Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jesus: Red, Blue or Other?

Christianity (or Evangelicalism, as we have been so dubbed in the Western world in recent years) has become a powerful political force. More and more people have come to the realization that Jesus really wasn't a Republican after all. He did certain things that defy conservatism. Al Franken and Don Simpson wrote the now famous comic The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus, which has made quite a stir even in evangelical circles, garnering a mention in Donald Miller's Searching For God Knows What. So is Jesus a liberal?

Mark 5:25-34 may give us some idea of his political affiliation at least in one instance. Here we have a case of a woman who has endured a long battle with some debilitating infirmity, which one version renders "hemmorhage." It's not my intent here to delve into the specific nature of her condition, but verse 26 tells us that she "had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse."

Jesus goes on to heal the woman, in spite of the fact that he is in a tremendous hurry to help someone far more wealthy and politically important. What I find interesting is Jesus' reaction to the woman. When he does decide to help her, how does he do it? Does he raise awareness of the evils of commercial healthcare, and petition Rome to institute healthcare reform? Does he find her a lawyer who can fight for her in the civil courts to at least win some money from the doctors who fleeced her?

No, he doesn't react to her in any way that can be deemed political. The Greek word from which we derive politics is polis, which means "city" or "nation." A politician is one who works as a mediator and leader in such settings. He does not act alone. All that he does must concern a large number of people.

Jesus, however, acts alone here. He doesn't ask for permission. He doesn't get a permit. He heals her on the spot. Here we have real power and real love. Here we have a man who needs no party platform, funding or election to perform his social action.

And here is the issue as I see it. Jesus is not interested in politics when it comes to establishing his kingdom. He is an advocate for the poor to be sure, but his advocacy starts and ends with him. What does Jesus say when the disciples are freaking out about the five thousand hungry people in their care? "You give them something to eat." He doesn't tell them to ask someone else (other than himself) for help.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us no information on Jesus' politics, except this-that if any change is to come in this world, it's not going to be through government, but through people. Jesus has set the standard for us as Christians to attack social ills at their core, to enter into these very complex problems personally. The incarnation is the theology of personal involvement. If we want to see change and bring healing and help to those in need, we can't depend on the government to do it for us.

And I do understand that most of us, especially in the West don't quite have Jesus' magic touch, and we will need group involvement in this mission to the unfortunate. However, as a Church we need to own this vision. Instead of trying to fight against welfare and social healthcare politically, if the Church with all the people in it would do as Jesus did and personally deal with social ills face-to-face we would put the need for welfare and social healthcare on the shelf.

Now, I am not going so far to say, as some like Gregory Boyd have, that we need to leave politics alone. Some of us may feel a pull in the direction of politics, and that's fine. There's nothing wrong with government. It's a necessity, and the Bible does not disparage it. But it is not the means of salvation. It is only a retaining wall (and a flimsy one at that) to check human evil.

Now, I have a feeling all that I've written (and in the above paragraph especially) can be reduced to the tenets and talking points of one or two of the political parties out there. But I dare you to try to fit Jesus into the party platforms of the big three and see what happens. He wields power like a neocon in a crusade on terror, but the terror he fights is metaphysical; yet he demonstrates love like the democrats who fight for the rights of those who have no voice.

Is Jesus red or blue? Thankfully, it seems that he, like any good artist, doesn't restrict himself to the use of one color or the other, and if the parties involved would take a closer look, they'd probably find a myriad other colors in there that defy political duplication.

Gary Wills has written a phenomenal opinion piece in the New York Times that deals with this subject as well. Check it out: Christ Among the Partisans.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What's So Special?

Where is the special effect?

I've been workig on a movie for about a year now. I wrote the original script in December of last year, and I've been pecking away at the thing ever since. In the last few months Jim and Scott have been helping me shoot it. The other day we finished a scene that takes place at a gas station. It's a montage of me pumping gas, and one of the shots shows the credit card reader as I swipe my Visa. The white outline of a visa insignia set against the black metal of the card reader is visible in the shot, and I got to thinking about what I would need to do if I had to remove the symbol. Technically, it wouldn't be that difficult; it would just take a lot of time (for me, at least. I know some kid half my age could probably do it in 15 minutes, but it would take me a few hours, as I would have to take each frame into Photoshop and paint the thing out).

If I did that, I feel confident you wouldn't be able to tell. It would be as if there never had been any insignia visible in the shot. So in this case, the special effect is not designed to draw attention to some detail, but to make the shot nondescript.

It got me thinking that the best special effects are those that don't draw attention to themselves. They're special not because they look special, but because they look real. They fool you into thinking that no sleight of hand has taken place.

An example: The two images shown above both contain special effects. In the photo at right from Matrix Reloaded, Neo fights a few Agent Smiths, and while it's some nice eye candy, we all know it's fake. Our suspension of disbelief (if it's still intact in this case) compels us to forget that it's fake. On the left we have a single frame from Citizen Kane. In this case, it looks as if nothing much is going on: no CG, no gliding through the air with keyed-out wires, but there is a special effect. In actuality, Orson Welles in the foreground is not even in the room at the same time as Joseph Cotten and Everett Sloane in the background. They had a scheduling conflict that prevented all three actors from being present at the same time, so in this case the special effect was used to make it look like they were all there together. And for me it worked. I would not have ever known that the three actors weren't together if I hadn't been the uber film nerd that listens to Roger Ebert's commentary on the film.

