Friday, July 31, 2015

Random Thoughts on "Ant-Man" and Marvel through Phase Two

I was worried about “Ant-Man” with all of the turn-over in production. The loss of Edgar Wright was a big blow and concern. However, I heard a lot of positive buzz once the film came out, and, seeing it, I was happy with the end result. I have thought for some time now that Marvel would do well to branch out and tackle multiple genres within its universe. Not everything has to be a paint-by-numbers superhero story. Especially if you want to release two films a year for the foreseeable future. Audiences will tire of that quickly. So, a comedic heist film is a breath of fresh air. And, Edgar Wright still has his fingerprints all over this thing.

I did wonder about a few things during the film. For instance:

I get the internal logic that says a shrunken man will still have the mass and strength of his full size self. He is still all there, the distance between his molecules has merely been reduced. However does that logic not work in reverse? When the Thomas the Train Engine gets “blown up” does it not still have the mass of its tiny self? How could it crush a car? And for that matter, how is Michael Douglas carrying a tank around in his pocket?

Also, Falcon did not fare well in this story. I venture to predict that any other of the new Avengers could have stopped Ant-Man in this film. Falcon was exposed as the normal man in a rather limited suit that he is.

I love the introduction of the Quantum Space concept going into phase three. If they are going to introduce the magic side of Marvel, they need something so advanced that it appears magical yet grounded.

So, having seen all 12 movies in the first two phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, here are my rankings and ratings:

1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) 9.4

The only or mostly non-superhero film.

2. The Avengers (2012) 9.1

The fact that the pulled this one off will earn it bonus points and historical significance.

3. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) 9.05

This is the most adult, serious, and message-y movie of the bunch.

4. Ant-Man (2015) 8.9

Fun and fresh.

5. Iron Man (2008) 8.9

This film was great enough to kick this whole mess off. I must say it diminishes in my estimation with each rewatch, and the end is poo. (But that is a common Marvel weakness.)

6. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) 8.75

A whole lot of fun, but it is so overloaded with characters I am truly concerned I will hate “Civil War.”

7. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 8.15

The Adventure film.

8. Iron Man 3 (2013) 7.8

Quirky and 1980s action.

9. Thor: The Dark World (2013) 7.35

Almost works as a fantasy film.

10. Iron Man 2 (2010) 7.15

This one is a mess. Marvel was just learning how to do the whole series of interconnected films thing.

11. Thor (2011) 7

This one borders on boring.

12. The Incredible Hulk (2008) 6.7

I have no memory of this film and no real desire to revisit it. But I probably will do a marathon of the whole lot with my boys someday.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 4b)


Season 4a—Season 5a

Voyager has a reputation for being a bad series. While this half does give us a lot of “lesser” stories, it does manage to be entertaining across the board.

Episode 14 “Message in a Bottle”

In a comedic story with stunt casting, we get the Doctor playing hero once again. More than anything else, this episode sets up the MacGuffin for the rest of this season: contact with Starfleet and a garbled message that needs to be decoded. All in all, it is very entertaining.

Episodes 15, 16, 18, 19 “Hunters” “Prey” and “The Killing Game”

The antennae array from the last episode has some connection to a species of alien hunters. One wonders how the species managed to achieve space travel (and presumably the array) with such an anti-civilization culture. In the first of these four episodes, we are clued in to the idea that these Hirogens are Trek’s Predator. The second episode would have us believe that a Species 8472 has been left behind in our universe, and has somehow traveled the 10 year journey to where Voyager is, and has been hunted for some time.

Finally, the two-parter—even with all the set-up of the previous three episodes—presents an in medias res story of Hirogen using the Holodeck to torture the crew… all in an effort to create a Hirogen civilization culture. Hmmmm. It feels more like an elaborate excuse to have alien Nazis.

Episode 17 “Retrospect”

Seven of Nine is manipulated by the Doctor, who is deluding himself as being counselor material, to have false memories accusing an alien of abuse. It is heavy-handed, but a fairly good take on the “recovered memories” scandal from the 1980s and 90s.

Episode 20 “Vis a Vis”

A body-swapping story that feels perfunctory. The problem with episodic stories on TV is we know from the get go that everything will return to Status-quo by the end of things.

Episode 21 “Omega Directive”

This episode promises a secret, spy-like mission in the cold-open. It does not deliver. When ordered to destroy a “dangerous” molecule that could destroy warp travel, Janeway ignores Seven of Nine’s suggestion that Borg research might render it safe. More than that, it turns out that the “perfection” of the molecule makes it a sort of “Holy Grail” for Borg culture. Seven gets a glimpse of the molecule and has a Damascus Road experience, but that is swept away quickly in the cap scene.

