Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 37-42)


Episodes (31-36)  (43-48)

At some point here in the middle of the series, Quantum Leap seems to settle. It isn‘t so much addressing challenging topics of its day, but just hitting all the pet topics of its generation. Things that had already become non-issues or were things everybody was well aware of. The “Baby Boomer” hit list.

Episode 37: Miss Deep South 

As soon as you meet the camera man in this story, you know where things are headed. It all seems a little naïve, but it is refreshing to think that a story from the eighties could still muster up shame over a woman posing naked. I remember that it was around the time of this show that “feminists” started trying to make the argument that porn could be an empowering thing for women. How silly they sound today with the awareness of human trafficking and the way the porn industry destroys lives. There are still people holding on to the attempt to make porn an issue of choice, but it really isn’t.

Episode 38: Black on White on Fire 

In an unusual move for the series, they try to simply tell the story of an historical event. It makes for some really powerful performances, but doesn’t really challenge the audience to face any blind spots they may have.

Episode 39: The Great Spontini 

There is a refreshing moment at the end of this story, after Sam has done all the stuff we knew he was going to do, after the cardboard antagonist is put in his place, after the dad gets to remain a part of his daughter’s life… Sam doesn’t settle for the almost happy ending. He makes a move to save a marriage that no one thought was a part of his mission. The conventional wisdom today tells us that some people simply can’t make it work, that the best thing for some families is for mom and dad to be separated. The truth is that marriage is hard work, and it does work if people are willing to give the effort.

Episode 40: Rebel without a Clue 

This is a great alternate title for the film that typifies its generation. The mentality of the Baby Boomers—the people behind Quantum Leap’s whole mission statement—is that things are bad and should be changed. Actually, that is the mantra of every generation of humanity. Boomers changed things by believing they were the first ever generation to see the need for change and the only generation capable of doing anything. But with such a generational identity, sometime they feel a need to rebel and revolt for the sake of rebelling and revolting. In this story, Sam helps a young boomer accept the fact that life can be lived without having to constantly be “on the edge,” on the move. Oh, and he helps the girl also overcome that cliché that persists because it is true, where women defend their abusers.

Episode 41: A Little Miracle 

Just in time for a Christmas episode, Sam encounters someone with nearly the same brain patterns. That enables them to see and hear Al, which in turn enables them to do a “Christmas Carol.”

Episode 42: Runaway 

In another refreshing defense of the nuclear family, the show manages to show the need for feminism without destroying men of marriage in the process. There is a lot to say against “The Feminine Mystique.” Mostly that it was a slanted, biased piece of crunching the numbers to fit an agenda, rather than an objective study of the issue. This story manages a more balance approach. It is one thing to say people need to have a life. It is quite another to say that family isn’t a part of it.

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Burn the Witch" by Radiohead

One of the more insightful songs sounding a warning to culture these days is “Burn the Witch” by Radiohead. It deals with the dangers and horrors of group-think in all of its forms. And it is striking a chord, or at least generating a lot of conversation. Even though the song was reportedly being written since way back in 2005, it lends itself to several current hot topics: immigration, Trump, etc. But, it is also easy to see that these topics—and the general anxieties driving them have been brewing since September 2001.

But the topic and the song are so relevant because group think is a universal problem, independent of the political side one embraces. And this problem is stronger today than it has ever been in human history. Perhaps that is why this song is so much more powerful released today than it would have been ten years ago, before the prevalence of social media. Because the internet has worsened group think exponentially.

“Tolerant,” liberal-minded people are likely quick to think this song is only condemning the ultraconservative, religious people who judge people for being “wrong.” But today the “tolerant” people are just as likely to be judgmental. In the music video, the “outsider” taking notes and possibly questioning the village’s practices could just as easily be an objective observer questioning such a thing as gender confusion. The liberal side of the spectrum is just as likely to crucify someone for questioning that.

And, for some reason the impersonal nature of internet interaction causes people to spout off hatred in ways that they would never ever consider doing in person. The old adage “think before you speak” applies ten-fold to internet interaction.

Here are the lyrics by Radiohead. They are a bit hard to make out:

Stay in the shadows
Cheer at the gallows
This is a round up

This is a low flying panic attack
Sing a song on the jukebox that goes

Burn the witch
Burn the witch
We know where you live

Red crosses on wooden doors
And if you float you burn
Loose talk around tables
Abandon all reason
Avoid all eye contact
Do not react
Shoot the messengers

This is a low flying panic attack
Sing the song of sixpence that goes

Burn the witch
Burn the witch
We know where you live
We know where you live

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Light and Judgement (John 12:20-50)

The reactions to Jesus’ ministry reach the point where some Greeks seek Jesus out. It is at this point where Jesus declares that the time has come for Him to die. All along Jesus has done exactly what the Father has told Him too. That doesn’t change now, but it is not an easy thing to go to one’s death, especially a death like what awaited Jesus. He prays, however, for God to be glorified in His purpose. And God responds audibly.

Admittedly, though, not in any way that anyone other than Jesus could understand. Some simply heard thunder, others thought it was a supernatural noise. Jesus says that this extraordinary occurrence was for the crowd’s benefit; a confirmation of what Jesus was teaching. Not that it really helps, though.

