Friday, September 30, 2016

Star Trek Enterprise (Season 1d)


Season 1c - 2a


Something glaringly jarring about Enterprise is the discrepancy of technology. We are supposedly exploring the early days of Earth in space. This is way before things like the holodecks. We don’t even have the Prime Directive yet!

It should be a series about exploring a lot of issues that would challenge people first coming onto the interplanetary stage. But it feels like the writers are more interested in pushing Trek universe further. Things like new aliens we have never heard of before, super advanced technology that—in universe—will take another couple centuries to develop, and foes that Trek has established won’t be encountered until centuries later. All of this makes us think that the storytellers wish they were working on a different show. Maybe this “Time War” storyline will fix the discrepancy, but Trek’s history of time-travel stories predict it will likely just make things worse.

Episode 20: “Oasis”

This episode starts out like a haunted house story, but quickly chickens out. Instead, we get some of that technology that won’t be developed for another couple hundred years. Somehow, a solitary, guilt ridden, engineer is not only able to create the tech; but also does it on a level beyond what we will see in the other shows.

Episode 21: “Detained”

This episode is trying to be super thoughtful and preachy, but feels very cookie-cutter. Not only is the story-line—taking the new enemy and pointing out that the entire race is not the enemy—super predictable for Trek… The episode feels like a stunt to get Sam and Al back together. And to get one of our heroes disgusted as an alien. And… how does translator technology work in this era? I’m confused. Why even have a linguistics expert on the crew if the translators work this flawlessly? Or do these new aliens speak English?

Episode 22: “Vox Sola”

Oh, wait… the translators ARE needed again. And how does a race get to the point where eating is a sexual taboo? One can envision how a culture would let legalism extend to the point where people must cover their bodies completely, but this is ridiculous. The main story-line here tries to be scary, but the threat is too quickly contained and then we realize that we are dealing with and appendage with intelligence?

Episode 23: “Fallen Hero”

This episode is well crafted and entertaining, but ultimately just fabricated intrigue.

Episode 24: “Desert Crossing”

So this episode takes that preachy episode from a couple weeks ago and makes it a big mistake and lesson learned for Captain Archer. Are the writers reversing course and saying that internment camps were OK, or just that it is a mistake to do good for others? The continuing progress towards the whole “mind your own business” philosophy of Trek.

Episode 25: “Two Days and Two Nights”

For a mad-cap, comic, embarrassing, vacation-gone-wrong story this episode has very little mad-cap comedy. But the hints at a larger story-arch might be effective at keeping me interested for more…

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Chocolat" (2000)

“Chocolat” is not a perfect movie, but it is the kind of experience I look for in film. It tackles a sticky issue and it fights for its position without completely demonizing other perspectives. And, in this case, it makes a good point.

The village in this “fairy-tale” has an easy life. They all know exactly what is expected of them and they all do what is expected. The brand of Christianity is one with clear rules. As long as you follow them, you will be alright. Break them and you will suffer the judgment of the community. It isn’t very effective at dealing with sins that matter, but people stay so busy trying to fit in that a degree of sin is kept in check. And, in this system you can pretend that you are the master over sin instead of being a slave to it.

That community is run by a mayor who sees it as his duty to “help” everyone be the best legalist they can be. And he of course is the most devout of the lot. In his legalistic understanding of his faith, it is easy to measure “levels” of faith. Simply fulfill more rules than anyone else. The problem is that it is a system that focuses all on externals. Cups washed clean on the outside, but contaminated within. In the mayor’s case, his life has fallen apart. His wife has left him, but he tells everyone she is on holiday. He is living a lie, but he is being the best liar of the bunch.

Arriving in this village—just as Lent is beginning—is a woman, Vianne, who opens a chocolate shop. And, since demonizing others is an even more effective way of building oneself up, the mayor targets her as a threat to this town’s religion.

Vianne has a knack for knowing the chocolate that people will like best. With that comes a knack for helping them find what they are missing in life as well. One of the women she befriends is Josephine. She is a bit of an outcast on account of her strange behavior. She is married to Serge, a man who abuses her. However, when she meets Vianne she finds the courage to run away from home and find a place where she can be accepted and have purpose.

The mayor is initially angered that Vianne has helped Josephine rebel against her wedding vows, but then he learns of the abuse. It is then that we get a comparison between the two competing approaches to healing. Josephine learns to love and respect herself and become a part of the community by being loved and respected. Serge is subjected to extra-legalism training to help him become a better man through will-power.

A problem with the film and its fairytale approach is that sin is rendered a bit toothless as there is no explanation of the Christian understanding of redemption. Yes, legalism is a sinful attempt to heal sin on our own, but simply rejecting legalism doesn’t help. There needs to be a real source of forgiveness before we can experience the healing love and acceptance of God.

Vianne also has a struggle of her own. She is trapped into a different sort of prison of ancestral worship and hopeless isolation. Will she break free and find true belonging in the community of Christian faith once the village is healed of its legalism?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Genesis 5: From Adam to Noah

Following the Prologue (Genesis 1:1-2:3), and the first major section (Genesis 2:4-4:26) we get the first genealogical interlude in Genesis 5:1-6:8. All five of the major sections of Genesis will be divided by such interludes.

