Saturday, April 30, 2016

"Captain America: Civil War" (2016)

The comic book event of 2006 that brought all of Marvel’s super heroes into conflict with each other was amazing for a couple reasons. It stayed true to the characters. It didn’t have to rely on anyone being possessed or hypnotized to fight each other. And, it came up with a scenario that had two well thought out, compelling arguments driving both sides. Even though you probably came down on one side or the other, you could understand the other side’s reasoning.

Well, the movie version of the story doesn’t quite pull off the nuance, but it is still a film that explores real issues with real consequences. This is no superhero vs. superhero story will all style and no substance. But try as they might, there is one right side here.

For starters, this is being called a Captain America film, even though it is ostensibly an Avengers film. Just looking at the stories leading up to this film, it is clear which side has the moral foot to stand on.

Iron Man started out sounding a lot like Captain America. Early on in the Iron Man films, he refused to give his tech to governments because he knew such institutions were not constant or trustworthy. He wanted to prevent war and help people, not protect one nation’s interest over another’s. However, we have also seen that he is ultimately weak in character. He has ultimately selfish motives. He wants to save people so that he can be the one that saves. He is driven by what feels right. So, in this film when he is confronted with the collateral damage of what he has done, he is quickly ready to turn over responsibility to another. He wants governments to call the shots--and—take the responsibility for the fall-out.

Captain America, on the other hand, is a man driven completely by principle. Even when it costs him or leads him to the harder option. We have repeatedly seen him chose things that will cost him because it is the right thing to do. He doesn’t care about recognition, comfort, or keeping the status quo happy. He sticks by his friends, but not at the cost of what he understands as right. He won’t sacrifice freedom for security.

The film goes on to prove Captain’s fears right and Iron Man’s trust misplaced. And it is not subtle about its message. To paraphrase Peter Parker in the film, recasting his paramount life-lesson: When you have the ability to do good and don’t, and bad things happen… they are your fault. It may not be as snappy as “with great power comes great responsibility” but it is the same idea cast into the context of this film.

Doing the right thing is not easy. We often make mistakes or unintentionally cause harm in an effort to help. That does not mean we should not do good. We certainly shouldn’t just let the government take care of all the hard stuff and live our lives in comfort. And while we may not have superpowers, we all have our part to play. The values that America used to espouse involved a freedom laced with responsibility. People saw their liberty as a responsibility, not a license. It is high time we got back to that mentality.

So, like the movie I side with Teamcap.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Bring Forth" and the Humility of Ignorance (Genesis 1:24, 25)

There is a prevalent misconception, or impression, regarding the creation in Christian teaching these days. The assumption is that God literally “spoke” everything into existence and that that is all that happened. I think the mental image that a lot of people have of this is God saying, “Let there be…” and things simply “pop” into existence. “Let there be tigers.” Pop—there are suddenly tigers appearing out of thin air.

The problem is not that this is how it could have happened. There is room for that to possibly be what happened in the account. The problem is when we insist that that is how it had to happen. That somehow that interpretation is the only orthodox possibility and that a correct understanding of this issue is determinate to our relationship with God.

There are two reasons to put the brakes on such an insistence.

First, we should consider what the Bible actually says, and what it doesn’t. Look at God’s activity step by step through the six days:

Verse 1: God creates everything in existence. No mention is made of how He did it.

Verse 3: God says, “Let there be light.” Light appears. Here God does simply command stuff into existence. So, this is A way God did things. This is where this exclusive understanding of how things happened likely arises. People read this far and then stop.

Verses 6 and 7: God commands an expanse to separate the waters below from the waters above. But, here God makes the expanse and does the separating. It isn’t clear how God does this, but He does something. The sky does not just appear.

Verse 9: God commands the waters on the planet to gather and the dry land to appear. They do so. But notice, the waters gather and uncover the land. There is a description of a process here. Land does not appear from nowhere.

Verses 11 and 12: God commands the land to produce vegetation. The land brings forth vegetation. God doesn’t do more than command, but the land produces plants. The account seems to describe a process, we don’t see plants zap into existence from nowhere.

