Posts made in June, 2013

A Small Reaction to Large Changes

Posted by on Jun 28, 2013 in Faith, Hope, and Love, RandoMusings

Cynicism is easy.
Sarcasm is a reflex.
Mockery is simple.

In light of all that has happened this week in the United States Supreme Court, all of the above attitudes have been at the forefront of public conversation. I’ve expressed them more than I would have liked and harbored them in secret to an exponentially greater degree.

But I don’t want to be that person. Someone else can be that person. I want to walk a different path, a narrower path. I don’t want to do what is easy; I want to retrain my reflexes, and I would rather be on the side of receiving mockery than giving it.

I want to invest in others not reduce their sense of worth. This does not mean agreement, nor does it mean validation, but it does mean holding captive not only my words but also my thoughts. At times, thoughts are as violent as language (if not more so), and maintaining silence is better than speaking a passive aggressive insult.

That’s it. No specific stories to tell. No wallowing in guilt. It’s just become clear to me throughout this week. I look at the world; sometimes I get angry, and I sin in my anger–if only in my mind, I fall short of a loving response. I play it is easy. But Christ desires better; Christ deserves better. By the power of His Spirit, I will be better, maybe slowly but ever-surely. How bout you?

Thank you for reading; have a great weekend!
C
 
 

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Interview on Stronghold with Covenant Eyes (and Christian Post)

Posted by on Jun 26, 2013 in Interviews, Offsite Content, STRONGHOLD

Dear Friends,

I am practically bursting with shock and excitement to direct you to a recent interview in which I participated, which is now available through not only the Covenant Eyes but also The Christian Post. Answering these questions was a joy and privilege, and new readers are finding the book as a result.

Thank you all for your support. This is a real moment for me, and I am happy to share it all with you!

C

PS – If you have read Stronghold, please put up an review on Amazon as well as iTunes (you can post the same review on each). Reviews provide a wonderful litmus test for readers, and I am sure you will all have valuable things to say (even if they are constructively critical).
 
 

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MAN OF STEEL: A Perspective

Posted by on Jun 26, 2013 in Reviews & Recommendations

On June 14, 2013, Superman returned to theatres with all the impact of an alien vessel crashing to earth, and I have to say I could not be happier–well, almost. Having seen Man of Steel twice now, I can confidently say that I am quite taken with Kal-El’s newest iteration, and I believe that the film will get better upon repeat viewings. Of course, I am on one side of a very polarizing fence; and like the film itself, this development is encouraging, for Man of Steel has divided audiences between its true believers and its bold antagonists, with members of each side bringing their best wits and analyses to a film that they believe warrants further conversation. What’s more, the matters being discussed reflect a very real sense of humanity in its audience, and for that, too, I am excited. Say what you will about Man of Steel: if nothing else, the film has proven itself to be a piece of pop culture art (for whatever that’s worth).

As I sat in my first IMAX screening of the film, I relished the choices made by the production team. They embraced the character’s science fiction origins unapologetically, both in terms of production design as well as narrative structure. Within the first twenty minutes, I knew I was taking a Superman journey that I had not taken previously, one focused as much on the end of Krypton as the emergence of earth’s “Super-man”; thankfully, as the closing credits rolled, this created expectation had been fulfilled, and I left not only feeling like I had seen a textured and interesting “alien invasion” film but also a strong, unique entry into the superhero genre. This is a film that expects to be taken seriously despite its otherworldly visuals and extraordinary events, and it’s a film that believes its stakes and its themes are important. These themes range from ideas of serious science fiction (evolutionary ethics, genetic determinism, and the penchant of sentient beings for destruction) to the timeless subjects of myth (identity, virtue, and sacrifice). While Man of Steel is a grand spectacle, it is also a personal story of one man trying to understand his place in the world; and though the action left me feeling a bit overwhelmed, the final scene brought a smile to my face that did not leave until well after I exited the theatre.

