Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Names and Garments (Genesis 3:20, 21)

Here in the penultimate scene of this story, we see reflections of the second scene. There, the man named the animals, here he names the woman. At what point do we stop calling the man simply “the man” and start using that designation as a proper name? By chapter five it is going to be clearly a name, but here and in all of the first four chapters it is proceeded by an article. In this particular story, it is perhaps good that we can think of this as either Adam or more generally the man. Because this story of rebellion against God certainly applies to all mankind who will follow Adam and Eve save one.

Adam names his wife Eve, which has been taken to mean life by subsequent translators. Ironic, perhaps that even though she is the mother of all living, death has come to humanity due to he (and Adam’s) actions.

And, just as in the second scene of this story, God is the primary actor. There He made humanity’s perfect home. Here He makes them garments that will cover their shame. It is not directly said here, but this likely involved the killing of an animal. If so it is the first instance of a sacrifice to cover man’s sinfulness. Contrary to what a lot of prudish interpretation might suggest, the goal here is not to hide sexuality or to help mankind avoid temptation. It is a covering for shame, and perhaps a reminder that man is now sinful and God does not want to see him uncovered. (Later texts will show that priests who served in God’s presence must wear special coverings.) Real nudity, unlike the titillating representations in entertainment and pornography, is humiliating and disgraceful. God’s act here is an act of kindness and grace.

(The picture above is "Adam and Eve, Expulsion from the Garden" by Thomas Cole 1828.  More info here)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Usnea

Walk through the fairy-tale forest.
Marvel at the beauty, the color…
          the stillness;
the bearded forest trees like little,
bent-over, old men. The beards
—those pretty light green lichens—
          they are called Usnea.

Usnea grows on sick, dying trees.
It doesn’t make the trees sick.
          It only succeeds where
death has already begun; where
the light filters down through
          balding branches.
The fairy-tale forests are life
thriving on disease and death.

On the harsh iced dessert the rocks
sprout green and black flowers.
          Not flowers at all,
these lichens, too, are our old friend
          hardy Usnea.
Algae and fungus working together
thrive in an environment almost… unearthly.

That rock over there on the shelf
is a piece of that southern-most continent.
It was given to me by a friend.
The Usnea long since died and brittle,
it has come with me across decades
          and continental shifts.
These years later, I don’t remember his name,
          but I still have that sample of lichen.

A reminder of how we are both hardy and fragile.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Love: The Command 4 (John 15:9-17)

Love and Discipleship v16

Lest we take pride in our friendship with God, Jesus points out that it is God who has chosen us, not we who have chosen, earned or discerned Him. And, we are not simply chosen for our blessing or benefit. We are chosen to be a part of a plan. We have a role to play. We are to produce fruit that will last.

Fruit is a clear biological picture. It is always about reproduction. Beyond any other thing we are to work at in our lives (goodness, charity, service, making the world a better place) we are to reproduce ourselves. This is the most defining aspect of discipleship. Disciples make disciples. This happens with God’s help and power, but is a definite product of our obedience. The obedience to be a witness born out of love.

Friday, August 26, 2016

"Apollo 13" (1995)

There are few movies about real events that are more inspiring than “Apollo 13.” For one thing, unlike a lot of other “true Stories” it seems to stick pretty closely to the actual events. And those events include a lot of amazing feats of teamwork. It is like an inspirational poster of a movie.

As the problem begins, and no one knows exactly what is going on, 100s of specialists scramble to speculate and guess what could be wrong based on their narrow areas of expertise. Gene Kranz, the flight director, stops everyone in their tracks. “Let’s work the problem people.”

And of course everyone remembers the famous scene where they need to design a way to connect two incompatible filters to each other, using only what is available up in space. Such a great reminder for strategists who forget that their strategy needs to function within the limitations of their reality.

