Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Get Out" (2017)

Jordan Peele’s surprising horror film “Get Out” is shaping up to be one of the most talked about, entertaining films of the year. It is a creative, original, thoughtful, horror film. And it happens to touch on issues of race.

And that is part of what makes it so good. It is not, ultimately, a movie about race. It is never preachy. It doesn’t take such a simplistic approach. But it is one of the best studies of continuing racism in the post-Obama world. The whole time one is trying to figure out what is going on, it is evident and uncomfortable the way racism is dominating the undercurrent.

The fact that the reveal is so unexpected (and original and creative) makes everything that much better. That, and it also plays into an idea that I have bought into for some time now—that the best horror is ultimately a Warner Brother’s Looney Tunes premise.

People have been trying to declare America’s race problem “resolved” for decades. When Obama was elected, many thought that that was indeed the sign of the end to our troubles. But all it really seemed to do was awaken and exasperate all of the well-hidden hatred people had been nurturing. It isn’t that racism is worse following the Obama years; it is just more vocal. Films like “Get Out” could be an important part of the national conversation.

As always, this is a horror movie with all of the potentially offensive and disturbing content, so be warned.

Monday, May 29, 2017

What Love Grows (1 John 4:17-21)

The Christian life is all about growing in love. The ability to love comes from God. We are not suddenly perfectly loving when we come to know God through Jesus Christ. We are suddenly capable, but we grow in our capacity. Love is perfected in us as we grow in our relationship with God.

And, the more we love, the greater our confidence in God is. John has written this whole “letter” to assure believers of their relationship with God; of their salvation. We are continually more confident in our salvation—our relationship with God—as our love grows. The better we understand the truth of the Gospel, the more we can be sure that we are in right relationship with our Creator.

A lot of religions and religious people are obsessed with fear. They motivate people to follow their ideas out of a fear of punishment or judgement. However, the Gospel is a demonstration of God’s love. The judgement and punishment is there, on the cross, but it has been dealt with. When we understand the sacrificial love of God for us, we are not motivated out of fear but thankfulness. We do not try to please God and earn His love; we love Him because He has shown us that He already loves us.

Love grows love. Fear grows fear. When we see the things that are produced in our lives we can know what we are rooted in. If we see a judgmental attitude, hatred, or pride, we can be fairly sure that we are rooted in something other than love. If we grow in our love for God and others, we can know that we are abiding in the love of God that we see in the Gospel.

The key is understanding, trusting, and constantly dwelling in the Gospel. In the Gospel we see and come to understand ever better who God is and who we are. It is not merely the basic truth of the Christian life; it is the deepest truth. The path to true Christian maturity lies in deeper understanding of the Gospel story and the love that God wants to perfect in our lives, not in theological minutia and the fringe ideas developed around obscure portions of Scripture.

God’s commands are summed up in love…

Sunday, May 28, 2017

What Love Produces (1 John 4:11-16)

When we realize the truth of God’s love for us there is only one appropriate response: Love. Because the truth of God’s love is that we do not deserve it. We are unlovable. We did nothing to earn God’s love. If we ever think that we are God’s children because of anything inherent in us—if we think we are better in any way from those who do not know God—then we must ask ourselves: Are we really?

The Gospel reminds us that we have been loved in spite of ourselves. Grace is being loved when we should not be loved. So, when we look at the people around us, and we see broken, sinful, rebellious, hurting people, we should see ourselves. And when we know and experience God’s love for us, we should want to show others that same love. It is in our living out God’s love in the world that God can be seen. We are meant to live incarnationally, embodying God’s love for the world in the world.

Knowing God implies knowing love. If we claim that we know God, but do not know God as seen in the Gospel—Jesus Christ crucified in our place—then we do not know the God of the Bible. However, when we come to know and experience Jesus as the Son of God who died for our sins, we cannot remain unchanged. John tells us that when we confess Jesus as the Son of God—experiencing the truth of the Gospel—God abides in us. So, it is not merely that a realization of God’s love induces a reaction, we are empowered by God Himself to love as He loves. We are changed.