I processed Man of Steel over the next week before catching the film a second time on a regular screen, during which some of its shortcomings began to show themselves. For all of Lois Lane’s pro-active decisions, she gets herself in need of rescuing each time she braves the unknown. Inasmuch as Zod is a good foil for Superman, their mano-a-mano conflict feels superfluous given much of what we have seen, and it is tiresome by the time it ends (though, arguably, it closes with a compelling final moment). Whereas I saw Kal-El acting consistently with others in mind on the IMAX, I now saw him reacting with less regard for those his actions would affect–his emotional immaturity and lack of wisdom becoming far more evident the more I examined his choices. This aspect of his character, however, appears to be an intentional thematic choice, and that, too, became far clearer upon my second viewing–as did the dual meanings layered throughout the film (such as Krypton’s and Earth’s similarly violent and militaristic natures). Some visual cues were jarringly obvious on both viewings, but others I missed the first time were subtly beautiful on the next. And of course, the second time I saw the ending was even more wonderful than the first, because I had more opportunity to digest all that informed and earned that moment.

The movie’s ending is perhaps the best ending in a superhero film since 2005’s Batman Begins, and that film in particular is an excellent point of comparison for Man of Steel. Both films use flashback as a device to not only explain the present emotional condition of their respective protagonists but also inform the next decision they will make. Additionally, both films hit all the beats necessary for an origin story but do so in a way that feels fresh and organic within the context of the world created by the filmmakers. Each film also focuses not on an iconic superhero but on a real and imperfect being with whom we as an audience sympathize, and each film ends with that individual making questionable choices.

While Batman’s questionable choices seemed to be acceptable, Kal-El’s have gotten the filmmakers into a great deal of trouble.

Within 24 hours of Man of Steel’s release, the polarizing conversation began. Veteran comic writer Mark Waid provided his opinion of the film’s failures, and many others, seeing him as both an authority and comrade in their discontent, voiced similar dissatisfaction with the film. People who had concerns over WB’s choice of hiring the arguably excessive Zach Snyder as director and the perceived realist Christopher Nolan as producer now felt vindicated that their fears were realized, and they made sure to sound the alarm for others to avoid this new, failed treatment of one of America’s most beloved icons. Then, of course, the aggregators at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic began to show the polarization among critics, and the floodgates of disagreement broke open further.

Once I had seen the film myself, I entered into the fray and quickly found that Man of Steelsimply did not work for some viewers on any level, inasmuch as it struck resounding chords with me. Where some saw a stilted, incoherent screenplay, I saw an integrated narrative (both on the thematic as well as structural levels). Where some saw clunky camera work, I saw a consistent, genre-specific style. Some lamented the performance of Michael Shannon, whereas I valued the creation of an interesting though limited character. I felt that the shot composition was strong throughout the movie, and the CG elements–while always cartoonish in these types of films–were acceptable. In the end, I felt that the film’s choices, though unexpected in many instances, were earned.

Of course, the main issue on the minds of most folks was not the style but the substance, specifically the violence and collateral damage in the final sequences, which felt unbecoming to a Superman picture. On this front, I found myself more troubled but still siding with the filmmakers, to whom I will attribute sincere thematic intentions rather than exploitation. The destruction in the last hour feels like overkill, and Superman’s perceived lack of concern for this dilemma is disconcerting, depending on your take of the character. For some viewers, such as myself, this shows the audience a very imperfect Kal-El, the remnant of a violent breed, now brought down to his brutal nature through a contest with his peoples’ most brutal members. Given this, it is only at the moment that Superman takes his eyes off his relentless opponents and actually sees the humans near him in jeopardy that he refocuses his priority on the man he wants to be, not the amoral Kryptonian warrior that lives in his blood (who is similar to the very one against whom he is fighting). The invasion in this film is treated as the first real “battle” that Superman fights, and I accept that his attentions were focused, albeit incorrectly, solely on his foes rather than their victims (though in the Smallville sequence, we see him dividing attention from fighting the villains to rescuing the soldiers from time to time). The whole movie reflects on the consequences of Superman’s appearance to humanity, and we see that his doing so is costly. These are narrative choices I accept.

