Monday, February 29, 2016

A Harsh Distinction! (John 6:60-71)

After this difficult to swallow teaching, John tells us about the reaction of those who were following Jesus—the disciples including but also beyond the twelve. Here we get an eye opening reality. Not all those who accept Jesus and follow Him to a point are believers!?

This is not an attack on or a nullification of the teaching known as the perseverance of the saints. It is just a clarification of what it means to be a saint.

As we see repeatedly in John’s Gospel, what it takes to be one who believes is much more than many would have us understand. We have spent decades, maybe even centuries watering down the Gospel. It is not a prayer that serves as an incantation. It is not an assent to and intellectual proposition.

Faith in Jesus is believing that He is the Son of God who has come to die for the sins of the world, that He is the only means to a restored relationship with the creator, and an admission that accepting His salvation means to make Him the Lord of one’s life and to follow His teaching an commands, even when they are hard to understand or to follow. It means, ultimately, that we surrender our life plans and take on a role in His plan.

So what sort of disciple are you?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

2015 in Film

I still have a few to see before I really put a pin in 2015 (including some on my laptop) but here are the films of 2015 as I see them so far:  (Updated 4/1/16)

Films I liked, but that don’t think will be in the Top Ten: 
Mr. Holmes; Sicario; Ant-Man; Spectre

Top 10: 

10. The Intern

9. It Follows 

Falls apart eventually, but a new creative take on horror as a morality play.

8. The Martian 

Yes, it is just Castaway in space, but also a great scifi.

7. Crimson Peak 

A fun cautionary-tale with creepy ghosts thrown in to scare you, even though they may not be the danger.

6. Mad Max: Fury Road 

Another cinematic development, even if the story gets lost in all the visual amazement.

5. The Peanuts Movie

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens 

A reworking of the original that seems to not commit as many sins as the prequels. Actually it is quite good if you can forgive the millennial, Darth Vader wannabe.

3. What We Do In the Shadows 

A comedy-satire that works really well.

2. Bridge of Spies

An amazing story of conviction.

1. Inside Out 

2015 seems to be a year where filmmakers found new, amazing ways to use the medium. In this case, they even manage to deliver powerful, insightful meaning.

Worst 5: 

-5. Mortdecai 

This could have been intelligent funny, instead it was just crass.

-4. Minions 

You shouldn’t make a whole movie based on throw-away, background material.

-3. Pitch Perfect 2 

A cash-in if I ever saw one. No soul.

-2. Blackhat 

Action, mystery, spy stories should never be boring.

-1. Knock Knock 

First film I have walked out on in over twenty years. And I was only there because it was a sneak-peak screening.

Still Need to See: 

Bridge of Spies (Seen, see above)
The Hateful Eight
The Revenant
The Big Short
Knight of Cups
The Good Dinosaur (Seen, ranked around 17)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 13-18)


After the last batch of episodes, this one feels a little lightweight. Still good, just not on average as good as some of those.

13. What Price Gloria 

It looks like a story about sexual harassment, which is an easy punching bag, but there is a whole lot more going on here. Much deeper than the scum bags whole treat women like objects, are the women who see themselves as such. Sam helps one such woman to learn to respect herself.

14. Blind Faith 

How did the story meeting go down for this one? Let’s have a blind pianist, a serial killer, an overprotective single mother! In the end they do seem to remember that this is Quantum Leap and have Sam save a girl from the guilt-trip laid on her by a mother who is transferring all of her issues. But it is a messy mix most of the way.

15. Good Morning Peoria 

Baby boomers really do think that they defined freedom with their rock and roll, right? Still, this is one of the more entertaining episodes of the group.

16. Thou Shalt Not 

God sends Sam to keep a woman from having an affair. Things are fascinating when we realize the other guilty party might be the Rabbi that Sam is embodying.

17. Jimmy 

This episode is inspiring for people who know and love people with Down’s Syndrome. It is also frustrating.