Verse 14, 16, and 17: God commands there to be heavenly bodies, but He makes them and places them in space.

Verses 20 and 21: God commands there to be sea creatures and birds, but He explicitly creates them according to their kind.

Finally, verses 24 and 25, in the first part of day 6, He commands the land to produce animals. God then makes the animals. So, the first reason to hesitate insisting that everything simply appeared is the Biblical account itself. We should resist the simplistic idea of things popping into existence. The Bible gives us a much more richly descriptive account of How God created. He creates, makes, separates, places and commands His creation to move and bring things into existence. We aren’t given enough detail to have a clear picture of how it all happened, but we have enough to see an elaborate creative process.

The second reason we should shy away from insisting on such a narrow view is the creation itself. God’s creation is an orderly, structured thing, operating according to the natural laws and forces that God established to govern reality. The scientific revolution was brought about by believers who understood that God had created an ordered reality. They rejected superstitious, capricious views of reality where reality could not be known.

That does not mean that all scientific opinions, theories, and ideas produced to explain reality are correct or unmistaken. Some aspects of the universe and time lie outside of our ability to observe and test. We can only apply scientific method to certain aspects of reality. Origins are one of the very problematic areas. As with theology and philosophy, a lot of science relies on faith. Maybe someday we will learn more information regarding the origins of the universe from the Creator Himself, however, I tend to think we have been given all the accounting that we need to ever know.

That said, outside of an acknowledgement that God made it all, we need to take care in being too dogmatic about the hows. We certainly do not need to make the hows a test of orthodoxy or, even worse, a precondition for a relationship with God.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Stream of Thought on Memory

I have this vague memory of a movie from my childhood, from back in the days when nothing came on demand and you watched whatever the limited selection of television offered. Back when commercials were a given and television was still an event. When everyone watched the same stuff at the same time and spoilers hadn’t been annoyingly discovered yet.

I can’t remember much at all about the movie. I just know it was creepy enough to fascinate my childhood imagination without being scary enough to really traumatize it. I know it was a mystery, and even better, a murder mystery. That is something my Hardy Boys books never offered me. It had a bunch of gruesome deaths, revealed in theatrical fashion. It was called, “Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?”

Every once in a while I look to see if it is available. I think I would like to revisit it. But, then again, maybe I shouldn’t. Every other film I’ve watched or owned from that era—even when they are great films—somehow miss the feeling my memories of that television viewing evokes. It might be like going back to places from my past. They feel weird. Not quite the same place. Somehow, they are out of time. You can never, really, go back.

We live in a wondrous time. We pretty much have the sum of all human knowledge, creativity, and culture at our finger tips. Yet somehow it is as though we are filtered out of reality. Seeing the Great Barrier Reef from a satellite picture in real time—or even through tourist snapshots or live video streams—is not the same as being there. A photo of the Mona Lisa—or a live camera feed from the Louvre—doesn’t really translate.

I love the expanded knowledge and experience we are offered. But when it comes to capturing moments from our past, endlessly reliving them only seems to cheapen the memories. The faint recollection is endlessly more valuable and rich than the photo, video, or any other form of copy. And as memory aides, the further removed the better. So, a photo is better than a video. A journal entry better than a photo. You want to trigger the memory, not recast it.

Experts tell me, every time you relive a memory you are not remembering the event, but rather your most recent recollection of it. It is as if your brain re-records the memory every time you play it. As delicate a process as that may seem, and as unreliable that renders our memories over time, it seems all of our digital recording of life worsen things. We don’t carry our delicate personal perspective of events around anymore, but rather the camera perspective of things. I remember my childhood as a collage of moments seen through my eyes. Do today’s kids see their childhood through their own eyes? Or do they carry around a collection of moments starring them, with the camera not seeing the world from their perspective but focused on them?

How does that shape their understanding of the world?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Shepherd Stories (John 10:1-21)

I see here in 10:1-18 two slightly different metaphors. Both involve shepherd imagery, and both involve clarifications about Jesus, but I don’t think they are directly about the same thing.