It may seem like a leap, but my next thought deals with God. I thought it was interesting that we always hear people demanding signs from God. We want to see something special that will prove He exists. We want miracles. It all of a sudden seemed a bit ironic that we demand flashy signs from God, when (if He is as creative and powerful as the Bible says He is) there should be no hint of unreality in His work. What's special about His creation and His work is not so much the miracles of healing or walking on water, but the miracle that the human body works in the first place or the incredible wonder of the laws of physics and hydrodynamics that make things like reflections in a lake or the grandeur of pitching barrels at Pipeline possible.

These "mundane" things-the chemical, physical and biological processes that make things work-are so special, so miraculous, because in spite of all their complexity and intricacy, we take them for granted as being normal.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Grave of the Fireflies

I watched a movie on Wednesday that hit me in the gut: Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies. It's not an easy film to watch. Like any good Indie, it has a quality about it that is kind of slow and contemplative. It sure isn't a date movie, but it is well worth watching for a number of reasons.

First of all, it introduced me to something in our history that I knew nothing about. We've all heard of the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which have been cited as primary causes of the end of the war, but I had never heard of what came before: firebombings. Firebombing had been used in Europe in the bombing of Dresden, but it was the U. S. General Curtis LeMay who would perfect the procedure in the Pacific arena (B-29's over Korea).

The concept was utilized a number of times before LeMay decided to outfit the B-29 bombers with more explosives, and on March 9-10, 1945 the tactic was eployed to devastating effect over Tokyo . The death toll from that one night range from 80,000 - 100,000 people in one night (see: The Atlantic, B-29's over Korea, Wikipedia, AP story).

"The conflagration caused by the incendiary bombs quickly engulfed Tokyo's wooden residential structures, creating a firestorm that replaced oxygen with lethal gases, superheated the atmosphere, and caused hurricane-like winds that blew a wall of fire across the city. As a result of the attack, 10 square miles of eastern Tokyo were entirely obliterated, and an estimated 250,000 buildings were destroyed. " (from The History Channel).

I feel cheated that I never learned about this. I consider it to be a dark blot on our history, and I'm no pacifist. But when innocent civilians are massacred in a hellish inferno I think that's a pretty dastardly deed! So we didn't have concentration camps, but what the hell is this about anyway? Who are we? We're the frickin' United States-land of the free and home of the brave. I'm not saying this to cast doubt on our nation, but to to remind we who may one day have some say in the bigger goings-on to remember that even though war is necessary, the killing of innocents is intolerable. We get pissed when a few terrorists kill under 4,000 people on September 11. We are incensed when less than 3,000 people are killed in a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, but we never even hear or care about one night in which our forces slaughtered over 80,000 people-the large majority of whom had nothing to do with the war effort!!!!

I could go on, but you get the point. The firebombings continued over Japan until June and proved to be quite "successful," destroying the urban centers of some "66 Japanese cities" (The B-29 Strategic Air Campaign Against Japan
by Henry C. Huglin
, see p. 232 and following under Incendiary Strikes from The Strategic Air War Against Germany and Japan: A Memoir, by Haywood S. Hansell Jr.).

Grave of the Fireflies chronicles life in the shadow of these raids. It follows an orphaned brother and sister and how they cope with life in such a climate. Some might consider this movie anti-war or anti-American propaganda, but after reading the facts on the issue, they seem to have played the material pretty straight. In fact, the film in no way lets any one off the hook. More screentime is dedicated to showing the villainy displayed by the protaganist's own countrymen and, unfortunately, by the protagonist himself.

The movie's great. The way Takahata portrayed the little sister, Setsuko, was so inspired. I saw my daughter in that little girl, and even though the movie seems to plod along at times, like life, you get to the end of it and look back, and those little moments that seemed insignificant mean so much more than the explosions and one-liners we like to pretend really matter. The film taught me something new about history, and in a gut wrenching scene toward the film's end, reminded me that pride can be just as devastating as the worst firebombing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fighting Taxes

I just saw a video headline on Yahoo about an Indiana man who fought his rising property taxes in a creative way. See what you think:

AP video

If the link goes bad, check out the story Here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New Videos

I've been on hiatus a while, so now I'm making up for it:

First, here's a short clip showcasing Andy's frontside layback. While I've been told we're f***ing horrible at skating, I still think Andy has a nice layback:

The next two are from our youth group's trip to Costa Rica. These are just little shorts giving a taste of what we did down there.

The first shows the village we visited outside the capital city of San Jose:

The second shows our youth group giving surf lessons in Jaco, Costa Rica.