For the most part, they are mere bridges, tying each major story (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph) into the timeline of history.

It is tempting to scan these genealogies and move on, and perhaps surprisingly that is exactly the best way to approach these passages. Because the alternative temptation—to scour through these texts seeking special insights or precise details about unanswered questions—produces mountainous problems from scantest uses of ink.

In chapter five we get a quick glimpse of the first ten generations of humanity. Any attempts to calculate spans of time without exact numbers (manuscripts vary) or an insight as to what was being counted is an exercise in futility, and that isn’t even the point of this chapter. We are simply meant to get from Adam to Noah with an understanding that these are real people, not characters in fiction.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Undigested Praise and Worship Ramblings

It finally happened. I have heard a “praise and worship song” that venerates praise and worship. It was bound to happen because P&W isn’t anything new. It is another in a long line of trends that are neither good nor bad, but have a potential to be either. Humanity exists to worship God, but ever since we chose to glorify ourselves rather than the Creator, we have been in search of something to worship. Anything will do and we tend to go with the herd—the trend—when it comes to our idol of choice.

The way we worship God has always been a source of danger. Throughout Biblical history we see example after example of idolatry born out of attempts to worship the Creator. When Moses tarried too long on the mountain with God, the people had Aaron build a calf so that they could worship God. When Jeroboam saw a threat in his people having to go to Jerusalem to worship, he made idols and told them that they represented God.

And through Christian history we have seen a similar pattern. The church experiences God and chases after a repetition of the event. We fall in love with the worship instead of the object of our worship. Three or four decades ago people began to prefer a more direct, more intimate style of worship and it was good. The old way was good too, but for many it had become rote—tradition without reason. And since the tradition had become venerated, we experienced the “worship wars” in churches all around the world.

Eventually things settled down and the new way became the status quo. And now one gets the feeling that it is burning itself out as well. It has often ceased to be about God and is now just the latest object of our affections. It has become hard to distinguish between worship services and concerts. It is hard to distinguish between these songs and generic love songs.

I know it is trendy today for artists of faith to do generic “worship” albums. That is where the money is. But what we need again today is a return to the profound explorations of God and His truth. “Spiritual song” like the ones Paul refers to in his writings that—more than praise—teach and remind us of God’s words to us. We need to rediscover that real worship happens outside the weekly concert. It is found where life is lived the rest of the week. The P&W part is really just the overflow of a life lived in worship.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hope: Our Testimony in the World 4 (John 15:18-27)

Our response, a witness. vv26,27

Here we have the third (of 5) teachings about the Holy Spirit. He is to be Helper, Interpreter, Witness, Prosecutor, and Revealer. Here we hear how He is a witness to Jesus. We are with Him in this task. This explains, too, how our persecution will be as a result of the world’s hatred of Jesus. Jesus is gone and such persecution should have subsided. But we are now the witnesses of Him and His work in the world. And we are empowered to do so by the very Spirit of God.

If we are not facing any persecution, it is likely too that we are not doing our job. We instead try to water down our story. We only tell the non-offensive stuff. We talk about love and how much help God is, but we avoid unpleasant stuff like sin and how God wants us to do things His way.

This world is already a difficult place with suffering, death and evil. We are fools if we think we can avoid that. So why do we fear what people will say and do if we share our source of hope? Do we even really have the hope that Jesus teaches us? If we do, we will recognize that this is the very hope that the world around us needs. We will be compelled to share it with others. Because many of them also see that the world is a tough place, and some of them may be aware of their own part it making it so. They need to know the hope and love that faith can bring.

Friday, September 23, 2016

"Ferris Beuller's Day Off" (1986)

“Bueller? Bueller?”

One of the most representative movies of my generation, Ferris Bueller is the epitome of Generation X. He is a slacker, he is unmotivated, rebellious and disrespectful of authority. Or is he? If he is such a bad representative, why do we love him so much? Are all Gen-Xers so nihilistic and negative?

Well, there is no arguing that we Gen-Xers are pretty pessimistic and want to buck any system that tries to classify or group us, either for good or ill. However, I think Ferris is an example of the generation for some of the good qualities we share.

Sure, Ferris goes to great lengths to skip school and rebel against the authority in his life, but not necessarily for bad reasons and not simply out of a desire to do nothing. Towards the beginning of the film, he acknowledges the immaturity of his actions, but take a look at what he is rebelling against.

“The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It's a good non-specific symptom; I'm a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh... you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor's office. That's worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you're bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It's a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”

We get a chance to see Ferris’ school and he is right. This is not a place of learning, it is a daycare where the teachers are just as unmotivated as the kids. What Ferris has planned for his friend is a day that will serve their lives much more than any day in that environment ever will. If this were a Millennial film they would likely skip school to lay in bed and play computer games online. Ferris and Cameron go to one of the most renowned art museums in the world. Ferris’ real concern is experiencing life and making sure the friends he cares about do as well.