The first comparison, in verses 1-5, is about religion and deceiving teachers, whereas the second, from verse 7 to 18 is more directly about Jesus’ messianic ministry.

Following directly after the story of the healed blind man being cast out of the synagogue, it is easy to understand the first story. Jesus compares the Jews to a pen of sheep. Some of the sheep are His flock and they hear His words and recognize them. They convey truth. They follow Jesus out as their master. Others have come to the sheepfold with evil intentions. They try to wield power and influence over people. They are thieves and robbers. It is a harsh description, but applicable when one considers all the evils that have been done in the name of religion. People doing evil but claiming to please God and good.

As if in fulfillment of the parallel, the people who heard Jesus here did not understand what He was talking about. They did not hear His voice. If we consider the narrative unbroken from 9:41, Jesus was speaking to the very thieves and robbers He was describing.

In the second comparison Jesus’ words become even more difficult. Only His people will understand what He is talking about. Jesus claims that He is the only way into safety, into good pasture, into the Kingdom of God where mankind was intended to live. He is also the Good Shepherd. The Right, Noble, the True Shepherd. As in the first story, His sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. He calls them individually, by name.

Jesus doesn’t just love, care for, and defend His people. He lays down His life for His people. That is something that goes beyond the normal shepherd comparison. A good shepherd might be prepared to risk his life for his flock, but if he were to die defending them, what good would he have been to the sheep? But here, Jesus teaches that His true ministry to His sheep is to become a sacrifice for them.

In the first comparison, the pen was Judaism. Here, Jesus says that He doesn’t just have a flock within Israel, but He also has people amongst the Gentiles. Jesus dies for His people from all of humanity. Jesus laid down His life and died for our sins so that He could take it up again in victory over sin and death. He wasn’t killed, He sacrificed Himself.

As might be expected, these parables divided the crowd into those who heard and those who missed the point.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Sopaipilla

(Poetry Scales 47)  

As a child fried breads were a magical mystery
Pockets of air filled with honey
In the intervening years I’ve seldom enjoyed them
Finding that they don’t pass muster
Perhaps it is best to just relish the memory
Adventures non-quotidian
As repetition is the root of vulgarity
Encores spoil the experience
A lot of life is such sopaipilla and honey
To be enjoyed not stored in bulk

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Riparian

(Poetry Scales 46)  

drawn across corn dry fields
   meandering stripe of green
      drawing power magnetic wields
   across divide of hazy sheen
flowing as a hushed sound joy
   life dances along the stream
      as she plays along quite coy
   the moon casts its quiet dream
flowing, churning, ever on
   ever growing, she must teem
      from smallest brook to amazon
   the miracle is the theme

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Trust of Belief (John 9)

Compare the sixth sign in John to the third:

With the sixth sign in John’s Gospel we see a trusting belief.

Jesus finds a man who has been blind since birth. Jesus’ disciples question whose sin had led to the man’s suffering, his or his parents? Jesus denies that this individual suffering is the result of an individual sin, but rather an opportunity for God’s power to be seen. The Bible clearly teaches that, while suffering and evil in this broken world is a direct result of mankind’s sin, individual suffering is not always a consequence of a specific sin.

It is important to see here that Jesus heals the man, however, He also heals him in such a way that demands trust and obedience of the man. Jesus, not the man’s obedience, nor the spit, nor the pool heal the man. Just as we saw in chapter 5, faith is nothing more than trust in God, and it is God who works in the lives of those who trust Him. In this case, the man does trust, but Jesus initially works in his life before that trust is demonstrated.

Unlike the lame man, who tried to cast blame on everyone else, this man simply tells his story exactly as it happened. Even with a threat of being cast out of the religious community, he sticks to his testimony. What had the synagogue ever done for him? Jesus had given the man his sight. He must be very good and very great.