And finally, the video that five of you have been waiting for: the cricket video, also known as "WWJTBE?" or "What Would John The Baptist Eat?"-

Alright-tell me what you think!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Snake Alert

I'm visiting my sister-in-law and her family in Alabama. Tonight all the kids were outside playing, and one of the neighbors' kids ran over screaming that he'd seen a snake. I thought it was a false alarm, but we all trekked over just in case.

Sure enough the kid wasn't telling any tales. It was a scary looking snake with a tell-tale triangular shaped head letting us know that while he wasn't a rattler he was poisonous. Kevin, my brother-in-law, retrieved his .22, but I convinced him to let me try to catch it.

My niece Rachael got a cloth bag and I rounded up a push broom to pin his head down. The plan was to put him in the bag and twist the top of the bag so he couldn't get out. Then I'd take him to some remote location without curious dogs and young children nearby.

My first attempt at pinning him down brought out him down only ticked him off and he emitted an odor that would make a skunk wince. It took me a number of attempts to finally pin him down and to muster the courage to grab his neck with my hand. I've never tried to catch a poisonous snake before, and I was a bit sheepish.

I managed to get him in my hand, put him in the bag and release my hold of him without him getting a hold of me, but the bag was a bit smaller than I'd thought it was, and he was quite a bit larger, so within a few seconds he'd escaped and with him went all my drive to make a second attempt.

So Kevin shot him. I felt kind of bad. I really wanted to catch the thing, but, quite frankly, the thing freaked me out.

We're pretty sure it was a Cottonmouth-odd since we're nowhere near water. Of course, with the massive droughts we've all been having as of late, I guess it's no wonder.

Here are some pics:

Monday, May 21, 2007

Inside Man

Inside Man is a heist caper with a twist, which should come as no surprise since heist capers generally exist for the twist. Nonetheless, Russell Gewirtz’s script provides a twist that is both satisfying and largely unexpected. Clive Owen is great as Dalton Russell, the man behind the heist, and the script keeps you guessing about his intentions. This is not to say that the whole movie follows suit. Sloppy and clichéd characterizations of the main characters including those played by Denzel Washington, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Willem Dafoe weaken the movie considerably.

For instance, in an attempt to make Washington’s Detective Keith Frazier look like a real man, the writer gives line after line of uninspired verbal foreplay between Frazier and his girlfriend. They are static throughout the film: sex-crazed over each other at the beginning and sex-crazed over each other at the end. Though there is little actual screen time devoted to this relationship, the time that is spent with them makes the film feel immature.

Some of the comic bits come off as forced, much of the time the music doesn’t seem to fit what’s onscreen, and some of the choices in cinematography stick out like a pair of sore thumbs.

Before I get into my complaints about the camerawork, let me preface this by saying that I have been reading some books on film in the last few years, and they list all these rules about what types of camera angles should be used, and what makes for a “good” shot, etc. Like most everyone, I kept asking, “Well, why does it matter?” But it wasn’t until I saw this movie that I realized that these rules do make sense. So please forgive this momentary trip into the theoretical, but the two following examples taught me something about camera use that I had never really considered before.

The first is a montage of Russell (Clive Owen) after the heist is in full swing that climaxes with an orchestral flourish and a very overt shot that employs a rotating camera around Russell standing in the vault. My wife and I looked at each other wondering, “What was that about?” There was nothing new or climactic about the moment, but the importance with which it was handled made you think it had some special significance. Another such use of odd camera work was found in a scene between Jodi Foster and Peter Kybart, designed to further establish Jodi Foster’s character as one tough cookie. This scene, too, uses a revolving shot; this time around Foster and Kybart. And it’s just distracting. I see this revolving crap used a lot these days, and very rarely is it used in a way that actually adds something to the scene at hand. A simple separation sequence between person A and person B would work just fine, but it’s as if directors and cinematographers are convinced that every shot needs to look cool. The problem with this practice is that when striking moments are needed, you’ve already depleted your arsenal of striking shots, so the real climax is now robbed of some of its grandeur by irresponsible use of dramatic camera work when it’s unnecessary.

This same scene with Foster and Kybart is also filled with explicit language that shrunk my suspension of disbelief to the size of a mustard seed. And now, I’m going to follow one more rabbit trail to a long-held pet peeve of mine. When Jack Nicholson is onscreen in The Departed spewing the F-word over and over, I believe it. I mean the guy means business. I may not agree that this kind of language is good or proper, but it does make sense in context. It doesn’t feel contrived or forced. But, sometimes people throw expletives in to make them sound cool, and it just doesn’t work. Even in Pulp Fiction, as soon as Tarantino shows up on his cussing binge, he’s lost me. He’s not a realistic cusser. He sounds ridiculous. His writing is incredible, but his delivery of it is just not credible. The same goes for these two here in this scene. It’s not believable. It reminds me of a kid who’s gone to a Christian school all his life then shows up as a freshman at a public high school and starts trying to impress people by cussing. As before with the camerawork: if you’re going to use striking language, use it when its convincing and actually adds some punch to the narrative line or adds some color to the characters.