And it is his plan as well. Lest you think this is all just a spontaneous act, look at all the planning that has gone into it. Ferris has had to create a lot of recordings and had to set up a lot of intricate cover-ups. He knew exactly what he was up to the entire time. At the start of the film we even see him practicing the song he will sing at the parade while he is showering.

So sure, Generation X is a little immature, a little rebellious. But the real thing that drives us is relationships and meaning in life. We can’t be bothered with the system when it is broken. And we take care of things for ourselves. Other may wait for life to hand them everything they deserve; we just get busy living.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Man's Sin and Man's Religion Develop and Expand through the Generations (Genesis 4:17-26)

This first section from 2:4-4:26 concludes with an account of seven generations from Adam. Over the course of these generations, we see sin develop and expand alongside human culture. The city is invented. Nomadic animal husbandry and metallurgy are developed. Music is discovered. The generational line through Cain is as follows: Adam—Cain—Enoch—Irad—Mehujael—Methushael—Lamech. With Lamech we see the first mention of polygamy, and he also takes his ancestor’s bloodthirst further. If Cain’s offender would be judged sevenfold, Lamech claims to exact seventy-sevenfold revenge.

One of those interesting aspects that may be more novelty than message emerge here. Lamech is the seventh generation from Adam, so the writer gives us more details about his life. This is not just a coincidence of the story, but rather an important part of the literary structure of the passage. The writer is obsessed with sevens. If you create a database of all the Hebrew words used in Genesis so far, (and this is not an admission of any such endeavor) you discover a lot of sevenfold repetitions. The word Abel occurs seven times in Genesis. Cain fourteen times. In this section (2:4-4:26) we see Earth seven times and land fourteen. Even more astounding, God or LORD is used exactly 35 times in 2:4-4:26; and that corresponds with the 35 times in 1:1-2:3!

Finally, the writer tells us about Adam and Eve again, who have another son shortly after the death of Abel. They name him Seth, and he has a son who he names Enosh (Like Adam, another word for “man”). We see that, with Enosh, regular religious worship begins to be practiced. Where Abel and Cain tried to gain favor from God with a yearly or sporadic sacrifice, men now begin to hold regular worship services. Religion, just like sin, develops and expands. As man drifts further and further away from God, he tries to find ways to fill that void in his own power.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 61-65)


Episodes 55-60 -- Episodes 66-72

The more I delve into this series, the more I realize that it is just an less religious and (slightly) less preachy successor to “Highway to Heaven.” That is a step down from where my memory had this series.

Episode 61: “Dreams”

This episode starts out with one of the most promising lead-ins. (Actually, it is the end of the last episode that does this. In one of the longest teasers for the next week, we see Sam work his way through a dark house as a cop, and ultimately find a brutally murdered woman.) We think we are in for a creepy murder mystery. It does try to deliver a “Silence of the Lambs” level, creepy, murder mystery. It fails miserably.

Episode 62: “A Single Drop of Rain”

Sam jumps into a swindler who cons people into giving him money to make it rain. As it happens, that swindler has just arrived back in his home town where a terrible drought is underway. With the benefit of future insight, he knows that it is not going to rain for months, but he also thinks he might be able to use future knowledge to produce a real cloud seeding method. That never really works out. So Sam, a child of farmers truly feeling the community’s pain, prays to God for help. However, the real reason he is there is to get the guy’s brother to let his wife knows he really loves her. And then, it rains too.

Episode 63: “Unchained”

As a man on a chain gang, Sam has to help an innocent man go free. And since the system is completely corrupt, he has to do so going around official, legal channels. This could be an interesting exploration of the sticky issue of dealing with corrupt authority, but it is not much more than a weak suspense story.

Episode 64: “The Play’s the Thing”

In this jumble of storylines, Sam is a young actor who has hooked up with an older woman who wants to be a singer. As per usual for Quantum Leap lately, Al thinks Sam is there to do one thing, but Sam manages to accomplish both that mission and the one his heart is telling him is the real reason for the leap.

Episode 65: “Running for Honor”

This episode is a letdown even though it finally tackles a tough subject. The problem is that it sets up straw men to knock down and fails to give all sides of the issue a fair representation. Sam lands in a naval academy where a student has been kicked out for being gay.

Al starts out as the rational voice of people concerned that open homosexual identity in the military will cause problems. His pivot on the issue never addresses his concerns; he just changes his mind because the story needs him too.

The main antagonist is the worst sort of homophobe, and it is hinted that he may be acting out of an overcompensation. He is so homophobic he must be closeted. That is an interesting point, but it is never really dealt with. The man is pure hatred, cartoonishly so.

One of the worst failings of the show is the typical way that Hollywood stereotypes the issues. We are never told if Sam’s character is gay or not. However, we discover that the only reasons to suspect he might be is that he is a 21-year-old virgin (!), he was friends with a gay student who was his roommate, (In this case the show falls prey to an argument espoused by the villain—that being roommates with a homosexual person could make someone gay!) and because he was standing against discrimination. That, and Al suspects an inclination due to things like: the way Sam sits and the fact that he drinks tea instead of coffee!

