Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977)

I finally got around to seeing “Close Encounters,” one of several Spielberg films I have overlooked over the years. I was surprised by how dated it felt. It is an inescapable product of its time. I would say that the two things that stand out as being transcendently great, even by today’s standards are the visual effects (even more amazing considering the technology, or maybe that is why they look so good?) and the soundtrack. It is some of Williams’ best stuff.

But two things really stood out to me as shortcomings:

First of all, the whole theme of the film feels naïve and a step backwards from Jaws a few years earlier. Both films deal a lot with the subject of truth and belief. In Jaws, a man believes there is a great danger to his community and has to stand alone in that belief—even in the face of ridicule and personal sacrifice. Reality is often only seen by those willing to believe. Here in Encounters, there is no real conflict to the truth. Sure many people including Neary’s wife think that he is crazy, and he too loses his job, but it doesn’t feel the same. Encounter after encounter is documented by the film, and the scientific community and the government are all in on the truth here. We don’t see many people who, confronted with the truth, refuse to accept.

Then there is the even more surprising aspect considering this is a Spielberg film. Neary is the worst of absentee fathers. We never see him really interact with his kids. He has his own obsessions, even before he begins to chase his alien visions. And, in the end he leaves the planet with no thought to his children. Not even a mention let alone a struggle. We are used to seeing this abandonment in Spielberg’s stories, but usually from the perspective of the children wondering why. Here we get more of a defense of dead-beat dads, but a lousy one.

Overall this isn’t the bottom of the pack of Spielberg movies (like “Hook” and “1941”), but it is down amongst the merely passable ones.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"The Light of the World" (John 8:12-30)

This feels like a direct continuation from 7:44, and the themes are indeed continued. Jesus’ teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles is all about who He is. It is Christology. He is very open here about declaring Himself to be the Messiah.

In Chapter seven, He compared Himself to the manna and the stream of living water that got the children of Israel through the dessert wandering. Here, He declares that He is the “Light of the World.” This too is a picture of the dessert wandering, where the Israelites followed a column of fire by night and cloud by day.

Jesus is teaching that God’s way of living is all about following the lead of Christ, the lead of truth. “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Jesus hold the key to life as it should be lived. God’s plan for life. Reality. “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

The Jewish leaders protest Jesus’ claim. They declare that He lacks evidence to be claiming truth. Jesus exposes their flaw. They judge according to the flesh. According to the world. According to the lies that father of lies has convinced a broken world to accept. They fail to see the truth, to see the light. They employ their flawed judgement and call light darkness, the truth a lie.

Jesus says He does not judge. In part that is a call-back to 3:17. The Christ was not sent into the world to judge it, but to save it. Judgement has already been delivered and Christ has come to rescue those who will acknowledge their need. But it also means that Jesus does not judge in the way that the Pharisees do. By the way of the world. If He were to judge it would be with truth, and that would be bad news for the world. He has come to deliver the good news, the message that there is hope, there is a chance at forgiveness.

Forgiveness is available to those who will see the light for who He is. And, in the most surprising statement thus far, Jesus explains God’s plan:

“When you lift up the Son of Man, then you shall know that I am He, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Unforgiven" (1992)


“It don't seem real. How he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever. How he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.”
“It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.”
“Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.”
“We all got it coming, kid.”

A couple months ago, the ever compelling director Scott Derrickson tweeted the following:
Why is it that we are so obsessed with the revenge story? Or, perhaps more important is the question: Why do we justify revenge so enthusiastically?

In Eastwood’s 1992 Best Picture winner, Eastwood plays Bill Munny, an ex-killer, thief and drunk who gave all of that up for the love of a good woman. He lost her to small pox, though, and he can’t really farm at all. So, when he gets wind that some prostitutes have put a bounty out on a man who did them wrong, he sets out to kill again.

It is a classic, American, heroic tale of justice. Only it feels like a sad, pathetically real story of revenge. In fact, Munny’s heart really isn’t into the killing—it is more of an unappealing chore—until his friend Ned is killed. Then, he has an emotional reason to want to kill. You can tell because he drinks again for the first time in years. He also at that point becomes the typical, American, Western bad-ass. At that point, our American-film-audience-mentality tells us we are supposed to cheer and root for him. THIS is the Clint Eastwood we all love to watch!

