is, at its core, just another creepy, make-you-jump, ghost story. What it attempts to do to make it stand apart from others of its ilk is appeal to its “true story” roots. Tons of horror stories rely on the “based on true accounts” conceit, but “Conjuring” takes that to a new level. This film used the actual family that the events happened to in their trailers, and has them claiming this was a faithful take on events. The other tie to reality is that this is one of the case-files of self-promoting “demonologists” Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Ed and Lorraine are celebrities amongst those fascinated in the paranormal and occult. Long story short, they were the premier occult charlatans of the seventies and eighties, making a living on sensationalizing stories of hauntings, possessions, and spooky occurrences. They claimed to be Catholics but didn’t ascribe to church teaching or basic theology. Claimed to be exorcists and demonologists, but didn’t have church or academic credentials of any sort. Claimed to have solved or stopped multiple hauntings, but their most famous (self-reported) cases have never been substantiated and many have been outright disproven.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Doctor Who 8.6 "The Caretaker"

Season Eight continue on with a story that, in retrospect, is rather ho-hum. The Doctor combats a highly coincidental threat at Clara’s school, posed by a robot clearly designed for a children’s TV show, that raises no concerns whatsoever.

We are not supposed to care about all of that because this episode is not about the story but rather about the characters. The Doctor will finally meet Danny. Clara’s double lives will finally collide. The problem there is that Danny, Mr. Pink, is not really working. The chemistry between him and Clara is the only thing more unengaging than his character. By the end of this episode we are supposed to think that the Doctor has been won over, but we are not.

The thing that still works here, and that has been saving the season thus far, through good stories and bad, is the banted between the Doctor and Clara. This is some of the best interaction between a Doctor and companion since Donna was riding. Whatever else may be clicking (or not) Capaldi is a joy to watch.

Here’s hoping the stories get better. The netherworld teasers are creating a hype that may be hard to deliver.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tranquilizer

(Poetry Scales 21)

100… 99… 98… 97
Let me stick this needle in your arm, this opiate.
Sleep, don’t see. Don’t contemplate your helpless condition.
Here’s a list. Don’t use it as a diagnostic tool.
Take it as a cure, a way out. Patient, heal thyself!
After all, we all know God helps those who help themselves.
There’s nothing you have done that you can’t also undo,
No humanistic ideal that’s unachievable;
Or, if so, mere good intention should count for something.
Whatever you do, don’t throw yourself at mercy’s feet!
Don’t turn yourself over to another Master, Lord!
You are the only master and savior of your life.
That’s the gospel message of the American Dream.
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