Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 on NonModern

The blog suffered a little bit in this, its seventh year of consistent use, due to a little business, a little burnout, and a lot of other things demanding time. With this summary, the 200th post of the year will be recorded. Nearly 450,000 page-views all-time have been reached, with 18,674 and counting made in this year alone.

I finished out a couple of long-running projects: the commentary on Mark and the review of Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I wrote a lot more poetry this year. (30 poems posted) I reviewed a little less film than normal. (About 58 films) For some reason, my posts listing my favorite species of snakes generated a lot of hits.

See you in 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Doctor Who "Last Christmas"

The latest Christmas special from Doctor Who may be the best one of these specials thus far. It is certainly one of the more enjoyable episodes of Doctor Who. Even if—spoiler alert—once again, almost none of what we see ever happens. At least this time we don’t get an episode where time travel renders all the action inconsequential. Well, almost at the end there but that was simply more of what we got the whole episode. The story-tellers messing with us.

Most Who viewers, assuming people who have love for a particular show in common share a general taste, were likely not caught off guard during this special. Most had probably seen the myriad of influences already. “The Thing”, “Alien”, and “Inception” just to name a few. The real fun here is the way this episode is used as a chance to play with the show itself. The comparisons made between The Doctor and Santa are fun. The quip about fantasy and reality being so similar was clever—and deep if you think about it. And Nick Frost did a superb job. The banter with the elves had me smiling the whole time.

But this show had a deeper side as well. It is a story about people living in a flawed reality, one that is killing them, but also one that is lulling them into inaction as it kills them. In this sense the story serves as commentary on reality. We do live in a world where things are not right and people are lulled into inaction while we all suffer and die. However, unlike this story, it is not enough to merely realize our condition to reverse it.

Actually, the episode highlights that problem as well. It takes someone from outside the reality to wake Clara up from here deepest dream-state. It is then that knowledge that enables the group to recognize their condition and do something about it. And, the entire situation is only manageable because:

(a) The dream of the North Pole conveniently directly informs our heroes of their condition. (A terrible flaw for a creature that wants to remain unknown.)

(b) The Doctor has prior knowledge of the threat. (Once again, outside of “reality” assistance.)

and (c) They have Santa helping them. (The “supernatural” aspect of the dream that is not under the control of the dream creators.)

In spite of the Christmas theme of this special, this is not a Christian story. However, in this way it does explore the Christian truth. If humanity were trapped in an imperfect reality where we were all slowly dying, it would take help and knowledge from outside of that imperfect reality to awaken us to our plight. And, if the source of our problem were our own rebellion and rejection of the intended reality—in which we were created to exist—it would take a supernatural savior to redeem us.

That many reject that assistance because it seems too fantastical is tragic. However, just like in the special, only childlike faith can save us.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Bohemian Snow

Bohemian snow
Hugs the trees and blankets
The forest with no taste of irony
It drifts, even flows
In aesthetic timeless
So no one can help themselves, happy
With creaks as their snores
The trees’ sleep is dreamless
As I by my fire ponder piously

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A look ahead to 2015 on NonModern

Just a quick look into the plans here at NonModern for 2015, as I sit with a strong head-cold and not much desire to think.

2014, the 8th year of this blog will be reviewed in a couple days, but it is noteworthy that a conscious intention to blog less really took hold. The seven year itch was strong. We’ll see if we make 200 posts for the year. Next year I think I will shoot for a more intentional, 5 day a week schedule as originally intended. Contrary to what I would think, that discipline really makes me more productive in other areas of life.

On a Star Trek front, I intend to hit both TOS and Voyager this year, alternating series. DS9 devolved into a much longer process than anticipated. Hopefully I will be able to maintain a schedule. Other TV shows will also be looked at in the off weeks.

I would like to continue to post poetry, but it remains to be seen if I can spur those creative impulses and be disciplined about it as well.

As Mark is almost wrapped up, I look to start the year commenting on the Petrine Epistles. Where I go from there will be up in the air for now, but it will likely be more NT. I am very tempted to do a commentary series on Genesis, however. Maybe both will happen.

As always, I will continue to look at cultural stories, more films than novels, and consider them from my faith-based worldview.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Scrooged" (1988)

I have long heard how amazing the Christmas Carol adaptation staring Bill Murray is. So I was quite excited to finally see “Scrooged” this year. Now, it does rank somewhere around the ten-spot on my all-time best Christmas Film List, but one has to consider the caveats. First, I have only ever seen around 20-25 films that are squarely in the “Christmas Film” category. Second, easily half of those would be considered terrible.

“Scrooged” is far from terrible. We are, after all, working with a truly transcendent source story. However, there are several things that could count against “Scrooged” in my opinion.

1. The production values and overall “feel” are not what I expect from a Donner film. It feels thrown together. It feels like a TV production. (Perhaps because it is all about TV production?)