In spite of all these negatives, I was impressed by the overall narrative and theme, and this is a testimony to the fact that the screenwriter’s role is very important. Without the clever plot, the movie falls apart, and even with all its foibles the movie succeeds (at least partially) because the screenwriter had a good idea and wrote a good story. He didn’t write necessarily the best dialogue or protagonist character development, but overall, I’d say he did a pretty good job. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a great little bit in the middle of the film in which a captive boy shows Russell his new favorite PSP game. The game looks very similar to Grand Theft Auto, and we get to see the action as Owen directs his character onscreen to shoot someone. After the opponent has been reduced to an unconscious heap on the side of the road, text pops on screen that says, “Kill that N****!” a command he obeys as the character’s head explodes. Russell looks up at the boy in wonder as the kid congratulates him for robbing the bank. Russell responds: “I have to talk to your father about this game.” Now, that’s some good social commentary!

** out of ****

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Inevitable Destination

Ron Hart used the following quote in an editorial he wrote attacking government that thrives on the people’s dependence upon it and its dangers (you can read his whole article here: The Dual Threat to Freedom.

from bondage to spiritual faith;
from faith to courage;
from courage to liberty;
from liberty to abundance;
from abundance to complacency;
from complacency to apathy;
from apathy to dependence;
from dependence back into bondage.

Hart emphasized the step involving liberty and gave a plug for his particular political persuasion as a Libertarian. It’s an interesting application of the quote, but I think the quote itself has much more to say to the human condition than just advocating a burgeoning political party. Historically this little apothegm has so much going for it, and though I think its message is pretty simple it is clear that no matter how obvious the truth can be, it will nevertheless be forgotten, especially once we’ve turned the corner on liberty and embraced abundance. From that point there just seems to be no stopping the juggernaut of human lust; not until we’ve run headlong into slavery. The Tao Te Ching has it that the best way to rule a people is to “empty their minds and fill their bellies, weaken their wills and strengthen their bones.” Let’s try to remember that when organizational entities of any kind (whether they be governments, corporations, religious institutions, et al.) dangle carrots before us. They’re not doing it out of kindness, though they may think they are, but out of their nature as humans to careen toward bondage.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Faith and the Fall

The following passage was taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. While the book did keep my attention, I felt a bit cheated at the end (kind of like watching Season 3 of Lost). Not only did it have a certain deus ex machina quality, but it also seemed to devolve into an overt racist parable. Poe totally lost me, so if any of you can shed some light on his true intent in this story, I’d appreciate it.

In spite of my confusion at his unwieldy resolution, I really appreciated the following passage, which gives a vivid description of the fear of heights. And like many of Poe’s descriptions of human sensation and emotion, this one really illustrated, for me, an ingrained part of human nature, which I discuss below. So, put on your 1837 thinking cap and give it a look:

It was some time before I could summon sufficient resolution to follow him; but I did at length attempt it. Peters had taken off his shirt before descending, and this, with my own, formed the rope necessary for the adventure. After throwing down the musket found in the chasm, I fastened this rope to the bushes, and let myself down rapidly, striving, by the vigor of my movements, to banish the trepidation which I could overcome in no other manner. This answered sufficiently well for the first four or five steps; but presently I found my imagination growing terribly excited by thoughts of the vast depth yet to be descended, and the precarious nature of the pegs and soapstone holes which were my only support. It was in vain I endeavored to banish these reflections, and to keep my eyes steadily bent upon the flat surface of the cliff before me. The more earnestly I struggled not to think, the more intensely vivid my conceptions, and the more horribly distinct. At length arrived that crisis of fancy, so fearful in all similar cases, the crisis in which we begin to anticipate the feelings with which we shall fall – to picture to ourselves the sickness, and dizziness, and the last struggle, and the half swoon, and the final bitterness of the rushing and headlong descent. And now I found these fancies creating their own realities, and all imagined horrors crowding upon me in fact. I felt my knees striking violently together, while my fingers were gradually yet certainly relaxing their grasp. There was a ringing in my ears, and I said, ‘This is my knell of death!’ And now I was consumed with the irrepressible desire of looking below. I could not, I would not, confine my glances to the cliff; and, with a wild, indefinable emotion, half of horror, half of a relieved oppression, I threw my vision far down into the abyss. For one moment my fingers clutched convulsively upon their hold, while, with the movement, the faintest possible idea of ultimate escape wandered, like a shadow, through my mind – in the next my whole soul was pervaded with a longing to fall; a desire, a yearning, a passion utterly uncontrollable. I let go at once my grasp upon the peg, and, turning half round from the precipice, remained tottering for an instant against its naked face. But now there came a spinning of the brain; a shrill-sounding and phantom voice screamed within my ears; a dusky, fiendish, and filmy figure stood immediately beneath me; and, sighing, I sunk down with a bursting heart, and plunged within its arms.