The most redeeming aspect of the whole episode comes at the end when Sam is about to leap. Al mentions that they never found out if Sam’s character was gay. Sam asks, “Does that matter?” That gets to the heart of the issue for this episode. This is more of a story about suspicion as judgement. In that sense it almost works, but as already mentioned, the antagonist is a cardboard character. And somehow, even then, the show undercuts itself by making the gay victim not a victim at all. Instead it has him frame the homophobic gang for murder.

Monday, September 19, 2016

"Contempt" (1963)

So this is the best work of art produced in post-war Europe? Sight and Sound in 1997 thought so. I could think of a few alternate suggestions. Not that this film doesn’t try to say something or that it does it in a poor way. But it is a bit stilted and heavy handed.

Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli play Camille and Paul, a happily married couple in love with each other. Paul is a writer who is hired by a film producer named Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rewrite the script for Fritz Lang’s latest film. Prokosch is a rich, philandering, ignoramus, and he sort of hits on Camille when they first meet. Paul, perhaps in an effort to come across and non-threatened and self-assured, does not protest when Prokosch wants to drive Camille to his house alone. Paul is to follow in a cab. He should have insisted that he and Camille take the cab.

Not because Camille is swept away by Prokosch’s charms, but rather because Camille stops loving Paul because he didn’t appear jealous. He didn’t protect her. In fact, she is now disgusted by Paul.

Most of the film is an extended argument between Paul and Camille. He fails to understand why she doesn’t love him anymore. She refuses to clarify her feelings. (His lack of understanding her feelings is much of the problem in the first place.) Along the way there is also a bit of commentary of art and integrity of vision, but the relationship is the focus.

In fact, producers were upset that Godard didn’t accentuate Bardot’s body more; nicely proving his point about the artist’s struggle. In the end, he added a scene at the start of the film where the couple declare their deep love for one another, conveniently shooting the entire scene with a naked Bardot exposing her backside. The real life producer must have been a Prokosch-type, because he said it was the only redeeming part of the film. Thematically, it is completely out of place.

Ultimately, “Contempt” shows the bewildering damage that relationships suffer under the devastating control of sin. We all recognize the isolation one feels in a relationship that demands total transparency when we can’t always see if it is being reciprocated. That isolation is one of the most painful aspects of the Fall.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hope: Our Testimony in the World 3 (John 15:18-27)

The sin of rebellion, rejecting God. vv22-25

Here Jesus is not saying that people didn’t have sin before He came, nor that He caused sin. What HE is saying is that the rejection of Jesus is their sin. In ways, it is the ultimate sin.

Matthew 12 and Mark 3 record Jesus talking about an unforgivable sin. Rejecting Jesus is this sin. Any sin is forgivable and has been overcome by Christ’s death on the cross. However, rejecting Christ closes the door on this forgiveness. That is why it is unforgivable. Jesus here says that those who have seen (or heard) of what Jesus did but decide to reject it. They will be held accountable for their sin.

Our response to the hatred and persecution from the world is NOT to remain silent. Nor is it a good idea to avoid speaking of Jesus to spare people guilt. People need the forgiveness and hope that we have in Jesus. Many, perhaps most, will not accept His love, but our job is to stand firm in hope.

Friday, September 16, 2016

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969)



Revisiting this film recently with my son, I was reminded of a couple things. First, Paul Newman and Robert Redford are two of the most likeable screen presences of all time. Second, this film leaves one as empty as the other western of its time, “The Wild Bunch.”

The Boomer generation has really reaped the whirlwind of its empty idealism. Maybe the reason we find ourselves with a choice between the two most disliked candidates in the history of the country goes back to the misplaced cynical ideals the generation had back in their twenties.

Butch and Sundance are ultimately just likable, hollow men. They (and the audience) think that they are harmless scoundrels taking advantage of a corrupt system in a time when civilization had not yet made it to the frontier. But, when the frontier begins to disappear as the railroad ties things together, they realize they need to move on to the next frontier: South America. The system catches up to them there too, so they decide to “go straight” for a while. It is then that they are forced to kill (seemingly for the first time), and they decide that they are not cut out to be “real villains.” But the days of “harmless” robbers are gone…

What makes this film infinitely more enjoyable than “The Wild Bunch” (for the first half) is that it isn’t trying to indict the culture of its day. Boomers loved to stand in judgement of their elders. Instead, it concentrates of presenting an idealized version of history. The leads are impossible to dislike, the music is wonderfully pleasant, and the traditional western landscape is presented lusciously.

Unfortunately, the message of the story is just empty.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cain and Abel: The Growth of Religion and Sin Following the Fall (Genesis 4:1-16)

This story raises a whole slew of questions for which we have no answer. Once again, it is a case of a story told for a singular purpose, unconcerned with giving us all the details. And yet, the little hints of detail it teases us with support the idea that this is history, not mere fable. Among the frustrating questions we have: Who are the people Cain refers to? Where will Cain get his wife in the next section? Why did God regard Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? And, what is the mark of Cain?

