Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Gospel changes our way of thinking, living. (1 Peter 4:1-6)

Christ’s suffering was just the start. Dying with Him, symbolized in baptism, is only the beginning. Life with God is a continuous life of obedience—following Christ—even when it means suffering for doing what God wants. That is the essence of discipleship that is largely overlooked. A case could be made that a majority of those who adopt the name of Christ engage in mere symbolism. Say a prayer and go for a swim and you’re done. Real, effective discipleship is much more.

And it is not a rejection of debauchery that is the hardest part. It is the persecution from others who hate God’s people for not behaving the way they behave. Misery loves company, and hates those who have escaped it. The curious aspect of this passage is that God’s judgement is just as motivated—perhaps even more so—by the persecution people enact against His people and not merely sinful behavior. Ultimately, the thing people are judged for is rebellion. Debauchery may be enticing, but self-determination is the essence of the sin nature. Both destroy lives.

Everyone hears the Gospel or at least enough of it to respond. Even those who lived before Christ. Some embrace and follow, trusting God and following His wishes. More choose to create their own little kingdom of deluded destruction.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Strigiformes (Owls)

In an earlier list I stated that birds are not amongst my most favorite of animals. But, if there were one family that would rise above all the rest and possibly even earn a spot on a hypothetical top 100, it would be the owls. They are the silent, smooth operating night hunters. And, in my childhood dreams of taking up falconry, I definitely would have liked an owl. As a matter of fact, the guy who came to our school when I was in 3rd or 4th grade who inspired my dream, had a little owl that he had found and raised. And, a couple weeks ago I got to see another falconer showing off his Great Grey that solidified that bird at the top of this list:

8. Speotyto (or Athene) cunicularia Burrowing Owl 

7. Psiloscops flammeolus Flammulated Owl 

6. Nyctea scandiacus (Probably now Bubo) Snowy Owl 

5. Bubo virginianus Great Horned Owl 

4. Tyto alba Barn Owl 

3. Strix varia Barred Owl 

2. Strix occidentalis Spotted Owl 

1. Strix nebulosa Great Grey Owl (Also pictured at the top.)

(All photos are from Wikipedia and the amazing photographers there.)

Friday, May 29, 2015

"Heroes" by Måns Zelmerlöw

The latest winner of the Eurovision Song Contest has been climbing the music charts across Europe and the world. It is certainly one of the most radio-worthy songs the contest has produced in quite a while. And, the performance at the contest itself was fun and innovative. It deserved the win.

However, at first glance, the lyrics seem a bit full of themselves. (And silly in places, “sing it like a hummingbird”?) “We are the heroes of our time.” People do say that Millennials think too highly of themselves as a generation. That is not what the song’s message is though.

Reading the verses, you see that this is a call to action, a reminder that this generation needs to wake up and stop being so self-obsessed:

Don’t tell the gods I left a mess
I can’t undo what has been done
Let’s run for cover

What if I’m the only hero left?
You better fire off your gun
Once and forever

He said go dry your eyes
And live your life like there is no tomorrow, son
And tell the others

And, when you come to the second verse, there are echoes of older, Christian prayers and devotional thoughts:

The crickets sing a song for you
Don’t say a word, don’t make a sound
It’s life’s creation

I make worms turn into butterflies
Wake up and turn this world around
In appreciation

He said I never left your side
When you were lost I followed right behind
Was your foundation

So, if people were to listen to the words of the pop tunes on the radio, maybe some would be inspired to lay aside the “demons in their minds” and step up to take action and responsibility in life. But, it will likely be off the charts in a couple weeks.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Inglenook

(Poetry Scales 37)   

rest
required rhythmic
periods of recovery
in sleep

dark
save for the glow
emanating warm cushiony
and safe

Rip
life flying past
danger, challenge evitable
so weep

stuck,
trapped in ease
comfort static changelessness
afraid

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Christ's Example and Obedience (1 Peter 3:18-22)

This feels like the climax or pinnacle of the letter. Peter began by speaking of the new life the believer has in salvation. He then went on to describe the way that new life is lived, with God’s Word, worship, the conduct God desires, and suffering as the world fails to understand us or outright rejects us. Here, in this pivotal paragraph, Peter reminds us that Christ suffered too, and from here out the letter will focus even more on our suffering in the world for Christ’s sake.