A month or two ago I climbed up the 9-foot half pipe at our local skate park, and was preparing to drop in. All the little groms and gromlets nearby gathered around to watch the old guy in action, and for some reason, with all the attention and the exaggerated altitude of the first person perspective, I couldn’t handle the pressure, and I fell. It’s like I didn’t even try to skate down, I just…fell. I’ve had that feeling before, and it’s not always tied to heights. It’s this kind of irrational panic that I get when faced with something that could cause physical pain, or a challenge that I’ve failed at before or a temptation that, though destructive, I feel incapable of resisting. It’s like I just freeze, and as Poe describes above, give myself over to this hopeless acceptance of what I feel I am meant for. Maybe you don’t have this problem, but it resonates with me: our desire to fail and to descend into the depths. I believe it is part of us, and it is something we must face, because if we want to live good lives, we are going to have to recognize that there’s a part of us that wants nothing to do with what is good in life, but is hell-bent on destroying us.

It’s a tough battle to win, to be sure, because we can’t just kill this little traitor once and for all; we have to keep it around until we die, a kind of real world Gollum who’ll be with us until the end. And for me, that’s become first priority in my goal to make the world a better place. Because, no matter how much I think I succeed in the world, if I have failed here, at this first level, it will ultimately undermine everything I set my hands to.

But I have come to the conclusion that I cannot win this battle alone. This is one of the primary reasons that I have embraced the belief of my youth, and accepted as true the words of the Christ of the Bible. It may seem strange that I find further confirmation in Poe’s passage and in my ramp experience for my decision to embrace the notion of God in the received Christian understanding, but I think it’s because these influences have given flesh and bones to one of the Bible’s most enigmatic abstractions: faith.

Why does the main character let go? Because he can’t help but believe that the bad guys will win, that he’ll fall, that death will consume all. I believe that this is mankind’s struggle in a nutshell. We have God telling us that everything will be okay if we just look at Him, but what we see contradicts that. Since we can’t see Him, how does he expect us to look at Him? So we look at our surroundings, and lose faith. The Bible makes it explicit that faith has its own eyes, and if we are to beat this little traitor, we’re going to need to learn to use them.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I've Got Some Thinking to Do

Proverbs 25:8
Do not go out hastily to argue your case; Otherwise, what will you do in the end, When your neighbor humiliates you?

I certainly have this tendency, whether it's in traffic or while reading the local paper, but I'm trying to take more time to explore issues and think them out with more patience and openness than I have in the past.

I've been reading a lot of the media coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy, and some of the opinions and reactions that have been circling have provoked me to respond, but I've decided maybe it would be best if I, instead of adding to the noise, sat back for a few weeks and let all this sink in before airing my feelings and opinions. Maybe if I wait for a while longer I will come to a better conclusion than if I simply post what's rattling around in my head right now.

It's a luxury I have that obviously the media doesn't have. It is after all their job to comment on the goings-on in the world. But I think the feeling that we must know everything about events like Columbine, 9/11, or the most recent tragedy make it easy for people in the media to jump to conclusions or find scapegoats or form talking points that try to explain these complicated and sometimes unfathomable events with a sentence-fragment headline. It's as if the media acts like one of those friends or family members that approaches you in a time of grieving and says something like, "He's gone on to a better place," or "God's watching over you," or "It'll all be alright."

But now, in the wake of the worst shooting of its kind in American history, maybe we should just take a while to think, pray, and meditate before we launch into judgment calls and quick-fix schemes.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bradley is the Man

In case you haven't seen any of Brad's Hong Kong videos, you should check them out. His newest made my day.

Check him out at Homebody Abroad

Friday, March 23, 2007

Science or Religion in the Classroom?

I originally wrote this almost two years ago in answer to an op/ed in our local paper. I submitted it, but I think it was too long. I’ve since been picking away at it, and after reading selections from The Origin of Species I’ve added some new thoughts as well. I am no expert in these fields, so if you happen to hold to evolution and know of the scientific proofs of macroevolution I'l like to hear from you.

I hope that the “Our View” piece in the Friday, May 13, 2005 News Herald has corrected the pervading misunderstanding that because evolution is just a theory it should not be taught as fact; however, I think there are far more telling reasons to question the necessity of teaching all that the theory of evolution entails: namely what it has to say about origins.

The writer of our view states, “Among modern biologists there is no battle over the truth of evolution.” I mean no disrespect, but I do not believe this is true. Many of the proponents of Intelligent Design are not just “religious adherents,” but accredited scientists in their respective fields.
The writer of “Our View” mentioned Richard Dawkins for the evolution side, but did not name anyone on the other side of the debate.Michael Behe, for instance, is a professor of biochemistry, who, not in spite of, but because of his scientific study has weighed evolution and found it wanting. I do not pretend that because Intelligent Design advocates have some PhD’s on their side their views in this area are justified. Nonetheless it’s hardly fair to dismiss a viewpoint because it is embraced by a minority. The substance of the argument should determine the response, not the number of proponents.

Every article I’ve read addressing I. D., however, has ignored the ideas of ID, and has instead launched into character attack (see cartoon at top). ID proponents are portrayed as little more than illiterate fundamentalist creationists who want to dilute science with religion. This is the trump card the evolution advocate pulls: all they have to do is connect I. D. to God and religion, and they can stage this as the mythical battle of science versus religion, Galileo vs. the Church, or Clarence Darrow versus William Jennings Bryan. The immediate implication is that if we let religion win this debate, we’ll find ourselves on the road to the dark ages. It’s a fine use of ad hominem, but aside from educating readers in the art of sucker-punch rhetoric it does little to present the debate in an honest and objective light.