But my favorite scene has to be the story Jim Lovell tells about the time he was flying a night mission during the war and couldn’t find his carrier that was running without lights. Everything kept going wrong right up to the point where every one of his own lights shorted out and he was left in the pitch dark unable to see anything inside his cabin as well as out. It is only then that he is able to see the faint, natural, phosphorescence that would guide him home.

In a similar way, everything had to go “right” for the Apollo 13 flight to make it home. People had to do their jobs, the astronauts had to perform in incredibly narrow margins of error, and the intangibles and uncontrollables had to work out just right.

And it’s not like these people were better or more deserving than the other men and women before and after who were not as fortunate in space flights. But that is often the nature of blessing. Who can fathom the reasons why God intervenes in some events and not others? By comparison the intricacies of a space mission are far simpler than everything that goes into running the universe according to plan.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

3 Teens Is Scary, But Not the Way I Expected...

There is a sometimes horrific aspect to the passage of time.

It seems like just yesterday I was coming to the realization that I would experience this, but it seemed so far off. We were going to have three teen-agers in the house. (And way off down the road, for nearly two months in 2018, we will have four!) Now it is hear and where did the time go?

Sometimes I get a little panicky when I realize that in another mere blink of an eye I will start sending kids out into the world. My ever so brief phase of parenting will be gone. This is the adulthood that I looked forward to as a kid. I always wanted to be a dad. And I am sure being a father to adults will have its moments, but it won’t compare. Especially when I face the likelihood that my kids will live half a world away.

So I am ever more aware that the next few short years are so very limited and must be experienced with full consciousness and participation, taking advantage of every moment.

And even that won’t be enough.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Judgement on Man (Genesis 3:17-19)


[17] And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; [18] thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. [19] By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The man’s consequences—much like the woman’s—hit him at his essential purpose. He was created to guard and tend God’s creation. Now that role is broken and will always constitute a painful struggle. God tells man that he will eat in pain. This does not mean that the act of eating will hurt, but rather that the toil that he will undertake to be able to eat will be painful.

Work itself here is not the curse. Work is good. We were created for work. But now work has been broken and we can no longer find true fulfillment in our work. We are not doing what we have been created to do. All our efforts are a long, hard process of putting off the inevitable: death.

Death is another resulting consequence of sin of course, but not in the way that it was expected perhaps. Man did not instantly die when he sinned. Or did he? Death is never specifically mentioned here in 3:17-19. And it does not come for years and years. However, man is about to be cast out of the garden, the home that was designed for him. And, life outside of the garden is not really life. Our whole existence in this broken world outside of the garden is nearer to death than the life we were created to live. The Bible does teach that mankind outside of a relationship with God is “spiritually” dead, but this life we live apart from God and His perfect plan for us is also a sort of death awaiting death.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Gumballs and Immigration

There is an old video making the internet rounds again that proves most people can be swayed be any argument if it: (a) uses colorful props, (b) reduces the amount of actual thinking the audience has to do, and (c) comes to a conclusion that makes the audience feel better about themselves.

In the video in question, Roy Beck tries to make the case that all LEGAL immigration should be ended by the United States. The way he presents his case is:

-He uses gumballs to help people wrap their minds around the huge numbers involved, (and to mask the immensity of the numbers at the same time.)

-He claims that the point of immigration policy is to end world poverty, and declares that to be an impossible task, so we should stop trying.

-He tries to make the case that immigration is actually hurting the poor in the rest of the world, by removing people that should be making a difference where they are.

Let’s begin with his flashy, colorful, gumball slight of hand that has everyone declaring him to be the most insightful man on immigration. Sure, visual aides are always a good idea when you tackle huge numbers. He lets us see the sheer immensity of the problem that poverty is in the world. It is astounding to think that one out of every three people in the world have to live on less than 2 dollars a day. That is a lot of people.

The problem is that his demonstration also diminishes the numbers being helped. He casually mentions (and uses a single gumball to represent) that one million people a year enter the US legally. If that is accurate, then since 1990, around 26 million people have been able to escape their circumstances in hope of better prospects. That is no small number.