This is something to keep in mind today. Many lament the fact that God does not make Himself more apparent. But the truth is that He does. And not merely in a “supernatural” manner. The natural world is ample evidence of God’s existence, but it is still a matter of faith: belief independent of any signs. Miracles didn’t help people’s faith in the Gospel of John. Why do we think they do any better today? Signs only strengthen faith, they don’t create it.

Jesus tells the people that His time has come. On the cross, the sin of the world would be judged, the ruler of this fallen world would be cast aside, and all people would be drawn to Christ. But belief is still the key response. As Jesus provides this last word to the masses and prepares to minister teaching to just His followers going forward, people still reject the message.

John tells us that this is all a part of the plan. Some, many, were not enlightened. They were not allowed to see the truth. What is more disturbing, he tells us that some did understand; but out of a fear of men or a love of position they did not follow Jesus or trust His message.

And Jesus affirms one last time what John has reported all along. Jesus, the Light of the World, came to save and not judge. Any who see His light and believe are saved from the judgement under which all humanity suffers. Those who reject Jesus are not being judged for that, but continue in the judgement, the darkness where they live.

The good news of the Gospel is a message of hope and rescue for those who rightly understand the human condition and their need for salvation. It is not—as some critique today—a negative and harsh condemnation of people for “mere mistakes” or perceived short-comings. That is the lie of people who are less self-aware than they realize.

We are all stumbling around in the dark in need of help that we can’t provide ourselves. To condemn the light and the offer of rescue as a judgmental prejudice is the uttermost pride. And it is pride that landed us in the dark to begin with.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Up and Up" by Coldplay

Sometimes I wish that MTV still existed the way it did in the 80s. But then I remember that is what the internet is for these days, playing music videos when you’re in the mood for such a thing. And there are some great examples of that art-form still around. Like Coldplay’s latest, “Up and Up.’

Like a lot of Coldplay songs, “Up and Up” is optimistic. Some—who have decided that cynicism is the attitude of cool kids—pooh pooh Coldplay for that outlook. But for me as someone who struggles with a natural cynicism, Coldplay is just the sort of injection of joy that I need.

And the message may feel a little too optimistic. It IS a little naïve to think that humanity is on the road to solving all our problems. If there is hope in the world (and the signs are there for those with eyes to see) it is in spite of humanity and its baser, sinful nature. We need all the help we can get.

But beyond the message of the song or its happy, sing-along melody, there is the wonderfully imaginative video. A great marriage of the art of music and film. Vania Heymann presents us with a series of visuals of the world, humanity, and current issues in such a way that rip us out of our normal perspectives. We see everything in a different light.

Most of the time, that is exactly what we need.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Reading the Coens "Barton Fink"


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.

Barton Fink (1991)
“I’ll show you the life of the mind!”

The lore surrounding this film is that it was born out of a period of writer’s block when the Coen’s were writing “Miller’s Crossing.” That makes sense since it is all about a writer suffering through a block. Many consider this film to be deep and riddled with symbolism, but I would argue that it is more of a commentary on all that “meaning in art” through the use of symbolism without meaning.

There are the obvious things like the hotel representing hell, and Charlie being a Satan stand-in, but then there are the other symbols like the mosquito, the peeling wall paper, and the box. These may represent things too, but I don’t think they add meaning to the mix. They may even be inserted to add to the confusion.

That is because the main point of the story is mocking stories that are too “high art.” Barton as a character is a naïve, blow hard who thinks he stands above culture with a gifting and a calling to save the “common man” through his story telling. He wants to rescue art from the cultural elite and give it back to “working stiffs.” He is a walking oxymoron who hates high art for its exclusivity, but who also thinks pop art is devoid of significance. When given a chance to reach the masses through writing for “the pictures”, he thinks he is too good for such low brow fare and is worried about selling out his art. The reality is, however, that he has no idea what real people are like. He is one of the cultural elites he claims to hate. He is just as ignorant about life. He lives in a dream.

The opening lines of the film are the final lines of his one great drama:

“Not this time, Lil! I'm awake now, awake for the first time in years. Uncle Dave said it: Daylight is a dream if you've lived with your eyes closed. Well my eyes are open now!”

Barton Fink is living life with his eyes shut tight.

When he goes to Hollywood and meets the first “common man” he has ever encountered, he immediately exposes his hypocritical worldview. He claims to want to create art for men like Charlie, but he has no idea what Charlie is like, and has no interest in what Charlie has to say:



Charlie: “I could tell you some stories...”

Barton: “Sure you could and yet many writers do everything in their power to insulate themselves from the common man, from where they live, from where they trade, from where they fight and love and converse and...

[Trails off at a loss for where his train of thought was headed]

…So naturally their work suffers and regresses into empty formalism and... well I'm spouting off again, but to put it in your language, the theatre becomes as phony as a three-dollar bill!”

Throughout the film we see Barton struggle to put thought to paper. He keeps writing the same, recycled sentences from his play. This is contrasted with others like the secretary in the Hollywood office who churns out pages and pages of words. She is a real professional writer. But Barton wants to elevate his activity to something more than a job. More than simply a story teller even. His self-delusion is huge:

“I'm a writer, you monsters! I create! I create for a living! I'm a creator! I am a creator!”

With such an understanding of his activity, it is no wonder he is incapacitated.