Just as in chapter 5, the Pharisees are not interested in any miracle or sign of God’s power in their midst. They are too concerned with keeping their power and enforcing the rules. God has moved in power, yet all they see is a threat to their own power! Jesus finds the man again and asks him now if He believes in the Messiah. When the man asks who that is, Jesus says that it is He. How does the man respond? He continues to believe (trust and follow) Jesus.

John uses this sign to highlight the truth that we are all born spiritually blind. We cannot see the reality of the brokenness around us until we encounter the Light of the World. Jesus declares that his coming has served as a judgement. The way people respond to Him and his truth exposes their condition. Those who humbly realize they have been blind are rescued and given sight, but most believe that they understand the world on their own. Their pride leads them to reject the Truth, and they remain captive in their blindness. The Pharisees here reinforce His point for Him.

“If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say ‘we see’ your sin remains.”

It calls to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. If you find Jesus’ last statement to the Pharisees confusing, consider it in light of the Cave Allegory and it becomes clearer.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Reading the Coens: "O Brother Where Art Thou?"



The Coen brothers are not Christian artists, but they are masters of their craft. And, while they appear to pay close attention to every detail in their stories and use every subtlety to advance their story, like most postmodern artists, they avoid being too specific about the meaning in their films. So, even though I am bringing my own preconceptions to their work that sees things likely unintended by them, I celebrate truth wherever I find it.

O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)

“It’s a problem of perception.”

It is no secret that this story parallels the Odyssey in many respects. But it is also the story of a man’s path to faith in a world of intellectualism and ideology.

In short it is the story of a convict who escapes the chain-gang to prevent his wife from marrying another man. Along the way he and his fellow prisoners have many adventures. They encounter all sorts of criminals and con-men, many of whom represent ideologies and institutions of the 1930s south. His companions find forgiveness and grace through revivalists, but Ulysses Everett McGill remains the staunch intellectual.


Everett: Well, I guess hard times flush the chumps. Everybody's looking for answers... Where the hell's he going?
[Delmar runs out to be baptized]
Pete: Well I'll be a sonofa. Delmar's been saved.
Delmar: Well that's it, boys. I've been redeemed. The preacher's done washed away all my sins and transmissions. It's the straight and narrow from here on out, and heaven everlasting's my reward.
Everett: Delmar, what are you talking about? We've got bigger fish to fry.
Delmar: The preacher says all my sins is washed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.
Everett: I thought you said you was innocent of those charges?
Delmar: Well I was lying. And the preacher says that that sin's been washed away too. Neither God nor man's got nothing on me now. C'mon in boys, the water is fine.
[later]
Pete: The preacher said he absolved us.
Everett: For him. Not for the law. I'm surprised at you Pete. I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.
Delmar: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
Everett: That's not the issue Delmar. Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi's a little more hardnosed.
Delmar: You should of joined us Everett. It wouldn't have hurt none.
Pete: Hell, at least it would of washed away the smell of that pomade.
Everett: Join you two ignorant fools in a ridiculous superstition? Thank you anyway. And I like the smell of my hair treatment - a pleasing odor's half the point. [laughs] Baptism. You two are just dumber than a bag of hammers. Well, I guess you're just my cross to bear.

Shortly after their conversion, Everett’s companions have him pick up a hitchhiker, who they find out has sold his soul to the devil. This also reveals that it is the devil himself who is pursuing them, in the form of the chain-gang boss:

Tommy: I had to be up at that there crossroads last midnight, to sell my soul to the devil.
Everett: Well, ain't it a small world, spiritually speaking. Pete and Delmar just been baptized and saved. I guess I'm the only one that remains unaffiliated.
Delmar: This ain't no laughing matter. Everett: What'd the devil give you for your soul, Tommy?
Tommy: Well, he taught me to play this here guitar.
Delmar: Oh son. For that you sold your everlasting soul?
Tommy: [shrugs] Well, I wasn't using it.
Pete: I've always wondered, what's the devil look like?
Everett: Well, of course there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, Pete, but the great Satan himself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail, and he carries a hay fork.
Tommy: Oh, no. No, sir. He's white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice. He loves to travel around with a mean old hound. That's right.