An equivalent argument would be to claim that, compared to the sheer number of orphans in the world, a single life changed isn’t worth it so no one should ever adopt a child. This is the ridiculous reasoning of someone trying to justify a desire to not make an effort.

He also presents the whole complex issue of immigration as a straw man: “Some people say that mass immigration into the United States can help reduce world poverty.” Who? Has anyone ever claimed that we could solve world poverty by having all the poor people move to the US? That is a silly claim that is easily countered, but it doesn’t matter because it is a false argument.

Today a lot of people who are trying to escape to the US (and other western countries) are escaping war, genocide, and religious persecution. The United States is in no position to tell people they shouldn’t try to escape such circumstances. We were founded by people seeking religious freedom. And, our recent history offers no grounds for a holier than thou attitude. We similarly rejected millions of Jews trying to escape Europe in the 30s and 40s. What we are considering today may be just as shameful.

Finally, Mr. Beck gives his audience a reason to feel just fine if they give into fear, hatred and racism. It turns out, he claims, that we are doing all those poor people in the world a favor by rejecting refugee requests. The people who want to come to the US are clearly the “best of the best” so they will make their home countries a better place by staying there. Where is the data to back up such claims? Don’t think about that! Just look at these gumballs I am spilling on the ground dramatically!

And all of this from a guy who is making the argument that we should stop letting a mere one million people into the country every year. If the US were a town of 1,000 people, that would be the equivalent of 3 people moving into town every year. Meanwhile, that town would have 13 births and 7 deaths every year. So, actually, the town/country needs a large immigration rate if they want to see a healthy work-force growth.

Chew on that.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Love: The Command 3 (John 15:9-17)

Love and Friendship vv12-15, 17

Our love is not just residing in Christ, but to be exercised towards one another. We are commanded to love one another. A clear area of obedience. Just as Jesus’ love for us meant He was prepared to die for us, so are we to have a sacrificial love for one another. We place each other before ourselves.

However, Jesus also expands on teaching us about our relationship to Him. We are not just obedient disciples, we are friends. Once again, the obedience here is not a condition of our relationship, but evidence of it. We know that we are not just servants, but friends, because Jesus has revealed His and His Father’s plans to us. We are in on the mission. We have a role to play and an understanding of the goals that our role is intended to accomplish. A huge part of our purpose in life is to relate to others in love. We are to place others first.

Love was the defining quality of the early church. People simplistically try to claim that the church was an example of a communist culture. It wasn’t. Where capitalism says, “What is mine is mine and you can buy it,” and communism says, “What you have belongs to the community, and you can use it if we let you,” Christianity says “What is mine is given to me by God and is mine to use, and if you need it, you can have it.” We trust God to provide for our needs, and we see our role in that provision for others, trusting God to care for us.

This is where the life of discipleship in the church is so much more than attending a service hoping to obtain little bits of help for our life and our goals. We share life. The church should not be a place nor an event. It is a community of people who interact every day.

Friday, August 19, 2016

"Suicide Squad" (2016)

How many times can a story-telling company like DC afford to tell lame, ill-conceived stories before they have to toss in the towel? Well, the way geek culture has embraced style over substance the answer may be never.

Back when Marvel decided to do what amounts to serials in the modern age of cinema, many thought it was an impossible task. The fact that they pulled it off seems to have other companies now thinking that it is automatic. But it is still a tenuous effort, and solid story telling is the key. DC began by handing the reins to people who didn’t understand their characters or stories, and have since switched course to follow the whims of audience reaction. That may make them enough money to keep going, but it doesn’t make for great film-making.

Initial reviews of “Suicide Squad” (from people who had actually seen it, not the fanboys giving it 10s sight unseen) ranged from verdicts of terrible to the idea that it was actual cultural poison. It is not that bad.