18. So Help Me God 

Sam is sent into another racist situation. These scenarios seem all too easy to pick on, as everyone knows how bad racism is today, right? Well, it is one of America’s two or three worst sins, and even today—nearly thirty years after this episode aired—we haven’t been able to get past it. So, maybe we need to keep these stories coming.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Christianity in Quantum Leap 1: “The Americanization of Machiko”


There are a lot of moments in QL that seem to indicate that Sam is a Christian. He takes the fact that he is “invading” others’ lives seriously and makes an effort not to lie while in their skin. For example, here in “Machiko” he avoids saying he loves Machiko, but instead awkwardly states, “Charlie loves Machiko.” Later he is nervous that he won’t leap out before it is time to make the wedding vows. In another episode, he is worried about the fact that he is on a man’s honeymoon, and that it would be wrong to consummate that man’s marriage. Those are all a bit indirect.

Then there are moments like the one at the end of “The Americanization of Machiko” where it becomes more explicitly about what it means to be Christian. Aside from the obvious racial message of the episode, there is another, secondary story-line, hinted about the death of Charlie’s sister. What Sam discovers is that she became pregnant out of wedlock and committed suicide due to the shame and rejection she felt from the town and her mother.

Sam call’s Charlie’s mom out on her Christianity. Her form of religion is not about a recognition of sin and a need for salvation and forgiveness. It is the more typical, religious, legalistic variety of Christianity. The one that gives the true faith a bad name. The mother is all about judging the shortcomings of others, and taking pride in her own self-righteousness. Therefore, when her daughter committed one of the “worst” (read shameful) sins of sex outside of marriage, and worse, got pregnant, she couldn’t love her anymore. It reflected poorly on her person, and her self-righteousness.

With Machiko, another prideful aspect of this form of Christianity is exposed. Machiko is different, and different is “bad” to these sorts of people. All because they see themselves as “good” so different equals “bad.” So, when Machiko ends up seriously injured due to the mother’s rejection, and in the same hospital room where her daughter died, she cannot bring herself to accept Machiko. The main reason is because she cannot forgive herself.

We don’t know what exactly brings about the change at the end of the episode, but Charlie’s mother needed to come to a realization about her faith and the lies she was embracing. Real Christianity is all about forgiveness, not righteousness. Christians may be declared righteous in God’s eyes, but what they really are is forgiven by Him. They are only able to be forgiven, and declared righteous, due to the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ who took on their sin and died in their place. We are not “good” we are forgiven. It is only when we realize this truth that we can be accepted, but that realization will also demand that we accept and forgive others.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Struggle II

This X Files revival has been enjoyable. So much so that I was already hoping they would announce a “season 11” before I ever saw the finale. And, with that cliff-hanger I certainly see that they are hoping for one as well. How was the finale? It will definitely rank amongst the worst of the series. It feels like a mad rush to throw about two season’s worth of material at the screen and hope that something worth watching sticks. Ehh, here’s hoping we forget about it with more good stand alone material.

My ranking of the season from worst to best goes:

6. My Struggle II
5. Founder’s Mutation 
4. My Struggle 
3. Babylon 
2. Home Again 
1. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Meaning (Genesis 1:3)

[3] And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

To my thinking, this is a key verse for the Biblical creation story. So much effort has been put into discussing and arguing the “day” issue (Which will be discussed later, no fear!) that this verse and its parallels in later creative action is overlooked.

God commands and creation obeys. This is the essence of the creation story. God is in control. God is sovereign. There is not struggle. There is no obstacle. There is no opposing power in the universe. God’s method, as much as it is revealed here, is simply to desire something to exist and it does.

You can’t over-emphasize this. It is the main point of this whole passage. Genesis 1 was not really written to provide us with all the answers we have regarding the creation event. There is no great interest here in the exact “how” God created. This is not a scientific text. There is no indication here of the “why” of creation. This passage is about God the Creator, not so much about the creation.

It is revealing that most people look to Genesis 1 with a million questions about us. “How did God make us?” “Why did God make us?” “How long did it take?” “When did it happen?” Etc. Etc.

If we want to see what is written here we need to simply ask, “Who is God?” or “What is God like?” That is the purpose of Genesis 1. Answer: God is more powerful than we can imagine. God is in control. God is creator, and He is the answer to all of our searches for meaning.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"The Martian" (2015)

So, in the end I did like the book better than the film. But it is a great movie! No one could have asked them to adapt the book any better and still have a watchable movie. You just can’t do any better adapting a journal-entry-story, and forget about trying to incorporate any more of the math that was in the book. For cinema you just need more visual action.