Others don’t. They see this disregard for those in jeopardy as a complete departure from Superman to the point that this alien hero is only an echo of the actual Kal-El they claim to know and love. Given their reading of the motion picture, I cannot convince them otherwise; I can explain only why I feel the choices of both the characters as well as the filmmakers are legitimate.

But so, too, are the concerns brought by the movie’s detractors. Frankly, the fact that Man of Steel is causing audiences to examine the destruction of cities as inappropriate entertainment is a good thing. The loss of human life in film, implied or onscreen, should give us pause. We should lament the high cost of freedom, salvation, and security in motion pictures, particularly when we are asked to invest in the people and the planet who pay that price. When we watch films without this concern, it cheapens human life, and we should rally against that. So, too, should we question our heroes’ actions. Thanks to a number of influences over the last several decades–Hollywood being a central one–we seem to have embraced foul-mouthed, adulterous killers as our heroes, but when Superman fails in one of these three areas, many people call foul–which in principle is wonderful. They should. Our heroes should be different than us—they should be better; they should be pictures of what we can be, not reflections of how foolish we tend to be. If a hero kills, we should question if it was necessary, if it was just, and if it was heroic. They should be held to a higher standard than anyone else, given their great power and abilities and position as role models. What makes their taking life more honorable or acceptable than the villains’? Is it because they act in service of saving it? Is that enough?

We should consider these things. And we are doing so when it comes to Man of Steel because of Superman, because of who he is and who we believe him to be. We have always held Kal-El to a higher standard. He is the Blue Boy Scout. He is the symbol of hope–the best mankind can be. Superman shares a great number of parallels to Jesus; and as such, many people find that he should be as faultless as Jesus. For this reason, some resent him for being too good, but they become equally as angry when he is not good enough. This film, perhaps more than any other before it, challenges the audiences expectations of Superman rather than fulfilling them, and some members of that audience have responded by rejecting the film in full, which is their right. Superman is, after all, bigger than any one film or iteration, and if this does not square with the character insofar as they see him, they are free to dismiss this film entirely.

I won’t, and I don’t want to either. I view all films through the Christ ethic, and Man of Steel’s particularly poignant connections to the Jesus narrative make the film all the more fascinating to me. Seeing the faults and failures of Kal-El, a Christ figure, reminds me of why I treasure and love the actual Jesus Christ to the degree that I do. Kal-El’s struggles gives me a hint–perhaps even an echo–of Christ’s own testing at the hands of the human race, whether to save or abandon them; but for all of his strengths, Kal-El is still only a mortal creature, not immortal creator incarnate; and as such, he is still open to making all the mistakes that we created beings do, even making choices with which we disagree. Watching Man of Steel borrow pieces of the Christ narrative directs me back to the true Christ narrative, and when a film does that for me, well, it strikes deeper places in my soul. For others, however, the very fact that Man of Steel’s protagonist’s falls short in the way he does discounts his similarities to Christ, altogether. If Kal-El is so divorced from saving the countless injured and dying of the invaded Metropolis, how could this Superman even remotely compare to the loving Christ?