2. It waters down the message of Dickens’ story. Murray is a young man, and his transformation is not bitter sweet as Scrooge’s. Also, the great sin here is not selfishness or a lack of humanity, but crass commercialism. It has a narrower criticism. And, when we get to the big lesson at the climax, most of the power is removed from the story. In Dickens’ story, we see Scrooge change, set things right, and, hear how things get better. Here, we just have a (bit of a bumbling) speech.

3. The comedy style of “Scrooge” is out of step with the story they are trying to tell. Not that comedy wouldn’t work in “A Christmas Carol.” Here, the problem is the nature of the comedy. Murray was at the height of his cynical, sarcastic wit. The problem is that the message of this story is earnest, and the sophomoric atmosphere here belittles that message.

All of that said, “Scrooged” does stick to the basics of its material. And it does so in an interesting way. In doing so, however, it opened my eyes to a reality I had not fully realized. At its heart, “A Christmas Carol” (and most other Christmas films for that matter) is not a Christian story. Oh, it is a moral tale, but not a story directly addressing or influenced by the Gospel. It could just as easily be an argument to be a better person coming from a humanist perspective. At most it can be considered Christian in an allegorical sense. (And, since no films telling the nativity story are amongst my favorite Christmas films, or even amongst the Christmas films I have seen, that same sad truth applies to all of my theatrical length holiday film viewing.)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Most Anticipated Films of 2015

The challenge of this post is the narrowing down of things. I currently have my eye on over 50 films coming next year, including: “B.O.O.”, “Black Mass”, “Cinderella”, “Goosebumps”, “The Hateful Eight”, “Jupiter Ascending”, “Jurassic World”, “Kitchen Sink”, “Kung Fu Panda 3”, “The Loft”, “Mad Max”, “The Martian”, “Minions”, “MI5”, “Pitch Perfect 2”, etc. etc. Here are my MOST anticipated, at the moment:

25. Pan 

Mostly because of the director.

24. Poltergeist 

I like the actors attached, and the story is fun.

23. Regression 

Easily one of the most fascinating cultural elements of the eighties.

22. Midnight Special 

The director of “Mud” comes back with a sci-fi tale.

21. Pixels 

The short was interesting, the cast lowers my hopes a lot.

20. The Revenant 

Westerns need to make a come-back.

19. Krampus 

Horror, Christmas, and a little-known European cultural figure.

18. Mortdecai 

Johnny Depp being silly?

17. Selfless 

This story could tackle philosophical issues.

16. Victor Frankenstein 

One of our most enduring morality tales.

15. The Good Dinosaur 

Pixar.

14. St. James Place (or whatever they end up naming it.) Bridge of Spies

Spielburg and Hanks.

13. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

Guy Ritchie is someone I will always give a look-see.

12. Jane Got a Gun 

See above comment about westerns.

11. Ant-Man 

Marvel has really struggled with this one, will it be their first flop since “Incredible Hulk”?

10. Kingsmen 

This looks like fun.

9. Chappie 

Deep philosophical issues is what sci-fi was made for.

8. Knight of Cups 

Malleck.

7. Tomorrowland 

I really like the director and the teasers have done their job.

6. Terminator Genesys 

The trailer had me at two Arnolds.

5. Inside Out 

Pixar.

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens 

Dare I hope?

3. Spectre 

Bond.

2. Avengers: Age of Ultron 

Marvel has been the best thing in cinemas for a couple years now.

1. Crimson Peak 

Del Toro and Gothic horror!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Silent Night

Why is it that the simple story is never enough?

God’s story of redemption is the most amazing, world-changing power in the universe; beyond the universe really. And yet it is never enough for us. This is especially evident in the history of the missionary movement. We always depend on everything other than the Gospel. There have been “great” men and women of faith in the missionary movement. Explorers, revolutionaries, slave-liberators, and human rights champions. There have been scientists, agriculturists, medical wonder workers and heralds of the wonders of modernity. All of them changing the world with advancements and cultural shifts; with the Gospel of Jesus Christ tacked on.

Even today, outside of the third world realms we look for an edge. Can we change a city through art, freedom, enlightenment, or simply by being the coolest thing to come around? Can we befriend the “greats” in the community, the politicians, the artists, the captains of industry? If we could, then surely we could bring the Gospel without resistance right?

Well, we might change a culture that way, but it doesn’t lead to the goal of Kingdom advancement. Advancing Christendom does not mean an advance of the Gospel.

Christmas is a wonderful time to reflect on God’s plan to change the world. A baby born to a poor couple in filth. A fragile life with no safety net, no real fanfare. Oh sure, shepherds and a few Magi turned up, but the world wasn’t exactly aware of the shift that had occurred. God slipped quietly into flesh.

A short life and even shorter public ministry later, and a small congregation of a few dozen individuals were left to carry the story forward. Oh, culture was changed alright, but often in spite of the Gospel. God uses His church, a little “called out” minority, incarnating His story. Over time its ideas and ethics were institutionalized, but the quiet, little wave of world-changers moves on in spite of that institution. Always through the story.