Sure, there are the issues of: objectification of women, glorification of abusive relationships, giving power to actual evil people out of a fear of potential evil threats, and a glorification of violence instead of heroism, just to name a few problems. But this is hardly as culturally poisonous as other movies have been. Mostly because it is too poorly made to have that kind of impact. (Hopefully.)

The main problems in “Suicide Squad” are script and editing. Both are so poorly done that it is hard to know what is happening and when it is happening. It is clear that this movie went through several permutations during filming and post-production. Again, a case of trying to give the audience what it seemed to want. Again, a story telling company forgetting that it exists to tell actual stories.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Xerophthalmia

(Poetry Scales 52)    

His eyes remain dry
But not because he doesn’t need to cry

Bones soaked in vinegar
Fail to hold up a frame
Weighed down by decades of shame

Who was it that taught him the essence of manhood
Is miscommunication
Repression, suppression, and obfuscation?
Whoever it may have been
He knew exactly where to look
When it came to his sons and grandsons

Ignored and alone
Vast catalogues of emotions,
Thoughts, and memories come surging back
With no one to share, to hear, to cry

And it’s not that he doesn’t have tears to shed
But his eyes remain dry

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Judgement on the Woman (Genesis 3:16)

[16] To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Whereas the serpent was cursed by God, God does not explicitly curse the couple. We are cursed, certainly, but here God proclaims the consequences of the curse that mankind has brought upon itself. These are judgements for a crime, results of a rebellion.

The woman’s consequences involve her roles as mother and wife. She will see pain in motherhood increased, and she will see her relationship with her husband torn apart.

Specifically we do not see here that pain in childbirth is a new reality. God simply states that her pain will be increased. And when we look at the parallels between this judgement and that delivered next to man, it seems as though more than the actual childbirth is involved. God is about to tell the man that “in pain you will eat.” We all know that eating is not particularly painful. But what is meant there is that the whole process of obtaining sustenance will be a painful, at times heartbreaking, chore. In a similar way, God is telling the woman that motherhood—the whole process—will be painful. So, beyond the physical pain of birthing a baby, the whole process of raising a child will be painful. And who can’t relate to the struggle and worry and pain that go into seeing a beloved child grow up and make mistakes and find their own way in life?

Not only will her role as mother see evidence of the curse, but her marriage will too. The difficult word translated “desire” here is only used one other time in the Bible. That is in the next story where Cain is told that sin “desires” him. There he is told that he must “master” it. So this is not desire in some sexual or loving sense. The way this has worked out throughout history is that woman has sought to be her own person; to have independence from the “wholeness” of family that God designed for both man and women. But despite this desire to escape man has tended to lord over woman, and not in the way that God intended. The word here is not simply indicating leadership, but is a harsher, dictatorial understanding of master. (An interesting connection may be found later in Hosea 2:16, where God tells Israel that she will call Him husband, not master. There, “master” relates linguistically to Baal.)

God highlights the consequences of sin that hit woman at the heart of who she is. Relationship and family are equally important to both sexes, but she was created as the fulfillment of humanity’s need for relationship. Now the essence of relationship has been fundamentally broken.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reading the Coens: "Blood Simple."

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.

Blood Simple. (1984)

“We don't seem to be communicating.”

In their first effort, the Coen Brothers told a story of noir fatalism, a hard boiled crime story minus the detective. Or rather, there is a detective, but he is not the man discovering the crime. He is the one committing it.

In a desperately depressingly dry Texas town, Abby wants to escape from her bar-owning, harsh-dealing husband. She asks one of his bar tenders, Ray, to help her run away, but instead they give into a closer, easier to grasp temptation and have an affair. The problem is that Marty, her husband, suspects that that is what they were up to, and has had them followed. When he learns the truth, he hires the detective to kill them both.

Instead, the detective (named Vissar) decides to fake their death, collect the payment, and then kill Marty. He leaves evidence that Abby committed the murder. Unfortunately, Ray stumbles upon the aftermath, thinks that Abby is behind it, and attempts to cover up the crime. From there things spiral further and further down until everyone save Abby is dead.