Episode 22 “Unforgettable”

What we learn in this story is that Chakotay is easier to manipulate than your average guy. An alien whose biology causes other to forget interaction with them (see The Silence in Doctor Who for a much better take) shows up claiming that she knows the crew and wants asylum. Chakotay rightly suspects her claims that they were in love, but choses to believe her. When the tables are turned and the alien is made to forget the crew, Chakotay tries to convince her as she did him. She leaves without a moment’s hesitation.

Episode 23 “Living Witness”

In one of the more interesting uses of the sci-fi potential, the show tackles the limitations of history. The Doctor’s back-up file is activated 700 years in the future, in a museum, on a world that thinks it was the victim of an attack from Voyager. In this future, history has recorded Voyager as a harsh, totalitarian run ship that is willing to commit genocide to get what it needs to return home. The Doctor’s first hand testimony tells a very different story; that might cause renewed race wars.

Episode 24 “Demon”

An inhospitable planet has an intelligent, but non-conscious substance that attains consciousness when it comes in contact with Kim and Paris. It reproduces bodies based on their DNA (but not really, since it can exist on the planet where life as we know it can’t.) In this story, though, our crew has enough respect for life to allow the substance to replicate everyone, as a gift of life. TNG, in a similar situation (“Up the Long Ladder”), acted completely out of character and killed such “clones” in a pro-abortion message. Outside of that episode, Trek has always (unintentionally, but consistent with logic and ethics) been pro-life.

Episode 25 “One”

Seven of Nine must navigate through a nebula on a month-long journey while the rest of the crew is in suspended animation. Understandably, she begins to lose it psychologically.

Episode 26 “Hope and Fear”

That message from Star Fleet finally gets read and simply says, “Sorry, you’re on your own out there.” Actually, though, an alien tricks the crew into thinking that it reveals a quicker way home in an effort to turn them over to the Borg. They of course uncover the ruse and also manage to get a lot closer to home.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

10 More Favorites

Yesterday’s post was so fun I couldn’t stop:

“No man was ever taken to hell by a woman unless he already had a ticket in his pocket or at least had been fooling around with timetables.” –Rex Stout, Some Buried Caesar

As a former youth minister, I can tell you: there are a lot of people out there teaching girls that all sexual sin out there is their fault. Must be nice to be a boy growing up in that fault-free environment!

“We are all vainer of our luck than of our merits.” –Rex Stout, The Rubber Band

Some judge the poor of the world as though their lot in life is entirely a result of lack of effort. That is the easiest way to live with excess in a world of suffering.

“Afraid? I can dodge folly without backing into fear.” –Rex Stout, The Doorbell Rang

This would be a great phrase to know as a teen facing peer pressure.

“Why was this bloody world created?"
"As a sewer for the stars," a voice in front of him said. "Alternatively to know God and to glorify Him forever."
" [...] The two answers are not, of course, necessarily alternative.” –Charles Williams, War in Heaven

I love systems of belief that embrace paradox, or at least multiple answers to a question.

“Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” –C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

It seems this is the mission of mankind. Just look at the intellectual elite.

“They would say,” he answered, “that you do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because you never attempted obedience.” ― C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

The context in the story is marriage, but this also applies to the walk of discipleship.

“It was all very well going on about pure logic and how the universe was ruled by logic and the harmony of numbers, but the plain fact of the matter was that the Disc was manifestly traversing space on the back of a giant turtle and the gods had a habit of going round to atheists' houses and smashing their windows.” –Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic

I love the idea of this absurdist author laughing at the idea of atheists in his creation.

“A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

As a dog owner—and of a nice dog I hope—I like to think this observation is true.

“Watson. Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes: Adventure of the Creeping Man

Now that is leadership!

“I daren't come and drink," said Jill. "Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

“So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

These last two are small portions of much larger texts in my second favorite tome of The Chronicles of Narnia. You really ought to search them out and read them in full.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Some 10 of My Favorite Quotes from Lit.

My son is taking a course in Creative Writing, and had to write some of his favorite sentences from literature. That sounded like a fun thing to do, so here are a few of my own; just the first few that came to mind:

“You are to act in the light of experience as guided by intelligence.” –Rex Stout “In the Best Families”

This is Nero Wolfe’s advice to his employee, Archie Goodwin, when Goodwin is unable to consult Wolfe for instructions. It is also a good bit of advice for everyday life.

“Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be vulgarity - like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day.” –C. S. Lewis “Perelandra

C. S. Lewis dominates this list. I could do a top 100 list of his quotes. This one is a wonderful illumination on the nature of sin. More than just doing wrong, it can be doing good with wrong motivation, or seeking pleasures instead of receiving them.