Even though we don’t have definitive answers, some of these questions can be dismissed with a careful reading of the text. For instance, the presence of other people, and a source for Cain’s wife need not concern us. There is no real indication that Cain and Abel are Adam and Eve’s first two children. We have there story because this is the first case of sin leading to murder, not because these are the first children. For all we know, Adam and Eve could have been having kids for quite some time now. In a few more verses we will read that Seth—the child born after Abel is killed—was born when Adam was already 130. If those years are like today’s years, Adam and Eve could conceivably have had 100 years of child-bearing, with multiple generations already being born to their children, grandchildren, and great-grand-children. Cain and Abel could come on the scene with a human population of 100s of people.

What is more interesting here is the purpose of the story. We see here the advance and progression of sin in the world. Sin began with the breaking of God’s one rule, but it is now an ever present reality for humanity. Now that they have been cast out of the garden, they are no longer following God’s perfect plan. They have to try to come up with their own way in the world, and do the wrong thing all the time, whether it be out of ignorance, failing, or outright rebellion. And, while every person after the first sin goes against God’s plan, we see here that sin has progressed and reaches here a climax of one person taking another’s life.

There is also another intriguing development in the fall of humanity. Here we see religion for the first time. In the garden, humanity had a relationship with the Creator. Now that that has been broken, we see mankind trying to reach back to God in other ways. Sacrifice has been established. This is not something God demanded or invented. It is a human invention. Later on, God will establish guidelines for a sacrificial system that He will endorse, but here we simply have religion like any religion where man tries to please God in his own power.

Why does God regard Abel’s offering? What does that even mean? We are not given an answer to either of those questions. One can assume that Abel had success in his endeavors following his sacrifice while Cain didn’t. That could be interpreted as blessing. It could have been real blessing. The Bible repeatedly teaches that God’s choices and blessings are not made through any merit on man’s part. God’s reasons are His own. The religious person and the legalist will try to give you any number of reasons why Abel deserved to be blessed and Cain didn’t. But that is a misreading of the Biblical text.

What is important to see here, regardless of God’s blessing, is that God still pursues sinful man. Before Cain ever acts on his anger and jealousy towards Cain, God warns him against allowing sin to rule him. In this passage, sin is almost personified and demonic. And yet it is still simply humanity’s nature. Cain makes a choice to sin exactly as every other human since does day in and day out. This is not a case of an outside force working on Cain. Just as in the garden, the devil didn’t make mankind sin. Tempt maybe, but the choice to sin is Cain’s. And, while God tells him he needs to master his choice, sinful man is ultimately incapable of avoiding sin. We are helpless on our own. We need to respond to God’s pursuit and approach. We need to allow Him to help us.

Here Cain is even worse than Adam was following his choice to sin. God again approaches the sinner with an opportunity to come clean. And, whereas Adam confessed but passed the blame, Cain denies any wrong doing. But God knows already what has happened, and again He punishes sin. Like He did with the serpent, God curses Cain. Adam was sent out of the perfect garden to the hard earth to live. Cain is denied even the earth. He must wander and never really find good sustenance. He is not only cut off from God like all the rest of sinful humanity, he is cut off from human fellowship. People here begin to become scary to each other. We have here “the other.”

What is the mark of Cain? No one knows. What is clear, though, is that just as God condemned murder, He also condemns the killing of “the other.” Somehow, people have always tried to draw distinctions between killing their own kind as being murder, but have tried to justify killing outsiders as real threats. It is all sin in God’s eyes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Star Trek Enterprise (Season 1c)

Season 1b -- Season 1d

Enterprise remains uneven. However, it does still try to present moral and cultural observations and not mere stories. What emerges, though, is a lot less certainty regarding the Humanistic ideals that Roddenberry never allowed to be undermined. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Episode 13: “Dear Doctor”

In this story we see the beginnings of the “Prime Directive.” Phlox is faced with a whole species of sentient beings that have reached the end of their evolutionary experiment. According to his “all-knowing” scientific mind, Phlox declares that solving the disease that is killing off the entire species would go against what evolution wants.

The Prime Directive has always felt like a convenient rule to follow. It takes moral quandaries out of the picture. There is no need to try to do the right thing, because the right thing is to never interfere. If feels like the guiding principle of nature documentarians and journalists who tell themselves that they are meant to observe and never interfere. Even if intervening means saving a life, it is seen as the wrong thing to do.

The truth is that morality is not easy. The Prime Directive is the way intellectuals make themselves feel better when they should make an effort for good. It is sitting by and allowing genocide to occur when to stand against it might be dangerous or costly.

All of that is why Kirk almost always flew in the face of the Prime Directive. Even the rest of the captains broke it multiple times.

Episode 14: “Sleeping Dogs”

This story, penned by (some would say great) Fred Dekker, is a basic action story, slightly reminiscent of the TOS episode “Balance of Terror” in the way space travel feels like submarine travel.

Episode 15: “Shadows of P’Jem”

One of the fascinating aspects of this look back at the beginnings of star fleet is the way we see the Vulcans in a new light. In old Trek, Vulcans are always seen as the enlightened beings that we ought to emulate. In this post-911 version of Trek there is nothing sacred left. Turns out the Vulcans are very human in their desire to control the institutions of culture. Roddenberry would hate this development. Oh, and the middle-schoolers on the writing staff for this episode thought it would be a good idea to have Archer and T’Pol have to rub all over each other trying to get out of their shackles. Real mature. On a more positive note, we get the great Andorian make-up and effects again.