Also, with such a complete unrealistic view of the world, we have to ask ourselves how much of this story is completely contained within his head. The hotel, the murder investigation, Charlie, the fire, and the beach that is usually in the picture on the wall but becomes reality at the conclusion; all are contenders for mere figments of Barton's stilted imagination.



There are rumors that the Coens are set to revisit the character once John Turturro is old enough for their idea. Maybe then we will get more answers. (Or just as likely we won’t. After all, Barton Fink’s script was never made either.)


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Vomitory


(Poetry Scales 50)     

Come with me, let’s find an opening in this crowd
Escape the crush, retreat from the din
The noise, the relentless sound

The man of masses is a strange and scary beast
He binges on swarms and purges thought
Conformity is his feast

On my doorstep this morning there sat a magpie
Flightingly it led me down the street
Off the avenue, down a narrow alleyway
I lost it briefly as it entered a courtyard
On finding it again it was lying, dead
In a crowd of petrified anguish
I marveled at the dusty, drab pile of feathers
Where once beautiful iridescence flew

Somewhere between
One for sorrow
And whatever constitutes a murder
Lies the number where unity doesn’t become uniformity

From the small little village
Burning the witches
To the sprawled megacity
Embracing indifference
That poison pervades
Craving rumor and safety
We need an effective emetic
So let’s see if we avoid a stampede
But still find our way out the exit


photo by Ashlyn Dietz

Monday, May 23, 2016

Responses (John 12:1-19)

As we reach the end of Jesus’ public ministry, John gives us some summary accounts of the various responses to Jesus.

Among His disciples and followers, we see four approaches to Jesus.

Martha ministered to Jesus, for Jesus. This may be the most basic approach to Jesus. It is easy to get busy for the Lord. We do what we know He wants. We work for Him where we see needs and where we have abilities. It is an appropriate response to what Jesus has done and Who He is. However, care must be taken that we do not replace the relationship with Him with mere efforts and busyness.

Lazarus spent time with Jesus and fellowshipped with Him. We see him at the table with Jesus. Jesus was his friend in addition to being his Lord. Lazarus also had things that Jesus wanted Him to do, but we see that Lazarus didn’t hold Jesus at a distance. He spent time with Jesus. He relished the chance to be with Him.

Mary, though, worshiped Him. Perhaps more than the others, Mary recognized the worthiness of Jesus. More than a Lord to follow or a friend to relate to, Jesus is God and worthy of our worship.

Yet even here at the end and amongst the friends of Jesus, not everyone had believed. Judas followed for the benefits, not out of a trust in Jesus as Lord nor God. Even today we see this aspect of Christianity. Not all who call Jesus their friend or Lord really know Him or follow Him. Plenty of people simply see the religious aspect of faith and its benefits. And that is where we see the majority of people even in Jesus day.

Then there are the masses. The crowds came to gawk due to the reports and testimony about Jesus. They had heard about Lazarus and all the other things Jesus had done. And, as we still see today, people are curious. But the Bible says many believed. So the religious leaders tried to undermine Jesus, to control the crowds. Those in power do not like to give that power away. The status quo exists to protect itself. Even today when God moves there are those who are quick to discredit what they see. It is perhaps a more difficult issue today because we don’t simply have Jesus acting in the world. We have to discern between where God is moving amongst His people and where mere religious leaders are creating their own buzz. The key is to submit and follow Jesus, not to try to control people and their reactions. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus and not the crowds.

We focus on Him precisely because the crowds are so malleable. As Jesus approached Jerusalem in that last week, the crowds were whipped up into a frenzy of excitement. The religious leaders began to despair that they would lose their privilege and power to Jesus. But by the week’s end they had turned that same crowd against Jesus fairly easily. The crowd was more about the excitement itself, not the object of the excitement. For most it wasn’t about Jesus, but rather about the buzz.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 31-36)

Episodes (25-30)  Episodes (37-42)

Early on in season 2 it becomes a given that God is the one controlling Sam’s leaps around his timeline. But the other side of the spiritual conflict has not been mentioned. Here at the end of the season, Sam says that he does not believe in the devil. The show, however, is going to differ with his view. By the end of these six episodes, it is clear that there is a power working against Sam’s missions in time.

This stretch of episodes is one of the stronger ones of the show. It could always be overly earnest and preachy, but when things begin to impact the lives of Sam and Al the upping of the stakes helps a lot.

Episode 31: “M.I.A.”

This is the episode where we discover why Al is the way he is. Imagine having to live through being captured during wartime, and having the love of your life—thinking you dead—move on and begin a new life. It doesn’t justify Al’s handling of women, but it begins to explain it. This is the story where Al declares to Sam that there is a devil, and just how insidious he is:

“I don't believe in the devil, Al.”
“Yeah, well, maybe you would if you were locked up in a tiger cage that was too small for you to stand up in and too narrow for you to sit down in, where you had to exist on-on weevil-infested rice and any rainwater you could catch in your mouth. And the only thing that kept you alive was the memory of the woman you love. And if you survive that, when you come home you find out that your wife has run off with some other guy! There's a devil, Sam, and he's trying to destroy Beth's life.”

Still rather abstract at this point, but it establishes the idea of a conflict. Sam isn’t just setting things right, he is in a fight to ensure God’s plans for the world against an opponent trying to mess things up.

Christian theology would be in agreement with such a conflict, but it would also be quick to point out that humanity doesn’t really need a big, bad devil to mess things up. It is our rebellion and bad choices that have caused things to go wrong in this world. And that is what the show has embraced to this point.