One of Intelligent Design’s key questions concerns an apparent breakdown in logic consistently overlooked or ignored by evolutionists. Richard Dawkins wrote a book, The Blind Watchmaker, in which he describes a program he fashioned for the Mac enabling users to breed facsimile biomorphs in order to simulate evolution. Dawkins states that he attempted to avoid using his knowledge of biology in “designing” the program. I found his use of words quite telling-he had to design a program that would make it possible for even simulated evolution to occur. Now, this is an old argument, I know, but I and others who find merit in Intelligent Design theory are still incredulous. If Dawkins had to design a program that only uses 1’s and 0’s to do its thing, how do we expect something as complex as DNA (composed of four bases) to be shuffled into order without intelligent help?

What I and perhaps most I. D. proponents want is some proof of evolution. I see the theory of gravity at work everyday; it’s not hard for me to accept, but I must ask the child’s question: where is evolution?1 For years, agnostics and atheists have used the child’s question to debunk God-“If he’s there, then why doesn’t he show himself!” I’m asking the same question of evolution: “If it’s there, show me DNA shuffling itself into order without intelligent help!” I would like to see it at work. I don’t mean microevolution, i.e., adaptations or mutations; they are testable and provable. I am concerned with the central concern of this whole debate: origins.

Much has been made about Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and having read some of it, I can see where he was going, and how he reached certain conclusions. If he would have stayed with the notion of natural selection affecting change from species to species, I would be fine with that, but he and all the evolutionary theorists since then didn’t stop there. I think the title of that book should have been “The Origin of the Kingdoms,” because Darwin’s premise was that a Creator (yes, it is in the book, so if we are fair I guess we have to edit Origin of the Species so no students will be forced to hear about an impossible-to-prove Creator) breathed life into a few forms or ONE. Hmmm…but all the evidence he gives in the book involves changing from species to species, hardly proof that giraffes and amoebas have the same ancestor. 2 So spaniels and pointers have the same ancestor? Yes? They’re both dogs! Am I too simpleminded because I believe God created a proto-dog from which other species evolved, but can’t accept the fact that dogs and man have the same ancestor? Why are we even having this silly argument about Intelligent Design being such a scientific heresy if Darwin himself left room for an Intelligent Designer? What’s the big deal with teaching two opposing viewpoints on a topic that cannot be proven in the lab?

Well, High School biology textbooks do claim to have proofs from the lab that address the origins of life on earth from an evolutionary perspective. One is a 1953 experiment in which Miller and Urey simulated the conditions of primordial earth and produced goo brimming with amino acids and organic compounds: the building blocks of life. The book does not mention, however, that the results were inaccurate in light of recent evidence.

According to Bill Bryson, in his book A Short History of Everything, “Despite half a century of further study, we are no nearer to synthesizing life today than we were in 1953 and much further away from thinking we can. Scientists are now pretty certain that the early atmosphere was nothing like as primed for development as Miller and Urey’s gaseous stew” (287). If we were really concerned about the integrity of the scientific education, why is an experiment known to be inaccurate for over thirty years still taught?

Bryson goes on to say that recent experiments in this area have only managed to produce one amino acid, and scientists have absolutely no idea how proteins were formed, which is the real kicker. You see, the fact that no protein has been formed in the lab without intelligent help is the problem I have. I want to see this kind of evidence.

Now, you may be saying, “that’s impossible; you’re making demands that are too high. You’re asking for a miracle.” Exactly! God is kept out of the classroom because His existence cannot be determined by means of science, but science still can present no empirical evidence that evolution could work on the most fundamental level of all: the origin of life. Without scientific evidence, this aspect of evolution is nothing more than metaphysics, i.e., religion.

The writer of “Our View” states, “Scientific hypotheses need to be falsifiable: there has to be a way they could be proven wrong,” but even when aspects of evolution are disproved (as above), the public never hears and students are still taught the proof-turned-myth as science.

I close by referencing the article, “Evolution Debate Moves to Florida” in the Tuesday, May 10, 2005 News Herald in which Marcia Brady said, “We’re not certified to be theologians. That’s social or religious studies.” If metaphysics are to be removed from the high school classroom, please be fair about it, and remove those traces that have mingled with accepted scientific theory. If theists can’t teach their view of origins in the classroom then why is the evolutionist able to teach theirs with no natural or scientific proof to back it?