Tommy is headed to make some money at a radio station/recording studio. They all record a single together as “The Soggy Bottom Boys”, that—unbeknownst to them—becomes huge hit across the state.

Music is an important part of this film. It isn’t a musical, but the songs that are interwoven throughout provide the atmosphere and philosophical underpinning for the story. They are songs about death and struggle, life and afterlife, but there are also uplifting, positive songs born out of faith.


Their hit single leads to them receiving a pardon from the governor of the state who is seeking reelection. It is broadcast over the radio from a campaign event. However, when the gang head to Everett’s old home to retrieve his wife’s wedding ring, the devil is waiting for them, set to hang them. Even though they (Pete and Delmar at least) have been assured of forgiveness and grace from God, and have obtained forgiveness and grace from the government, the Devil has other plans.

It is at this point, in desperation, that Everett drops any pretense of cleverness and prays to God, begging for forgiveness even though he does not deserve it.

God intervenes, and the valley that was scheduled to be damned as a reservoir is flooded in an instant. The men are saved and the devil and his minions are nowhere to be found. It is Everett’s baptism. Pete and Delmar acknowledge the miracle. Everett tries to explain it away until he sees a cow floating past on the roof of a house. This stops him short and we remember the prophecy of a blind man the gang encountered right after their escape:

“You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first... first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see things, wonderful to tell. You shall see a... a cow... on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.”


There is a theme of perception woven throughout the film. That prophet at the beginning of the film isn’t the only blind man. The record producer who makes them the hit of the state is also blind. They encounter a cyclops who is a crook posing as a Bible salesman. If memory serves, the gubernatorial opponent who is also a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan is the only character to wear glasses. And, of course, the Devil character has no eyes.

In the end, Everett has to let go of his perception. He has to stop seeing explanations for everything. Stop seeing the angles he takes advantage of as a conman. He has to surrender his perspective and turn helpless to God for salvation. It is an act of desperation, but it is the only way out of his predicament. And, all along his journey has been guided by forces unseen. Even though he tries to talk and reason his way out of every problem, he is ineffective and it is mere chance—or providence—that gets him back home in the embrace of his family.



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Firsts on Day Five (Genesis 1:20-23)

In a chapter of firsts, this little section on day 5 has a lot of firsts.

The first of these may be more of a curiosity. Living creatures. All of the sea animals and later on the animals on dry land are described with this general term. The word in Hebrew is Nephesh and is usually translated as “soul.” It really means throat and references the breath of life. It will regularly be used for both animals and humans. So, while people have souls, animals do too. Spirits, no, but souls yes.

For the first time since verse 1—the prologue of this creation story that declares that God created everything—we have God creating something. Up until now He has made, divided, and declared stuff into existence. There is no need to read too much into this choice of words. God making or creating amounts to the same thing. The word “create” does not distinguish some special category of “creation out of nothing” compared to making from something else. The concept of “creation ex nihilo” is implied in the passage, not conveyed in the vocabulary. Creation is an activity reserved for God alone in Scripture, however. All that said, the use of the word “to create” is interesting here for two reasons.

First, the WHAT God is creating here. Amidst all the other “living creatures” verse 21 mentions the “Tannim.” Tannim can mean great snake of crocodile, but here it is best rendered “sea monster.” This is not the serpent of chapter 3 (another word is used there.) However it is a creature that appears as a scary opponent to mankind as well as gods in other writings of the day. Here the scary “sea monster” from the chaos of the oceans is merely another creation. God is not opposed by the Tannim, He is its maker.

The other interesting thing about this day saying God created is the appearance of another important verb for the first time: Bless.

God blesses the creatures He makes on day 5. Bless and Create are similar sounding words in Hebrew. Create is Bara’ and Bless is Barak. God’s blessing of His creation, peoples, and individuals will be a hugely important theological issue going forward. It has a lot to do with prosperity and success in life. And here in Genesis 1 it is also tied into another important first: multiplication.