Episode 16: “Shuttlepod One”

This episode features a clever-but-convenient set-up that allows us to observe Reed and Tucker facing certain death. That should be an interesting experience, but it mostly just ends up being dull.

Episode 17: “Fusion”

One of the most beloved ethical principles of Trek (as seen in the questionable Prime Directive) is the idea that everything different is merely different. Or, seen from another angle, there is almost never anything evil or wrong, just different. Well, this principle has the difficulty of being simply wrong, and it is something that Trek always struggled to promote due to it being wrong. In the new, post-Roddenberry, Trek it is sometimes abandoned altogether. Such is the case in this story, where some Vulcans dare to reject the “stereotype” that all Vulcans must embrace logic and deny their emotions. Could it be that some cultural qualities are more than just the prejudice of observers? (Then there is the “revelation” that mind-melding was not always a mainstream Vulcan activity as we might have thought the way Spock threw it around. What’s even more uncomfortable is the way this story makes it akin to sex in the “rape” scene.)

Episode 18: “Rogue Planet”

This is another case where Enterprise gives us an interesting setting, (“Sleeping Dogs” gas giant and this episodes rogue planet.) but fail to tell a story that rises to the occasion. We are never much in doubt as to where things are going with this story. It certainly doesn’t challenge in status quo.

Episode 19: “Acquisition”

All these years we just thought the first encounter with Ferengi was made in TNG. Turns out, they had already made a humorous attempt to steal from Huu-mans before.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hope: Our Testimony in the World 2 (John 15:18-27)

Following Jesus entails persecution. vv20,21

In addition to the world’s hatred, we also face the fact that—as Jesus’ followers—we will suffer as He suffered. The world does not just dislike us, they will persecute us. This is also something believers should expect. In fact, the question could be asked, “Why are we not persecuted?”

Jesus often talks about the Kingdom of God as though it were an agricultural effort. And, in that comparison we need to see the world as a field waiting to be planted. One way that the soil is softened, something we see in example after example, is through the suffering that the children of God experience in the world.

One commonality that we see again and again in areas where the Kingdom of God is growing and churches are being planted is persecution. The movement of God triggers a push-back from the world and the culture where that movement is happening. And that persecution in turn strengthens the disciples where it happens. In the days of the East German Republic, where faith was discouraged and people in the church were given fewer chances in the culture, the churches were stronger. People who said they were believers had counted the cost and were really living what they said they believed. Of course, the downside of this persecution is that it can also negatively impact the movement in the long run. For three generations the East German government squashed the religious worldview to such an extent that the default mindset even today is completely secular.

It is hard to claim that we face any real persecution for being followers of Jesus today. We can be thankful for that, but we also should ask ourselves why. Is it that we are blessed, or is it something about the way we live out of faith in the world? We need to be prepared to face the hardships that God does allow to come our way.

Friday, September 9, 2016

“Room 237” and Cultural Exegesis

(I wrote this piece a few years ago for another website. It has since been taken down, so here it is again.)

A helpful approach to reading culture is to analyze its art and its stories. Analysis of a culture’s films is one of the best ways to understand what and how its people think. The films that a culture produces and those it responds to reveal a lot about how it sees the world and how it understands truth.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to read any story objectively. We all have our own cultural prejudices and preconceived ideas that we bring to interpretation. All too often these cloud our reading and we are guilty of eisegesis rather than exegesis. Rather than seeing the ideas that a culture is presenting as truth and evaluating those ideas against reality, we find ways to see our own ideas in others’ stories.

A perfect example of this is “Room 237,” a feature length exploration of critical theory as seen in several interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” It is not a documentary exploring the real intentions of Kubrick regarding the story, but rather eisegesis on display. We get a series of people talking about their theories and ideas regarding the film, with the moments they are interpreting playing out on screen. This is especially helpful, because as they describe what we are seeing along with their interpretations and the symbolic meanings they are seeing, we get to make our own judgments. Sometimes it is interesting to see the things that they are pointing out that we missed in a casual viewing of the film. What is even more interesting is when the footage shows that they have misremembered things, or even seen things that are simply not there.

For believers with a missional heart for the culture around them, the example of “Room 237” is a good reminder of what not to do. Rather than “baptizing” cultural artifacts and stories and trying use them to confirm our preconceptions or to deliver a message that is not there, (in this case holocaust imagery, conspiracy theories, or American guilt) we need to truly read the intended messages and then address those ideas with the truth. (The same goes for the Biblical text, by the way.)

In this case, much more would be accomplished by addressing the dangers of isolation or relational dysfunction than trying to make people see details that simply and clearly are not there, all to support ideas that Kubrick was not communicating.

(Please note: this film contains some nudity.)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

50 Years, 37 Episodes, the Top of Trek

50 years ago today, Star Trek aired for the first time. People think that the current Marvel Comics Cinematic Universe is the first property to encompass coordinated film, television, and comics mediums, but Trek has been doing it for half a century!