So, tonight, is the story enough?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top Ten Christmas Films

This list is likely anti-climactic for those who know me or read this blog, but here are my top ten, highest rated, feature films about Christmas:

10. “Scrooged” (1988)

More on this later in the week, but I first saw this one this year. It might be my least favorite adaptation of the story, but the story is so powerful. Or I may just drop it and put "Nightmare" back on.

9. “A Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)

What does it say about the story that they chose/had to make Scrooge a human being and not a Muppet?

8. “Elf” (2003)

This is about as silly as Christmas can get.

7. “We’re No Angels” (1955)

Where did comedies like this go?

6. “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)

And I am not a big fan of Santa.

5. “Home Alone” (1990)

This is as violent as Christmas can get.

4. “White Christmas” (1954)

I do not know why I like this film as much as I do. I think I like it ironically.

3. “A Christmas Story” (1983)

How is it that I have a nostalgia for a time 30 years before my birth?

2. “A Christmas Carol” (1984)

This is still the best version of the story for me. I have yet to see the Jim Carey version, but the trailer puts me off every single time I consider it.

1. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)

My favorite film is a Christmas film.

Monday, December 22, 2014

"Sind die Lichter angezündet"

There is a beautiful little Christmas song that is not heard much outside of the eastern part of Germany. It is one of those little gems of GDR culture that never influenced anywhere else, and would have died with the country, except that people still live there and still feel a bit nostalgic for the nicer things from that time. This song is certainly one them. The music is lovely, and the text is also inspiring. From a Christian perspective, one is reminded of the hope and joy of the season. However, when the culture that produced the song is considered, another interpretation comes to mind; one that is secular where hope is a wish and assurances are as vacant as the ideology that dominated that country for half a century.

I prefer the Christian sentiment that my perspective adds to the song. Here is a loose translation:

Lights are lit, candles aflame
Joy glows on every tree
Christmas joy is proclaimed
Everywhere nativity
Lights, light, so brightly beaming
Everywhere, everywhere joy is gleaming

Sweet confections, pretty presents
Exchanged and passed from hand to hand
Ev’ry kid feels joy from heaven
Ev’ry kid in ev’ry land
Lights, light, so brightly beaming
Everywhere, everywhere joy is gleaming

Lights are lit, candles aflame
All around radiating
Christmas peace is proclaimed
Around the world mediating
Lights, light so brightly beaming
Everywhere, everywhere peace is gleaming


Sind die Lichter angezündet,
Freude zieht in jeden Raum;
Weihnachtsfreude wird verkündet
unter jedem Lichterbaum.
Leuchte, Licht, mit hellem Schein,
überall, überall soll Freude sein.

Süsse Dinge, schöne Gaben
gehen nun von Hand zu Hand.
Jedes Kind soll Freude haben,
jedes Kind in jedem Land.
Leuchte, Licht, mit hellem Schein,
überall, überall soll Freude sein.

Sind die Lichter angezündet,
rings ist jeder Raum erhellt;
Weinachtsfriede wird verkündet,
zieht hinaus in alle Welt.
Leuchte, Licht, mit hellem Schein,
überall, überall soll Friede sein.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Additional Material (Mark 16:9-20)

It may come as a surprise to some (particularly those who do not read for themselves, so many) that The Gospel of Mark has three alternate endings. In some of the manuscripts, things end with verse 8 “they were afraid.” Others have a longer ending containing what is today verses 9-20. Others have a shorter ending that is usually tacked on to the end of today’s printings. Still others do what most Bibles do today, which is include both endings. Even the old manuscripts tend to indicate that both longer endings are likely not original. The problem is that we do not have the original copy of Mark, so no one knows what the real ending looked like.

None of that is a problem.

Even if Mark stopped at “they were afraid,” there are multiple accounts of the Gospel, so we know that was not the end. Just a natural reaction to the events. And, the additions that are found on what persisted do not necessarily change the other accounts. It is just a good reminder to keep Biblical teaching in context and to not build entire doctrines from single verses in isolation.

Those sorts of interpretations—and the dangers there inherent—are seen in groups who take this passage to mean that believers must test their faith through stupidity. Handling snakes and drinking poison is no test of trust, but more like an ultimatum or dare thrust in God’s face. Akin to forcing God to prove Himself by keeping us from harm while we are walking down the middle of a busy highway or throwing ourselves from a plane with no parachute. That is silly.

However the other danger here is evident. We all too often add things to scripture and then lose the capacity to distinguish between God’s word and our own. Like when editors inserted marginal notes claiming that the creation occurred around 4004 BC. Sometimes these additions are not even in print, but merely a pet interpretation. Too many people have lost the ability to read God’s word because they only see their own ideas or understanding. While it is a good idea (in my opinion) to make notes in one’s Bible when insight and enlightenment are given, it is also a good idea to read scripture without those notes in place from time to time. Past messages tend to inhibit fresh readings.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Yes, I Will Rejoice Part 4 (Philippians 1:12-18)


I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much bolder to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

When Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, he was a prisoner for his witness. And yet the focus of the epistle is joy in Christ. Paul was able to have joy in the midst of suffering because he knew that his suffering, much like that of the Savior, was contributing to making the world a better place. It was helping others to find the love of God. It was and still is advancing the story of Christ.