And, while we’re at it, God doesn’t need course corrections applied to history. His power and control are such that things work out in spite of sin and the bad choices we make. He is in control.

Episode 32: “The Leap Home (Part 1)”

After all the insistence last time that they aren’t allowed to change their own lives, Sam does what he always does when given the chance and tries to change his. But can you really blame him when he is sent into his own body as a sixteen year old? Why else would God send him back there?

Apparently to win a basketball game. That’s right folks, a whole bunch of people’s lives were forever damaged by a missed basket! But it is also, of course, an opportunity for Sam to see some people he loved who have died. Sam has to learn to stop trying to fix everything and simply relish the opportunity. It is a bitter sweet story. Especially when he goes fo broke and has some of his family wondering if he really does see the future. As he prepares to leap, he learns that he did not manage to save his dad or brother form dying…

Episode 33: “The Leap Home (Part 2)”

…But Sam promptly leaps into his brother’s troop the day before he is to die in Vietnam. His mission is not to save Tom, though, but to ensure the success of a military action—the one that gets Tom killed. Sam decides to do both. In the end he trades another’s life for his brothers—unintentionally of course. But he also fails to turn the military mission into a success. And the revelation of what that missed opportunity was is heart breaking.

Episode 34: “Leap of Faith”

When Sam is sent into a Catholic priest to stop a murder, Al becomes stand-offish. We learn that Al is holding a grudge against God for not healing his father of cancer. We already knew that Al believed in God, but now we see that they aren’t on speaking terms. Later on when Sam is nearly killed, however, Al quickly turns to God for help and this time his prayers are answered.

This all parallels the struggles within the priest Sam has sent to save. He suffers from the common weakness of ministers. They often have a stronger faith in their own ability or need to do good than a trust in the Big Man. Once things don’t go according to plan, rather than just doubt themselves or come to their senses they question God. The real challenge of faith is to surrender and trust. It would be a scary sense of powerlessness if it weren’t for the knowledge that God is trustworthy.

Episode 35: “One Strobe over the Line”

A cliché of a drug episode, made all the worse by the stupidity of the characters. If their only job is to keep a model from overdosing, and they know who it is that is giving her the drugs, they do nothing concrete to prevent the disaster.

Episode 36: “The Boogieman”

In what is surely the most messed up leap of the series, Sam is intercepted by an evil force and submitted to one of those horrific mysteries where people are being picked off one by one and things aren’t adding up. There is a mysterious goat that only Sam can see, a pet black mamba(!) on the loose in the house that everyone quickly forgets about, and supernatural events happening.

What at first feels like an inconsistency in the special effects surrounding Al, turns out to be an important clue and we now have a devil in Quantum Leap. This devil claims to be the yang to God’s ying—the equal and opposite force against God. But we all know the devil is the father of lies and this devil ends up having very little power to resist God’s plans. But we also suspect we will see more of this conflict at some point in the future.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Rhythm (Genesis 2:1-3)

We assume that people know that the chapter and verse designations are not original to the Biblical text. They are basically medieval attempts at outlining scripture and a way for people to find and speak about common portions of Scripture. Sort of like synchronizing watches to coordinate action. The problems, however, are that not all cultures share the same numbering system and the people who decided where the chapter breaks would be made some poor choices. This break between Genesis one and two is one of the classic examples. The portion we designate as verses 1-3 of chapter two clearly belong to the material of chapter one.

The final day of the creative week is not one where any creation occurred. It is where God rested from His work. And in case you missed it, the Bible tells us that two times. The day is blessed and made holy because of that rest. We do not get the evening and morning formula here. It is as though the day is incomplete.

Did God really stop working? Has the rest carried on indefinitely? Are we still in the seventh day?

While God did complete creation, He has clearly continued to work and be active in it. God sustains us? He is active in history and in human culture. He is busy restoring creation. Perhaps we might speculate that God did rest until sin entered the world and now we are living in a new period of work looking forward to another Sabbath rest in eternity. However, that is a dangerous “what if” speculation that never turn out well in theology. It is best perhaps to not range too far from the text here. In addition to telling us that God created and ordered everything in existence, Genesis one structures our rhythm of life. We work as God does, and our work is a holy activity but we also were created for rest. We need to maintain a healthy balance of activity and rest; of working to fulfill our God-given purpose and to rest in our God-intended relationship with the Creator.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"Ain't No Man" The Avett Brothers

“If you’re looking for truth, I’m proof, you’ll find it there.”

With apologies to the Avett Brothers if I’m reading things into their song that they didn’t intend, I think their latest song is a perfect anthem to have on repeat this year.

The basic theme of the song matches quite well with my understanding of the Christian faith. We should not look to the world for our well-being. No person is going to solve the problems we see around us. No person should be able to make us see ourselves in a light other than the truth. We tend to be sheep, looking for someone to save us. And, of course for the Christian, we have found the answer in Christ. So we should certainly not react to politics and the cultural climate around us the way many of us are.

It isn’t what we get from the world; it is what we give. Christ’s love should be everything we are. We have love to show. We have what the crazy, messed-up world needs. We aren’t looking for someone to be an answer, we have the answer: love.