An important part of life as God designed it—for all living things—is this idea of Multiplication. Living things reproduce.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Turdiform

(Poetry Scales 48)   

It’s not what you think
Precisely defined
It means having the
Form of a lark

Not the form of a
Turd, cow patty, or
Link, no sausage, nor
Fresh caprolite

But a lark is a
Bird, more precisely:
A "brownish, streaky,
Ground dwelling bird"

So since we're funnin
And potty humor
Being what it is
We should concede

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Bottom Line (John 8:48-59)

Some would say that it is quite a leap of faith to think that trusting Jesus will ultimately save us from death. That there is a hope for a life after death, eternity. But that is not the challenge that another claim of Jesus presents us.

Jesus declared Himself to be God. The creator of the universe. The one who has all the answers and authority and power. You can’t get around that claim. And, once you grapple with it and come out the other side, all the rest that the Gospel demands of us is easy.

When Jesus here in chapter 8 says “I am.” He is very specifically saying that He is the God of the Old Testament, the God of the Jews. He is being very specific. He is not accidentally misrepresenting Himself. The Jews of His day avoided using the name of God. Jesus doesn’t just use it. He says that He is YHWH. So you have to be clear on this point. He thought He was God.

This is the classic dilemma that C. S. Lewis explained. Based on what Jesus Himself said, we don’t get the option of calling Jesus just a great example, a good teacher, or a revolutionary. He was either crazy, a con man, or He was who He said He was.

So, once you make your choice, everything else falls into place. If He was crazy or conning, ignore what He had to say. If He was God, then trusting and obeying Him is not such a challenge intellectually. Practically, sure, just not from a position of reason.

Friday, April 8, 2016

"The Peanuts Movie" (2015)

As a child of the seventies and eighties, it was a given that I would love The Peanuts Movie. As long as they didn’t change it too much or stray too far from the Schultz vision. The truth is that they did change a few things, but that only endeared it more to me.

In all the strips and the specials, Charlie Brown was the eternal loser. Somehow we all knew (from personal experience no doubt) that this wasn’t exactly true. It was just the way he perceived things. We all have a tendency to focus on the negative from time to time. Especially when we are young. Schultz either trusted his readers to understand this, or else he embraced the exaggeration.

In this new interpretation, that is the focus of the story. The Little Red-haired Girl has moved into town and Charlie Brown is in love. To win her heart he has been told he must show himself to not be a loser. But of course every attempt to make a good impression backfires.

As a kid I really zeroed in on Snoopy. To me Peanuts was always called “Snoopy.” That is where the joy was found in the stories. Charlie Brown was such a downer, but Snoopy embraced a complete joy in a lack of concern for what anyone else thinks. He is cool because he gives no thought to what anyone thinks.

Snoopy is used here to framework the plot of the film, and to provide commentary to Charlie Brown’s efforts throughout the film. His imaginative story of the World War I flying Ace is its usual fun, but also explores and explains the feelings and struggles Charlie Brown is going through. But the biggest change that I saw with Snoopy, and enjoyed, was a warmth and concern from Snoopy for Charlie Brown.

Then we get to the end of the film. And here is where we see something that Schultz never gave us. Not a bittersweet lesson learned, but an uplifting one. It may not be 100% classic Peanuts, but it elevated this film right into one of my favorites of 2015.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Deadpool the Troubling Non-Character

I’m told that not much happens in the movie “Deadpool.” Story-wise that is. It is an extended scene with origin story intercut. It is all jokes of the middle-school caliber variety and violence of the cartoonish variety. That sounds about right if you are trying to adapt the character from the comics.

Deadpool has been around since 1991, when he was introduced as a super villain with a great, marketable design. But, with kids these days liking the villains so much, and this being an increasingly “style over substance” world, they turned him into an “antihero” and the rest is history.