The jerk of a Sherriff that he is out to kill protests as Munny is about to kill him:

“I don’t deserve this. I was building a house.

Munny responds:

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

But it does, doesn’t it? That is what revenge is all about. And, after all, Munny’s earlier line made it clear. Death is something everyone is headed for, so it is OK to help some people along their way. Especially if money is involved, or—even better—paying back some wrong.

Of course, the film is not really saying that. This is a commentary against that attitude in the old, American West. The attitude that so many still hold on to today. The attitude that many want to regrasp and “Make America great again.” But the real American value si something very different.

America isn’t really a Christian nation, but it was founded on Christian ideals. And one of the most important of those ideals is to do right no matter how one feels, and revenge is not a part of that. We should look to the example of Christ who didn’t seek revenge nor judge us when we were His enemies. He died for the very people who hated Him. He died for pathetic revenge mongers like me.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 19-24)

(13-18)--(25-30)

Two thirds of the way through season 2, I find myself wondering if it is just a case of them still needing to find their sweet spot, or if I have always remembered this season as being more impressive than it was. There is a lot of silliness and misfiring going on here:

Episode 19 “Catch a Falling Star” 

Sam thinks he is on a mission to have his teenage crush on his piano teacher fulfilled, but he is really there to perform a bunch of off-Broadway via montages. And why does Sam keep thinking that people will recognize him? But actually that is a pretty good beat. Men really do not see themselves as they really are, but as their internal self. I don’t know if that sentence made sense to anyone but me.

Episode 20 “Portrait for Troian” 

If Broadway wasn’t silly enough, Sam gets to help a woman expose a plot to trick he into seeing ghosts, by inhabiting a man who believes in ghosts, but who isn’t the one trying to scam her. AND the ghost reading instruments register the quantum leaping and holograms. AND… there is a ghost. ???

Episode 21 “Animal Frat” 

Making a three-for-three situation, the series decides to do a take on “Animal House” but also do a serious story about the Baby Boomer’s guilt obsession about Vietnam. They expose the stupidity of the hippy terrorist movement, but also can’t bring themselves to come down too hard on it either.

Episode 22 “Another Mother” 

Sam gets to walk a mile in a single mother’s shoes in his first foray into the eighties. As if that wasn’t enough, little kids can actually see him and Al, AND a sexual predator is after her/his teenage son. The ticking clock of the van approaching is way too much.

Episode 23 “All Americans” 

We finally get a serious story that is void of any gimmick. Sam is a Hispanic football playing in high school who has to prevent his best friend from throwing the game for a gambler.

Episode 24 “Her Charm” 

In an interesting twist, Sam finds himself having to save a woman in the witness protection plan from… his host. Up until now he has always had to struggle to change things that are largely out of his control. Here he simply has to stop doing what he is doing, only he first has to realize that he is the one doing it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fiat, Seed, and Kind (Genesis 1:11-13)

Interesting observation: only days one and three have God saying something and it becoming. Creating by fiat. Every other day describes God making or creating the things He orders into existence. The light simply “is” when God commands. And here on day three the waters gather and dry land appears at His command. Likewise, the earth “brings forth” vegetation at His word. Perhaps there is some profound meaning in God making the expanse, the celestial bodies, the animals, and humanity, while the light, sky, land and vegetation come into existence at his word. It does say a lot about God’s sovereignty. He speaks and creation is. But it also says a lot about His artistry that He took the trouble to make, to shape, to design His oeuvre.

There are also a couple of important ideas introduced on this day of creation. Two key terms stand out:

Seed. Seeds are a big deal on day three. As a noun or verb (translated yield) fully one fifth of the words in verses 11-13 are the word seed. (I can geek out about such stuff.) But this isn’t just about day three involving plants. The idea of seeds or offspring or generations goes on to be an important theological theme of Genesis and the whole Gospel story. Life is about propagation. It is sort of an imperative in creation.

Kind. Another important word for this passage is introduced and repeated here in day three. The plants are created according to categories. This idea will be seen again on day six with the animals. God created order and there is a certain goodness to the structure of creation. The opposite of that good order is evil and is expressed in chaos or confusion.