I had hoped by this point to have made my way through all of the Trek television storylines, but have gotten stalled out in the middles of the first season of Enterprise. But, by the end of the year Netflix Germany is supposed to have all six series online, so I hope to get back on track soon.

Meanwhile, in honor of today’s anniversary, here are 37 episodes of Trek across most of the series that are near perfect episodes, ranked as I see them thus far: (Links tie into previous thoughts on each episode)

31. “Redemption” (Parts 1 and 2) (TNG 4:26, 5:1)

30. “Unification” (Parts 1 and 2) (TNG 5:7, 8)

29. “Drone” (VOY 5:2)

28. “Devil’s Due” (TNG 4:13)

27. “What You Leave Behind” (Parts 1 and 2) (DS9 7:25)

26. “Strange Bedfellows” and “The Changing Face of Evil” (DS9 7:19, 20)

25. “All Good Things” (TNG 7:25)

24. “The Schizoid Man” (TNG 2:9)

23. “Destiny” (DS9 3:15)

22. “Lower Decks” (TNG 7:15)

21. “Paradise Lost” (DS9 4:12)

20. “Projections” (VOY 2:3)

19. “Prototype” (VOY 2:13)

18. “Space Seed” (TOS 1:22)

17. “The Perfect Mate” (TNG 5:21)

16. “Little Green Men” (DS9 4:8)

15. “Tears of the Prophets” (DS9 6:26)

14. “Call to Arms” (DS9 5:26)

13. “A Taste of Armageddon” (TOS 1:23)

12. “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” (TOS 1:7)

11. “In the Pale Moonlight” (DS9 6:19)

10. “The Visitor” (DS9 4:3)

9. “The Drumhead” (TNG 4:21)

8. “Amok Time” (TOS 2:1)

7. “The Inner Light” (TNG 5:25)

6. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (TNG 3:15)

5. “The Trouble with Tribbles” (TOS 2:15)

4. “Mirror, Mirror” (TOS 2:4)

3. “Tapestry” (TNG 6:15)

2. “The Best of Both Worlds” (Parts 1 and 2) (TNG 3:26, 4:1)

1. “City on the Edge of Forever” (TOS 1:28)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Tough Love, Merciful Death (Genesis 3:22-24)

The serpent had said that mankind would become like God. Here we see that the father of lies is a master manipulator. Rather than lie outright, he corrupts half-truths. Adam and Eve indeed did not immediately die when they ate the fruit. At least not physically. And now we discover that, in one sense, they have become like heavenly beings. They now know about good and evil, having experienced both. They are no longer innocent. And what a loss!

God continues to show mercy and to reveal that He has a plan to reconcile things to the way He planned for them to be. In an unusual literary move the author records a partial declaration of God. Or, perhaps, God Himself left things dramatically unsaid. “…now, lest he reach out and take from the tree of life as well and live forever…” What is left unsaid here? Is it merely “let us drive him out,” or something even more terrifying? What would be the result of immortality and sin? Some think life as it is today is hellish, but that would be a literal hell. Separation from the Creator for eternity, with no possibility of redemption.

As it stands, death is mercy. God drives the couple from the garden. (Drives, not sends. How terrifying must that have been?) So no mankind has no access to immortality. Death is a result of sin because we have been driven away from access to immortality, but that also gives God the opportunity to set up a substitutionary death in our place. The punishment can be paid by an innocent and applied to those who will receive it.

God’s great plan has been set in motion.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 55-60)


(Episodes 49-54)  --  (Episodes 61-65)

As I work my way through this series—for the first time all the way through—I am coming to the realization that I was giving it too much credit. My memory was that this show used its premise to hold a mirror up to the audience and make it uncomfortable with a lot of the inconsistencies and outright wrongs still being exercised in society. In reality, it tends more toward the obvious, already condemned issues; or to simply put Sam in a race against the clock scenario.

Episode 55: “Play Ball” 

This episode is a bit of a mess. Amongst all the dangling plot threads the seemingly important through-line is a helping a couple of minor-league ball players make it to the majors. Hardly the stuff of cosmic importance or divine intervention. Along the way sexual harassment, parental abandonment, alcoholism, and the kitchen sink are all thrown in for good measure.

Episode 56: “Hurricane” 

For an episode set in a hurricane, there is very little weather action. In trying to prevent a death, Sam faces an incredibly long list of red-herrings before we arrive at the incredibly cliché ending.

Episode 57: “Justice” 

This is one of those episodes where Quantum Leap does the brave thing and addresses an evil in society that almost everybody already sees as evil. This episode feels less effective than earlier race related episodes because it doesn’t hold subtle racism up to the light, making people see blind-spots they may still entertain. It gives us the cartoon version of racism that shouldn’t make anyone squirm. Then again, in today’s climate of fear-mongering and “politically acceptable” racism, maybe we need some more of this.

Episode 58: “Permanent Wave” 

Another action adventure story where Sam just has to figure out where to be and when, and no real societal injustice is addressed.