I found the translation to screen did something else, though. The book almost read like one of those old, adventure, exploration, frontier stories. That’s what it was, all the hard scifi notwithstanding. However, we are so used to modern “action film” that it didn’t have that same feel on the screen. It was just another (albeit a better) space adventure.

It was that that helped me see where this story does fall short of those old frontier adventures. We were short on wonder. This is so much a rescue story, (perhaps more a survival against all odds story) that we don’t get much of our character just taking in the wonder of things, exploring a new world. Not that the hard scifi allows for that.

More than anything else, this story goes all out on the “worship the wonder of the human willpower” element. The end feels a bit like a religious experience, and I don’t think that is accidental. I think it is fair to say the film is going for a secular humanist message. I don’t want to make too big a deal about this, but you sometimes get a Tower of Babylon feel from some of these stories. It’ll be interesting to see how the real story of Mars colonization goes for us.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

"The Bread of Life" (John 6:1-58)

In Chapter six of John we get the fourth and fifth signs of Jesus. However, they are presented briefly and without much fanfare. (Especially the walking on water, it is almost glossed over. When Jesus is asked about it, He ignores the question.) What gets more attention here is the teaching Jesus is inspired to deliver in light of the response to His signs. We get the first of the seven “I am” sayings of Jesus. And, for the message of the Gospel, they are a bit more useful.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

In this passage we again get Jesus rejecting the reasons the crowds are following Him. They are interested in a god who will meet their needs, accommodate their religious theories, and give them autonomy. They are only interested in the signs as a proof of ability to meet those demands. And, incredibly, they demand more signs when asked to trust Him—this just hours after the feeding of the multitudes!

In many ways, the Jews of Jesus’ day resemble American and Western Christianity. Many follow Jesus as a regional god who will give them the health, wealth and success in their agendas. Jesus is a tool. A totem.

Jesus tells the crowd that what He demands is their trust. To truly do God’s work is to surrender to Christ. To follow God’s plan for life and to lay down our own petty desires and plans.

Those who come to Jesus (note He doesn’t say eat) and believe in Him (not drink) will have true fulfillment. He does take the metaphor to a greater extreme as the crowd continues to try to translate His words down to some acceptable, understandable action. They want a religious ritual, a political power, a thinkable task.

What Jesus is demanding is a radical faith. We do not find in Jesus some trite religious hoop to jump through. We do not find “something that works” for those who give intellectual assent. We do not find a solution to life’s puzzle or a better way of living. Jesus is it. The choice is to follow Him 100% sold out, or not at all. Any half-measure Christianity is a false hope.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Last Week’s List Reconsidered

I had a blind-spot revealed to me last week. In the past, I have created my city lists excluding the places where I have lived. However, in my most recent update I decided to create an overall list of my favorite cities, regardless of size. I so doing, I forgot to consider my “lived in” list. As it turns out, five places I have lived should make the list. Here is the adjustment:

1. Dresden, Germany

This is bar-none my favorite city. Had I not lived here, it might actually fall down the ranking a bit. It is a wonderful place to visit, but an even better place to live. Top five anyway you look at it.

2. Prague, 3. Paris, 4. Venice, 5. Florence, 6. Quito, 7. Cortina d’Ampezzo, 8. London, 9. Barcellona, 10. Krakow, 11. Slazburg, 12. Berlin, 13. Istanbul, 14. Lisbon, 15. Rome,

16. Punta Arenas, Chile

A magical, remote place that few have ever experienced. Coast and mountains, city comforts and rustic extremes, the door to the Antarctic and the literal ends-of-the-Earth.

17. Ephesus, 18. Washington D.C., 19. Nuremburg,

20. Graz, Austria

A fairy-tale city with some oft he best eating in the Germanic world.

21. Ramsau/ Berchtesgaden, 22. Meissen, 23. Puerto Mont, 24. Villarica/ Pucon, 25. Santa Fe, 26. Regensburg, 27. Leipzig, 28. Estes Park, 29. Basel

30. Temuco, Chile

If I’m being honest, this city is special to me because I lived there when I did. It likely doesn’t exist in that way anymore, and if I were just considering places to visit it would fall a bit.