If we want to go on a bit of a tangent here, this is where evolution is addressed. And we have to be careful about what we mean with that. What we see here in Genesis is that God creates life in categories right from the beginning. Even if we want to allow for “intelligent design” there does not seem to be room here for all the variety of plant life (and later animal life) to have been “developed” through natural selection run amok. What we aren’t seeing here is a denial of natural selection as a process for the preservation of the kinds, the species. Natural selection is a fact. It is observable. It just didn’t lead to one kind producing another kind.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"Macbeth" (2015)

Contrary to popular opinion, Shakespeare’s plays do not automatically make for a great film. It is possible to take his masterpieces and screw up royally. His plays are about more than just genius-level writing. More than words. Great interpretations communicate the essence of the story. Poor ones make a mess of style over substance. Just take last year’s Macbeth as an example.

It looks as though the filmmakers said to themselves, “Yeah, Macbeth is good, but surely we can make it better!” So they went about making their changes.

They added in a lot of battle footage that in the play happens off-screen. That in and of itself may not have been a bad thing, but they washed the colors out, did way too much super-slow motion, and presented fighting that was like a cypher, stand-in for actual battle. There was no storyline through the fighting scenes. We are not given a reason to care about what is happening. Then they added in a “score” that consisted mostly of a cello droning back and forth between two notes for the entire film. That combined with the stylized, washed-out cinematography served as a sort of sleep-inducer.

Then they chopped up Shakespeare’s drama and re-sequenced a bunch of the dialogue. They place things in contexts that change the plot a bit. And, someone decided since this is a Scottish story, everyone should talk in a (presumably) Scottish accent that sounded mostly like mumbling. Why make Shakespeare’s words intelligible?

Perhaps worst of all was this film’s little innovation. It seems every Shakespeare adaptation has to reimagine at least one scene in a new, heretofore unthought-of way. This one decided that Act 1 Scene vii, where Lady Macbeth dissuades her husband’s second thoughts with clever words (as you would expect in Shakespeare), they should add a little extra flair. So they imply that she convinces him with all those words WHILE ENGAGING IN A LITTLE QUICKIE. Sound stupid? It is. Instead of her persuasive ability to use language, they imply that he gives in because she is using her sexuality to bewitch him.

It is a shame that this film adaptation was so bad, because it is an important story. This generation needs to see more examples of bad decisions having devastating consequences on those who engage in them.

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Discerning and Judging" (John 7:53-8:11)

Unobservant readers may not have noticed that this passage was likely not originally included in John’s Gospel. Most translations today indicate this in some way. For many this could be something that would trigger doubts or uncertainty about the reliability of Scripture. The fact that this passage likely does not belong here strengthens our confidence in Scripture, however.

The New Testament is likely the most well attested ancient document in existence. Sure, we don’t have the originals, but we also don’t have original copies of most ancient writings. What we do have is thousands of ancient copies, some from near the actual dates of composition. So, the text that we have to read today, with all of the important variations and the couple likely add-ons, is something we can confidently believe was what was originally written.

So what do we do with a passage like this one that probably isn’t something John wrote? Most scholars contend that, even though it probably wasn’t a part of John’s Gospel, it was likely a historical event. Also, it agrees with the greater canonicity of the Gospel teaching, and doesn’t add any unique teaching not found elsewhere. A good approach may be, read it but don’t rely on it.

However, as is true of Scripture throughout history, this passage is especially helpful in today’s culture. It gives us a practical example of Jesus’ teaching regarding judgement. (That is probably why it most frequently was inserted here.) It harkens back to Jesus teaching in chapter 3 as well. Right after what used to be the most known verse in Scripture (3:16), we see that Jesus came to save the world, not judge it. And, those who believe in Him are spared from judgement, saved from sin. What we see from Jesus here is not a tolerance for sin, but a forgiving approach that still takes sin seriously. All sin, not just the most ostracized varieties. It is a sharp contrast to the new, most known and most misquoted verse of Scripture: Matthew 7:1.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Relentlessness

... after reminiscence

In a blink I was falling
And I couldn’t slow down
In love and through moments
All composed around a theme
The faces and the places
The struggles and the growth
I lost sight of the boy
And arrived back at today

This familiar grace, our
Children, home and family
I fight to hold on to
This moment, this in between
What was and what will be
Relentlessly so fleeting
I can only hope to fill
As much of my stay…

Loving you for all of time

Friday, March 18, 2016

Daredevil (Season 1)

I finally got around to binge-watching the rest of season one in anticipation of the new season dropping today. I had started watching nearly a year ago when it first came out, but like a lot of the more serious, dark television fare lately (Walking Dead, I’m looking at you) I kept finding excuses to not come back.