Even as some people in Paul’s day were sharing the Gospel from selfish reasons, they were sharing the story. The Gospel is the most amazing and important story ever told. It is the most joyful story. And, it is a story in which every believer plays a part. We all have our own chapter to share. We all have a unique experience in which Jesus has saved us. Our lives are immeasurably better for having Jesus in them. We can rejoice.

Share His story! Tell others your story!

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Babadook" (2014)

Even this early in the process for me, it is clear that “Babadook” likely will be in my top ten films of 2014. It is exactly what I look for in a horror film: unsettling, smart, horrific without being merely shocking or gory, and centered around ideas and messages not jumps or scares alone.

“Babadook” tells the story of a widow raising a six-year-old son, Samuel. Her husband died in a car crash while taking her to deliver. The intervening six years have been the typical stress of a single parent—intensified because her son is understandably dealing with issues that six-year-olds don’t generally have to deal with. He is obsessed with monsters and dangers, and is constantly getting into trouble and scaring people with his violent ways. As the story progresses, we begin to see that it is more than the absence of a father that is affecting him. The mother clearly has issues.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Furthermore... Rejoice! Part 3 (Philippians 3:1, etc.)


Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

To the annoyance of some, I can be known to play Christmas music outside of the season. Or, what is just as annoying to my German friends, I will eat gingerbread before the Advent Season. I do understand that there is a value in saving things for their appropriate time. However, when it comes to Christmas, I try to celebrate the story every day all year round. My father used to read us the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke, bit by bit, every day of the week leading up to the 24th. Even with that tradition, which I uphold, I still read those passages throughout the year as well.

Eating a Christmas cookie before advent is most annoying to those for whom all of the joy of Christmas lies in the anticipation. As believers, our joy lies only partially in the anticipation of what is to come. We also have the assurance of what has occurred. Christ has come and sin is defeated. We do not need to develop systems of behavior, to deprive ourselves of certain joys to create levels of suffering in order to earn the love of God. It has been freely offered to all who will believe.

To some degree though, that is the goal of every religious system. They attempt, through moralistic measures, to please an image of a deity that is angry. They try to develop and force rules designed “for peoples’ benefit” that will make their lives better through their own efforts. This is a moralistic, therapeutic approach to spirituality and faith.

It is enough to know that the grace of God is ours. His love sees us through everything we encounter along this way to the world as God intends it to be. We will encounter enough suffering as a result of the evil and sin in the world. We do not need religious systems to inflict some sort of “suffering as purification.” We do not need a cost-benefit analysis to convince us to do the things that please God. As His people those things should be our pleasure as well.

More than anything else, Christmas is full of joy because it is a part of the most joyful story ever told…

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mama

There is a woman who has prayed for me by name every day of my life. There may be more people who do that for me, but I know of the one because she reminds me every time I talk to her. She has three sons, three daughter-in-laws, twelve grandchildren-all save three of whom are married and, unless I’ve lost count, twenty-four or five great grandchildren. She could tell you all of their names, because she prays for each of us by name every day.

Mama was just a child when her family traveled to the boomtown mining settlement of Borger, Texas to visit relatives. They never left, and she has lived there to this day. Just a little life in a small town that few will ever know exists. Yet her impact is vast. There are hundreds of people who list her as an important influence on their lives. I have a history book of a church in Borger that repeatedly mentions her name, chapter after chapter. It is a true-life example of the sort of impact a individual can have on the world, much like that “capra-corn” story “It’s a Wonderful Life” depicts. And all of her children and grandchildren have grown up following her example, not just to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but to help others do so as well.

Happy Birthday, Mama! You have made such a wonderful difference in so many lives!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Again, Rejoice! Part 2 (Philippians 4:4-7)



…again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Of course, the main reason Christmas was so special in my house growing up—and remains so to this day—is that despite all the music, decorations, food and events, it was all about one thing: Jesus. Not just a story of a baby born in a stable eons ago, but the real baby who became a man who is God incarnate and who is still alive today. It was a celebration of a person and a relationship that is alive in my life today. I talk to Jesus and He talks to me. I share my life with Him and He leads me through the decisions, celebrations but also the sufferings I encounter.

We didn’t do Santa. We weren’t militant against him or anything. For one thing, who wants to celebrate the starry night when a babe was born in daylight? Everything about Christmas, the lights, the candles, the warm drinks, and the songs about nighttime demand that you do your celebrating at night. But also, we didn’t want to confuse the celebration of a real event with a bunch of fantastic silliness. Much less create elaborate lies and conspiracies to deceive. Christmas is about a real person, even if with a heavily supernatural side.

Study after study has proven the way prayer and even meditation helps us live a more fulfilled life, and therefor is a conduit to joy. However, no placebo—even prayer—measures up to the power that a relationship with a real, loving, powerful God has in a life. We do not pray because it is a therapeutic means to happiness, but because our friendship with God is real joy. At Christmas we celebrate the way that that relationship, and that dialogue, was made possible. And that relationship allows those of us who believe to experience that joy the whole year round.