As the quote above indicates, miscommunication is a major theme of this story. Nearly everything that happens, everything that goes wrong, is as a result of some sort of misunderstanding. Much of this tragedy would have been avoided if people had simply been clear with each other. The isolation humanity faces, all the broken relationships and tragedies in the world, come back to the fact that people hide from each other and assume the worst. That may not be the entirety of our problem, but for the Coens it is a huge aspect of it. And in that they are not wrong.

The other theme here, and the other side of all of humanity’s problems, is the utter failure to benefit from free will. This story is a series of people choosing to do stupid things. In almost every case they are faced with the choice to do right, but actively decide to do the wrong, the clearly dangerous, to take the path marked “dangerous consequences ahead.”

And that is where this story is a great parable for the tragedy of sin. At its heart sin is the choice to embrace free will and lord over our own destinies and drive ourselves right over the proverbial cliff. We think that our ideas, plans, and ways in life are best, even when we are given clear indication that another way, a moral way, a prescribed way would be better. And, as a result of our inevitable choice to embrace our flawed ways we reap all the tragedy of miscommunication, broken relationships, and death.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Love: The Command 2 (John 15:9-17)

Love and Joy v11

Contrary to our modern perspective, obedience—surrendering to the Lordship of Christ—is not a dreary life. Jesus tells His disciples that this truth is for their joy. That does not mean a carefree life of emotional bliss, though. What we see of Jesus in Scripture involved a lot of grief. Yet true joy occurs in spite of temporary emotions, or even in the face of suffering. True joy is found in purpose and meaning. Our true purpose and meaning lie in who we were created to be.

W.E. Sangster, a pastor who had a disease that robbed him of muscle control said: "It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice to shout, "He is risen!" -- but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master. Following Christ means passio passiva, suffering because we have to suffer. That is why Luther reckoned suffering among the marks of the true Church, and one of the memoranda drawn up in preparation for the Augsburg Confession similarly defines the Church as the community of those ‘who are persecuted and martyred for the gospel’s sake’… Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact, it is a joy and a token of his grace.”

It seems to me infinitely better to embrace the joy of a difficult, costly, passionate adventure, than the happiness of a comfortable, independent, dull existence.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Curse of the Serpent (Genesis 3:14,15)

As with much in this early, foundational text describing the primordial events, these verses are easily complicated. Too much can and has been read into the curses brought on by sin. Especially in the curse of the serpent.

I remember one of the early Vacation Bible Schools I was in charge of at the second church I served. We had a chance to have the Fort Worth Zoo visit us one afternoon with a bunch of animals. It was like our own, private Jack Hannah segment from the Tonight Show. The kids got to see, up close and personal, a bunch of wild animals. It was a blast. And the highlight of the night was when they brought out the giant Boa Constrictor. It was scary and exciting all at once. The kids loved it.

What I most remember was the outrage the next day. A couple people in the church were convinced that I had invited Satan into the church. They literally thought that the snake—in fact any snake—was the physical manifestation of the devil. The Bible does not teach that, but they likely got the idea from a convoluted teaching of this passage.

What do we have here?

God begins a pronouncement of the results of the sinful actions of the couple. First, the serpent is cursed. This is one of only two times God actually curses someone directly. (The other is Cain.) In the text we see the serpent being cursed, not the devil. There may be a symbolic aspect of that here, but it is not revealed here directly, nor later in Scripture. There is no mention or explanation of how the devil used the serpent. Mostly because here in this story we just have the serpent. It is only later in Scripture that we see that the devil was behind things.