It is one thing to sit down for a couple of hours to take in a hard-to-swallow movie with dark themes. But TV (or Netflix) series ask us to devote multiple visits back to the agony. And the way things are with streaming, it isn’t really meted out in manageable doses every week.

So what was off about Daredevil that made it such work to get through? After all, I was able to make it through two seasons of Fargo last year, and it was a similar universe. I think Daredevil was simply too serious. It was skillfully made and had well told, important-for-today stories. But it as to uniformly serious. It lacked moments of humor. It’s moments of tenderness or humanity were still seasoned with a certain melancholy—a lack of hope—that pervaded the series.

One hopes that the new uniform, unveiled in the season finale, will bring a little fun into season two. (That said, the new uniform looks pretty stupid compared to the black outfit he wore most of the season. And, while we’re at it, the introduction of the Punisher will not lighten the mood at all. Sigh…)

I remember when I was a kid and had already begun my life-long fandom of the Batman through television rather than comics, a friend introduced me to my first Marvel Comics. I didn’t really get the X Men, but this crazy blind guy in the devil suit, acrobating around the cityscape fighting bad guys with a baton seemed pretty cool. I decided he would be my second favorite hero.

But the comics had a similar problem to the series. Every time I looked into his stories, he couldn’t seem to catch a break. I didn’t know it at the time, but these things called comic books tend to be little more than soap operas.

Here’s hoping that season two, along with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, et.al. will find a way to be fun while still telling compelling, relevant stories for our day.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Set Apart" (Genesis 1:6-10)

Day two fights the structure of this hymn. This passage is so structured. That goes beyond the “and there was evening and there was morning” formula. There are seven repeating phrases or elements that occur (with a couple exceptions) in each of the six days. On day five, the fulfillment of God’s fiat is only implied and not spelled out with the “it was so.” On days three and four there is no subsequent word from God beyond the “let there be.” But here in day two, the “God saw that it was good” is missing. It does come later, in day three when God is finished separating all the waters, but why does that act extend over two days?

I don’t know. But there is an interesting detail in the structure. Between God's seeing the light was good in day one, and His seeing that the sky and land and seas being good in day three, there are three instances of God separating, setting things apart.

We see God doing more than just strictly “creating” in Genesis one. He “makes” the sky (firmament), the sun, the moon and the animals. He sees and calls and blesses His creation. But here, between the Good in day one (verse 4) and the Good in day three (verse 10), He separates.

God separates the light and the darkness. He separates the sky from the earth (the waters below and above) and he separates the seas from the dry land. The creative act of God is as much about ordering and organizing the world as it is about making it. God is not a God of chaos and disorder. He determines the way of creation. Where things go; where they belong.

To separate is also to set apart, to call out. God will continue to do this throughout history. Much of God’s activity in the world is setting things apart from the rest. He calls people out to a special purpose. This goes beyond the “creatureliness” we saw back in verse four. The loss of the creature is the fall from grace, the rebellion called sin. The call to return, to be set apart—made holy, is the restoration of humanity.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Frustrating Math of American Politics

People complain about this new “Common Core” math a lot. It can be confusing. But something that makes even less sense is the way that the founding fathers decided that there would only ever be two approaches to running the country. OK, to be fair they didn’t prescribe a two party system of government, but something called Duverger’s Law makes it inevitable in our system the way it is set up. And, as long as you don’t know any better it is just frustrating, but as soon as you see that there are other democracies with multiple parties and forced consensus and cooperation amongst parties it gets to be infuriating. That is mostly because the way things are now, a very few people have an out of proportional say in who runs things.