Even so, with the access we have to our living God and the joy we celebrate this time of year, many believers come across as the biggest curmudgeons. This is silly. Our joy should be contagious and transformative. It is our joy and God’s love that will change the world. Not our anger and our opposition. My parents made Christmas about Jesus, but I don’t recall them being ugly about Santa or phrases like “Happy Holidays.” If we have a real Father who hears us when we pray, why are we so derisive about people focusing on “positive thinking”? The evident power in prayer should be much more convincing to people than our grumblings against their semi-effective efforts.

However, prayer is not Paul’s only advice on joy for the Philippians…

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Girl and the Dreaded Day

The girl that lives in our house turned 15 today. This has been a long dreaded day in my life.

I spent the better part of 13 years working with teens, and my experience with 15 year-old girls tended to be that they were “the worst.” For some reason the vast majority of the ones I encountered had the impression that the universe had a single focal point around which it revolved, and that focal point was them. They also had an excess of drama and a capacity to inflict vindictive emotional trauma that out did anything I ever saw a boy do.

Thankfully, the girl appears to have only a mild case of whatever it is that made humanity invent nunneries. She does have unpredictable emotional outbursts and can make more noise than any of her brothers. She doesn’t get into my science fiction obsessions as much as I would like, but she does enjoy fantastic fiction. And she can appreciate (and tolerate) a good scary story more than the boys do as well.

Most importantly, I haven’t yet been considered too embarrassing nor too much of a risk to have an “all access” pass to her daily stories and thoughts. But I can tell I may need to increase my efforts to keep things that way. Either that or find a way to lock her up and weaponize myself a lot more than I currently have. That, and I have to figure out a way to control the wifi around these parts a lot more!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rejoice! Part 1 (Philippians 4:4)


Rejoice in the Lord always;

When I was a child, Christmas time—that whole span of the year that begins sometime after Halloween and goes through New Year’s Day—was the best part of the year. Music, decorations, food, and events that were anticipated for months beforehand became a reality and my family relished it fully. I still do. So much so, that sometimes Christmas Day is a bit of a letdown. It is not the arrival of something special, but rather the signal of an end to celebration. As the old saying goes “anticipation is half the pleasure.” German gets it better. Its old saying says: “Anticipation (Forejoy) is the best joy.” When a German looks forward to something, they say they are “rejoicing on it.”

So what is Joy? Scientists and philosophers claim that our happiness—our joy—depends on a sense of well-being. Having our anticipations and desires fulfilled. Eastern philosophies claim it is all about contentment. Being at peace with our circumstances. Every language tends to distinguish between concepts like happiness, contentment, and joy, so it seems that Paul has something more special in mind. In our current imperfect world the way it is, this is often closely tied into the idea of hope. There is joy in hoping that things will be better. That is why “forejoy” seems to be the best joy. We may not think there is anything better to be had.

Our hopes are so infrequently fulfilled. Where does our Hope rest? Hope in and of itself is not enough. Try promising people hope without spelling out what you mean, and you will be setting yourself up for impossible expectations.

For believers, Christmas is a source of joy because our hope has been fulfilled, even as we wait for the full disclosure of that hope. We have meaning in life. We have a promise of a future, but we have more than that. We have the down payment. We have the assurance of the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Savior.

Paul calls for us to “rejoice in the Lord.” But other than celebrating Advent every year; how do we practically rejoice in the Lord always? -->

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Some Buried Caesar" by Rex Stout

It is incredible to me that a book, not a “classic” or “literature” but a mere pulp crime caper, that is 75 years old can feel so contemporary. Or at the very least “relevant.” In “Some Buried Caesar” Wolfe is again on the road away from his sanctuary when he encounters murder. In this case we seem to have less detective work and more shenanigans on Goodwin’s part. He tangles with the local authorities. He tangles with Lily Rowan, for the very first time.

What is most interesting about this case is the ethical conundrum of Wolfe’s behavior. Especially in the little game I like to play where Nero Wolfe represents the church. The reason there is so little detection on this case is that Wolfe has the whole puzzle solved from the very start. He knows who the murderer is; even better stated he knows that a murder has occurred when no one else does. And yet he does nothing to inconvenience himself until he has a financial reason to do so. How does that strike you, dear reader?

In the end, Wolfe does bring the murderer to justice, of course. And to be fair he and Goodwin are so far ahead of the local law intellectually speaking it is doubtful that they really could have done anything more direct or traditionally civic. But, even in intellectual exercises one does not like to think of the church being aloof or indifferent to the problems in the world around it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Three Questions that Miss the Point

There are several vital questions that people ask about the big issues in life that, at their core, are mere distractions. People are not interested in the answers really. They do not agree with the way most people have convinced themselves that they believe. They are simply using the questions to avoid these big issues in life. Does God exist? If God is good, why is there evil? Why do bad things happen to good people?