31. Rothenburg ob der Taube, 32. Puerto Natales (Torres del Paine), 33. Roskilde, 34. Vienna, 35. Wittenburg, 36. Virginia City

37. San Jose, Costa Rica 

People who have to live here to learn Spanish universally hate it. Except for the 11 year old boys to whom it is a wonderful adventure of a memory.

38. Munich, 39. Santiago, 40. Pamukkale, 41. Budapest, 42. Hamburg, 43. Osorno, 44. Copenhagen, 45. Hohnstein

Friday, February 19, 2016

"Mr. Holmes" (2015)

This 2015 film gives us some of the most impressive acting of the year in a story that is not quite what we look for from Sherlock Holmes. Sure, we get a mystery, but it is the mystery of what has happened to his memories. We are seeing Sherlock Holmes surrender to senility. And that is something that might happen to him if he were a real person, but do we really want that?

The way the story is told with its multiple levels of flashback are effective in both raising the level of mystery and highlighting the way Holmes has deteriorated. Both of those things represent great filmmaking. But when you boil the stories down to their core what are you left with?

1. Holmes is going to die of senility, and wants to set the record straight on his last case. He can’t quite remember what happened, but knows the way Watson wrote it was wrong.

2. His last case was a failure, not because he didn’t figure it out, but because the cold-hard facts ultimately led to death. A death he could have prevented had he been less of a slave to the truth.

3. While trying to improve his memory to retell his last case, he discovered that a family in Japan was hurt when the father abandoned them. That man used his name and reputation to justify the abandonment.

In the end Holmes learns to open himself up to the people around him. Namely, he takes on a more familiar relationship with his housekeeper and her son. That is a good development. He also decides that protecting people from harsh truths with lies is a good thing and makes up a story about the Japanese father to lessen the blow of the truth for the son. That is played out as a good development too.

So, in conclusion: lie to people to make them feel better and help them avoid harsh truths that they need to face. Wait, what? The only reason Holmes ends up a better character at the end of this film is because he remembered a truth from which Watson was shielding him. Facing harsh truths and changing as a result of them is one of the most important things about being the people we need to be.

In spite of that last misstep, this story is still one worth seeing. The acting is incredible. Just don’t go buying into the message. As it turns out, Holmes may be smart but he is far from wise.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Star Trek Enterprise (Season 1b)

(Season 1a) -- (Season 1c)

This next batch of episodes shows a series still trying to find its voice. Effects and visuals are among the best the Trek universe had presented to this point, but a lot of the stories feel pretty pointless at the conclussions.

7. The Andorian Incident 

The make-up in this episode may be the best TV Trek had produced. As for the story, it is hard to believe this was airing just over a month after 9/11. It feels much more like a post-Snowden storyline. When Archer sides with the truth against his Vulcan allies it feels like the right thing to do but as a viewer I am still surprised they went that way.

8. Breaking the Ice 

Don’t expect much comment on episodes like this one. I watched it and can barely remember what happened.

9. Civilization 

The crew risk exploring a pre-warp culture thanks to the presence of another advanced race messing with things. They probably would have gone exploring anyway. They make a mess of things, but it would have been worse had they not intervened.

10. Fortunate Son 

A compelling story about the line between protecting one’s own and exercising hatred for one’s enemy. Sort of like the difference between saying a man should be allowed to protect his house and setting a trap because you really want to shoot someone and need a break-in as an excuse.

11. Cold Front 

The intrigue of the “Temporal Cold War” returns. That part is cool, but when it continues to go nowhere we feel a bit cheated. And, honestly, can anything worthwhile come from the time-travel plot device? History would say that is unlikely.

12. Silent Enemy 

The crew prove themselves both unprepared for what they are facing in unknown space as well as resourceful enough to get by. So let’s get on to some interesting situations already. We have pretty much exhausted the humanity-exploring-deep-space-for-the-first-time idea. Just explore already!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


The easiest critique to write is to dog-pile a piece of art for not complying with the status quo. For instance, every single TV critic complaining that the latest episode of The X Files telling a story about an Islamic terrorist. In doing so, they completely miss the point of the story being told. And, they take the laziest approach to talking about art.