Love—that supernatural thing that is beyond human ability—is only possible with God’s help, in the form of His abiding Spirit. Our capacity to love does not save us. Only Jesus by grace through faith saves. However, the love in our lives is an evidence of the changing power of God’s Spirit in our lives as saved people. If your life in Christ is not characterized by love for others, you really need to ask yourself if you really do know—if you have experienced—the life changing truth of the Gospel.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What Love Is (1 John 4:7-10)

As followers of Jesus, we are commanded repeatedly in the New Testament to love one another. (Just in this passage we get the exhortation multiple times: 4:7,8,11,16,19,21; 5:1.) Unlike becoming a follower—which we are incapable of doing anything to facilitate—being a follower is characterized by what we do. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are loving towards others.

So, what does that look like? How can we know if we are behaving in a way that would characterize us as true children of God? To know that we must first know what love is.

This is actually a huge problem for us. We have so many distinct understandings and ideas of what love is, that we can come up with a lot of different ways to be “Christian.” Some of them have so pervaded our culture that people have decided that we can live with the “benefits” of Christianity without having to believe in God or Jesus at all.

How does the world define love?

Most see it as a feeling. It comes and goes like a mood or a craving. It is hardly the sort of thing upon which to base anything substantial. But it is certainly a positive feeling. These people would argue for a Christianity where people simply remain positive and nice. It is the religion of politeness. This may seem like an other-centered idea of love, but it is really just about self, love as feeling is all about how the world treats me. I feel good when things are good. My goal in life is to be nice because I want the world to be nice. It is the most vacuous understanding of the Golden Rule. This is not the love that the Bible shows us.

Others—and this may be the majority position on the matter—see love as being all about sex. The warm-fuzzy feeling induced by a biological imperative to propagate the species. Or, in today’s culture, we can even drop any thought of reproduction. It is all about brain chemistry and there are any number of things that can trigger our pleasure centers. It is hard to imagine basing any form of Christianity on this base-level understanding of love. Only creepy-cultists and criminal-priests would try to build a theology here.

Higher minded people look to the sacrificial love of a parent or a soldier. And they come closer to the biblical idea of love, but again they fall short. Humanity can fathom sacrificing oneself for a child or a home-land. But this is still tangentially based on a cult of self.

The biblical concept of love is actually foreign to us. All of these other ideas may point in some way towards the concept, but they all fall hopelessly short. John tells us here that God IS love, so to begin with we are dealing with something beyond our created reality. But, God is knowable because He has revealed Himself to His creation. So, love is also something we can know, as we come to know God.

And the best picture of love ever put on display is presented here as the definition: Christ on the cross. God sending His only Son to die for people who had declared Him to be their enemy; people who had rejected and hated Him. The Gospel is our best example of love. It is the love that we aim for in our lives as we interact with other. It is John’s best test for authenticity in the follower of Christ. If we claim to know God, we will know Him as He showed Himself in the Gospel. If we claim to know God we will live our lives as examples of God’s love.

So, Christianity based on the Biblical idea of love is one where people no longer live for themselves. They don’t even live and love their own, the people of their family and community. True followers of Jesus live loving sacrificially towards everyone; even their enemies.

How is that even possible? Keep reading…

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Rogue One" (2016)

When I finally get around to making my 2016 list in film, “Rogue One” is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the most disappointing list. When we heard that we were getting more stories in the Star Wars saga, most people likely had a response that was a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Star Wars has given us some of the best and the worst stories in recent decades. The continuation of the main Saga has been acceptable so far. (But I reserve the right to hate it if things go the way they appear to be going.) But this “Star Wars Story” is quite the opposite case. It is a waste of everyone’s time.

First off, it is a story that didn’t need to be told. It was completely contained in the opening scrawl to the first Star Wars. There is no mystery as to what is going to happen. We know the outcome. We know that almost no one of significance from this story will ever be seen again, so we know their outcomes. And, there is no real mystery as to how the story went down.

