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Friday, May 23, 2008

Video action - in my home

Hey, that's my pastor in the corner
He's wearing shades like James Dean
Rent or buy
They've got Chariots of Fire
And every flick I've ever seen

I shouldn't rent that James Bond movie
My conscience wouldn't leave my heart alone
R and X - you can't tell the difference
Maybe I can find some Sherlock Holmes

Video action
Video action
Near my home

from the song "Video Action" recorded by DeGarmo & Key in 1986

In my almost 38 years on this planet, I've noticed a trend. Things that used to be swear words are not swear words any more. When I was a kid, "crap" was a major Wirty Dird, and now it's the "clean" thing Christians say when they get frustrated instead of saying a "real" swear word. When I was a kid, "dang it" was what you said to keep from saying the "other" d-word... now the other one seems pretty commonplace. Now, I'm of a bit of a liberal mindset about swear words... I believe that the sin is not the word you choose to speak, but the anger or hatred or whatever is behind it... but it's disturbing to be that language has changed that way.

Last night I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark with my 8-year-old. We have a special DVD player from Clearplay that allows me to blank out violence, profanity, etc (click here to read about it)... although it does chop up Raiders a bit in some spots (watch it yourself and think about how gory some parts of it are) it was refreshing to not have to let my little boy hear Karen Allen say "I'm your g-d PARTNER!" But it got me thinking about swearing and how it has become so prevalent in even the politest culture. Even movies that people my age look on with fondness as "kid movies"... take E.T. for example... have swear words in them. Back then you wouldn't hear that kind of language on television... now you might hear it anywhere. Why is that?

Back when E.T. and Raiders were made, you actually went to the movie theater to see a movie. The VCR was a relatively new invention; DVDs were not anywhere near on the horizon yet. Even cable TV was still a little wet behind the ears, although HBO had been around for something like ten years by that time. By and large, I don't think cussing was something most people did in their living rooms; it was something they did in traffic, in bars, with their friends maybe, but yer grandma didn't do it because she wasn't really exposed to it. And movies did it because they weren't in your living room; they were in a movie theater. But when those same movies started to become available to take home and play in your living room, it brought the same moral lapses... profanity only one of them... into your house. Once they're there, they're part of your life and they become the norm. And suddenly kindergarteners know the F-word and aren't afraid to use it.

I would be stupid to try to blame the decline of western civilization on the VCR... things like that only bring out the darkness that's in our own sinful hearts already anyway. But it seems to me that it's made it possible for Hollywood to bring their version of reality much closer to being true.

(By the way, check out that Clearplay link... we love our player. I wouldn't have watched Raiders with my boy without it.)

Monday, May 19, 2008


This weekend my wife and son and I, along with another couple, went to see the new Narnia movie Prince Caspian. I have been a fan of the seven books ever since I was a child, and I was blown away by the first movie. Realistically, I was a little nervous about the movie, not because I didn't think it would be well-made and be a terrific story, but because the analogies to the Bible are not as... well, they're not as nursery-school as in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. This story requires some more mature thought to understand how it applies to Christian life. You have to be very intuitive... maybe the level of, I don't know, the average first grader... to see the Christian life in the story. Call me a cynic, but I was afraid the American Christian subculture, the ones that made the first movie such a success, weren't going to get it! Maybe I was wrong; apparently the movie topped the box office in its first weekend out, beating out even Iron Man, which seems to be the movie to talk about this summer. We'll see next weekend if that was because people liked the first movie so much, or because they liked this one.

Last week I read this completely missing-the-point review of the movie from the San Francisco Chronicle. It calls the movie "one of this year's biggest disappointments" which "lacks magic" and which has "no epic scale and no spirit worth talking about." A good bit of the review is about subjective things, such as character development and pacing, which are hard to argue with, not because I agree with them but because they are opinion. But the thing that I find the most... flabbergasting? Annoying? Frustrating? Is this: "The Christian allegory, unmistakable in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' is nowhere to be found in 'Prince Caspian.' Not even its former outlines are apparent. Alas, Lewis without Christianity just isn't Lewis." The fact that (at Lewis' own admission) Lewis never intended any of the Narnia books, even Lion, to be an "allegory" at all is apparently not something the author understands.

Yes, Aslan represents Jesus Christ. He dies and rises again. But listen closely: the Pevensie children are not the apostles Peter and John and Andrew and whoever. Edmund is not Judas Iscariot. The story is not The Gospel According to Clive Staples. The story is what it is. It is a story about what might happen if God created a world and populated it with talking animals, and that world needed saving. The messiah of Narnia is a talking animal, because it is a world of talking animals. One of the friends we went to the movie with told me that he was having trouble figuring out who represents what Bible character in Caspian... maybe that's because he misunderstood Lion as well.