“Isn't it absolutely essential to keep a fierce Left and fierce Right, both on their toes and each terrified of the other? That's how we get things done.” ― C.S. Lewis, “That Hideous Strength”

My favorite novel is full of great quotes. The above one is from the evil powers trying to control the world.  It fits especially today, don't you think, fearful Christian?  Here is another one:

“There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one.” –C.S. Lewis “That Hideous Strength”

There is also a great conversation regarding weather that I would have included here, but it is way more than a sentence.

“There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity they never gave a thought to Christ.” –C.S. Lewis “The Great Divorce”

I have met so many missionaries with exactly this problem.

“Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper. “One who has waited long for you to speak.” –C. S. Lewis “The Horse and His Boy”

This opens my favorite conversation in my favorite book of the Chronicles of Narnia. Read the whole chapter, if not the whole book.

“Deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.” –J. R. R. Tolkien “The Return of the King”

Tolkien too has a dozen or more gems. This one is especially important for today’s generation.

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes ... as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.” –Norton Juster “The Phantom Tollbooth”

This book influenced me more than many in my childhood. It is full of many great, insightful treasures. I think everyone I supervise should learn this quote by heart.

“You can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and not get wet.” –Norton Juster “The Phantom Tollbooth”

Ouch.

“I'll continue to see things as a child. It's not so far to fall.” –Norton Juster “The Phantom Tollbooth”

This would make a wonderful life motto.

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Taxi Driver" (1976)

Having re-watched a film that inspired it (The Searchers), and having caught up with one of its obvious successors (Super), this week seemed like the right time to finally watch this iconic film from the seventies. It isn’t the highest ranked film on the imdb 250 list that I haven’t seen (at the time of this writing that distinction goes to another Scorsese movie, “Goodfellas”), but there aren’t many higher.

This film fits squarely into the sheep category. Films like 2001 or Citizen Kane are other examples of this type of film. Competent, even great for their day, they may be important films as they set some standard or broke some new ground; but the point is you are supposed to like them. Even if you don’t really enjoy the experience, you say you did because to not like this piece of art renders you a fraud. There is safety in the herd.

I for one was pretty indifferent with this one. It is well made and acted, but uninspiring. Some will say that is the point. However, I can’t even manage to dislike this one enough. This far removed from 1976 I think it fails to have the shocking impact that it had in its day. Time has not been kind to “Taxi Driver.”

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Role of Leadership (2 Peter 1:12-15)

I met with an older leader of an Austrian denomination of churches once. We were sharing our stories and comparing notes about church planting. As we began to discuss working together on things, and I was asking for him to commit to some activities we were planning, he said something that I will never forget. “If life expectancies are to be believed, I can only reasonably count on 40 to 50 more months of life, so I want to make sure everything I do is the best use of the time I have left.”

How many of us plan our lives and activities with that level of awareness and vision? Here, Peter is in a similar situation. He knows his life is nearing its end. He knows he has little left to accomplish before he will enter eternity. He is hyper focused on making his activity count. What is he doing?

“I shall not fail to remind you of things… although you know them and are already established in the truth.” (J. B. Phillips)

Peter is an apostle. The Apostle if you will. And he presents a very different picture of church leadership to that which people expect today.

Today people tend to think that good pastors and teachers are constantly discovering and teaching new truth. Reality is that the role of great leaders in the church is to constantly REMIND the people of the old truths that they already know.

Today people think it is the job of pastors and missionaries to do the work of the church, but great leaders spur the whole church to do the work of the church. It is all about knowing and being established in the basic truth of the Gospel, about knowing and doing the things that Jesus taught His followers to do all those years ago, and that He expects his followers to do today.

Friday, July 24, 2015

"Super" (2010)

“Super” is the textbook example of a NonModern “not a recommendation” label. This film has levels of language and violence; but an indefensible attitude toward rape makes it one I would definitely never recommend to anyone. This is not a post where I am encouraging anyone, especially believers wanting to engage the culture, to seek out and watch a film. But to those who have seen this film, particularly non-believers forming or developing opinions about people of faith, I would like to write the following to you.

Up to a point this film is brilliant satire. The idea of a normal—albeit unstable—person deciding to become a superhero “for real” has been done. Even around the time that “Super” came out, another effort, “Kick Ass” was being released. However, “Super” seems to have the most realistic take on the concept. And James Gunn uses the premise to make some really smart commentary on everything from violence to crime to religion to mental health.