The reality is that a far more cliché approach these days would have been to have some other, unexpected group be presented as the terrorist. Yes, we all know that most Muslims are not suicide bombers. Yes, we all have considered the idea that other people can commit atrocities. What this episode wanted to address was the very real world we live in where, sadly but truthfully, most terrorists are of the Islamic persuasion. Rather than the helpful and needed, but also tired and old story that looks at our world from another perspective, this X File wanted to consider real solutions to real problems. Terrorism, racism, prejudice, and ingrained institutional sins were all in the crosshairs.

Early on in the episode, Mulder states, “It’s not important what I believe; it’s important what they believe.” He is not talking in terms of truth, but rather communication and perceptions. That is an important issue in this story. By the end of things, Mulder and Scully have the sort of conversation humanity has been struggling with since Babel. How can we all just get over ourselves and get along? Religion has caused about as many conflicts as communication breakdown. The extreme ideologies many espouse today are probably our number one problem. And the crux of the issue is not who is right or wrong, and not even what we believe they believe, but what they believe. How do we change extremists to help them see a world where people are allowed to be wrong and not die for their beliefs?

The most amazing aspect of this episode is the way Mulder discovers where the terrorists are hiding and preparing to kill more people. He takes a placebo and has a vision where he is given the information he needs. An argument could be made that God gave him the answer. It is interesting to consider that the solution to religious extremism fueled by hatred is a message from a loving God delivered to a man who is at best agnostic. Scully might have made more since as she at least believes in God and is a practicing Catholic.

But perhaps what was needed was a man seeking answers without preconceptions or dogmas. Sometimes what we believe gets in the way. Maybe an adjustment is required. “It’s not important what I believe God wants; it’s important what God wants.” If we approach God on His terms and not ours, maybe we will have an easier time hearing what He has to say.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Crimson Peak" (2015)

Thanks, Mom.

The opening scenes of “Crimson Peak” have Edith’s mom’s ghost warning her against the titular estate. But, by the time Edith hears the house called by that name, it is far too late for her to beware anything. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the mother to say, “Beware of Thomas Sharp”?

Of course that would ruin the fun of the story. If Edith heeded the warning, we wouldn’t get the adventure. This is not a mystery. We know what is going on because the filmmakers let us see the scheming right from the start. This is not a ghost story. The spirits are merely there to give Edith’s suspicions and insights corporeal form. This is not a gothic romance. Love does not quite manage to triumph in the end.

What it is is a monster story, one of the psychopathic, humans can be monsters, monster stories. And it is delivered with a flair and artistic manner where every shot, every set, every detail is carefully orchestrated for effect. Colors are carefully selected. Look at the use of red, for example. There are echoes of classic directors like Hitchcock and Bava. It is one of those films that merit multiple viewings.

And beyond all of that flair there is the simple, universal message so common to many gothic stories: beware! The world can be a very dangerous place, especially if you are a naïve, trusting, young soul who doesn’t listen to the wiser voices in your lives, be they parents, ghosts, or both.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Political Beef

I haven’t voted in quite a while. And a lot of people would think I was a bad person if I ever let that be known. But I don’t have a problem with my choice. I could put in a lot of effort for a symbolic gesture, or—just as effectively—sit things out. However, my oldest turns 18 this year. So, will we vote together? If so, will I find a candidate more promising than Deez Nuts?

The lie of American Democracy lies in the electoral process. A lot of people think that civic duty means showing up one Tuesday every four years. Those who don’t, give up their right to speak up or complain.

But the truth is that my vote has no real impact on the outcome. Partly due to the Electoral College system, but more because it is all a money game of the establishment and the rich. Elections are not so much the outcome of persuasion as they are bought and paid for.

And even though the system was not created to be so, we have all simply accepted the status quo that there will only ever be two choices. And not even real choices, but more like “would you prefer vanilla, or bourbon vanilla?” To not vote is “wrong” and to vote for any third party is to “waste” a vote. Or worse, to elect the worse of the candidates. The important thing is to be herded into the polling sites and pretend to have a say. Then, sit back and let the professional politicians do their inevitable meddling.

Real participation in American Democracy is more about the other 1460 days and what you do with them. Speak up. Persuade. Changing the culture is an everyday task, not an Election Day one. And until something changes, the Election Day side of things is mostly crowd appeasement.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Violets are blue, Roses are red
I said I'd be her Valentine
So she had me beaten, and chopped off my head
And despite the church history, that's Byzantine.