Some translate the first phrase in verse 18 as “Christ died,” but the word here is to suffer. Christ, the righteous One, suffered for us, the unrighteous. His death and resurrection are what brought the victory of God over the sinful world. This is the story of what has given us hope, the new life in Christ where we are as God intends us to be. At this point Peter goes on to describe something of Jesus’ ministry that is hard to interpret. People have offered various ideas of what was intended, but ultimately none of it really affects the meaning of the passage. What is important is that God in his patience allows this world to persist so that some few may be saved through Christ’s sacrifice. His suffering.

Finally, just as Noah and crew were saved by God with an ark we too are rescued. According to Peter, baptism is the new ark. It does not literally wash away our sin, but it is the outward expression of the faith (trust and obedience) that saves.

Evangelical tradition likes to emphasize the truth that baptism nor any other form of “work,” saves us. It is only God that saves and we accept that salvation through our faith and by following Him as Lord. We like to play speculative games that point out that people who die before they can be baptized will still be saved because it is God that saves us through faith. However, what we have developed is a false teaching that claims that baptism is optional. The Bible does not teach this.

Faith is not a simple fact that we espouse. Biblical faith is a trust in and obedience towards God. Baptism is the first step of obedience that God instructs His people to practice. How can someone start their journey of discipleship by disobeying the very first instruction?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Moses and God's Call

The story of Moses’ call is another favorite. We all love the burning bush and the miracles. What we wouldn’t give to hear God audibly call us to action. And if only He would be as detailed in His instructions as He was to Moses!

But here again we see similar things to what will come later in Jeremiah’s call.

This is God’s plan. He is going to do what He has determined. Moses can argue all he wants, but he might as well tell the sun to stop moving. (God can and will do that, but we are pretty funny in our self-determination.)

Once again, Moses’ task is to speak. God lists off a whole slew of things He is going to do, all Moses has to do is talk.

And, Moses is scared. We find it hard to believe that Moses would hesitate to do such a simple task (talk) in light of everything he has seen. God has spoken. The bush is burning. Moses has been supplied with supernatural powers. He picked a serpent up by the tail! Why doesn’t he trust and obey.

Well, the truth is that we claim to have faith. We believe that the story in Exodus is true. We have the full, detailed account of God’s action in history and His plan for mankind. We have the cross. All we are asked to do is talk. And we give the same lame excuses as Moses.

God, I can’t speak. I don’t understand enough about what I have experienced to verbalize it. I can’t risk offending people. I want to be liked.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Jeremiah and God's Call

Reading Jeremiah chapter one, you get to see the moment where God calls him. Everyone loves this passage because it is one of the clearest places in Scripture where we see that God has formed us to be the people we are. He created us for a purpose and a plan that was established before we were conceived. But there are a couple things that tend to get overlooked or forgotten.

First, it is not really Jeremiah’s call. We tend to be very possessive and controlling of “our calling.” No one gets to tell us what we are supposed to do regarding our obedience or God’s plan for our lives. Living on the “mission field” that is something that I see all the more frequently. People who have “surrendered” to the most extreme of callings are often the people most resistant to input. One wonders if God Himself is allowed to have input on what they are supposed to be doing.

Second, Jeremiah is specifically called to speak. This is really the calling that God places on every one of His people. Time and time again God has the plan and He knows what needs to be done. He is also the only one with the power and ability to do what needs to be done. He changes people. He impacts history. All He ever wants from us is submissive obedience and 99% of the time that involves simply talking to those whom He brings into our lives.

Third, Jeremiah—the man created to do the job God intends for him to do—is afraid. He says he can’t do the very thing that God has made him to do. But, it is God’s plan and so he does it. If he had not, God still would have accomplished His purposes, only Jeremiah would have missed out. Then we would have been reading something named after someone else.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Star Trek TOS (Season 2b)


Season 2aSeason 2c

Now reaching the middle of the series’ run, these episodes are all good-not-great.

Episode 8 “I, Mudd”

Summary: The ship is hijacked by an android and taken to a planet of androids run by Harry Mudd. His plan is to use the Enterprise and strand the crew, but the androids have other ideas. Kirk must use his patented logic fighting to take out computers yet again.

Struggle: The “illogical” behavior used by the crew is supremely silly.