Rainn Wilson plays Frank, a socially awkward man whose wife leaves him for a drug dealer. This trauma causes Frank to believe that he is called by God to fight evil. The movie shows us that Frank is religious, but his faith is a nebulous mixture of moralism, self-hate, and a mysticism that is a big problem as it also looks as though Frank has mental health issues. He is not what anyone could really call a follower of Jesus. His faith is more what some would naively and uninformedly call “Old Testament.” But, to be fair, that is what a lot of people who claim to be Christians are like.

He quickly becomes a menace to criminals, and anyone who does not meet his social standards. Since he is not particularly smart, he goes around hitting people in the head with a pipe wrench. It does not seem to matter if they are pedophiles or merely cutting in line at the movie theater. That said, he does struggle with what he is doing. He is full of doubt and tries to quit, but his “calling” is something that he feels is real.

Part of Frank’s problem is that he looks to a TV show for guidance. The TV show he watches “The Holy Avenger” is a send-up of kids’ Christian programing from the 1990s. Once again, this is a religious and not necessarily really a Christian thing. Those programs back then (and presumably today) are more about preaching morality and religion than the Biblical Gospel. In one sense, one can understand how Frank turned out the way he is if he was raised on the kind of belief espoused in the TV show he watches.

The side-kick character is where things really fall apart. A girl at the comic book store discovers Frank’s secret and insists upon becoming his superhero partner. Unlike Frank, she is in it for the rush and the excitement. In fact, she is a bit of a sociopath. Once she becomes a factor the story becomes too silly, disturbing and frankly, too realistic. Maybe that is the point.

The resolution of this story—both the rescue of Frank’s wife as well as Frank’s moment of clarity that follows—don’t measure up to the first half of the film. This is the sort of story and message that can’t really support a traditional, Hollywood, happy ending.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The First Three Commandments in 2 Kings 17, and Today (pt. 3)

"Do not misuse my name."
(For part 2 see here.)
Covenant not Tradition

In the rest of 2 Kings 17, the Bible goes on to tell us that the people continued in the sins that had always been committed in Israel. The Author of Kings tells us that “to this day” the Samaritans as they came to be known continued these sins of Polytheism and Idolatry. He points out in verse 38 that this is also a break of the third command.

38 "The covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods.

To enter into covenant with God is to take his name, much as a wife takes he husbands name. Israel broke the third commandment by taking God’s name (entering into a relationship with Him) and doing so in vain. They were not in covenant for their benefit alone. God had called them as a nation to reach the whole world and change it. Instead they simply used the covenant for their own benefit and never were a witness to the nations. That is taking God’s name in vain.

Christ, not Christianity

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Is there anything in our lives that holds the place God should have? -Colossians 2:8

Have we rationalized worship of other gods by claiming we love God more?

Have we made an image for ourselves of God the way we think He should be?

Are we growing to know God more and better each day, or have we placed Him in a neat little box?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The First Three Commandments in 2 Kings 17, and Today (pt. 2)

"Do not make idols"
(For pt.1 see here)

Not only had Israel broken the first law. Judah had done this too, and had not been exiled yet. The ultimate reason Israel was exiled, and the reason each and every King of Israel was condemned by God was the “Sin of Jeroboam.” Ultimately it boiled down to a transgression of the second law.

When Jeroboam became the first King of the northern kingdom, he knew that he could not let his people go to Jerusalem to worship. Their loyalties would be divided. So he set up a rival worship of Yahweh in Bethel and Dan. He constructed two golden bulls, and told the people that they were Yahweh and commanded them to gather at one of the two places to worship God.

This was such a great sin, that all other kings of Israel were judged by whether they followed his practice or not. The nation had always mixed the worship of God with paganism, and this was evil in the sight of God. But ultimately what did Israel in was the “sin or way of Jeroboam.” This was the empty worship of the true God. A false religion set up around a true God. This sin was held against every following King of Israel; even the few considered “good” kings held to this sin.

So what we really have here in II Kings 17 is the story of a false religion centered on a true God; it matters not if an idol represents the true God, it is still an idol! The second commandment is all about forbidding religion, not a repeat of the first commandment. Many people are confused by the first and second commandments. The first says, “Have no other gods.” The second says, “Make no idols.” If you don’t have any gods, why would you make idols? The answer is, of course, that God does allow one God to be worshiped: Him. So the second commandment could be read, “In worshiping Me, make no idols or representations as the pagans do.” God did not call the nation of Israel to Him to make yet another religion. Mankind had been making religions since the fall. God called them to a covenant, a relationship. Jeroboam’s great sin was that he turned God into simply another local deity, and made a whole new religion to worship him.