Reminiscence Cheryl

I caught a glimpse of someone
I hadn’t seen in years
A tall, lanky boy
Rushing off to the next thing
Knowing where he was headed
I followed for a spell
And smiled at the things
I saw along the way

Old familiar places
People never forgotten
I choked up for a minute
At a few of the scenes
But knowing what was next
I leaned in and held my breath
And rounding the next corner
There we were. That day…

Seeing you for the first time

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The City Lists Revisited

If asked to list my favorite cities today it looks a bit different from the lists I put together a few years ago. (Metro, City, Towns,Villages) Partly due to new experiences and places, but also with the benefit of time and reflection. This doesn’t totally negate those other lists, but augments them. Here are my current top 40 regardless of size:

1. Prague

Having been there dozens of times, I still find new fascinating things every trip.

2. Paris

Go for the sights, stay for the food.

3. Venice

Off season is the best time from what I hear.

4. Florence

This city is a work of art.

5. Quito

I could live there for the perfect weather, if I wouldn’t get bored with that.

6. Cortina d’Ampezzo

Feel like you are in the Pink Panther 60s.

7. London

I don’t think I could exhaust the things to see and do there.

8. Barcellona

In spite of some of the most bizarre esthetics, it is the food I want to revisit.

9. Krakow

-I was surprised at the beauty and history there.

10. Salzburg

Europe for mountain people.

11. Berlin

Arguably the most historic city for XXth Century buffs, it has unknown beauty.

12. Istanbul

This is the most exotic megacity I’ve ever been too.

13. Lisbon

A charming little city for a romantic getaway.

14. Rome

The biggest pile of historic ruins around, plus a lot of extravagant beauty.

15. Ephesus

Not a city anymore, you walk around amazed at what was.

16. Washington D.C.

I prefer the museums to the politics.

17. Nuremburg

Spend an afternoon inside the city walls.

18. Ramsau/ Berchtesgaden

These are the mountains

19. Meissen

My favorite middle ages hill fort town.

20. Puerto Mont

Take in the flavor, both touristic and cullinary.

21. Villarica/ Pucon

I can’t speak to these town since the latest erruption.

22. Santa Fe

A mountain town with the essence of Southwest flair.

23. Regensburg

A mini Cologne.

24. Leipzig

A music historian’s dream.

25. Estes Park

Summer in the Rockies is the best version of the Rockies.

26. Basel

What’s your pleasure? France, Germany, or Switzerland. Here you can have it all.

27. Rothenburg ob der Taube

Sometimes you just want to be a cliché.

28. Puerto Natales (Torres del Paine)

The city for when you want to get away from civilization completely.

29. Roskilde

The city on a Viking’s bay.

30. Vienna

It took a while, but this metro has grown on me. If I ever catch a concert I’m sure it’ll grow more.

31. Wittenburg

Site of the event of the last millennium.

32. Virginia City

Catch a sarsaparilla in a real saloon.

33. Munich

The Bavarian center to every single German stereotype.

34. Santiago

The Mediterranean metro of South America.

35. Pamukkale

A resort in the middle of Biblical history.

36. Budapest

It’s pretty, but I don’t remember which side you want. Buda or Pest?

37. Hamburg

Like a lot of these beautiful but interchangeable European cities, I remember Hamburg best with my taste buds. Coffee and Franzbrochen.

38. Osorno

Chile has a lot of beautiful cities with Volcanic views. The cathedral in Osorno is Unique.

39. Copenhagen

Scandinavian sites are woth your time if you have the money.

40. Hohnstein

A fairy-tale village if there ever was one.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Home Again"

The latest episode of “The X-Files” continues the trend of mixed results. The character stuff was powerful. Scully got her chance to shine this time around, sort of how Mulder got the focus last week. Where Mulder’s journey was a crisis of faith, Scully fought this time around with regret and doubt. The only thing that dampens this side of things this time around is that the William story-line has always been a hazy one.

And, this week the monster stuff was also, again, really good. It will likely not go down as one of the most memorable creatures in the series, but the concept is fascinating.