The proof we have to offer is our changed lives. Not perfection. Not holier-than-thou pharisaical religion. We have been forgiven and loved, we now rest in the confidence that there is nothing that can shake us out of God’s hand. Bad things will happen. We will make mistakes. But our guiding principle is grace. We see others the way God sees us.

Our lives can be proof of the change that God makes if we will let them be. If we have been forgiven, we need to see others in that light. We need to be proof of the love of God that changes us. Don’t be one of those “everything is terrible and you are all going to hell” sorts of “Christians.” Be proof.

There official video for the song can be found here.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Tragic Irony of the Status Quo (John 11:45-57)

Throughout John’s Gospel we have seen this dual reaction to Jesus. People see the signs and hear His words and trust in Him, sometimes for all the wrong reasons, or they think He poses some sort of threat to the status quo. We don’t often see a neutral stance. Here in chapter 11, things reach a climax. The Pharisees and chief priests decide that Jesus must die.

Their reasoning behind this decision is fascinating. Instead of seeing Jesus and His signs as a wonderful, hopeful thing—a man who can heal the sick, raise the dead and teaches of reconciliation with God—they see Him as nothing more than a threat. They fear the people’s reaction to Jesus will cause the Romans to come and take away their “place” (the Temple) and their nation. In spite of the fact that the priests here are likely referring to the temple, they are also really talking about their position of power and authority. They want to protect the status quo where Jews are permitted to exercise their religion and a degree of self-government. Both of those things empower the ruling class.

Caiaphas declares that it is preferable for one man to die than for the whole nation to suffer. They decide to get Jesus killed. The irony here is that this is all a part of God’s plan. That doesn’t wash away the evil and guilt of this cabal’s decision, but God repeatedly shows an ability to use the free will of mankind—even used for evil—to accomplish His perfect plan. Jesus will die for His people, both the believing Jews and all those who will follow Him scattered throughout the earth and throughout time.

The ultimate irony is that the fears of the ruling class were fulfilled anyway some 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That John doesn’t mention this fact might argue for a pre-70 date for the writing of this Gospel.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 25-30)

(Episodes 19-24) (Episodes 31-36)

At this point late in season two I am beginning to see that my memories of how this being such a strong “message oriented” show are a little off. Not that the show is not message oriented, just that the messages are often cliché or at least pretty hit-and-miss. Surely there are strong stories ahead that created that impression?

Episode 25: Freedom 

This is the worst sort of condescending episodes that thinks it is being enlightened and progressive but it comes across as silly and offensive. The antagonist is cartoonishly racist and the whole episode is predicated on a flawed premise. People aren’t really chasing them to keep the man from dying as he wishes, but because they keep breaking the law with abandon.

Episode 26: Good Night Dear Heart 

Sam is sent to obtain justice for a woman who’s murder was mistaken for suicide. This leap is a bit confusing because they imply that Sam taps into memories about the victim, even though the man he has leapt into had no relationship with her; a red herring and no more. However, this episode is a curious relic of a time before homosexuality had become such a taboo subject. And lest you think that last statement contains a typo, it doesn’t. As controversial as a lesbian character might have been back then, you could still talk about such behavior as a mental health issue; the result of abuse and confusion. Today it can be handled as nothing more than art of the anything-goes gender confusion political correctness has bred.

Episode 27: Pool Hall Blues 

Sam is sent to help a pool hustler win a game. That man’s eyesight is no longer good enough, but Sam doesn’t even play pool. Seems like an interesting choice for providence to fix the injustice.

Episode 28: Leaping In Without a Net 

Sam’s up until this point non-existent fear of heights plays a role in this next mission. He has to save a trapeze artist from dying. This is where I begin to notice a lot of these missions from God involve sending Sam in to do something the people he is replacing should have done and didn’t. Sam’s only advantage is a somewhat clear directive. As if God simply needed to speak more clearly in the first place. But the truth is that we tend to hear pretty clearly from God until our repeated reluctance or disobedience renders us calloused.

Episode 29: Maybe Baby 

And then there are those times when Sam’s intuition overrules everything the future perspective seems to clarify. Here Sam somehow believes a proven serial liar and ends up saving the day without much of that “clear” instruction.

Episode 30: Sea Bride 

Sam is sent to fix another romantic drama. He is as always uncomfortable with the emotional aspect of having to “love” someone for another person. In some ways this may be why the character of Al is such a sleazy womanizer. It accentuates Sam’s higher ethical standards when it comes to love, romance, and fidelity. Other than the obvious lessons (don’t marry someone you don’t love, for example), and the fun plotline, this is a fairly light episode.

Friday, May 13, 2016

"Regression" (2015)

For a Christian teen in the late eighties, things were a little crazy. That decade’s obsession with the demonic cannot be overstated. Even at the time I remember having to proceed with caution. What you got as a youth those days was less in the way of discipleship teaching and what the Bible had to say for your daily life and more of a conspiracy-laden fantasy world where everything could lead you into a case of a real life “Exorcist.” Perhaps it was the fact that I was raised outside of the Bible Belt (and even the USA), or simply that I had solid, Biblically based, teachers and examples in my life, but I managed to keep the topic down to a curious “what if” level and not the center of my spiritual life.

But for those who lived that era of Evangelicalism, “Regression” promised to be interesting. For over a year leading up to this film’s release I was curious to see how it would be handled. Shortly before it came out, rumors that it was just another horror flick and that it might take the subject matter more seriously than the truth merited caused some concern. Happily, it is just what it needed to be. An “inspired by the true stories” thriller about the dangers of hysteria.