Thoughts:

This feels like a bit of rehashing. Not only is Mudd back, but also the idea of androids and that idea that Trek loves: humanity without struggles, problems, and error is bad. This idea of Secular Humanism is perplexing. They want to improve humanity, but since we are ultimately flawed, those flaws must somehow be a part of our essential goodness. Where biblical faith sees sin as a problem in need of a solution, humanism sees only imperfections that are somehow a part of our beauty. And yet, they want to solve all the specific “sins” that one can mention: greed, sloth, hatred, etc.

Episode 9 “Metamorphosis”

Summary: The command crew is again taken hostage and to a planet inhabited by a single man, for the second week in a row. This time they are intended to be companions for the man who is sad on his own. He should have died over a century ago, but is maintained and even rejuvenated by an incorporeal—yet female—being who is in love with him. Conveniently, a female character who happens to be dying is there to provide the being with a body the man can love.

Struggle: Trek’s early sexism is on full display in this episode.

Thoughts:


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hopelessness in "Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015)

I think my experience of this film was clouded by the fact that it was being reviewed so strongly. After all, when I went to see it it was already ranked the 25th best film of all time by IMDB. By the next day it had climbed to 23rd. I do not think it will hold that spot for very long. Reality has to set in eventually

Don’t get me wrong. It is a masterpiece of action. But it is not perfect and it is not better than all save a couple dozen movies ever made.

In spite of all the amazing action choreography and practical effects, and all the amazing cinematography and world-building, it is not a story per say. Instead we get a two hour race/chase populated by cardboard cutouts of characters.

What is amazing here is the world building. In spite of the fact that we do not really get a fully realized story, the world in which this film takes place is. One can infer and deduce much of the backstory and history of the world we are seeing from the many well-placed and precisely-thought-out clues that Miller intersperses into the frenetic action. Things like how Nux’s mouth got to be the way it is or how Furiosa knows the way to the promised land and what her real connection to the brides is are hinted at clearly.

That said, unlike a lot of fantasy worlds that people have invented, no one wants to escape to the land of Mad Max. And that is a problem for the film.

Even though the film is basically a chase, there are messages and social commentary to be found. And not just in the tacked-on, seemingly deep, quote at the end of the film. The evils of religion created by people to control others or the dangers of placing faith in pure, unfounded, untestified hope are played with in this story. “Hope is a mistake,” claims Max. He is right when you are merely hoping for the best in a crazy world and your hope is not based in someone but in pure wish.

Unfortunately, those themes are approached from a dark, nihilistic world where there is no god and no real good either. That is the other problem for the film.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"The Face of an Angel" (2014)

This is the biggest mess of a film that I have seen in a long time. It is pretty much an unredeemable disaster of a movie. And it is a shame because there were clearly some high aspirations.

The film flirts with a meta element, but never embraces it. It is essentially the story of a filmmaker trying to make a film out of the Amanda Knox case. Early on in the film a journalist tells the filmmaker he needs to turn it into a fictional account, because that is the only way he will be able to tell the truth. So, it is no surprise that—although the facts of the case are those of the Knox trial—we are dealing with a “made-up” murder.

Where an interesting choice could have been made comes early on. The producers are talking about actors they could cast in the roles of their characters. Had they actually mentioned the actors who really are ultimately cast, it could have been a way to make this interesting on some level.

Instead we get to see the main character repeatedly fail to write a script as he is too obsessed with: his failed relationship, a deeper truth that he can insert into the film, Dante’s writing, and cocaine. One wonders if the script is an autobiographical account of the actual writer. However, whereas in the film our character fails and is fired, this film actually and inexplicably got greenlit.

Skip this disaster.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The Cobblestone Corridor" (2015)

Erik Bloomquist has managed to create a delightful tribute to noir with “The Cobblestone Corridor.” In a concise 25 minutes he tells a complete, coherent mystery in the tradition and style of the genre, with a knowing wink that comes off as respectfully funny and not sarcastic or satirical. In fact, my only complaint was that I barely had time to get into the world of this private, elite high school and the story was over. I would gladly return for a meatier, lengthier exploration if he chose to make one. His eye for mese-en-scene and his playful dialogue are great. It looks, however, like I will get to explore another story in the horror genre first, if imdb has their information right.