So keeping in mind that Lewis had no intention of rewriting the Bible when he wrote his Narnia books, let's think about the Bible itself for a second. Let's think about Noah and the ark. Let's think about Esther and Jonah and David & Goliath and Job. Are those stories about Jesus and His death and resurrection? No, they are not, although it could be (and has been) argued that you can find things in those stories that point that direction. Aslan can't very well die and resurrect in every installment of Narnia, can he? If he represents Jesus Christ, that would actually be quite blasphemous (Jesus died once and for all, not multiple times: Romans 6:9-10). Prince Caspian tells more of the history of Narnia. Aslan is present in the story, but not quite in the way he was in Lion (although if you remember, he didn't exactly turn up in the first ten minutes of that movie, either!)

Prince Caspian is, in some ways, a more down-to-earth representation of the Christian life than Lion. The Pevensie children are faced with a challenge, and they rise to the occasion. This is real life, although most of us don't live our real life shoulder to shoulder with minotaurs and centaurs. Egos get in the way of making wise plans, as when Peter presents the foolhardy plan of attacking Miraz's castle and will not listen to Caspian's objections, which are based on first-hand knowledge: "You called us," Peter arrogantly says, shutting up the only person with real understanding of the strategy they needed to follow. Caspian then lets his own personal issues undermine the plan, which might have worked anyway if executed as intended. I keep remembering a scene afterward, when Peter, brooding over his defeat and the loss of life caused largely by the personal failures of his own leadership, is sitting staring at a huge mural of the not-yet-present Aslan. It reminds me of times in my life when things didn't work out for me, and I sat wondering when God was going to help out.

There are smaller lessons for smaller people, too. I had a discussion with my eight-year-old about a scene where the entire army of Narnia's enemy is about to cross a bridge, and little Lucy appears on the other side, apparently all alone. Lucy smiles at the army of her enemies, and pulls out her tiny dagger. The reason Lucy can smile is that she knows that although we (and Miraz's army) can't initially see him, Aslan is right behind her. Echoes of David and Goliath, for sure. in the end, Lucy does not have to use her dagger... Aslan wins the battle then and there.

In one earlier scene, Lucy wakes up to the sound of a lion's roars. She gets up without waking the others, wandering off into the woods alone, and finds Aslan waiting for her. My little boy asked me, isn't that bad to go into the woods by herself like that? It gave me the chance to explain that yes, it is dangerous for a child to go off by him or herself, but Lucy had heard the voice of Aslan. When we truly hear the voice of God giving us instructions, sometimes there may be risk involved, but if it is the voice of God, our safety is guaranteed. (As it turns out, Lucy was dreaming... when she wakes up for real, she wisely wakes Susan before going anywhere, which is also a good thing for a child to see and understand.)

Peter and Caspian aren't the only ones whose personal failures cause problems... in the course of the story Aslan appears to Lucy several times, but although she joyfully tells the others about seeing him, she does not actually follow him, as she knows he intends for her to. When she finally finds him, she asks him if she could have averted some of the bloodshed if she had followed him as she knew she should. Aslan tells her that the could-have-beens are not what matters. What a lesson to each of us! We fail God on a daily basis, but we can't erase those failures and correct them... time continues moving in a forward direction, and we have to continually take the situation as it now is and seek God's plan B, C, D, or Z, until we stop messing up and get it right.

Surprisingly, the character who does not fail in his duties in this movie is the much-maligned Edmund, who made such a mess of things in the first story. In a scenario created for the movie which is not in the book, Edmund actually rescues Caspian and Peter from making the colossal error of reawakening the White Witch (the situation is alluded to in the book as a possibility, but in the movie version it almost happens). Again, it shows how sometimes the wrong choice seems so right, and it takes the help of a friend to (in this case literally) shatter the illusion that wrong is right.

In the end, Peter goes through a grueling one-on-one battle with the evil usurper-to-the-throne Miraz, finally beating him but refusing to execute him (the agreed-upon outcome of the to-the-death battle) humbly deferring to Caspian (the true rightful king of Narnia) that honor. Caspian takes the killing sword but refuses to execute Miraz, who is then killed by one of his own men with a Narnian arrow in order to make the battle continue (the one-on-one battle was supposed to determine the winner of the war without extending the fighting). Caspian is the true rightful king of Narnia; it is his throne to begin with. Then his side beats Miraz in a fair fight, earning back the throne again, but still they face a horrible bloody battle. This is when Aslan steps in and crushes the army that has come against his people.