We can spend a lot of time and effort trying to come up with answers to these questions that really do not work because there are no good defenses to issues that are issues of faith. The true answer we have to all of these questions that cuts through the distractions to the core of people’s needs is the Gospel. Paul says in Romans 1:16,17 that we should not be ashamed to simple tell the story of the Gospel because it is what people need to hear.

1. Does God exist? (Romans 1:18-23)

Paul tells us that the question of God’s existence is just a distraction. According to God’s Word, everybody knows that God exists. When people question this, or debate the issue, they are not interested in the truth, reality or really even thinking about the issue. The whole argument is a result of prior knowledge and fear. In Romans, Paul claims that everybody already knows the answer to this question. God’s existence is revealed to all.

Natural revelation is limited in its scope but universal in its reach. Everyone knows in their heart of hearts that God exists. He rules the universe with truth and standards. We have all at some point failed that standard. We all have earned God’s wrath as a result of that failure.

So our denial of God—the suppression of truth—is a reaction to the fear we have based on the universal knowledge we possess. We remain religious—for lack of a better word—because we cannot help but worship something (we were made to do so) and because we all seek redemption to our basic problem: sin.

This is why we are not ashamed of the Gospel. We do not need to convince people of the truth that they already know and mask. We have the solution to the problem that creates so much fear. We have the resolution to the shame and guilt people feel. Share that.

2. How can a loving God allow evil in the world? (Genesis 1:1-5)

When we look at the world, with all its suffering, pain, death and evil, many of us react with anger. We think: if there is a god who made this world, he could not be a good and loving god. We say: I refuse to accept that sort of god.

The fact is that there are two problems with these thoughts: a failure to understand the nature of evil and the failure to see that a truly loving God can and in fact must allow for that sort of evil.

In Genesis chapter one, we see God create and structure the universe. We see that everything God makes is called good. Where is the evil that we know exists in the universe? We do not see evil revealed until later in chapter three, but we do have a good analogy of evil here in the first act of creation on day one.

God creates light on day one. Who created darkness? It was already present. Does that mean that it is eternal? No. Darkness is really a non-thing. God makes light but in places where there is no light we say that it is dark. It is really just an absence of light. Light and dark are not equal opposites. You do not need darkness to have light, but you do need to know light to be able to understand darkness as a concept because it is no-light.

Evil is a similar concept. It is a non-thing. We do not need evil to have goodness, but wherever there is an absence of good you see evil. Good and evil are not equal opposites. You simply have good and no good.

God shows His love in allowing non-goodness to be. We have a choice when we are able to go our own way. Our way is different from God’s good way, and therefore our choices are often evil. God allows us to be free beings and not machines. He could spare us and the world from all evil, but we would not be free. He shows more love by allowing some people to freely choose Him rather than forcing all to do things His way.

He shows the most love by overcoming evil and death’s power on the cross so that we can escape sin and choose Him. Once again, we have the message of God’s love in the Gospel.

3. Why do bad things happen to good people? (Romans 8:18-25)

This is a third question that has no truly satisfactory—easy answer. The Bible tells us in Job that we cannot understand God’s ways.

What we can know, however, is that this suffering we see and experience now is nothing compared to the hope we have. We may not see the results of this hope yet—it is after all hope—but we are also not alone in our suffering now.

The Holy Spirit is in us interceding for us.

God the Father’s plan is being accomplished in the circumstances of our lives.

Finally, Christ has suffered everything for us on the cross to guarantee our glorification and future with God. Nothing can now separate us from the love of God.

Conclusion:

The Gospel is the story we have—the experience we’ve lived—that defeats all the distracting questions people raise to numb the fear they feel from what they know to be true.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Most Defining Attribute

The most defining attribute of God seems hard to pinpoint. There are so many from which to choose.

Many would say it is His righteousness, His faithfulness, or His unchanging nature. Perhaps most would assume that God’s Holiness is His most defining characteristic. However, defining God in light of His Holiness is like defining apples as being apple-like. The fact that God is holy means that God is set apart, different from anything else. This does not help humanity to understand what he is like. It simply shows that He is different.

To understand God from the human vantage point is to see Him through another attribute: His love. God is love. This is the most defining attribute of God. It describes His relation to His creation. God’s love explains how a righteous God can forgive sinners. It shows how an all-sufficient God can desire worship and relationship. It reveals how an immutable God can suffer and long after the lost. It is the driving characteristic driving the Christmas story. It is why God became human in the incarnation. Jesus Christ in His life on Earth showed the world God’s most defining attribute. He showed His love in His ministry to the disadvantaged. It was His love that led Him to the cross to die for the sins of the world.

It is also God’s love that Jesus commanded His followers to practice amongst each other as their defining characteristic. God’s love is the attribute that, communicated among believers, makes them different from the world. It sets us apart.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Eschatology?

Eschatology, if there is meaning in a name deals with the “last things.” The last things of what? A man’s life meaning death and decay and things beyond death? Perhaps of history meaning the end of all time if such a thing will occur? If indeed eschatology is the mere study of “last things”, how is it relevant or even reliable? Who is to say what the last things will be like? If God is the One saying, then who is to interpret the revelation “correctly”? How can anyone know for certain, in a reliable way the manner in which the “last things” will transpire? As to relevance, how can the last things matter to today?