And it is these conflicts–the responsibility of a hero, the nature of an icon, and the essence of a character that have made this film so ripe for discussion. I feel the filmmaker’s asked themselves all of these questions before a single draft of the screenplay was completed. Certainly they seem to be wrestling with Superman’s identity as much as Kal-El himself. And all of these questions surrounding Man of Steel are good questions to ask. While my interaction with the film was different than those who have heavily criticized it, I can only applaud them for such concerns. When a director places the audience into a cinematic realism, he or she creates in said audience the expectations of realism. The reason that the ludicrous destruction in G.I. Joe, Transformers, and the movies of Roland Emmerich do not enrage us (at least, not in the same way) is because these films ask nothing of us other than to be experience arresting imagery and the occasional bad joke. Man of Steel is not like them. It asks the audience to treat it seriously, and the audience did—and they are right to criticize it when they feel an apparent disregard for human life in its final act, in which losses would have been catastrophic but go seemingly forgotten. Does this failure destroy everything that came before? I don’t think so (particularly because of thematic reasons for it). But the fact that this topic has become a catalyst for an ongoing dialogue shows that the audience is sophisticated, and when you make demands of it, it will, in turn, make demands of you, which is a wonderful sign that we are not checking our brains at the door. The unseen dead of Metropolis found a voice in audiences, which tells me that the unseen wounded in reality can also. And this, too, fills me with hope, that if people will raise awareness for the fictionally forgotten or ill-used, that they will not remain silent when they encounter the same persons in reality. The film is also showing us that we still care about heroes, about the nature of heroism, and about Superman as a symbol. The discussion surrounding this film tells us that our heroes’ morality is open to criticism, and it should be, because if we cannot look to them to show us a better way, how are they heroes at all?

As much as I have delighted in the film itself, I think my experience with Man of Steel has been amplified by the effect I have seen it have culturally. The fact that people are standing up and saying, “This imagery is irresponsible” or “Superman wouldn’t do that” are moral statements, and it is good that so many audience members of genre films are taking umbrage when they feel violence is treated inappropriately in otherwise seriously-minded motion pictures. Even if I disagree with their particular criticism, I think it is wonderful that the film has people discussing these issues. As much as I loved the Avengers–and I did love the Avengers (my first viewing of it was my single most enjoyable theatrical experience since Speed Racer in 2008)–that film did not raise these types of moral questions in its audience. Even the Dark Knight Rises, last year’s most serious comic book outing, did not seem to raise this level of awareness about cultural iconography, characterization, and storytelling responsibility—people were too busy debating the amount of time it would take Bruce Wayne to travel across the globe at the act three turning point.

Man of Steel is forcing many people to engage the film beyond “liking it” and “not liking it”, it is demanding audience participation in regard to moral and, dare I say, spiritual issues. I have been truly spoiled by the bulk of the conversations I’ve had, because I have been able to engage with individuals on a number of these issues, and while we disagreed (vehemently in some instances), our discussions focused on the merit of argument rather than the all-too-common attacks on intelligence, taste, virility, or other fallacious currencies in which internet comment sections deal. The discussion was not only civil but also deeply personal, and I think that nearly everyone involved had a more nuanced view of not only one another but the film itself as a result (even those who did not like it seemed to appreciate that it spoke to others). I can only hope other discussions across the web (and in the real world) have been as fruitful as mine, for these are good conversations to have.

 
 

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Mark 9, Christ’s Glory, and Belief

Posted by on Jun 24, 2013 in Faith, Hope, and Love, Love of Scripture

“Help my unbelief.” What powerful words. They carry with them an inherent repentance, an acknowledgement of one’s taking ownership of his lack of faith and his knowing it to be wrong. Of course, they carry also a hope, that “unbelief” can be helped and corrected. Then they also carry with them the great longing of one who knows his own shortcomings cannot be self-repaired, and they show the speaker seeking aid outside of himself in order to be transformed and made right. “Help my unbelief”: a simple phrase, but a telling one that comes from the ninth chapter of Gospel of Mark, from a story which I have included in its entirety below. While full exegesis and countless sermons can be gleaned from the text, I am going to touch briefly only on the character of the father, and his beautiful prayer:
 
Jesus Heals a Boy with an Unclean Spirit

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

 

Before I get into my aforementioned thoughts, I just need to put out on the table that Jesus is awesome. I find that I become more enamored with him with each re-reading of his story in the Gospels, and frankly, part of that is because he just takes out demons like it’s his business. I love that. Demons torment and assault mankind, and Jesus stops them in their tracks and causes them to flee. That’s God at work, right there.