1 Agnostics use the child’s question of God- “If He exists, where is he?” The problem with asking that question of a being with intelligence is that the being has every ability and right not to answer. If God doesn’t want to reveal himself to people who demand proof, is there a natural law that says he has to? But the evolutionist cannot evade my child’s question: if evolution is true-why can’t we see it at work-there is no intelligent force behind evolution-it is a mechanical process, so it doesn’t have any say. If it works, it works, no matter who’s looking. But the problem is that it doesn’t work while people are looking. It does its amazing work over millions of years so no can observe it. To me it seems clear that this is outside of the realm of science. No one can see it happening, so why are evolutionists so intent on keeping it in the classroom? Sure, I can’t see gravity, I can’t see electricity, but I see their effects and experiments show that they ARE HAPPENING NOW-in the present, but evolution isn’t. Where are the missing links? Why hasn’t the fossil record borne the theory out? That is exactly the point.

2 He does give a lengthy hypothesis that shows how evolution that introduces new Classes, Orders and Phylums COULD happen, but do we have ANY observable proof that this in fact is happening or has happened? Where is the proof of this kind of change? This is an honest question. I don't know of any-if you know more of this than I do and know of some proof in this vein, I would like to hear about it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

More Than a Period Piece

Amazing Grace is one of those movies that, if you’re not careful, can sneak past without much notice or protest. Most people I’ve talked to haven’t even heard of the movie. It is truly unfortunate because I found this film to be quite the diamond in the rough.

Perhaps it is the title that scares even would-be supporters of the film to steer clear. Even though Christianity is supposedly a commercial hotspot right now after The Passion of the Christ, any time “Christian” movies (films that are produced by companies spawned out of the Christian subculture) actually find their way to theaters or the rental store, they are avoided like the plague by the bulk of the populace, because, well, let’s be honest, these movies just plain suck. I’m thinking of Left Behind, Omega Code, Hangman’s Curse and the like. Thankfully this film is not in that vein.

The title is derived from the famous hymn of course, but what you may not have realized is that this hymn was written by a former slave trader-turned pastor named John Newton, who also had a profound impact on a man named William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was the man who for years fought against the institution of slavery in the British parliament and was instrumental in its abolition long before America would follow suit. The film focuses on Wilberforce, the abolitionist, so like 2005’s Capote, is less a biography, than the chronicle of one aspect of a man’s life. It is an engrossing aspect, and the story is well written, directed and acted.

There are a couple of dinger moments. One exchange goes something to the effect of: “So you’re saying you found God?” And all us Christians respond in unison with Wilberforce, “I think He found me.” This kind of thing can be forgiven, though, because elsewhere, the writer, Steven Knight, crafts some really witty repartee, and is often downright profound.

Ioan Gruffudd gives an earnest and believable performance as Wilberforce, and Steven Knight, has infused this portrait of the man with nobility and at the same time frailty, ensuring that we not only root for him, but also identify with him. The supporting cast is peopled by the likes of Michael Gambon, Ciaran Hinds, and Albert Finney (character actors you will recognize, but probably won’t be able to place); all of whom turn in outstanding performances. Albert Finney is absolutely wonderful as Wilberforce’s mentor pastor John Newton.

Some have complained that there is not enough of the horror and atrocity of slavery actually depicted onscreen, and that perhaps the subject has been Disney-fied beyond recognition. But this movie is not seeking to be Amistad or Schindler's List, and to impose that expectation on the film is unfair. Again, the film centers on William Wilberforce the abolitionist, and in spite of its lack of visual aids, it recreates his own abhorrence for slavery very well.

One critic claimed that Wilberforce is not worthy of real heroism because he’s rich and retreats to his well-established estate when not fighting slavery. The writer must have forgotten that Wilberforce leaves his doors open to peasants who overrun his house in one scene. This is not the socially conscious hypocritical celebrity activist of the present, who villifies the president and then returns home to his mansion that dwarfs the president's and does nothing about the problem. This is a man whose rhetoric was not separated from his lifestyle, but whose whole life rang with cohesion.

This movie challenged me, and I think all Christians should watch it to remind us that while we are in this world, we need to be advocates of the truly downtrodden, because even with all our study of the Word, we often leave behind those numerous commands to care for the poor in favor other, more esoteric or advantageous propositions. I hope non-Christians watch the movie as well, to see that there have been great men of God who, though frail and weak like the rest of us, did more than just talk about love or prepare for eternity, but actually helped make this world a better place.

**** out of ****

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Selective Deconstruction

I just heard an interview with Elaine Pagels, the writer of Beyond Belief and many books dealing with the Gnostic Gospels. A minority group of scholars consisting of Marcus Borg, Domonic Crossan, Robert Funk, Pagels, and a few others seems to dominate media coverage of anything pertaining to Jesus. This should be no small surprise in a postmodern deconstructionist era in which we are challenged to question long-held assumptions. The mantra of this generation of historians and thinkers is: “the winner writes the history books.” This statement has some veracity, there is no doubt, and I strongly support the notion of questioning even long-held traditions when initial inquiry reveals that something is wrong with these entrenched beliefs.

What I find fascinating is that this attitude of appealing to a minority of experts (which should be expected from a critically minded media) is only applied selectively. So, it is okay to dedicate page after page of U.S. News and World Report and hour upon hour of broadcast on NPR or the History Channel to this minority of religious scholars, but it is absurd to dedicate any fair bit of press or airtime to minority views on global warming, the Holocaust or evolution.