It may be that eschatology goes deeper than the “last things.” Theology as a whole deals with issues too grand for mere finite minds. Issues of God, beginnings, revelation, and atonement are all beyond human faculties. In this sense eschatology is similar to the rest of theology. In another sense, eschatology is the rest of theology. To understand God, one must rely on His special revelation seen in the promises of His word. To believe in atonement one must hope for a future result of salvation. These things both rely on the “last things.”

Ultimately, Christianity is a religion resting on faith, “the assurance of the hoped for, the conviction of that not seen.” This is eschatology. It is the beliefs of Christianity, its hopes for creation expressed in words, in finite pictures. It is the hardest aspect of creation and God to grasp, as there is no evidence available to point to for the proof of truth to go with the words. Without it, however, Christianity would be void and empty, for with no hope for tomorrow, why live today?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why is it important?

(An old exercise, a bit of a third part to the exercises: "Why do theology?" and "What is Theology?")

Theology is important to the Christian for two reasons. It gives our faith substance, and it gives our lifestyle an ethical guide to follow.

Faith by definition needs something to trust. Theology is important because it gives the Christian the focus of faith. To simply say “I trust God,” without an idea of who God is, is not enough. It would be even worse to have a faith placed in the wrong idea of God. If someone decides to place their trust in the Mormon idea of who God and Christ are, they are placing their trust in a false hope. That is not a picture of God as He has revealed Himself to us in scripture.

Some may think that Theology is to “abstract” to reflect their personal experience with God. In reality they need to have a correct understanding of God to discern if their experience was even with Him, and not just something they imagined. They also need to correctly understand how to relate to God and to others in such a way as to please God, or their experience could serve them no good. A personal experience of God without a response of faith placed in Christ is worthless. A correct understanding, however limited it may be, of scripture relating to man, sin, and the atonement, is necessary to benefit from an initial experience with God. Simply put, salvation depends on a correct understanding of scripture.

Once saved, Theology is necessary to live a life pleasing to God. A correct understanding of God, and man as a creation of God, gives rise to a life that is lived as God would desire. Good ethics depend on the truths expressed in scripture, defined by a good Theology.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why the Human?

The Biblical text affirms that Jesus Christ was human. It does this indirectly, in that it never comes out and explains or states it as such, but by describing His life, it shows Him to have a normal human existence. He was born, grew physically, mentally, and socially, ate and drank, felt, loved, and experienced suffering. He was fully human right down to the fact that He was free to choose whether to follow God’s will or not. He was tempted. The only thing that differentiated Jesus from the rest of mankind was the fact that He resisted temptation. He never sinned. While this distinguishes Him from the rest of humanity, it does not make Him less human. In fact, the opposite is true. In living a sinless life, Jesus Christ was more human that any other person has ever been. He was the ideal and perfect human.

Since the Bible states that Jesus was human, the question remains: why? Why did the incarnation occur? Evidently it was necessary to bring the rest of humanity back to where God intended it to be. It was a necessary element in the Salvation plan of God. In the incarnation, Christ accomplished His goal on earth. He brought about the Atonement of humanity. To do this He needed to be God, for only God can save, but He nonetheless needed to be human, for it was humanity He came to save, and only a representative of the human race could pay the price required to free the race from sin.

This is why Jesus had to really be human. He could not just take on the form of a human, nor become partially human, nor simply clothe Himself in flesh. It was humanity He came to save, so humanity He had to become, not even simply generic humanity, but an individual human man, a real representative.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jesus' Resurrection (Mark 15:40-16:8)

The way Mark frames the story of Jesus’ burial and resurrection is fascinating and unique. We see most of the story through the eyes of the women who followed Jesus. They are there at the cross, they find out where He is hastily buried before the Sabbath begins, and they are there at the crack of dawn on Sunday to attend to the body.

One can only imagine the emotions of Jesus’ followers. The men mostly scattered. Their hopes of a messianic kingdom dashed, they are fearful of facing the same fate as Jesus. The women stick around, or at least these four do. Their reactions indicate more of an emotional reaction of loss. The hopes of the kingdom are gone, but so is the man. Their loyalty remains and they want to do right by Him right up to the end.

No one really knows why the earliest manuscripts do not contain the last portion of Mark. Ultimately, the text that has been handed down to us do have the rest of the story, so we will address those events. However, it is also very interesting to see the way the resurrection is initially received. The women finally do run away—just as the men did, in fear—only they do it when it makes the most sense. Once they have encountered the supernatural at its most powerful. The disciples feared the Roman Empire and the political powers of the day. These women are finally terrified when they see an angel and hear that the Lord has indeed risen as He promised.

That is a reasonable reaction to the way the story unfolded. How do you handle the awe that this story inspires? Does it even impact you still?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Top 25

What follows is a personal and approximate list of the top 25 stories from DS9, in ascending order. If you don’t have the time to watch all 176 episodic hours of the show, here are around 35 that are “must see.” There are other great episodes, but these are my essentials:

25. “In the Hands of the Prophets” (Season 1, Episode 19)

The first season finale shows the potential of the series, delving into the political-religious themed material with both feet.