Now, back to the matter at hand. We have a father who brings his wounded son before the disciples for help, because he genuinely believes that they can aid him, and when they cannot, the man implores Christ personally for deliverance. Christ tells the man that it is possible, if he would believe, and the man answers by affirming, “I believe”, but then immediately follows this statement with a plea, “help my unbelief”, and in so doing, he displays a theological understanding that humbles me. In essence, he is saying, “I know that my belief is not to the degree it must be for your power to be shown to us all; therefore, make it all it should be so that your work can be done.” I find this interaction incredibly telling for three reasons.

First, the father acknowledges that his belief has been too weak to have effect. His belief brought him before the disciples, his belief led him to ask Christ directly, but once Christ challenges him that all will be possible through belief, the father longs to have his belief increased in order to be that about which Christ speaks. This implies that belief needs to reach a certain degree before it manifests its power, and a heart of humility will recognize its own lack of true belief and seek to correct it.

Second, this admonition places the power not in the believer’s hands but in Christ’s. The father admits that Christ must aid him in order to have the belief necessary for the healing to be possible. How humble and convicting! We modern believers claim to have right theology and strong belief by virtue of our own knowledge; but according to this passage, belief is wrought of Christ’s handiwork, not ours. Knowledge that Jesus casts out demons is one thing; believing that he actually will do so for one’s child is something else. This wonderful, brief prayer puts into Christ’s hands our ability to believe in him; it shows us that in order for us to believe in Christ as we must, we need him to get us there.

Third, Christ answers or, more specifically, Christ acts, and in so doing, affirms the man’s belief, honors his request, and gains glory simultaneously. The man asks that Christ help his unbelief; Chris does so and shows that because of the man’s belief the curing of the boy is now possible. Furthermore, inasmuch as the father is honored for his belief in the story, it is Christ in the end who is shown to be the hero who also retains the glory. Christ is the primary doer of good here. The father believes, but it is Christ who enables that belief and displays the powerful ends of that belief. Thus, Christ himself gains his rightful glory.

At least this has been my reading of the text. Again, I am just another layperson doing his daily devotions. I have neither the training nor skill to conduct a full exegesis of the passage, but what I can do is express my own response to it. And my response really boils down to the following:

Don’t we all need to ask for aid in this area? Do we not all need to recognize the plight of the father, the need for help believing, and is not beautiful that Christ can grant all such belief, which then results in Christ’s own honor and glory? When we constantly say, “this godly mission or that Christ-honoring task is impossible”, and the writers of the New Testament so consistently tell us that through God all things are possible, what more can we say to Christ than “help my unbelief”? What a potent, necessary cry from the believer to their Savior, and what profound outcomes it can bring.

 

 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Inclusion of this translation does not imply endorsement of this author’s thoughts by the copyright holders.

 

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A Dinner Dilemma: What Do You Disclose and When?

Posted by on Jun 21, 2013 in RandoMusings

Here’s the Scenario:

Marcus bakes a large Buffalo Chicken Pizza to split with his buddy, Tom. Marcus relishes his perfection of this recipe, and Tom is excited to experience the new flavor combination. The pizza is ready, and Marcus is ecstatic. He loves the creation and takes two pieces for himself, savoring his first large bite. Tom hopes to do the same, but he finds the blend of mozzarella, bleu cheese, and buffalo-marinara to be a bit much. What is the more loving response from Tom:

 

1) To eat the food he’s been given in hopes of developing a taste for it or, at least, not hurting Marcus’ feelings; then perhaps, later tell Marcus how he felt?
or
2) To gently inform Marcus that he doesn’t particularly care for what he’s been given, and he’d like Marcus to finish it, as he will enjoy it more than Tom will?

 

What do you think? I am on the fence. If I were Marcus, I would want #2, freeing Tom from the burden of having to eat something that he did not like and allowing me to enjoy more of a a food I savor. But I believe that #2 is also initially more difficult/embarrassing for both parties. What about you? Is there a better solution?

I am really looking for feedback here. This has been bugging me, not based on personal experience but consideration for the future.

 

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