First, you have the art and creativity idea. How powerful is art in human culture? This story has hints of the old Golem myth, but immediately transcends that. The fact that the creature was “neither organic nor inorganic” took things a bit too far, though. It was trying to be clever but just ended up being silly. That said, the visual concepts of this monster—the trash truck, the graffiti, and the creature itself—were all really well conceived.

Overall this episode tried to take on too much. Homelessness, parental challenges, Scully’s regret were already straining the story. Then they added in the trash/recycling commentary—which was in itself an interesting consideration—and the whole thing toppled under the weight.

It remains great for fans, though, just based on the character, relational stuff. I’m going to miss this when the six episodes are over. How are we going to fulfill this reawakened hunger come March?

Monday, February 8, 2016


I need to revisit my lists of favorite cities. A couple of years have passed, and I’ve gotten to know some new cities that change things around a bit.

Lisbon is the most recent, and it definitely belongs amidst the best of its size.

It still feels European, but in different ways from the Central European stuff I am used to, even different from the Italian and Mediterranean cities that it more closely resembles. Like Rome and a lot of other places, it is built on a series of seven hills, but the way it interacts with those hills feels unique.

Where else do you have multiple elevators to get you around town? Our hotel was up on the castle walls on the side of downtown known as Alfama. The bus from the airport dropped us of downtown in Baixa, basically a valley in the heart of things. We walked the few hundred meters up what ended up being about 12 stories that first afternoon. Once we learned about the various elevators around town we used them the rest of the time. (That is how I know how many stories we were dealing with.

Alfama is amazing. It is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, decorated everywhere with freshly washed laundry hanging out to dry. Cobblestones are the norm everywhere in Lisbon, but in Alfama they are ankle-breaking. Perhaps most amazing is the old trolley cars that make their way around the maze.

Across the valley from Alfama was Barrio Alto. For those with a more modern wish (but only slightly more) this is where you find the shopping, eating, and night-life. It wasn’t our favorite, but we did stumble across the oldest bookstore in the world. Literally, truly, the oldest in the world.

Baixa itself is a pedestrian area where you will be accosted by restaurant after restaurant pressuring you to enjoy cheap, good food. But really you don’t need meals to meet you caloric goals every day. The local pastries, sort of a crème brulee torte in a flaky crust are enough to keep you energized and gaining weight.

Along the river mouth toward the Atlantic you get the amazing Belem with its museums and world heritage monastery. I always forget about the Portuguese impact on the world and history, but this trip reminded me of it, along with my childhood love of exploration. I still remember reading Magellan’s biography at the age of 10 or 11 more than most other biographies I have read since.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 7-12)

(1-6) -- (12)

It is early in the exercise, but somehow “Quantum Leap” is maintaining my kids’ interest longer than other shows I’ve tried to take them through. They tend to get excited about the more mindless, comedy-based, sitcom fare. After all, who wants TV to make them wrestle with complicated thoughts and conundrums? But, QL has the right ingredients to suck them into drama. Maybe it is the way that it tricks you into thinking you are watching a science fiction show. But it really is straight-up human drama every episode…

“The Color of Truth” 

This is the episode where Quantum Leap fully recognized its potential. It is an obvious choice, but needed to be done. When Sam experiences the Deep South on the cusp of the civil rights movement, the show goes into full-on preachy-mode, but it works. We will get a lot more of this sort of thing, and not always a slam-dunk, easily moralized issue as we see here.

“Camikazi Kid” 

The show is clever having Sam rescue a woman from an abusive husband by forcing Sam to do so as her underage brother. It is a clear cut situation, but complicated. How does he get her to see the truth without simply alienating her?

“Play It Again, Seymour” 

Things take a bit of a strange twist when Sam starts to live the plot of a novel he had read. Turns out, he is a private eye living the real life that inspired a pulp.

“Honeymoon Express” 

Here season two starts out with a threat to the Quantum Leap project. Sam may be left on his own if they can’t prove that they can change big, historical events. But then, how would the future where Al is know if something had been changed? But the show also makes explicit in this episode that Al and Sam think that God is the one controlling the leaps and having Sam set things right. If so, then it is God who saves the QL prject as well…

“Disco Inferno” 

The plot in this episode is a simple save-someone-else-from-dying one. But the real impact of the show is that Sam has to save his host’s younger brother. That reminds Sam that he had an older brother. I had forgotten—or simply hadn’t realized—that Sam’s memory is still spotty. It is quite touching for him to realize that his older brother has died.