Take this year’s primaries as an example:

Trump is getting 37% of primary votes, and when only 17.3% of eligible voters are showing up, means that 6.4 percent of the nation is supporting him. (By contrast, Clinton’s 66% of the 11.7% of voters on the Democratic side mean that 8 in 100 people are on her side. Sanders is getting the other 4%) Another way of breaking it down would be to compare the 7,530,985 people who have cast votes for Trump to the 323 Million people in the US (which includes people ineligible to vote). That gives you the figure of 2.3%. Less than three people out of every 100 support Trump enough to get out and vote for him and his message. (Clinton has 8,640,761 votes, or 2.7%)

So we will be heading into November with a choice between two stinkers who are only there because about 6 in every one hundred people thought that they should be the two we have to choose from.

I for one think it would be a better thing—from policy making to voter turn-out to less ingrained division in the country—if there were dozens of viable parties, even single issue ones, for whom people could cast votes. Of course that would mean that the House of Representatives would ultimately choose the president, but imagine that happening in a House with factions of multiple parties. That would make political dialogue and cooperation so much more vibrant. And for those who would be offended that the President would not be elected directly by the people, remember, they aren’t anyway in our system.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"Fantastic Lies" (2016)

In the latest episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30, we learn that America is indeed a plutocracy. Sure, we all knew that democracy is driven by whoever has the most advertising money, but this one reminds us that the justice system is only for those who can afford it.

But in all seriousness, the story of the Duke Lacrosse team, much like the Salem witch trials, is a reminder of the truly scary thing that the mob-mentality is. There are times in American history when the truth takes a back seat to self-righteousness. And in those times you had better pray that you never get accused of the evil de jure.

No one these days really needs to be told that violence against women is bad, or that race or wealth is no justification for wrongdoing. However, we do need to be reminded that we are a nation that likes to think it follows the rule of law, and one of the most sacred ideas of our judicial system is that you have to do something wrong, and be proven to have done it, to be punished.

Unless you are accused of sexual assault. Then you had better be able to afford a great lawyer and you might as well kiss your good reputation goodbye. Because in that case it is not the weight of the evidence but the seriousness of the accusation that will count.

And the saddest thing about this mentality is that it will eventually hurt women who are really victims. We can only overreact to so many false accusations before we will begin to doubt all of them. Or so one would think.

The other thing I come away with is… some college boys—innocent of rape or not—are immature scum buckets. How creepy is it to think of being at a party with 40 guys where you all pay $800 for two strippers? Or maybe sad is the word I’m looking for. How were these guys the “big men on campus?”

Monday, March 14, 2016

"Judgement and Discernment" (John 7:1-52)

The events of chapter seven of John’s Gospel strike me as being all about that difficult issue of judging and discerning God’s will. How does one determine what God’s plan? How do you know what God wants you to do with your life? How do you decide what is from God and what isn’t?

Throughout the chapter, we see the crowds of people debating whether Jesus is of God or not, if He is a “good man” or just “leading the people astray.” As time passes and they hear more and more from Jesus, their respective positions are merely solidified. Many grow to believe that He is the Messiah, but the others simply continue to think He is a trickster. Apparently, more is needed than our judgment.

When Jesus brothers try to give Him “career advice” and have Him head to the festival to increase His image, Jesus counters that He must follow God’s plan. And in God’s plan, timing is everything. The brothers are not followers of Jesus. Jesus tells them that their plans and their ideas are inconsequential. Therefore, their plans and their timing all equally irrelevant. Jesus must act when God wants Him to and no sooner or later.

Over the course of the chapter, Jesus gives three important teachings about doing God’s will.

First, in verses 16-18, Jesus tells us how to recognize God’s will. God shows His will to the willing. It is only those who are prepared to follow God’s plans that can see what His plans are. This is a crucial teaching. In God’s Kingdom, we do not even receive our instructions until we have surrendered to following them. We don’t hear from God and then decide whether to obey or not. We hear once we have decided.