When this film becomes available it is worth your time.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The "Peter Grant" Mysteries

I stumbled upon the “Peter Grant” series late last year, and proceeded to run through them in rather quick fashion. At first I had no idea (but it made perfect sense once I found out) that Ben Aaronovitch was a writer for the classic Doctor Who series. I would not go so far as to say that I like the series, but I find many aspects of the stories fascinating.

Right up front I have to mention a couple of major disclaimers and caveats. These books have the typical British language that borders on highly offensive for Americans. Not a whole lot, but more than many I know can tolerate. And, there is a bit more sex than I am used to in my crime fiction.

The most intriguing aspect of the series is the world that is builds. Aaronovitch does a wonderful job of incorporating a consistent, yet expanding fantasy element into what otherwise would be our ordinary modern day London. Some have compared it to the Harry Potter books, just for adults. It is not quite the same, nor does it achieve the same level of success, but it is the same concept.

Peter Grant is a trainee London police officer who discovers the magical side of the world, and that he has an aptitude for magic, so he is recruited to be an apprentice to the last official wizard on the Metropolitan Police Force. The other thing I find fascinating, and thought provoking, is the worldview behind the world Aaronovitch has created. It has clear hints at similarities to writers like Adams and Pratchett. That is to say an atheistic, materialistic outlook that tries to explain the wondrous, miraculous aspects of the world. It feels like the postmodern openness to a supernatural aspect to life that feels the need to reject any monotheistic, Christian ideas.

So, like a lot of modern fantasy (Adams, Pratchett, Doctor Who, etc.) you have an exploration of animistic, pantheistic, and polytheistic ideas that feel perfectly acceptable to the modern atheist who has rejected God in more of a stance against the wrongs of religion. These are highly relevant, widely shared ideas with which people of faith should be contending. Or at least with which we need to be familiar.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Harbinger

(Poetry Scales 36)  

It starts with clouds in her eyes
…and breezes like sighs.

Drifts of samples and swatches accumulate and then
detours appear on normal weekly errand runs.
That is the time when you need a contingency plan:
Free up some money and flexibility.

Because that storm on the horizon,
inevitable and unstoppable
…is change.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 3a)


Season 2bSeason 3b

I am used to Trek shows (outside of TOS) requiring 3 seasons to really hit their stride. TNG and DS9 both became really good at the end of the third. Voyager got surprisingly good in the second season, so I came into this one with higher hopes… than I should have. This season starts out pretty weak and with some forced plot ideas.

Episode 1 “Basics (Part 2)”

We get the fully expected resolution to the cliff-hanger. And we knew that Lon Sudor would redeem himself. What we didn’t know we would be getting was the first-grade level lesson on getting along with the primitive natives on the planet surface.

Episode 2 “Flashback”

What if there were a virus that fed off of memories and strong emotions? What if it hid inside the brain disguised as a memory? That might be a really cool idea, but unfortunately not in this case. Instead we get to pay tribute to the original cast, just not in the incredibly cool way that Deep Space Nine would two months later in “Trouble with Tribbles.”

Episode 3 “The Chute”

Kim and Paris are trapped in a prison hell-hole and we have a hard time caring while we are waiting for the inevitable rescue that we all see coming.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Defending Hope in Suffering (1 Peter 3:13-17)

This paragraph contains one of the most well-known and oft-quoted lines in Peter’s writing:
“…being ready always to give an answer to everyone that asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” 
We are told that we should be at the ready to defend the hope that is in us. What is usually taught with this passage is that you need to have your gospel presentation prepared and ready. The two things that are all too often overlooked here are: the prompting and the context.

The prompting, that which triggers the defense that we are supposed to be mounting, is a question. We are usually taught to approach people with the Gospel, unrequited as it were. That is certainly not a bad thing. We should be ready to tell people of our faith and the hope that we have in Christ. But, Peter is expecting people to demand an explanation from us. Why are we so full of hope?

Our question today is: why are we not asked this more often? It may lie in the other overlooked aspect of this passage.

Peter has composed a tightly structured paragraph around this sentence. We would do well to look at everything he said, not just one little fragment. The structure appears somewhat chiastic, and it all serves to highlight that Peter expects the questions regarding our hope to come out of the context of the persecution and suffering we are enduring for our faith.