Sadly, it is not really a good film let alone great. More like a passable thriller. Ethan Hawke’s character starts out way to eager to believe everything that should be questioned. And, while that is reflective of the actual atmosphere those days, it doesn’t work here. Especially since he is not a believing man.

That is the greatest weakness of this story. There are no rational, believing people here to provide balance. The Christians here are all rubes. Some might argue that that is reflective of the way things were back then, but I am here to tell you that plenty of believers were around who did not buy into the hysteria.

And, for any believers out there curious to see the portrayal in this film be warned. Some of the nightmares induced by the hysteria are quite graphic.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Blessing (Genesis 1:28-31)


[28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [29] And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. [30] And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. [31] And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Occasionally I get hung up on words. Bless is one such word. What does it really mean? Is it more than just a superstitious response to a sneeze? Is it more than the end of a worship service? Etymology doesn’t help too much:

Bless: Old English bletsian, bledsian, Northumbrian bloedsian "to consecrate, make holy, give thanks," from Proto-Germanic *blodison "hallow with blood, mark with blood," from *blotham "blood" (see blood (n.)). Originally a blood sprinkling on pagan altars. This word was chosen in Old English bibles to translate Latin benedicere and Greek eulogein, both of which have a ground sense of "to speak well of, to praise," but were used in Scripture to translate Hebrew brk "to bend (the knee), worship, praise, invoke blessings." L.R. Palmer ("The Latin Language") writes, "There is nothing surprising in the semantic development of a word denoting originally a special ritual act into the more generalized meanings to 'sacrifice,' 'worship,' 'bless,'" and compares Latin immolare (see immolate). Meaning shifted in late Old English toward "pronounce or make happy," by resemblance to unrelated bliss. No cognates in other languages. Related: Blessed; blessing.

Blessing (n.) Old English bletsunga, bledsunge; see bless. Meaning "gift from God" is from mid-14c. In sense of "religious invocation before a meal" it is recorded from 1738. Phrase blessing in disguise is recorded from 1746.

blessed (adj.) late 12c., "supremely happy," also "consecrated" (c. 1200), past participle adjective from bless (v.). Reversed or ironic sense of "cursed, damned" is recorded from 1806. Related: Blessedly; blessedness.

Ultimately, the idea in English is related to the Hebrew in functionality, but it has a loaded background involving sacrifice and religious ritual. The Hebrew has a bigger meaning.

Barak means literally to kneel, to bless, or… to curse. It can describe the act of worship. It can be a greeting. And, in this instance, it is something God does. He blesses. When we bless someone or something, we are hoping to confer divine favor. The religious aspect of the concept is something we get after sin, once sacrifice becomes necessary. But the idea of blessing connects to God without all of the religious trappings. When God blesses, the divine favor is assured because we are not requesting or hoping the blessing will be fulfilled, He is favoring of His own accord.

Here, the blessing is followed by and probably related to two commands. Humanity is to multiply and fill the Earth. (As the birds and fish were blessed with this idea of multiplication on day 5, we can see this blessing/command applying to the animals from day 6 as well.) However, mankind is also to exercise dominion over the other creatures. Both of these ideas have been corrupted with sin. Sex is a good thing designed by God, but sin has completely polluted and confused the issue. Likewise, dominion is understood as a negative because of the abuse of creation we see today, but as intended it was all about stewardship and care. We were not to Lord over creation, but to manage it as God intended. We were supposed to be a blessing in creation.

Bonhoeffer latches onto the fact that Barak can mean both blessing and curse, and speaks about how the blessings God conferred on humanity here did indeed become curses in the Fall. We will see more about that later.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Just another Day

The news I saw today was dire
Twenty four hour cycles of the worst of humanity
Not really transmitted to inform or for clarity
The signs all said the end was nigh
All they really want to do is sell a dose of panic
Urge to buy an unneeded thing rather than not have it
I saw the news today, oh boy

Mongering violence carries the day
A black spot transited across the sun
Prejudice and hate are what made us great
Venerated icon of choice, a gun
St. Helens is charging, shaking again
An Allahu Akbar leaves Minga stunned
I’d love to show you hope

Woke up to bird’s song praise
Said a prayer opened the shades
Got the kids off to school
Walked the dog as coffee brewed

Enjoyed the breeze, flowers and trees
Spring is wild with birds and bees
Got to work reading the Word
As it spoke I saw more clearly

The truth I know today is good
Everyday life shows us moments of serenity
There is beauty there if we only have eyes to see
Yes things may not be as they should
But the One I trust is in control and I’m not frantic
Hope is real and it helps me cut through all the static
I saw the truth again, oh joy

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"No Escape" (2015)

This looked like it might be a fun thriller mixing culture shock with very real dangers that can present themselves to expats. It ended up being nothing of the sort.

Apparently the screen writer was inspired to write the story when his trip to Thailand was cancelled by the coup there. That might explain a lot. People who have experienced international tourism are not really in a position to comment on expat life. As if two weeks experience in a place is any real representation of a life there. As if a small taste of the initial stages of culture shock are any real comparison to planting roots in another culture.