Secondly, in verses 19-24, Jesus points out the flaw of simplistic legalism. God’s will is not a list of simple rules that we follow or prohibitions that we avoid. Real life is more nuanced than that. In God’s Kingdom, we follow the rule of love. We do Good, which sometimes involves the better over and against a good. In such a complicated reality, we do not trust our own judgment on its own. Real discernment is knowing when to look to God for guidance.

Finally, in verses 37 and 38, Jesus teaches that His followers will not be required to figure things out all alone. Those who surrender to follow God’s will have the Spirit within them. They have God with them every step of the way, and God will lead them in following His will.

Friday, March 11, 2016

"Bridge of Spies" (2015)

They say you can tell a lot about a person from the movies they love. And while “Bridge of Spies” isn’t perhaps a much “pure entertainment” as some other films from 2015, it hits me in all of my story “sweet spots.” It is a tight, well executed drama about a man, James Donovan, and his principles, set against the whole world.

At first his commitment to an ethical standard puts him in opposition against his own countrymen. His high opinion of the liberties and standards that the USA represents force him to defend an enemy. As long as the truth is defended, how can he possibly go wrong? Where is the danger? And, if he sacrifices truth and the principles of his country, how are they any better than the enemy? The actions of the masses in America cause you to ask that question over and over again.

An exchange between Donovan and a CIA agent sums up this battle quite well:

Agent Hoffman: OK, well, listen, I understand attorney-client privilege. I understand all the legal gamesmanship, and I understand that's how you make your living, but I'm talking to you about something else, the security of your country. I'm sorry if the way I put it offends you, but we need to know what Abel is telling you. You understand me, Donovan? Don't go Boy Scout on me. We don't have a rule book here.

Donovan: You're Agent Hoffman, yeah?

Hoffman: Yeah.

Donovan: German extraction.

Hoffman: Yeah, so?

Donovan: My name's Donovan. Irish, both sides. Mother and father. I'm Irish and you're German. But what makes us both Americans? Just one thing. One. Only one. The rule book. We call it the Constitution, and we agree to the rules, and that's what makes us Americans. That's all that makes us Americans. So don't tell me there's no rule book.

Later, his commitment to truth and standards over and above any partisan compromise make him the perfect man for the difficult task of negotiating with the enemy. Once again, he does not let pragmatism or Cold War strategy influence his actions. He is in effect, standing above both the USA and the USSR. It is one man, and his gut and his principles, against the world. He ignores his handlers. He ignores the threats and the hard-ball dealing of the Russians and the Germans. He insists on doing what is right.

It is truly inspiring stuff. And it totally changed up my year-end list from last week.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Creed" (2015)

Carrying on the 2015 trend of the “Requel” (i.e. not a straight sequel, but also not a reboot, yet somehow follows the original plot beat-by-beat. See “Jurassic World”, “Force Awakens”, and whatever Terminator film they made last year.) Creed is less Rocky 7 and more of that original film made again.

I found myself wondering as things went along, if they would have Creed win the final fight, or lose it with respect won as Rocky did.

By the time we got to that last fight, all I cared about was that Creed really needed to do something about that nasty damage to his face! Wow.

Lesson of both films: I will prove the whole world sort of right about my chances, but win respect by showing just how bad of a beating I can take. Boxers be crazy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Cautionary Word Regarding the Word: Day (Genesis 1:5)

This is as good a point as any to address this issue. What is meant by “day” in Genesis? And: What does “day” mean in this creation passage?

People get all worked up over these questions and they do so for all the wrong reasons. Since this passage is composed with some very specific theological teaching in mind, none of which are scientific in nature, the questions about days in Genesis 1 and 2 are little better than distractions.

To the first question. Many will argue till they are blue in the face that the term “Yom” can only mean a 24 hour day. That is silly, since in this very verse, day has two senses. First, God calls the light portion of the 24 hour period “day” and the other, dark portion “night.” So we already have a meaning other than 24 hours. Then, in the second creation passage, beginning in 2:4, we get the reference to “the day that the Lord created the earth and the heavens.” That can’t be a 24 hour period, because it would contradict chapter one. But, have no fear, here in chapter 1 the term day is referring to a normal day, and we are presented with an account of creation that happens in a week-like-pattern. So, what is meant by “day” in this hymn of creation is the regular day, even before there was a sun or a moon to measure such a thing.