Therein lies the second, bigger, problem. If there ever were people pondering how the events of the prologue to “A New Hope” occurred, “Rogue One” offers no good answers. All we get here are bad ideas that threaten to ruin the stories we do care about. The most important being: why did this story have to happen in the first place? When the message gets snuck out of the Empire and into the hands of the Rebellion, everyone is surely asking themselves: “Why didn’t the plans get snuck out too?” And, once we see the size of the plans, we find no plausible reason for them not to have been delivered up front.

And, much like the ill-conceived prequels, this movie only serves to further ruin a villain who used to be the epitome of cool-but-creepy. Only here, instead of making Vader a pathetic, whiney, brat, it has him so agile and mobile, we find ourselves wondering how he can become so stiff and slow what amounts to a few minutes later.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Stranger than Fiction

I enjoy conspiracy theories as an entertaining fiction. It is fun to imagine crazy realities, partly because such outlandish ideas are non-threatening in their unlikelihood. (Sort of how monster movies are fun but serial killer movies are too realistic to be simply entertaining.)

The best argument against every major conspiracy theory is their supposed secrecy. If the government had indeed staged the moon landings, for example, evidence would exist. There would be too many people involved for proof to not have been exposed. Instead, most conspiracy theories argue that a lack of proof is their best evidence. That is silly.

Take, for instance, the idea that aliens have visited our planet and that the government knows about it. This (silly but fun) theory tells us that every president, after they are sworn into office, are shown the proof of the alien threat. That theory would have us believe that there is an entire cabal of people who know about this “truth” and yet it has never gotten out.

If you believed that idea up until now, you would have to admit that it is officially hogwash. Trump would have been told about the aliens and it is not in him to keep such a secret to himself. If the aliens have come, the presidents are not hearing about it!

Trump himself has been the subject of a lot of outlandish ideas. He was just running to help Hillary. (That was wrong!) He didn’t really want the job, and was just in it to win and would turn the actual governing over to underlings. (Also, sadly, a thought that ended up not playing out.)

Instead, reality is proving to be stranger than fiction. Every day that goes by we experience a man who, through incompetence, ignorance, or delusional thinking, digs deeper and deeper into crazy scenarios. No self-respecting conspiracy theorist would try to float the things that have actually happened!

Our conspiracy minded friends are likely all a tizzy with ideas of what will come next. If there is a powerful Illuminati behind the scenes controlling everything it won’t allow such incompetence and ignorance to continue. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there isn’t.

If it weren’t so consequential, it would be entertaining. Oh, who are we kidding? It is entertaining! Isn’t that what we want now? This is what you get when a culture decides that reality TV is preferred over intelligent, character-driven, plot-with-a-message stories. Who wants a smart, beneficial-for-the-people, government when you can have a narcissistic, paranoid-delusional, center-of-the-universe, teen-ager running things?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Death (Genesis 23)

To my mind this is a strange inclusion in the text. Why is chapter 23 even recorded?

Well, for one thing we need to give some thought as to why it is not there. Some commenters try to tie this chapter into Paul’s allegory of the Child of the Promise and the Child of Slavery. (I didn’t say they were good commenters.) They say that we see in the death of Sarah, the passing of Israel. You should never allegorize Scripture. Only Scripture can break that rule, and when it does, it does not give us license to expand such allegories.

Instead, we see an important reminder. The Bible is the story of God’s intervention in history to bring about the reconciliation of fallen creation. Genesis shows us the beginnings of this plan. But this is a long game God is playing. When He chooses Abraham to bless all of creation and to be the forefather of the Messiah, He is going to wrap things up in a few years. Death is still an emanant threat. It is still an ever-present enemy and reminder of our rebellion. We continue to struggle against sin and death—and lose—for millennia. Even after Christ is victorious over sin and death, God still plays out His salvation plan. People continue to live and die, but just as we saw an aspect of grace in Genesis 3, we still see creation continue, God giving more time for more people to find their way back to Him.