Secondly, we see some indications of how the serpent is cursed above all other animals. Before he is described as the shrewdest of all animals, now he is the lowest. He and his offspring will creep about on their bellies, and they will eat dust. We are not seeing here that God changed snakes or that they used to walk about on legs any more than we are seeing that snakes now literally eat dust. Later in Scripture we see that the most unclean of all animals creep about on their bellies. (Lev. 11:42) They are detestable. And “eating dust” is elsewhere in Scripture a sign of humiliation. (Psalm 72:9) However, we must also be careful not to read too much into these humiliations. Interpreters like Augustine had some fantastically imaginative ideas about the “spiritual teaching” seen in these curses. The serpent and its offspring carry the burden and shame for its role.

Thirdly, we get the first prophecy in Scripture. As is characteristic with a lot of prophetic scripture, this one has multiple fulfilments. The most obvious prediction being made here is that of the hatred between people and serpents. Easily confirmed, as there seems to be an almost biologically hardwired fear of snakes in humanity. However, the more subtle prophecy being made here fits the more literary, elegant style in the rest of the story. Since the serpent is a stand-in for evil and the temptation of humanity, this curse also serves the bigger story of good vs. evil. Jewish and Christian commentators have long seen a messianic element in this prophecy. Satan will superficially harm the Messiah, but ultimately the Messiah will defeat and destroy the tempter.

Not only did God begin to seek lost humanity as soon as we strayed, He immediately hinted at His plan to save us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Olympic Inspiration

In this, the third Olympics since I have been posting thoughts here, I find these games above all else to be inspiring.

This may seem like empty praise coming from a citizen of the USA—a country that has won more medals than any other in the history of the Olympic Games—but the most inspiring thing about them is not the winning. The vision of the games is one of peace, harmony, and people testing the boundaries of human abilities together. And, it may be too lofty a vision in this fallen world of brokenness and selfishness, but it is one that has been possible in a world so impacted by Christianity. Not one that we can achieve on our own, but it is inspiring to see the better angels of our nature.

It is inspiring to see people who have trained most of their lives, who have risen to the top of their discipline in their respective countries, compete with each other with respect and excellence. It is inspiring to see them lose with just as much respect and honor when that happens. Inspiring to see winner and loser embrace and part as equals.

It is inspiring this year to see a team of athletes who have been displaced from their home countries still able to compete. It is inspiring to hear their stories and to hear about the people who have accepted them, helped them, and given them a new life in new homes.

It is inspiring to see the world come together and declare that winning by any means is not acceptable. Inspiring to see standards upheld and countries denied a place when they tarnish the ideals of the games.

And, in a cultural climate of fearmongering and doom forecasters like we have today, it is good to see that not everything is as dire as the conventional wisdom would have us believe.

For past musings, see here and here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Love: The Command 1 (John 15:9-17)

Love and Obedience vv9-10

Jesus takes the teaching of “The Vine and the Branches” deeper. Going beyond the illustration, He makes clearer the expectations He has of his disciples. Abiding in Him is more clearly seen as abiding in His love. Jesus is our example in this. His love relationship with the Father, evidenced in His following the Father’s lead, is our example. We are to love Jesus by following His lead. He is our Lord. Again, we see as we did in 14:15, obedience is the key to our relationship with God. It is not that obedience facilitates our relationship, it characterizes it.

The nature of this obedience-love relationship reminds me of parenting. There are three basic ways to parent a child: (1) Let the child lead. This leads to a spoiled brat, which in turn leads to a terrible person. (2) Lay down a law. This approach leads to moral children in turn leading to religious, proud, disdainful people. (3) Guide the child through choices. This produces a discerning child, leading to a loving person.

Since God is the perfect Father, he guides us this way. He does not let His people simply do as they please, secure in the knowledge that all of their sin and screw-ups will be cancelled out so they can live as the sinful world without fear of judgment. He also does not lead us as some sort of legalistic, pharisaical, rule giver. That would make Christianity just another religion of people brainlessly following a secret knowledge, avoiding costly error but never really living in the world impacting it for the better.

Instead, God leads us lovingly through the decisions we face every day with the guidance of His Word, Jesus’ perfect example, and the Holy Spirit pointing us to the obedience of love.