But when you ask what this week, these seven days of creation, means in this passage, you don’t have such a clear-cut answer. Yes, if God so desired He could have created everything in the universe in 8,640 minutes (with another 1,440 of rest). But if you insist that that is the intended teaching in this passage you might be mistaken. It is certainly not a good idea to require people to believe that as a prerequisite for orthodoxy.

Some people look at the apparent and clear evidences of an old universe and say that God created everything with an appearance of age. In other words, a misdirection that renders everything we see as untrustworthy. That is something that has a lot of implications and we ought to be careful before we jump to that conclusion. While it is true that our reason is flawed and limited, and we can’t hope to explain everything in the universe, it is still an orderly universe operating in a structured and predictable way since it was created by a logical mind that belongs to a trustworthy Creator.

Others see the sense of structure being communicated in this passage and extrapolate that the days here symbolize longer, equal periods of time. That too is flawed, because if each day represents an era of creative activity then we could extrapolate that we are now in the seventh such period and God has ceased to be active in creation. The rest of scripture negates that idea.

The truer reading of this passage is to see an orderly, structured, creative, and organizing activity of a sovereign, almighty Creator. It is the revelation of that truth with little to no concern about the intricacies of how it was done, other than the Creator simply willed it to happen, that is being shown. That does not mean that any and all scientific theories can be shoehorned into this worldview, but there is a lot of room for speculation. Not that any of that is a truly worthwhile endeavor.  (More on that to come.)  God did it.  He has told us all we need to know about how He did it.

However, if you are letting the “day” issue get in the way of sharing the story of Jesus, or if you are forcing people into one narrow interpretation before they can repent and follow; you are in the wrong.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" (2016)

When I went to the sneak-peak screening and saw this film come up, I was curious to see what exactly all the controversy surrounding this event. I had heard a lot of the news but wanted to see a narrative. As things moved along I went from curious to perplexed. The acting was good (really good) and the story seemed comprehensible, but there was something wrong.

More than the lack of perspective about things going on away from the action—the decisions being made away from the action in Benghazi, the stuff we really have questions about—it was what was added that felt out of place. After all, you could understand a creative decision to put us completely in the world of the people on the ground, with all of the questions and disbelief of a lack of help. But what feels so out of place in a serious film about a terrible event in recent history are all of the wise-cracking moments.

Not that men fighting for their lives can’t deliver Schwarzenegger-worthy quips in real life. But it is tonally off, and makes things feel “Hollywood,” i.e. fake.

Then, I remembered who was directing this and everything became clear. Michael Bay can deliver a music video, or a brainless action flick that you will forget the next day, but he seems unable or unwilling to present a coherent, serious dramatic story.

So, I am still wondering what happened on September 11, 2012.


Friday, March 4, 2016

"Triple 9" (2016)

Apparently, the only thing that makes a crime drama transcendent of television drivel and worthy of cinema is harsh language. Sort of like the way a teenager throws around cuss words in excessive and clumsy ways to show that they are “mature,” the cop film often has every person reduced to the most base of linguists. Well, that and a lack of redeeming characters.

“Triple 9” tries to let us know that it is a more sophisticated story than your average procedural by having every single character be totally irredeemable. All save one that is. And, not surprisingly, the good man amidst the universe of scum is the only one to make it out alive. Or, maybe that is surprising, as it reveals an almost old-fashioned morality.

There are three key characters in this film. (Even though the film is too diffuse and sprawling to effectively communicate that.)

First you have Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Michael Atwood. He is a man controlled by circumstances. He has convinced himself that he has to engage in evil to protect the little good he sees in life, embodied in his son. He appears to be in complete control, and yet he is a puppet. The story is moved along by his Russian-mobster masters pulling the strings they have attached to him. It is the picture of a fool convinced that he is the smartest person in his world.

Against him we have Casey Affleck’s Chris Allen. A cop who is simply trying to make a difference. He has no pretentions and no sense of power. And yet he is a competent man simply trying to do good. He wants to make the world a better place. All the other characters in the film would see that as foolishness, and yet the story reveals him to be the only man who truly understands the way the world works.