The second commandment is broken when we worship God but make Him in our own image, our own liking. Whenever we cease to have a growing relationship with the living God and instead fashion a representation of what we know Him to be and never see Him anew. Whenever we cease to seek Him out and simply become comfortable in the religious customs (or traditions) we have made.

Part 3

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The First Three Commandments in 2 Kings 17, and Today (pt1)

"Do not worship any god except Me." 

In 1898, the British empire was in the midst of a 26-year project to construct a railroad across the eastern portion of the African continent. In March of that year, Col. John Henry Patterson was commissioned to build a permanent bridge across the Tsavo river as an integral part of that project. When he arrived in Tsavo, he became a pert of one of the most horrific and memorable encounters between man and beast of the past 1000 years of human history.

For months preceding the Col.’s arrival, men had been disappearing from camps in the area. Most were chalked up to fights or desertion, but rumors of man-eating lion’s were also circulating. Patterson, an experienced big game hunter, initially rejected these legends, as lions were known to regularly hunt humans. Shortly after his arrival however, he found that the legends were true. It took 10 months of stalking baiting failed trapping attempts and near fatal failures on Patterson’s part to finally kill what turned out to be two gigantic Mane-less male lions. In the end they had killed nearly 140 people!

The 1996 movie, “The Ghost and the Darkness” depict this historical account with surprising faithfulness to the true accounts. The actual story was so dramatic even Hollywood didn’t have to change much. However, this is not the first time something like this has ever occurred. In the Bible we find mention of a similar occurrence of horror, caused by lions, led by God. It is found in 2 Kings 17:24-34.

In this passage the Assyrians thought lions were attacking because a local deity was upset. The phrase “god of the land” is spelled with a little “g” in most English translations. This is because the god referred to is a regional god of Israel, not the true God of the Bible. Israel did serve the true God, but in this case the Assyrians, and for that matter the Israelites are reducing Him to a merely local deity, thus a false concept, not the true God, Yahweh. This phrase is used only four times in the Bible, three here and once in Zephaniah, where it is translated gods of the Earth, once again referring to false deity.

This passage reflects a view humanity has held from ancient times. In Bible times, each nation had their own deity, and when wars and conquests would occur, the winning nation possessed the supreme god. The local deities would still exist and be worshiped, but would become underlings of the new deity. Religious practice would mix and syncretism would result.

A more modern example of this idea, which has always been around in one form or another, is the syncretism that exists to this day in Latin America. When the Spanish and Portuguese conquered the New World, they imposed Catholicism on the Natives. These in turn would adopt the Christian God and His saints, but they would keep their old pagan gods as well. Today many saints are mere reinterpretations of the old pagan deities. This syncretism is called Santinismo.

In the Kings passage, this is exactly what we see happening. The local deity needed appeasing so a priest is sent to teach the new population to please him, while they continue to worship their own gods as well. In truth though, syncretism and false Yahweh worship had already existed in Israel for centuries. We see that earlier, in verses 7-23.

The danger with syncretism is that anyone can fall prey. When we give into worshiping other gods, we convince ourselves we are OK because we are still worshiping God. But the Bible insists you can’t have two masters, you can’t truly worship two gods.

Part 2

Monday, July 20, 2015

Waldeinsamkeit

Endlose Wellen der Schatten
Zwischen bewaldeten Beobachter
Ruhig, still

Still… totenstill vielleicht?
Wie weit geht der Wald noch?
Einsamkeit

Einsamkeit einmal gewünscht
Jetzt scheint falsch, bedrohlich
Tschüss, Natur!

Sylvan Solitude 

Endless shafts of shadow
Between wooded watchers
Tranquil, still

Still… deathly still perhaps?
How far does the forest go?
Solitude

Solitude once desired
Now seems wrong, threatening
Bye, nature!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Virtuous Confirmation (2 Peter 1:1-11)

Peter begins his second letter with a challenge for his readers to confirm their calling in Christ. We do not save ourselves through any effort of our own. Our salvation is through the righteousness of Christ and is on an equal footing with the giants of church history such as Peter, and yet it does not hurt to be sure in our relationship—our election. After all, disciples who are active in the kingdom and in the ministry of Christ are doing their part to spread the kingdom to all.

The thing that Peter encourages his readers to do specifically, is to cultivate kingdom virtues in their lives. This is probably not an exhaustive list, but it does look as though Peter saw these virtues as building on each other, and building the disciples up into maturity.

To our faith (trust and obedience), which is the basis of our relationship with God and citizenship in the kingdom, Peter calls on us to add virtue (moral excellence, fulfilling purpose). Next comes knowledge. It is interesting that knowledge follows behavior on this list, as theoretical information hardly ever leads to anything useful. Temperance (self-control), perseverance (patience or endurance), and godliness (reverence or awe) follow. Once again it is clear that the Bible is calling not so much for people who store up vast quantities of information about its content, but rather people who understand enough to govern their behavior in ways that are beneficial to the kingdom.