In this story a family arrives to work in an unnamed Asian country mere hours before a coup takes place. The first red flag seems to be the way this family is being transplanted. They appear to have zero orientation or training. They haven’t shown any indication that they have prepared themselves in any way for this life transformation. We get a few little amusing moments of culture shock, but all of that is left quickly aside so that we can get down to the all-out war that this family is going to survive. (Does anyone seriously doubt that they are going to make it?) This is anxiety-porn and not much more.

I find myself wishing they had kept things going past the end of the movie. For most people the reality of being asylum seekers in a foreign country not much different culturally from the one they just escaped would be pretty traumatic. And it would have been a lot more believable than the cartoon coup this movie presents us with.

You could put together a compelling real story of a family of Americans facing the trauma of adapting culturally to a home in another country without the need for such extreme circumstances. Unfortunately this film is not that. Watch this if you want a mindless chase for survival story.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Resurrection and the Life (John 11:1-44)

For the final sign John reports, things are taken to a new level. Jesus had many followers and many people who believed in Him in the right way. However, their faith was still too small, limited by their understanding. Even after this last sign, their understanding would fall short, but their trust needed to grow before Jesus headed to the cross.

Jesus hears that his dear friends are suffering. Lazarus is about to die. Jesus describes the illness as one that does not lead to death, but rather to God’s glory. That did not mean that Lazarus was not mortally sick because he was. It just meant that Jesus knew this story would not end in death. He already knew the plan.

Since He loved Lazarus and his sisters, Jesus waited for Lazarus to die. That is a strange Now—So connection. It sounds backwards. But Jesus whole purpose in this action was to strengthen His followers. He knew they needed to trust Him even more as He prepared to die. It was due to Jesus love for the family, for His disciples, even for us, that He waited for Lazarus to die.

That is perhaps small comfort for us when bad things happen in our lives. No one wants to hear the “God has His reasons” line when they are suffering. But, when we are not suffering it is a good thing to learn and learn well. Because in this world we will have suffering despite what some evil men disguised as ministers will tell you. Not due to some lack of faith on our part, but rather due to sin on humanity’s part and due to the fact that God is working all things together for our ultimate benefit.

Many people trusted that Jesus could heal. That He could prevent death. What they needed to know—what we need to know—is that He can overcome death. Jesus is the master of life and death. He is the resurrection and real life. Even though in this world we die, in the Kingdom of God there will be no death.

And perhaps most importantly, in this story we see that Jesus loves Hid followers deeply. Even though it is the favorite verse of many a snot-nosed Sunday school smart-aleck because it is so short, “Jesus wept” is beautiful. Jesus is a passionate, emotional, loving man and we serve a passionate, emotional, loving God.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Reading the Coens: "Fargo"


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.

Fargo (1996)

“I need unguent.”

This is the film that famously claimed to be a true story, only without the validity—or any similarity to any real event—that one expects from such a claim. That said, it is a story that rings true. Tragically and horrifically true. And it all starts with a pathetic man and his poor choices compounding interest.

There are despicable, evil men in Fargo, but Jerry Lundegaard has them beat. Even though the two men (Showalter and Grimsrud) he hires to kidnap his wife are whoring, thieves and killers, Jerry comes off worse. He has apparently embezzled from his father-in-law, for whom he works. Rather than face the consequences for his wrong doing, he schemes of other ways to get even more money to cover his crime. One is legitimate, but a reach. The easier one is to get his wife kidnapped, solicit a huge ransom from her father, and pay the kidnappers a paltry portion.

But, as Solomon warned his son:

“If sinners say, ‘…we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder. Throw in your lot among us. We will all have one purse.’ My son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.
…But these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” –Proverbs 1:10, 13-16, 18,19

And that’s pretty much the story of the film for Jerry. The kidnappers botch the job up pretty bad. They leave a trail of witnesses around the state and kill a few people in commission of their crime. And that alerts the police to the crime that was supposed to happen quietly with no one hurt. Evil breeds evil and by the end of things more people are killed and the kidnappers are dead or caught. Jerry himself has to go on the run and is arrested. So, in an effort to avoid the shame of a crime of greed, he ends up responsible for multiple deaths including the mother of his only child, Scott.

It is in his interaction with that son that we really see how much of a monster Jerry is. He isn’t an abuser. He isn’t that passionate about anyone else. He is completely self-absorbed and absent as a father. After the kidnapping he initially is so caught up in his scheme that he forgets all about Scott. When he finally is reminded that he is a father, he has the following interaction:

JERRY: How ya doin' there, Scotty?
SCOTT: Dad! What're they doing? Wuddya think they're doin' with Mom?
JERRY: It's okay, Scotty. They're not gonna want to hurt her any. These men, they just want money see.
SCOTT: What if - what if sumpn goes wrong?
JERRY: No, no, nothin's goin' wrong here. Grandad and I, we're - we're makin' sure this gets handled right.
SCOTT: Dad, I really think we should call the cops.
JERRY: No! We can't let anyone know about this thing! We gotta play ball with these guys - you ask Stan Grossman, he'll tell ya the same thing!
SCOTT: Yeah, but -
JERRY: We're gonna get Mom back for ya, but we gotta play ball. Ya know, that's the deal. Now if Lorraine calls, or Sylvia, you just say that Mom is in Florida with Pearl and Marty...