Why doesn't Aslan come on the scene earlier? Lucy asks him that same question. "Nothing happens the same way twice," Aslan tells her (a bit ironically, Aslan says this same line twice in the movie!) This is the primary thing people need to keep in mind when watching this move. It is NOT The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The Lion and the Witch do both appear, of course, but the wardrobe, such an important part of the first story, does not (the children get into Narnia this time through a train station and out through a tree root... seriously!) This is a different story. The stakes are different; the characters are different (the Narnians from the first movie died hundreds of years ago); the way it works out is different. What is not different is that the believers in Aslan face opposition, a crisis, just as believers in Jesus do; the Narnians must fight their enemy, just as believers in Jesus do; the Narnians make mistakes, and sometimes they have grave consequences and casualties, just as Christians do in real life; and at the right time, just when everything is hopeless and the Narnians have come to the end of their rope, Aslan comes in and wins the battle. This is the character of the God of the Bible. This is life as we experience it. God does not expect us to sit around and do nothing when evil strikes, but when the battle becomes too much for us, He brings salvation.

Prince Caspian is every bit as much of a Christianity-based movie as The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Hopefully, Christians will take the time to think about it and understand the more complex issues in the story. If they are lost in this movie, they will be even more lost in later installments; it only gets more involved (and thus, more meaningful) from here on out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jarring Front Page

I'm not sure whether to be disgusted or amused by the front page of today's Tulsa World. There is a huge headline in the middle of the page that says DOZENS OF HOMES LOST, headlining a story about a tornado this weekend that virtually wiped out the little town of Picher, Oklahoma. Directly above that headline was another: iPhone Shortage.

Well, at least the Picher headline is in bigger print than the iPhone one.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Open Spaces

Kennedy Building LobbyI really love the building where I work. I work on the ninth floor of a 10-story building with a open-air atrium in the middle of the building, just like a fancy hotel. I can take about a dozen steps at any time, walk through my office door and one other, and see essentially what you see at left. That's the "down" view... the "up" view isn't quite as spectacular, but it's still cool to look upward because there are skylights that you can see outside through. I guess to me there's kind of a symbolism. I used to try to make up a proverb based on the view, something like: Looking down is fatalistic, looking across is realistic, but looking up is inspiring! ...but I never came up with anything that was really that pithy so I eventually kind of quit bothering to think about it. But the truth is, when I get out there and look over the edge into that big open space, whether I'm looking up or down... I'm kind of inspired. Refreshed. What is it about open spaces that is so cool? Why do people flock to see a place where a river reaches a cliff and the water falls off into empty space? Why do people go up on mountains where almost everything around them is empty space? Is it a subconscious reminder of how huge God is? Well, whatever it is, I love it. I actually have a really nice view through my window, too, but the glass of the windows doesn't open. It's not the same. I suppose there may be an element of danger in the whole open-spaces thing... there's not much danger of falling through a closed window, but one false step out in the hallway and I could easily plunge nine stories to my death on the marble floor below. Hmm... maybe there's an element of remembering your own mortality in the whole thing, too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Good News Is Not News

I'm reading a book called The Rock That Is Higher: Story as Truth by Madeline L'Engle, and she said something that got my attention. She was talking about how seldom we see anything positive on a news broadcast. Usually it's all about crimes, or tragedies, or unpleasant trends and statistics. If there's nothing heinous enough locally, the local newscasters will tell you about the crimes and tragedies in other states or other countries... they're not particular. We rarely see stories about, to quote Mrs. L'Engle, "love, and marital fidelity, and friendship, and compassion, and concern." "Good news is not news" is part of one sentence in that paragraph, meant to indicate something negative about society... but when I read that sentence, I thought... GOOD! I'm so glad that good things are so commonplace that they are not newsworthy. Every day the sun comes up... it never makes it on the news. It is commonplace. I take a shower every morning... thank GOODNESS that one never made it onto the news! Common things are not newsworthy. A man helping his brother out of a financial jam. An older man stopping to help a young woman out by pulling jumper cables out of his trunk. A little girl helping her crying friend up from a fall on the playground. The men and women working day in, day out in soup kitchens and fire stations and police squad cars and free medical clinics and all the other places where people help out other people. If those things were unusual, they would be newsworthy. Let's pray that we never see the day where the news items are all about the one guy in town who did something nice for someone else, because everybody else was doing bad stuff all day long. It might make for a rosy newscast, but it would make for a lousy life.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Sign