His uncle, Woody Harrelson’s Jeffrey Allen, is a masterful detective. And yet his approach to the job of law enforcement laughs at Chris’s idealism. In his words, their job is to “out monster the monster.” He is the most tragic figure in the film because his aim is to stop evil men, but he has become just as evil in the process.

All of that insight is—as already stated—hidden beneath a lot of messy movie-making. It is by no means enough to recommend anyone check this film out for edification. And despite some amazingly intense action set-pieces, it is hard to imagine that many would find this dark film entertaining.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

"Creatureliness" (Genesis 1:4)

[4] And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

Second only to the message that God is in complete control, Genesis 1 tells us about who God is. God is good. What He creates is good. And He is active in maintaining the “goodness.” in His creation.

For the first time here on day one, we see some patterns that will reoccur throughout the creation story, and for that matter, in recorded history.

First, God declares that which He has created (also through a declaration) to be “good.” So things come into being because God wishes them to be, and they are also good—i.e. proper, correct, as intended—because He declares them to be so. Not only that, but God then separates what He has created (the thing, light) from that which He has not created (the no-thing, darkness). God imposes order in His creation. He is not a God of chaos. Things exist in their proper place. They exist for their purpose. And that order and purpose have huge importance.

We will see this idea restated again and again in this creation hymn. Everything God makes, in its place and fulfilling its purpose, is good. And everything He creates has a place and a purpose. Our goodness is/rests in who we were created to be and in the purpose we were created to fulfill.

As the story progresses, we will see that the key problem will arise in the loss of “creatureliness.” When humanity ceased to accept who they were created to be, and tried to impose their own identity and purpose over and above the one given and intended by the Creator, everything fell apart for humanity. For Creation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Dear Stampeding Herd,

Somewhere along the line about 9 years ago, I came to a realization. I was being sold a lie. I was being fed fear and guilt. The American church had whispered in my ear and I was close to following it down a wide and dangerous path. The lie was complex and multifaceted, but it went something like this:

"You belong to a country that God loves more than any other of all the nations on earth. He loves this country, a new, even better Israel, because it has always been a ‘Christian nation.’ It is your responsibility as a follower of Jesus to be political, to vote Republican (other versions of this lie would say Democrat), and to make sure that the churches maintain power. It is only through that political power, through the legislation, the courts, and the government, that we can ensure that the country remain ‘Christian.’”

The “Moral Majority” that started this way of thinking had forgotten some key truths. These truths need to be remembered, especially if we want to stay on track as believers, following Jesus.

1. God is in control. He is not thwarted by supposed inaction of His people. He ordains governments. He has allowed kings, dictators, Caesars, and presidents to rise to power, always according to His plan. If you think God did not want Obama in office for this time to the glory of His purposes, then you have some messed up theology. If you think the next president of the United States will be a surprise for God, or will not be exactly who He wants there then you are not thinking of the same God as described in the Bible.

2. We are never promised a world in which we and our ideas about life will be the norm. In fact, we are told that we will be hated in the world due to our allegiance to Jesus. We need to expect a certain estrangement and rejection from culture. If we find we are in control and in a country where everyone agrees with our way of thinking, it ought to scare us. Because when that is the case, we are either on the side of sinners or Pharisees, and we do not want to be in either of those camps.

3. We have wasted the better part of four decades trying to maintain cultural standards through politics and legislation while the real cultural-shapers have been laughing at our efforts and been changing the hearts of the masses through more effective means. We have been in bed, always with the “lesser of two evils” but nevertheless with evil. Instead of pouring time and money into political machines, we should have been shaping the world as Jesus commanded: through relationships, stories, and genuine love towards everyone around us.

So, as you feel fret and fear creeping up in this political season, stop. Trust the One who is in control to work everything out right. Maybe not for this temporal nation, but for His plan and His glory. Laugh at how silly it all is. If you feel like you must, vote, but by all means don’t choose one “lesser” evil over another. Vote for someone you can really back 100%. Even if that means writing in the name of someone who would never really run (a quality that should top the list of any presidential candidate worth their salt) or for no one at all. Despite what other lies try to tell you, one vote doesn’t make a difference in our system. Especially when you think that the whole thing is in complete control outside our hands.
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