The frustrating thing about Deadpool is that he has no character. He is a stand in for rebellious, but pointless teen age attitude. Next to him, James Dean’s character actually seems to have a cause. In the 25 years since his creation he has had around 383 issues devoted to him. It is rather telling that over 150 of them have been miniseries in nature, often being “alternate reality” versions of his story. (And most of these titles have been published since 2010.) But really, the character has no through story. He doesn’t grow. He doesn’t have any defining characteristics outside of wise-cracks, mental illness, and a meta awareness that he is a comic book character.

Early on, Mark Waid, one of the first writers to tackle Deadpool after his creator, said:

“Frankly, if I’d known Deadpool was such a creep when I agreed to write the miniseries, I wouldn’t have done it. Someone who hasn’t paid for their crimes presents a problem for me”

To see how ridiculously void the character is, you just have to look to the issue of his sexual orientation. The creators have been quoted as claiming that he has both “no sex and all sexes.” He is whomever the writer, and the reader for that matter, needs him to be. Once you realize that this is not a character with a story and simply a cypher for irreverence, he loses any chance to compel a thinking reader.

I have only read about 30 issues of Deadpool comics, so less than ten percent. But I would find it hard to believe any direct translation of the comics to screen would get more than a PG-13 rating if it weren’t for the violence. The comics hint at a lot, but self-censor most language and sexuality. So it was a surprise to hear that the film uses its rating for so much sexual humor. That is a trend I hope the revenues don’t promulgate in comic movies going forward. I can accept films with more nuanced and compelling characters and stories having a higher degree of violence. Characters like Wolverine, Batman, and Hulk all have something to say about facing evil and violence in kind. Deadpool, however, just relishes in a world without consequences or meaning.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Just the Facts that Matter on Day Four (Genesis 1:14-19)

The second half of the creative week parallels the first. On days one, two and three we got light, sky and seas, and land. Here in the second half God will create the luminaries, fill the sky and seas with creatures, and create land animals and man.

Most importantly for day four is the fact that God creates the luminaries in the heavens as objects under His control. This is where the theological intent of the passage is seen over any human or cultural understanding or interpretation of the way things are. God does not try to teach the original readers of this passage that their cosmological picture of the solar system was flawed. He does not try to provide a scientific framework to replace their understanding. Such information, while more accurate, would have no impact on the lives of people at the time. And, for the purposes of the message of scripture, it still makes no difference.

In this passage theological truth trumps scientific. That is because the message is paramount. God doesn’t stop down for however long it would have required to educate the readers on the scientific realities of the solar system that would have had zero impact on their lives. Such facts are not negated or contradicted, they are simply not addressed. He gets right to the truths that matter. Irrelevant facts don’t muddle things up. Much in the way that Sherlock Holmes claimed to be unaware or have purposely forgotten that the earth travelled around the sun, the issue here is relevance and purpose.

What God instead corrects here in the creation story is the natural human tendency to worship the creature rather than the creator. Cultures throughout history have worshiped the sun, moon and stars. Here in Genesis, God shows the heavenly bodies to be mere objects created by Him to fulfil their purposes.

God makes them. He controls them. He gives them orders and they do simply as He commands. Here in Genesis, they are not even named. “Sun” and “Moon” would have been more natural than “greater luminary” and “lesser luminary.” But the proper names might have personified them, and in the context of this passage they need to clearly be objects, creations.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Sherlock: "The Abominable Bride"

I finally got around to the latest episodes of one of my favorite, recent television shows: Sherlock. “The Abominable Bride” is not a part of a new series, but simply an interlude. And, narratively that fits, because it is truly an interlude in the overall story. Not really advancing the plot, or even occurring—really—in the show’s continuity.

This is an increasingly trendy approach in some of Britain’s more popular shows, namely Steven Moffat’s shows; the super-meta storytelling approach. It is really less of a storytelling and more of an illusion of story. Frankly it is becoming a little annoying.

Not that “The Abominable Bride” is bad. It is an enjoyable diversion. But it is easily one of the weakest entries in the show’s run. Mostly because of the meta-on-steroids aspect. It falls short of the essential elements of the show at every turn.