But the real story kicks in about an hour into the film. That is when we meet our heroine, Marge Gunderson. She is the chief of police of Brainerd, Minnesota, the one in charge of the investigation into the murders Showalter and Grimsrud commit on the highway when they are pulled over after the kidnapping. She is a smart cop. She figures out what happened from the clues, clues other cops overlook.

Her only weakness, in fact, is her contented goodness. Like Jerry Lundegaard, she is married. But unlike him, she is happily married. She and her husband are expecting their first child. He is officially a painter, but more of a stay-at-home husband. They are not well off, but they are “doing pretty good.” The film does a good job of showing us their comfortable, loving relationship. They are normal people. And that is the problem for her investigation. She can see monsters. She knows that evil exists without understanding it. But she overlooks the normal-looking evil.

When her investigation quickly leads her to Lundegaard, her interview with him is short. She takes him at his word never questioning his answers or even less the idea that he might be involved. It takes an uncomfortable reunion with a high school classmate—one where he awkwardly comes on to the happily married, very pregnant Marge –before she sees what is happening. It takes the seemingly normal classmate lying to her for her to see Lundegaard’s deception. After that things proceed quickly.

Marge Gunderson is a saint in the Coen Brother’s imaginary universe. She is the embodiment of virtue. She is immune to the source of evil in both the Coen’s world and our own—the love of money. And yet she is also a heroine who is not sheltered nor ignorant of the evil in the world. She fearlessly hunts down evil men and confronts them with justice. Even when she doesn’t understand them. Her words to Grimsrod after single-handedly catching him disposing of his dead partner:

“So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it.”

She is a picture of the virtue that Paul describes in his letter to Timothy:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Untoward

(Poetry Scales 49)    

This place is a wholly rotten
Waste of mildew and rust
An untoward soil unfit to grow
All save dry rot and dust
Though carefully cultivated
Mushrooming liberty
When prerogatives Trump duty
Fools embrace tyranny

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

An Important Aspect of the Image (Genesis 1:26, 27)

So these verses have spawned a LOT of debate over minutia with little to no resolution. Why does God say “let us make?” Are image and likeness two things, or one? What does it mean to be made in God’s image? OK, that last one isn’t exactly minutia. Feel free to consult any other commentary for non-answers to these questions. The good ones will list all of the various interpretive ideas pointing out why none of them really fit well here. At best a lot of good truths have been suggested, but even though they ring true, they fall short of a definitive answer.

Yes. Humanity shares a lot in common with the creator. We are rational. We are creative. We have responsibility and stewardship. We are spiritual beings. But while all of those ring true, they don’t feel complete, especially in the context of these verses. Dominion certainly seems to have something to do with this idea in verse 26. Many have suggested that we are God’s representatives, His symbol of authority in creation. But that is more an idea about what we DO in God’s image, not who we ARE.

To add my thoughts into the mix, I resonate most with something that others have hinted at. (Barth and Benedict XVI among others. Again an incomplete solution for sure.) To me the image of God must include the idea of relationship. It is Trinitarian. That idea is perhaps the strongest match for this passage. It fits from the “us” aspect of God’s statement to the way “male and female” takes the place of mankind in the triad of verse 27.

I like the idea that relationship is the climax of creation. That relationship between mankind and between humanity and God is perhaps the goal of creation. That the two genders are a vital aspect of humanity. That man without woman is incomplete and vice-versa.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Nine Years of NonModern

Nine years are “in the books” for this blog I started as a discipline. The first year I only wrote a few times, but since then I have tried to have at least 5 cogent thoughts a week. I have explored ideas in film, television, literature and the culture around me. I have also given serious reflection to about 67% of the New Testament text in 391 entries, and have begun to look at Old Testament texts as well.

Entering year ten it is still my goal to reach an audience of one. I write about what interests me with the goal of flexing critical thinking. I certainly don’t want that ability to atrophy!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Assurance in True Trust (John 10:22-42)

The Jews again try to get Jesus to plainly say that He is the Messiah. Jesus counters that He has already been clear enough with His message and the signs that He has performed. The only reason the Jews who still doubt are not seeing who He really is is because they do not belong to Jesus.

This is a strong theme in the Gospel of John. Jesus came to His own. In part, that is His people—God’s chosen people—the Jews. However, it is narrower than that, for His own rejected Him. Jesus came to rescue His flock, the people whom God had prepared. They are the ones who demonstrate faith. We have repeatedly seen in John that there are two types of faith. One that is empty and merely based on people chasing after benefits and comforts. Real faith is a trust placed in Jesus for more than what we receive.

Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. They recognize His message. They see their own shortcomings and their need for a savior. But they also see Jesus for who He is. He is the savior that has come to heal our rebellion. And, perhaps most importantly, Jesus’ sheep follow Him. They go where He leads and do what He tells them to do.

In one of the most amazing teachings of the Bible, Jesus next talks about the security that people who respond to Him in real faith have. We are His people. No one can tear us from His grasp. And even greater than this assurance, Jesus teaches that the Father has us too and we have the double assurance that we are safe in our trust in Him.

But, the sad truth is that there are people who do not hear Jesus’ voice. Even deeply religious people. They go so far as to hate Jesus because He does not validate their ideas and opinions of God. Even in the face of all the good Jesus had done and the truth that He spoke, they sought to kill Him. To this day, simple trust in God and the humility to follow His lead is too much for most.

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