The last two virtues could be translated into English with the same word: love. One is philidelphia, or brotherly love. and the other is agape, which is the sacrificial love exemplified by God. The pinnacle of Christian quality and character is not morality, judgment, or having everything “together”. It is love. If we allow ourselves to be governed by God’s Spirit and love, there is no law that can better steer our daily lives. Those who grow in these virtues can rest easy in the knowledge that their relationship is true.

Friday, July 17, 2015

"The Departed" (2006)

Thanks to the fact that I am already paying for access to the library of film over at Netfilx, I finally got around to one of the many Oscar favorites I had been missing. This Best Picture winner is a standout in many ways: it has way more foul language, it is a remake of another film, and it is the middle film of the five (so far) that Scorsese and DiCaprio have made together. The first two of those facts mean that it is simply more in keeping with current Hollywood productions, the last fact means that I probably shouldn’t like it all that much.

The story revolves around two duplicitous men. One is a mobster who has been raised and groomed to become an insider on the Massachusetts police force. The other is a cop who has been placed undercover in the ranks of the mob. More than just a plot-driven tale of these men and their activities, it is a character study of deception, guilt, and motivation.

The acting here is superb. Not only are the leads great, everyone is at their best: Nicholson, Sheen, Wahlberg, and Vera Farmiga is a stand-out. But DiCaprio is really the draw here. He plays the conflicted, tortured role of Billy, the undercover cop, to perfection. One has to wonder just how such men justify their parts in the justice system. In an effort to bring criminal systems down, they are placed deep within the system. They are criminals for the sake of information. How much evil can one justify in the battle against evil?

This is a hard film to consume. One understands that a story about criminals will have characters acting, speaking, and doing things that are terrible—this story relishes in all that filth. And something is wrong with the editing. The way the story is cut together I began to think the Netfix was messing up or cutting stuff out.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Star Trek TOS (Season 2d)

Season 2cSeason 3a

The end of season two saw Trek being pulled back into the gravity of earth. Stories became less about the unknown and exploration and more of a commentary on society through less subtle, less plausible story devices. Every other week, they might as well have stopped being a space exploration conceit, and become a time-travel show. Oh wait. They do that in the last episode.

Episode 21 “Patterns of Force” 

The crew checks in on an earth historian who has been observing the society of a pre-warp planet. When they arrive they are stunned to see that things are more advanced than they should and they can’t contact their man. Beaming to the surface, Kirk and Spock find themselves in… Nazi Germany? It turns out that the historian, seeing the conditions that society was suffering under, decided to use his advanced knowledge to help them. And, being the brilliant historian that he was, he decided to introduce them to fascism. This is a less than subtle take on the persistent fallacy that the Nazis, while evil, sure were efficient. It would also seem to be an unnecessary story, but considering how often someone comes along claiming that Nazism had redeemable qualities, maybe not.

Episode 22 “By Any Other Name”

Trek hadn’t really figured out the sheer scale of space at this point. Once again, we get the idea of the Enterprise leaving the Milky Way. This time they are kidnapped by beings from another galaxy who want to use the ship to return home. (Even though as part of a multi-generational mission, they have never known that home.) In the end, exposing the aliens to the pleasures their humanoid bodies can provide, causes enough disruption for Kirk and co. to regain control and defeat them. Kirk’s proficiency in kissing is the key to the whole operation, of course, as a scantily clad model is one of the aliens.

Episode 23 “The Omega Glory” 

If there was a plausible explanation for how the crew could encounter Nazis in space, there is absolutely no explanation for this mess! We encounter a crazy case of parallel planetary development where the cold war is replayed on another planet, right down to the United States of America complete with the flag and the constitution! Luckily, Kirk knows the US constitution by heart which saves his skin. The only non-implausible aspect of this series is the way that the constitution is the basis for an entire religion, since that has actually happened with the American patriotic perversion of Christianity.

Episode 24 “The Ultimate Computer” 

The Enterprise is selected to be a Guinea Pig testing a computer that controls everything about a starship and man’s role in space. Of course Kirk (and by extension the audience) is against this idea. Luckily, the man who invented the machine made the mistake of building it to match and follow not logic, but the way a man’s mind works. So it is naturally irrational and flawed. However, not so flawed that Kirk can’t use its logic against it to save the day in classic Kirk fashion. Episode

25 “Bread and Circuses” 

More parallel planetary development, this time the Roman Empire is found duplicated on a distant planet. That leads us to more gladiator tropes. The whole this is a somewhat clever commentary on entertainment culture that has since been replicated in Doctor Who, Batoru rowaiaru, and the Hunger Games. The show-ending zinger has caused some people to think that Trek was claiming that Christianity is the answer to society’s ills. It is more likely just a clever joke, or studio imposed. Despite the accuracy of the idea, Roddenberry like most Humanists was loath to recognize the Christian basis for his ethical ideals.