First, “Sherlock” is already an exercise in commentary. It uses the conceit of telling stories that reinterpret Doyle’s world and character into a modern-day London. That is already meta, and even better, it looks at all the old, classic elements in a new light. All that this episode does is double-down by throwing everything it has to offer into the “joy of recognition” bucket. Recognizing source material is a pleasure all its own, but it has its limitations. Things aren’t automatically great simply because they refer to greatness.

Secondly, since everything is ultimately a “bad trip” there is no internal logic nor stakes to the story. Once we realize this fact, we stop caring about any of the story and simply look for (and possibly grin at) the references. That alone is not enough to make a good story. In this case, even the storytellers stop caring about the story they are telling, and try to write it all off as a clue to the cliff-hanger of the last episode. Worse, they seem to render that cliff-hanger a moot point. Back then, the world wondered how Moriarty survived. Now we apparently are told that he didn’t.

Finally, Sherlock Holmes stories need to be mysteries being solved. This show has veered dangerously close to forgetting that in the past. It nearly does so here, but worse, the solution is meaningless because the mystery is meaningless. It is a mere figment of Holmes’ mind in search of another answer.

All that said, this is still a well-made, lovingly told, entertaining distraction. It may be one of the lesser episodes, but the show is so good that a “lesser” episode is still head and shoulders above most of the other stuff on TV.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Faith that Falls Short (John 8:31-47)

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him…”

This passage starts with an unexpected introduction. Or, what follows that opening sentence is unexpected at least. Because Jesus proceeds to declare that these believing Jews are not His disciples and goes so far as to say that there are children of the devil!

The reason this is so hard for us to read and accept today is that we have so watered down what it means to be a disciple that mere belief suffices—no, even a formulaic statement declaring belief is enough.

Instead, John here yet again records Jesus saying that there are types of belief that are not enough. Belief as a mental assertion—as an intellectual acceptance of a fact—falls short of what is needed to belong to the Kingdom of God.

So what does true belief look like, according to this teaching moment from Jesus?

True disciples recognize they have a sin problem, repent of that sin, and allow God to work in their lives to change them and free them from their sin.

True disciples follow God’s desire for their lives, they hear His words and do what He commands. He is their Lord, their King.

True disciples love God and conform their will and understanding to His. He is their Father.

The flip side of this would be as follows, the characteristics of those who call themselves Christians but fall short of Jesus’ definition:

Nominal disciples do not see that they have a sin problem. Sin is something bad people do, and they are not bad, they are Christians!

Nominal disciples do whatever they want. They have their plans and desires; their idea of what they want in life. They invite Jesus into their lives and plans and want Him to make all of their dreams come true. The want their idea of their best life now.

Nominal disciples only like God where HE agrees with their opinions. They love Him in the way a man loves an idealized version of his woman. They only see what they like and reject anything that doesn’t fit their version. These Christians have no need to conform to God, because they worship an idol of their own making.

So, how do we measure up, based on these three qualities? Are we disciples, or not?

Friday, April 1, 2016

"The Intern" (2015)

When I heard the Tarantino was calling this film one of his favorites of 2015, I was a little surprised. I had thought it looked cute and worthy of checking out, but best of the year? Plus, it didn’t seem to fit into his wheel-house. You tend to think of Tarantino being all about violence and intense, controversial scenarios. But he is really about good writing and realistic, if highly stylized, dialogue.

And that is where “The Intern” is a triumph. This is not really a film about how great old people are and how inexperienced and ill-equipped young people are (even though there is a fair amount of that), it is a story told to remind us of certain forgotten truths. Qualities like respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, discipline, and representation are simple things that we have forgotten about in today’s “me first”, self-fulfillment, “do what feels good”, lazy, slobby generation.

But even more than any of the needed boys-today-need-to-grow-up-and-remember-to-be-men message, there are some scenes that will blow you away with their honest, vulnerable, reminders of what real relationships are. This isn’t some chick-flick with sugary film-versions of friendship and love. It goes deeper than that.

It really is one of the best films of 2015.

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