Also, there is something here about being a sojourner in this fallen world with God. We do not have—or need—a home here in this fallen world. We are just “passing through.” And yet we do come “to rest” in death and await God’s ultimate restoration there.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ten Years

It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that it was ten years ago yesterday that I started writing here. In that time I have written 2465 posts; probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 750,000 words. What started as a discipline has developed into a habit and, hopefully, a skill. I plan to continue to use this space much as before, but in a less disciplined way. It is time to channel this more and more into other areas as well…

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A German Guiding Culture?

The big topic of conversation in German politics these days is the subject of “Leitkultur.” That translates roughly as a “guiding culture.” It is a concept that has been around since 2000, but with the current zeitgeist—what with Brexit, Trump, and the rise of nationalism—it is even more important today.

A couple days ago on of the leaders of the dominate political party wrote an opinion piece in a national newspaper outlining a ten-point-plan to protect and foment this guiding culture, not just for immigrants, but also for national children being brought up.

It has garnered a LOT of push-back. The guardians of multi-culturalism are not happy with the idea of pushing the home culture over others. But, it does not mean an extreme nationalism is being suggested.

Germany has a very strong national identity. Even when that national identity includes tolerance and openness towards others, it is still something outsiders identify very clearly. And it is not a bad thing.

Here are the ten points the De Maiziere outlined. Which of these would be a bad thing to make sure inhabitants of Germany are aware of?

1. Openness

(We show our faces, we say our names, we shake hands.)

2. Education

(We teach kids general knowledge things they need to know in life and work, even if they prefer not to learn them.)

3. Performance

(We have a high work ethic and want to accomplish the tasks we are given. When it is time to work, we work.)

4. Tradition

(History—both the good and the bad—inform how we live. The relationship to Israel, for example, following the events of WWII, is one that is special and maintained.)

5. Culture

(Philosophy and the arts are something Germany has contributed to all world culture. Germans should know about those contributions.)

6. Religion

(As the cement, not a wedge. Even in what is today a largely areligious society, it is still built on Christian values.)

7. Civility

(We interact in a civilized manner, following rules and respect. Germany is a consensus driven society. Much more consensus driven than a lot of other countries.)

8. Developed Patriotism

(We love our land without hating other lands. Germany’s history shows that unbridled love for one’s own culture can be a problem. A healthy appreciation for one’s own culture and country is what we aim for.)

9. European

(Germany does not want to stand alone or in isolation. A healthy relationship with one’s neighbors and the world are a much better way to exist. We are stronger and richer together than on our own.)

10. Shared Memories

(The places and experiences shared by the people who live in Germany inform their culture and society. People moving to Germany as well, as children growing up here, need to know about these places and events as well.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

One of the things that I loved about the first Guardians movie—despite the lighthearted, popcorn way in which it was delivered—was the way it focused on relationships. The Guardians went from a bunch of unlikable loners isolated from the world (galaxy!) to a group of friends who accepted each other’s personality flaws to give each other support. A defacto family.

Vol. 2 carries that atmosphere even further. The plot-line is almost just a hazy background against which the relationships play out. So many relational lines are in focus, you sort of lose track of the fact that there is a story happening. The Guardians continue to battle with each other as they bond and deal with the vulnerability that comes from being close. Former relationships they have had with people who were antagonists in the last film and dealt with. And behind it all, Peter Quill deals with daddy issues.

The film is just as funny as the first, with one liners making up a huge percent of the dialogue. However, there are also deep moments of strong emotion—if you are capable of seeing the humanity in comic book raccoons, trees, and aliens.

The final shot of the film—before the mandatory scenes thrown in and around the credits—is a beautiful moment of bittersweet sadness. Nothing like what one would expect from a tent-pole, summer blockbuster.

The first film was my favorite of 2014, and it will be tough work for any film to topple this as the year’s most enjoyable, repeatable story.

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