Episode 26 “Assignment Earth” 

This episode is not really Star Trek, and was really intended as a pilot for another show that never came to fruition. It is just zany enough that I find that sad. However, it fails as an episode of Trek.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"The Bear that Wasn't"

“The Bear that Wasn’t” started out as a book by Frank Tashlin (one of the Looney Tunes directors) that was made into an animated short by Chuck Jones. It is the story of a bear who wakes up from his hibernation, only to find that a factory has been built up around him in his sleep. He tries and tries to convince the factory that he is a bear, but they insist that he is a man and should get back to work.

It is a commentary about how people will believe anything as long as they are told it repeatedly, and also about how stupid society can be.

It is a timely story for today. At first glance one would think it fits right into our cultural zeitgeist in support of the trends of gay marriage, gender identity and self-determination. But that is not what the story is about. In fact, it flies in the face of all that.

In the story, the bear is a bear. Society is stupid and tries to tell him he is something else. He ends up believing them. A rewrite today would require a story about society telling a man with a delusion about being a bear that he was right in his delusion.

Tashlin lamented the way society made us believe the lies it imposed upon us. Instead of hearing his warning, we seem to have taken things to a new extreme where ontology has lost all meaning and reality has no bearing.

It sometimes makes one want to crawl in a hole and escape the madness.

(The film is easy to find online, but I am not sure about the ownership status.  Do a search if you would like to see it, or it is on the Looney Tunes Gold Collection Vol. 3 DVD or the platinum collection vol. 1 Blu-ray.)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Spiderman Thoughts

Spiderman, Peter Parker, was the first teen-aged superhero—in a genre aimed primarily at teens—that wasn’t a side-kick to an adult hero. Thus his didactic slogan that was retroactively applied: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

But he isn’t JUST lessons and morals. In fact his story hardly seems to be all that much of a parable. There is a lot of teen wish fulfillment. Everyone complains about the repeated origin stories told for Spiderman; and his does get told and retold in the comics even more than usual for a superhero. (Sony’s decision to reboot the series so quickly after introducing him to cinemas didn’t help. And I will be amazed if Marvel manages to completely avoid his origin for long.) However, the reason that they keep going back to the start is that that is where the kernel of wish-fulfillment and joy is found in Spiderman. The nerd gets his revenge. Once you get to the “power and responsibility” message of the character, all you have is a guy who can’t win for losing.

He has to keep his identity secret. He is always seen as a bad guy by most of the authorities. He lives from pay check to pay check, and he doesn’t have a steady one of those. And, his “responsibility” ensures that he never will.

It begins to feel as though the writers derive perverse pleasure in making this guy suffer. And after a while it ceases to be entertaining. There is even a convoluted (most of these comic stories end up being convoluted but this one is crazy) storyline that forced Peter’s marriage to become undone in a literal rewrite of the universe. They really don’t want Parker to have any happiness.

Maybe they are confusing responsibility with suffering. Sure, responsibility can be hard, but growing up involves learning to manage responsibility and gaining an awareness of our limited capacity. Perhaps Uncle Ben should have said, “with greater power comes a greater need of understanding our limitations.”

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A 2 Peter Outline

I. Greeting 1:1-2
II. The Challenge of an Effective Life in Grace 1:3-11
III. Apostolic Teaching and God’s Word as the foundation.
  A. Apostolic Authority 1:12-15
  B. Eyewitness Testimony 1:16-18
  C. Scriptural Inspiration 1:19-21
IV. False Teaching and Slavery to Sin as the Enemy
  A. False Teachers Inevitable 2:1-3
  B. Historic Examples 2:4-10a
  C. False Teachers Described 2:10b-22
V. The Reminder of the End and a Call to Diligence
  A. Mockers Misunderstand 3:1-7
  B. God is Patient 3:8-10
  C. A Warning against Lawlessness 3:11-18a
VI. Conclusion 3:18b

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (2014)

If you would like to see Shakespearian level drama, acted out by a bunch of apes, this latest Planet of the Apes entry is for you. Not that it is really quite at a Shakespearian level—although it is quite good—nor that there are any actual apes. For an animated movie, though, it is quite good. Things have come a long way since the days of “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”

If “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was a remake/updating of the 1972 movie “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” then this one is a remake of that one’s sequel, “Battle for…” Both are better than the originals, but like the originals, seeing the rise of Apedom is less compelling than seeing the post-apocalyptic ape future.