Our relationship to Christ is based on our dwelling in His love and following the lead of His love, obeying His desires.

Friday, August 5, 2016

"Zootopia" (2016)

Considering how long these animated films are in production it is pretty amazing how timely “Zootopia” is. Or, considering how prevalent problems like racism and protectionism are, it may be better to ask why it took so long for Disney to address them. They aren’t often the topic of children’s stories, but maybe they need to be.

Some have pointed out as a flaw the way that the film manages to stereotype the animals while trying to fight stereotypes. For one thing, now metaphor is perfect, and using a variety of species to represent racial, cultural, and religious is not a perfect analogy. But then, different races, cultures, and religions are… different. Being accepting is not about denying differences and achieving some sort of uniformity. In fact, that is closer to actual racism. Not being judgmental or afraid of differences is the goal.

“Zootopia” adds to its ambitious message great animation, a fun plot, and amazing art direction. This makes it recommendable to all ages, even the adults. And that is a good thing because adults need to be reminded of the truth of the films message. “Fear always works.” If you let it that is.

Don’t be a dumb bunny.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 49-54)


Episodes (43-48) (55-60)

This can hardly be called a rewatch anymore, as I have finally made it past the portion of the series I had seen. And, I am thinking my estimation of the series was based on the strong start. As the show has gone on things have gotten weaker. Not necessarily in the story department—although that too has suffered—but in the messages.

Episode 49: “A Hunting We Will Go” 

Sam leaps into a bounty hunter who’s latest capture is about to be killed. Even though she is guilty of the crime, her crime was against criminals willing to kill her to cover theirs. So Sam has to save her. More of a romantic comedy ala “It Happened One Night” than a Leap episode.

Episode 50: “Last Dance Before an Execution” 

In a welcome twist, Sam leaps into a man on death row; and his mission is not to save himself. There is a wrongly accused man here, but Sam’s character deserves to die. This episode still manages to highlight the terrible weight of the death penalty system, and the way that that system often errs on the side of convictions to advance its own cause.

Episode 51: “Heart of a Champion” 

As a pro-wrestler, Sam must stop a man from competing as it will kill him. The more challenging mission is that Sam needs to help the man see his worth in something other than the expectations placed upon him by his parents.

Episode 52: “Nuclear Family” 

Quantum Leap’s take on “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” which is one of the best televised stories of all time. Only in the Twilight Zone we were confronted with the terror that is the man of the masses in a fantasy setting. Here, we have the context of the real life events that took place two years after that episode aired. Turns out that more people needed to see and reflect on that story, and that is even truer today.

Episode 53: “Shock Theater” 

Is this where the show jumped the shark? Sam is submitted to electro-shock therapy and it causes him to cycle through the personalities of several people he jumped into. The only problem is that he has never met any of them, and even though he lived their lives for a short time, there is no reason he should think like them. He was always himself. In any case, it comes off as a gimmick…

Episode 54: “The Leap Back” 

…until we see that the next jump imposes a twist on things. Sam and Al switch places due to a lightning strike at the moment of a leap. Sam is now home in the future, and Al is in the past in a part of his timeline when Sam wasn’t alive. This episode is full of new revelations for the sake of the script. However, among them is the revelation that Sam’s leaping has already changed his future. It is a stretch, but an entertaining one.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Sinner and God (Genesis 3:9-13)

As soon as sin enters creation, God begins to seek out the lost. This is the mission of God and the theme of the Bible as a whole.

God is not ignorant as to where humanity is hidden. However, He wants to call them back into a relationship with Him. It is a continuation of the creative purpose behind the law in the first place. God does not want will less robots, nor resentfully obedient children. He is seeking people who will chose Him and his way. So, like a father seeking a child too ignorant to hide properly—merely covering their eyes and assuming they can’t be seen if they cannot themselves see—He does not swoop in and expose them. He calls out to them, “Where are you?”