A-Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?
B--But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed.
C---Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,
D----but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,
E-----always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
d----yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience,
c---so that, when you are slandered,
b--those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
a-For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.

Western Christianity today would not seem to fit into this passage very well. We may suffer at times for doing good, but our response is not mirrored here in 1 Peter.

Today’s “Christian” response is to defend ourselves, not our hope. Be it with legal, political, or even an armed response. And when we defend ourselves, we do not elicit the questioning response we should desire.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Gastrolith

(Poetry Scales 35)  

I still remember as a kid in school learning about those rocks
that, though not bone turned into rock,
were still fossils.

Swallowed by dinosaurs to help grind the food in their stomach,
that otherwise would go undigested.

They were crucial to life.

People don’t like swallowing
hardness and pain,
even the kind that helps.

Sometimes one ends up with hardships anyway,
the sort caused by one’s own doing.

Instead of gastroliths,
we get fecalomas.

Monday, May 4, 2015

"The Golden Spiders" by Rex Stout

I have not yet read a majority of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Those that I have read have been great. Stout always seemed to find a clever way to let Wolfe solve the puzzle with his intellect, outthinking everyone around him. Even Archie, who is in on just about everything Wolfe is doing. But, with “The Golden Spiders” I have finally run into a bit of a disappointment.

It is still a very entertaining read, but it isn’t exactly a Nero Wolfe mystery. Everything from the way the case finds Wolfe, to the approach he takes to solving the puzzle, to the action scenes, to the way the case is solved are all either highly convenient or simply out of character. In the end, you get the impression that Wolfe had figured it out early on, based on some clues he points out. But if that is the case, why did it take so long/so much stabbing in the dark to get there?

If you were to take my advice and check out a Rex Stout mystery, don’t let this be your starting point. Go with “The Doorbell Rang” instead.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

8 Years and 2000 Thoughts Later...

Just a quick “cheat” of a post (the 2000th one!) to mention that it was exactly eight years ago today that I booted up this blog and posted my first thoughts… the thoughts that saddled me with the slightly confusing name: NonModern. I stick by it, though.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Submission as Unity, Love and Humility (1 Peter 3:8-12)

Peter ends this section dealing with “honorable conduct” that dealt mostly with the way we are to be respectful and submissive in our behavior, by encouraging five qualities:

Unity of mind does not mean that all believers should think the same thoughts, or march in lock-step to one “approved” interpretation of things, but rather to the mindset of unity. That is where we respect and love each other, sharing life including conversations about what we think.

Sympathy ties into that. We feel for each other. We take others’ perspectives and positions into account. We love each other from a position of understanding.

Brotherly love is the act of considering others and their needs as higher than our own. We focus on what we can do for each other, not what we can get for ourselves.

A tender heart is one that seeks the gentle way of helping others. Think someone is in the wrong? The tender heart nudges and encourages, it doesn’t judge and impose.

A humble mind, once again, is more about mindset. The humble mind is the wise one. The one who knows enough to know that it doesn’t. The fool is he who thinks he doesn’t have anything to learn.

So, once again, this description from Peter as to what the right conduct from a believer should be points to a deferment, a respect, a submissive approach to relationships.

Friday, May 1, 2015

“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” (2015)

For those who have had an interest in Scientology, or cultic systems in general, the stuff revealed in “Going Clear” was likely not new. The fascinating thing about the documentary is the way that it is revealed.

Back in the mid-nineties when I was taking a graduate level class on “Theology of the American Cults,” I had already read a lot about the bizarre scheme. Even then though, things were taking on an even more mind-boggling aspect as documents were being leaked onto the internet. We all knew it was the creation of a science fiction author, the buzz was that it was also science fiction in content.

This new documentary relies on interviews and documentation complied for the book that spawned the documentary, and seems to have removed any doubts about just how far out things are. The most damning bits are where it is made clear just how the organization holds its sway over key members. Thus making it very painful, or almost impossible, to leave once the realization hits that the whole thing is simply crazy.

The con-job seems to have been shrinking a lot in the past couple decades. Hopefully this last straw for this particular poisonous “belief” preying on people’s needs.

For people of faith, it is also a good reminder that we need to hear from time to time. What methods and approaches do we as Christians use to promote our worldview? Do we simply share our story and the story of Christ, or are we employing manipulative emotional hooks to attract people to an institutional model of church?


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