Episode 59: “Raped” 

This is one of the better episodes of the series, as it was addressing an issue that needed exposing and still is a big problem. In some ways there are concerns all these years later that things may have gone too far, as we have almost gotten to the point where accusations equal guilt. And you would think that men could protect themselves from false accusations by simply not having sex with anyone, but it really extends to the point of never being alone with a woman. It is sad that that is where we have arrived as a society. However, in a world where rape exists, we need still need to work on not making the victim feel guilty. And all these years later we still haven’t figured that out.

Episode 60: “The Wrong Stuff” 

I may have implied that the show has “jumped the shark” before. Now it officially has.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hope: Our Testimony in the World 1 (John 15:18-27)

The Hate, and Love, of the World. We should not belong. vv18,19

Jesus says we will be hated by the world. The “if” in this sentence is not a “maybe,” but relates more to the reason for the inevitable hatred. The “world” in John’s writing indicates the culture of men set up against God. We do not belong to those systems, and therefore we are hated as outsiders. The love of the world is nothing like the love of God. The world loves conditionally. If we are different, or do not fulfill their wishes, we will be hated. And, as believers called out of the world by God, we should expect hatred. Or, at the very least, we can’t expect love.

In light of this truth, we have to be careful in our evangelism. Many try to couch the Gospel into a “cool” packaging. We try to make ourselves and our message more popular in the eyes of the world. “Serve the city” approaches, or efforts to develop a “popular” presence as speakers and writers can quickly dilute the Gospel message. Because ultimately the Gospel is not a message the world will love. Individuals, yes; but the culture, no.

The problem of the world’s hatred towards the chosen is not so much jealousy. Those who are chosen are those who recognize their own shortcomings. We see and recognize our sin. People in the world do not like people who think we have a problem; who think sin exists. (Then there is the unfortunate proximity to religious types, who do not see their own sin so much as they see everyone else’s. The judgmental. That is a different problem that impacts us in the hatred department.)

We need to love the people around us, those in our lives and those God brings us into contact with. However, we need to do this with the right motivation. We love because of Jesus’ love and what we have experienced. We do not love to win favor or some sort of popularity contest. That is a fool’s errand.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Reading the Coens "Millers Crossing"

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. 

Miller’s Crossing (1990) 

“Nobody knows anybody. Not that well.” 

This may be the most complex Coen plot. An attempt at simplifying would go as follows: Tom is the right hand man of Leo, the big boss in a 1920s mob-run town. Leo angers Caspar (a minor mob boss) by not allowing him to kill a bookie named Bernie. The reason is that Bernie is Leo’s girlfriend’s brother. Her name is Verna, and she also happens to be seeing Tom. A mob war ensues and Tom crosses sides to work for Caspar after Leo fids out about Verna. However, Tom’s loyalty never shifts and he wins the war for Leo with subterfuge.

Tom is a man governed by logic; never letting his emotions show. He does what makes sense. He sees emotions as a danger because they so easily cause a man to go against logic. In this film Tom comes close to dying when he lets emotions take charge. And he certainly gets beat near death several times, loses his best friend, his girl, and ends up having to commit murder to set things right. However, it isn’t really his emotional actions that cause him these problems. It is Leo’s irrational decision making.

Leo refuses to let Caspar kill Bernie because he doesn’t want to hurt Verna. We would think that Tom would be in agreement with this, as he is sleeping with Verna as well. But Tom is just using Verna. Once again emotions don’t apply for Tom. We get the impression that Verna prefers Tom. She wants him to open up to her. She wants him to ask her to run away with him. She is just using Leo for security. And, when Tom reveals the affair to Leo, (because logic demands that he do so to convince Leo to make the right play) she thinks that he did it to break her and Leo up.

The only moment in the film where Tom appears to make an illogical choice, perhaps governed by emotions, is when he is ordered to kill Bernie. Bernie pleads and Tom spares his life. And sure enough, this moment comes back to haunt Tom. The story—at least the way that the Coens are telling it—punishes Tom for this moment of weakness.

People might appeal to the loyalty that Tom shows Leo as another moment of emotional weakness. But it is hard to see any other way for the story to play out. Tom’s loyalty is an aspect of the story, but it could almost more easily be seen as one of the logical principles that govern Tom’s life. It is hard to come up with another resolution where Tom betrays Leo that makes sense under the circumstances. Tom does what he has to to survive, and once the danger is past he leaves. Once things return to “normal” and he could go back to the way things were with Leo, he doesn’t. He knows that he can’t trust Leo to do the sensible thing anymore.

The Coens stories are full of men facing terrible consequences for stupid decisions they have made. Usually for money, sometimes for love. Here we have a more enigmatic plot. Tom suffers but not directly for anything he has done. Sure, he is a gambler and a drunk, but the consequences of those shortcomings are his normal life, and things he is prepared to deal with. It is the actions of others that destroy life as he knows it. In the end, the Coens seem to be meditating on the horrifying aspect of life where we are surrounded by other sinful people exercising their free will in stupid ways that mess things up for everyone.

We may not live in a prohibition-era mob-run ton, but we are surrounded by people making terrible life choices, ourselves included. And, where we might be willing to face the music for our own sins, we need to realize that we will often suffer for the choices of others as well.

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