Here we see the start of the war through the eyes of two characters—one human and one ape—who only want to win the peace. Knowing the franchise, though, we all know they are going to fail. It is fascinating, however, to see their struggle. Especially in the contet of the world in which we live. This is a story of two camps, highly suspicious and fearful of the other, unable to overcome that fear and antagonism, even though their futures depend upon them doing so.

Caesar, the ape leader, is of the opinion that apes are naturally good. That is his costly mistake, and in this film he learns that apes are just as capable of evil as humans. This is the sort of lesson that today’s factions also need to realize. The “other” is not by nature evil; and our own kind is very probably as flawed as we imagine that other to be.

Another interesting (and unintended) aspect of this parable, is the nature of the divide. Apes are born apes. Humans are born human. Neither can help nor choose who they are by nature, but they do chose how they will live. The divide here is not about preferences or tastes or life-choices. The fear and suspicion is triggered by difference. However, the choices that can be made here are the things that could prevent disaster. Today’s society wants to see the sorts of advances that were made back when the original Apes movies were coming out, but the “causes” being trumpeted are not the same. The stories being told are wholly diferent.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tax-n-Sniff

Colossal levels of
counter-intuitive
reverse-psychology
manipulative genius
on display…

Rewarding
the judgement of
lottery buyers with
that much money.

…taxing stupidity and
imposing Darwinian
controls on the
economic structures
at the same time!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mondegreen

(Poetry Scales 41)

In brief, lucid, innocent, moments
We see an outstretched hand of invitation
But, caught in a cult of self
Most stick their heads in the sands
     of man-made rules, power plays, and delusion
Say foolishness, they hear wisdom
They think purpose is a figment
In freedom they hear prison
And forgiveness sounds like judgement

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Humility of Creatureliness. (1 Peter 5:6-14)

Humility may be the essential quality of the believing life. When Proverbs teaches, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” it is lauding a creaturely humility. Bonhoeffer quotes Luther as claiming, “Bewilderment is the true comprehension.” (“Unverstand ist der rechte Verstand.”) He is referring to Abraham’s belief. Faith is always about trusting God and obeying His voice, not so much about having all the answers. The Pharisees were the ones that thought they had all the answers. Those who believe understand their need. They are humble.

Here Peter concludes his teaching by warning his readers to remain humble. Even here this is not so much a self-deprecating, false humility that focuses on itself. It is about recognizing and maintaining our creatureliness. We do not trust our understanding, we cast our cares and worries on Him. We are “sober-minded” which involves a keen awareness of our own ignorance. We are watchful and remain focus on the one truth we can trust, God’s voice. His Word. Our adversary is on the prowl, looking for those who are confident in their own understanding. Those who do not feel a need to grow or learn. Those who do not need leading every step of the way. Those who are not following, but going their own way.

And it is only in following God’s voice that we would go into the places that He leads. If we could see the sufferings and hardships in our path we might not chose that way. It is in the humility of trust and obedience that we go through suffering to the glory and growth that leis on the other side.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 4a)


Season 3bSeason 4b

Season four of Voyager starts out with a lot of plots that feel minor, and the screenwriters seem more interested in pursuing character lines. A relationship is developed between Paris and Torres, for example, but even more times is devoted to the character of Seven. She is the Borg who is relearning to be human, and clearly the focus of the series at this point. There are a couple episodes that revolve around interesting ideas, but also several that flounder a bit.

Episode 1. “Scorpion (Part 2)” 

The idea of a wholly “other” reality is actually a novel idea for a parallel universe story. What is really at stake here is getting the crew through their “bargain with the devil” intact, and trapping Seven on the ship as a new part of the crew.

Episode 2. “The Gift” 

A pretty nebulous plot designed to get Kes off the show while at the same time lessoning the Borg threat going forward. Interestingly, it also puts the ship in a whole new area of space, so the threats and interactions from here on out will be new.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Super Pooper

I ate obscene amounts of hot cuisine
Mexican and Indian with Tabasco

All I did was eat and sleep and feed
Wishing every bite was not the last one

But I haven’t had that urge that should be coming
Suddenly, I feel so tight
And it has to be so different
When I'm on the pot tonight!

I’ll be the Super Pooper
Laxative will save me
But the burning like the sun
Will not be much fun
Going more than number one

I’ll be the Super Pooper
Talcum powder, sooth me
But I must go poo
Like I always do
Otherwise… rectal prolapse… eww!
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