“The Americanization of Machico” 

With a return to social commentary and racism, the show again is top notch. In an interesting side note, this episode takes place days before Sam’s birth. That is interesting because according to the show’s lore, Sam can only leap within his own lifetime. Instead of being a mistake, the show’s creators have stated that Sam’s life started at conception, not birth. Logical.

Another interesting aspect of these episodes is the high ethical standard that Sam holds himself to. His respect isn’t just for life and individuals, but also for marriage and relationships in general. He won’t sleep with a woman on her honeymoon, even as he inhabits the husband’s body. He doesn’t even want to make a vow in their place. That is a refreshingly stringent attitude. I can hardly see something like that happening today.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Between Beginning and Day One (Genesis 1:2)

1:2 “Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the waters.”

It is interesting to note (and an indication of just how precise and symbolic the language used in this prologue is) that this verse has exactly 14 words in the Hebrew. Verse 1 had seven. Lest that is seen as simply a coincidence, numbers are important throughout this prologue. Several words or phrases are repeated seven or multiples of seven times. (God, earth, heavens/firmament, “it was so”, “it was good”) This can’t be called poetry, but it is highly developed and precise prose.

“Formless and void” describes the state of the creation before God’s subsequent creative, ordering effort. The terms are rare and together always describe the world in this early, primordial state. Some try to read a “gap” into the text here. They claim God created everything perfect but an unwritten event occurs after verse one that throws everything into chaos. The text is too unified to give this view credence. More likely is the idea that God initially created the universal matter and then developed and further created things to the point where they were by day seven.

Darkness and the deep, outside of the creative action in verse one, are not explicitly said to be created by God. In the case of darkness, that makes sense because it is a non-thing rather than some-thing to be made. It is the absence of light. Later when the question of evil arises, this will be a helpful concept to understand. Otherwise, how can you have evil in a universe where everything is declared good? Evil like darkness is not so much an opposite as an absence. The deep has a symbolic quality in scripture and ancient thought. Here is is simply manner to be manipulated by God. A stark contrast to powers opposed to God as is seen in creation stories and myths of the time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster"

The latest episode of the return may be the highlight. I was very happy to see that Darin Morgan was coming back to pen an episode. His handful of stories from the original run were some of the best, funniest, yet most enlightening episodes. He managed to take scary situations and scenarios and find a new unexpected perspective on things. In the same way, his unexpected perspective on life tended to point out the ways we are doing things wrong. There is insight in all the humor.

This new episode is no different. We get to relish the self-commentary on the show itself that he injects as Mulder and Scully deal with the way the world has changed in the past two decades. However, he once again finds a simple, obvious, yet unexplored twist on the werewolf myth that allows him an extended commentary on a lot of silly things we humans do.

Another thing that hasn’t changed though, is his melancholy take on life. A danger in seeing all of the silly, self-destructive things people do without an alternative—a better suggestion for living—is depression or hopelessness. The end here, however, is a bit more hopeful than usual. It seems there is hope to be found in faith. Mulder gets a rare confirmation of his beliefs, and it comes just in time too.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Proof of Jesus’ Claims (John 5:30-47)

The fact that Jesus claimed to be God and the Savior of the World is nothing more than a claim on its own. Jesus here appeals to the additional corroborating evidence that support His claims.

Others, like John the Baptist, agree with the Gospel of Jesus and proclaim the truth of His message. For 2,000 years people have testified to that claim, and changed lives and personal experiences by the millions have to account for something. But, Jesus also does not point to this evidence as His ultimate proof.

God’s Word is another exhibit. Thousands of years of revelation became clear in the life of Jesus. Prophecies were fulfilled and complicated writings became clear once the crucifixion and resurrection occurred. But that too is not the ultimate proof. Jesus even points out how diligently the Jewish leaders studied scripture and still miss the point. Nothing is more dangerous than reading with the intent to confirm preconceptions.

Jesus’, ultimate confirmation comes from the Father. The works Jesus is able to do, combined with all the testimony of believers and Scripture are what confirm who Jesus claimed to be.
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