Back in this post I introduced something I've been thinking about for some time now... whether it is "correct" to believe God because of "signs" or not. Should miraculous occurrences form an essential number of the threads that make up the cloth which is my faith? Jesus often seemed to make statements to the contrary:
Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation. -Mark 8:11-13
It seems like the temple authorities were fixated on demanding a sign from Jesus, but then He kept performing miracles and they still wouldn't believe in Him (see John 12:37-41 for an example and explanation from the Old Tesatment). However, verse 42 makes it clear that some of the temple authorities believed, and the regular people clearly had no trouble believing in Him because of the miracles. Jesus sometimes seemed annoyed with the idea that people would not believe in Him without miracles (notice verse 48), but in this passage we find Jesus saying:
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. -John 10:37-38
It seems to me that we all, almost without exception, require some sort of sign in order to truly believe. Most people seem to at least have an emotional experience at the time when they accept Jesus as their Savior. I realize this is an internal "sign," but it is a sign nonetheless. And if Jesus performed miracles then, in part in order to demonstrate His Divinity, then what is to make us think that God would do less today? God never changes, and Jesus also said His Church would do "greater works" than the ones He did. (I won't even begin to speculate on what He meant by "greater works" in this post!) I just have to conclude that God does indeed intend for His children to allow Him to prove Himself today through miracles.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


The new Ben Stein movie Expelled is about how "intelligent design," belief in which is similar to but not the same as belief in Biblical creation (creationism actually falls under the category of intelligent design theories), has been marginalized by the atheistic intellectual elite. Christians believe in intelligent design by a creator we call God. Other religions believe similar things about similar deities. Some people believe that life was placed on Earth by an alien intelligence (I'm serious, and so are they).

The alternative to ID is of course evolution, which says that the things that exist are not the product of a designer but of chance over time. Given enough time, the theory basically goes, the right conditions will eventually occur and life will begin to exist. There may be fits and starts, but we are theorizing that we have plenty and PLENTY of time, here.

Have you noticed that all of those theories have something in common? The common factor is something eternal. For the person of faith, that thing that is eternal is a deity. For the alien theorist, presumably the aliens either have been around forever, or something created them and something created that. For the evolutionist, maybe the universe has been around forever... although sciency types will generally tell you that the Universe started with a Big Bang, but before that bang there was something that went bang. So that something is, for all intents and purposes, eternal. Or maybe they'd say that time is eternal, or the laws of chance are eternal. But something goes on forever.

Now, if you notice, the longer you think about things like this and the further back you go, the more like the Judeo-Christian God it all starts to look. God is eternal and He is the creator of everything. Now, in some aspects things are different... God is not from another planet (He made them all) and He is not mindless and random. But the more closely you examine just about anything, the more God you will see in it.

I wonder who the aliens think created them?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Commanding Winds

I was listening to an audio recording of Luke Chapter 8, and I got to one of the stories about Jesus calming a storm at sea, and a question occurred to me: what about the tornadoes in China?

There is a principle (I guess it's actually a theory, because it is 100% untestable unless you have a time machine) called the "butterfly effect" which basically says that anything that changes the movement of air anywhere, including the movement of a butterfly's wings, drastically changes the weather everywhere forever. Careful, don't sneeze... you could cause the hurricane that wipes out the whole eastern seaboard! Yikes, what a responsibility! Anyone who sits in front of The Weather Channel for more than five minutes knows that the weather "here" and the weather "there" definitely have something to do with each other, no matter where "here" and "there" are. So here's the question: when Jesus quieted a storm, did He know what the ramifications of doing that might have been and know that it would be OK? What if quieting that storm was going to cause a storm somewhere else... would He have done something different (just give the boat safe passage through the storm or something, for example)? Did He do it without bothering to deal with those kinds of ramifications? Or did he supernaturally enclose that weather pattern somehow so other parts of the world were not affected?

Maybe Jesus the Son just messed with weather willy-nilly and God the Father sorted it out later. Or maybe Jesus wasn't only dealing with that one storm, but with all related weather patterns all at once... although it does seem like He specifically address the weather directly around Him.

Or maybe the butterfly effect theory is the stuff of science fiction and doesn't apply to anything outside of computer models of the weather, and maybe God is outside of time itself and already knows all the details of everything that is going to happen and it's all going to turn out OK in the end. But it is interesting to think about, isn't it?