And even though God knows all, and knows exactly what has happened, He does not expose their deeds either. He asks them to confess what they have done.

Adam initially avoids the sin altogether. “I was hiding.” But God wants the sin out in the open. “Who told you you were naked? Have you broken my rule?” Even when directly confronted with his sin, Adam passes the blame. Eve does so as well. Adam quickly turns on the love of his life, the woman who was designed to meet his greatest need. The relationship between man and woman is broken in sin. And humanity turns on the creation they were entrusted with, the world that was designed for them, their paradise. “It is the animal’s fault, God.” Sin more than anything else destroys the relationships we were created to be in. We are separated from God, from each other, from the world, and ultimately from ourselves.

This is the most tragic scene in the history of creation, and yet it is full of hope. God seeks us out. God doesn’t just wipe creation out and start over. He is not caught off guard by sin. He has a plan to fix things, as we will see. But first there are real, devastating byproducts of mankind’s sin…

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Kriegerin" (2011)

If there is something you can count on in critically acclaimed European movies, it is utterly depressing storylines. In “Kriegerin” you can understand though, because it explores the lives of neo-Nazis in the economically depressed eastern Germany.

The story centers around two girls. Marisa is a twenty year-old who is completely caught up in the Nazi ideology and anger. Svenja is only fourteen and just starting to explore the hate. Marisa hates the refugees that are arriving in her town. She refuses to help them out at the store where she works. And, after a fight she runs a motorcycle with refugee brothers on it off the road. The guilt she feels over that act—as well as concerns she may have killed one of them—causes her to begin to doubt her worldview.

This movie does a good job of exposing the irrational hate of the Nazi ideology, as well as the bored, lack of purpose that drives the young people to its empty promises. Svenja isn’t attracted to the far right politics, but to a crowd that accepts her that isn’t her parents. Marisa had never questioned her grandfather’s ideas until she actually met some of the people she was supposed to hate.

But, in true European cinema fashion, don’t count on any of the learning the characters do to lead to a happy ending. There are no happy endings without hope, and what makes neo-Nazi ideology so attractive to young people is the hopelessness of the culture in general.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Faith: The Vine and the Branches 4 (John 15:1-8)

God’s Glory, Our Fruit v8

Jesus concludes this Vine and Branches teaching saying three things: Our purpose as a creation is God’s Glory. We fulfill that purpose when we live our lives as true disciples of Jesus. The proof of our discipleship lies in our ability to reproduce.

All of that sounds like a huge pressure. It could make us think that we need to work really hard to make God happy. But the truth could not be more different. We do not earn God’s love or our salvation. We cannot hope to make other people believe, that is also God’s work. However, He delights in bringing glory to Himself through us. All He wants from us is surrender. If we will be faithful to trust Him and obey the things we hear from Him, He will be faithful to glorify Himslef in us.

A good friend of mine told me about a woman he was working with in Hamburg Germany. They had been talking about this demand that Jesus makes of His disciples, to be His witnesses in their daily lives. One Sunday, she was waiting in the rain at a bus stop for her ride to Church. As she stood there, she had a strong impression that she was supposed to tell another woman at the stop about Jesus. But she didn’t want to. It was raining. She was tired. And surely, she was only having that thought because she had recently learned about her need to share. It wasn’t really the Holy Spirit telling her to speak to that women. But, as she waited for the bus, the prodding wouldn’t stop.

Finally, as the bus pulled up and they were climbing on, she begrudgingly told the woman, “Jesus loves you.”

The woman’s response was a confused look, and a question… in Portuguese. She hadn’t understood at all.

Needless to say, the act of obedience felt like a foolish waste of time. But as the bus pulled off and she settled into her seat, the woman approached her with another man. He said, “Excuse me. I speak Portuguese and this woman has asked me to help her talk to you. She said you said something to her, but she couldn’t understand.”

So, one the ride to church that day, she got to share the story of the Gospel with two curious people instead of just one!
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