24. “Trials and Tribble-ations” (Season 5, Episode 6)

Not the best comedic episode of the series, but a crossover effort that is singular in Trek. (Enterprise may pull a similar publicity stunt, I don’t yet know.)

23. “In the Cards” (Season 5, Episode 25)

A lighthearted look at a complicated web of misunderstanding and altruism.


Friday, December 5, 2014

“The Daring Heart of David Livingstone” by Jay Milbrandt

The thesis behind “Daring Heart” is that Livingstone brought about, or at least was very instrumental in, the end of the slave trade in eastern Africa. It recounts the multiple failed exploration expeditions Livingstone undertook after his rise to fame. While he had multiple intents, and failed to achieve any of them, the book focuses on Livingstone’s expressed ulterior motive of ending the slave trade. And, in that effort the book argues to some degree, he succeeded.

Unfortunately, the story as presented here is fairly dry and uninspiring. It is precise, accurate, and thorough. However, for such a fascinating event, the account here is a slog. And, the fact that the events recounted here are frustrating and disheartening, it does not make for an easy read.

I am now inspired to seek out Stanley’s account. Perhaps it would be a better read recounting these important events.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Simply Adore

Oh come let’s escape this Mass!
Ritual hush and statuary
Thousands of candles set ablaze
Empty doctrine and dogma misread
Leave religion and riot.
Even dare to tread
Onto stable ground
Cast off age-old plans
Come let us simply adore Him

Oh come let us leave this place!
Coliseum-like sanctuary
Thousands of voices raised in praise
The amps, the lights, and screens overhead
Let’s go to the quiet
Even smelly shed
Away from the crowds
And adoring fans.
Come let us simply adore Him

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Zombification

(Poetry Scales 27)
“Truth always rests with the minority … because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion.” –Soren Kierkegaard

come shuffle up to the herd
we haven’t a clue or direction
but we’ll get there together

ignore that nagging little voice it’s
scary ‘cause it leads away
away from the comfortable crowd

stop all thinking on your own
consume our prepackage group-think-brains
don’t seek a goal or the truth
ignore sounds on the periphery

we’ve decided real beauty
is lost in our sad absurdity

assimilate everyone,
everything into no certainty
no assurance but into
our foolish staggering company

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Season 7c)


Season 7b    Top 25

The final part of the final season of DS9 is dominated by an overarching storyline involving the war with the Dominion. We get a four-part story followed by a three-parter, and then a bridge episode leading into the two-part finale.

Episodes 17-20 “Penumbra”, “‘Till Death Do Us Part”, “Strange Bedfellows”, and “The Changing Face of Evil” 

The build-up of the “secondary” storyline here is fascinating. The religious aspect of the war is the focus, and what is amazing is that it is not just a political religious situation. There is a reality in the supernatural players being dealt with here. We have already seen that the Prophets, whether one recognizes their deity or not, are real, outside of the Trek reality, and powerful. They are gods for all practical purposes. We have also seen the demonic side of this religious belief as well as their very real existence.

When Sisko’s vision awakens the ever surfacing jealousy in Winn, she receives a vision as well. However, as sometimes happens in Biblical stories as well, she does not stop to question the source nor intent of her messengers. Having never seen the Prophets, she assumes that is who she has seen. Also, always seeking power, she assumes their promise of it is well intentioned. It is Winn’s sin of pride that drives her to join the enemy once she realizes what has happened. Like many afflicted with pride and a desire for power, she cannot do the exact thing she needs to do in order to repent of her sin. She claims to have learned her error, but is unwilling to place herself into a position to avoid her temptation. She wants to acknowledge her sin and partake of it too.

Episodes 21-23 “When it Rains…”, “Tacking into the Wind”, “Extreme Measures”

Again, NonModern is more interested in the “secondary” story. Although over the course of the episodes it shifts to being the main plot. We discover that the disease afflicting the Dominion is Star Fleet technology, created by the infamous Section 31. The moral implications that Bashir and O’Brien have to deal with are bountiful. How do they deal with the knowledge that their side is prepared to commit genocide? What about their friend who is infected, and even more, the vector of the disease? How far should we be willing to sacrifice our values in a fight against evils that deny those values? Is it really possible to fight fire with fire, or is compassion and good will a stronger force than violence and power?

Episode 24 “The Dogs of War” 

In this episode we see the Dominion alliance with Cardassia crumble to the point that we know the empire will be defeated from within. We also see an interesting secondary plot that documents the final, fundamental change in Ferengi society. A change that Quark fights because he sees it destroying the “greatness” of his worldview. In the end, he is shown to be short sighted.

Episode 25,26 “What You Leave Behind Parts 1&2” 

The resolution of the war feels quick if somewhat inevitable. But the real fight is conducted on a “spiritual” level. The final heart-touching moments between the characters we have been watching for seven years are truly moving.
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