Now, before you x this window out, I’m not saying that the people who deny the Holocaust have any merit to their position. I believe the Holocaust happened and have no need that it be denied. I don’t even understand how a thinking individual could question the reality of the Holocaust, but if the media feels this inexorable need to constantly undermine accepted understanding of history, why does it not apply the same modus operandi when dealing with certain areas? Again, I’m not insinuating that because a lot of people believe one thing that this view should be considered true, and I’m certainly not advocating the idea that a minority will have a better view than the popularly held idea. All I’m asking is: Why should any of this matter? Why don’t we look at the claim, hold it up to critical inquiry, and as far as possible, let the facts speak for themselves?

I’ve yet to hear much debate on the Gnostic Gospels issue, because it always seems that the minority scholars get free reign in the public arena. I’ve never even heard the objections raised by “the holocaust as myth” crowd, because everyone is afraid to give them publicity. I think you give them more publicity by news blurbs that announce their existence, but don’t explore their views and offer a chance to give them a rebuttal. I’ve still yet to see any fair treatment of the Intelligent Design issue. All I ever see is a bunch of talking heads (who are far from scientific experts) denouncing the movement as scientific heretics without ever giving them a chance to present their viewpoints. No, they are just branded as Creationist idiots.

It’s a wonder that the same institutions that decry I.D. scientists for their heresy, laud the Pagels crowd for theirs, giving the latter a bully pulpit with no opportunity for rebuff, and the former only a caricature, and no opportunity to even present their reasons for believing the way the do. If we’re to be critical thinkers, we need to see both sides of a story and subject both sides to critical inquiry. Right now, the accepted evangelical understanding is being subjected to criticism for the gazillionth time in history. Fine, all is fair, but what of Gnosticism? Have you put that worldview under the microscope lately? What of evolution? A theory that for all its charm, after 150 years still lacks adequate proof in the fossil record to vindicate it. Where is the objectivity in all this?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

City Pier March 2

The surf was pretty impressive on Friday. I put a little video together from the footage I got.

Brady Mandigo

Brady was a former student of mine at Arnold High. He did this mini-expo for my wife's first grade class, and I compiled a little video. He hasn't even been skating for two years, but he already can do some amazing stuff.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Night at the Museum

Night at the Museum is another in a long line of films adapted from children's picture books. Think movies like Jumanji, Zathura and (croak) Polar Express. Like Jumanji, this film has its share of wild beasts, magical objects and a nice dose of suspense. It's a good-humored film that doesn't aim to high, and ,I think, reaches its mark.

Ben Stiller takes on the role of hopeless dreamer Larry Daley (a la Jack Black's Nick Vanderpark in Envy). He is a father whose belief in far-fetched ideas like "The Snapper" (a device which allows you to turn on lights by snapping your fingers) have kept him from committing to a stable job. His ex-wife gives him an ultimatum to find a job, or she will seriuosly consider decreasing his time with his son.

A job agency finds him a position at a museum, but the secretary warns him that the supervisor has turned all apllicants away. The supervisor, named Cecil, is played by Dick Van Dyke who is joined by veteran character actor Bill Cobbs and film legend Mickey Rooney. While there's nothing particularly inspired about Rooney's one-liners, I couldn't help but laugh every time he was onscreen. He cracked me up the entire time. The guy's first screen appearance was in 1930 for crying out loud!

Chaos ensues when Daley is left alone in the museum along with all this genre's cliches: he loses the item that will enable him to do his job, he screws everything up, he makes that oh-so-notorious blunder protagonists always make in these "you gotta believe" movies by expecting people to believe him when he tells them that all the exhibits come to life at night. Oh, well, you don't come to watch this movie for believability, but I sometimes wonder why screenwriters always use the same ploys. Isn't there a better way to heighten tension than to make your hero look like a numbskull? Half the time I almost want the hero/heroine to fail in these movies because they act so naieve.

I actually enjoyed the movie in spite of its predictability. Owen Wilson was funny, and Stiller had his usual "boy is this awkward?" moments that provided some laughs. The special effects were very well done, and overall it's a fun movie.
Rating: **1/2 out of ****

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Conservative in the Dismantling

So, for a long time I've taken my stand with the Right, but lately I've become disillusioned with both parties, no matter how "bipartisan" they claim to be. When I previously took The World's Smallest Political Quiz I was staunchly stationed in the neoconservative camp, but I took it the other day, and I was surprised to discover I was almost down-the-line libertarian. Then I read the following article in The News Herald, and my suspicions were confirmed. I, too, am leaving behind my "conservative" label because the movement no longer accurately represents my views. I hate conservative educations policy (NO Child Left Behind-harhar snicker snicker), its foreign policy, and as Mr. Maher (not Bill) points out below, I find very little conservative in its continuing acceptance, begrudging or otherwise, of big government.

I liked one line from Maher so much I've made it my new quote. If we are to truly help people, we as PEOPLE need to help people, not pawn it off on the government to do it. The Church bears a lot of responsibility in this whole welfare fiasco because if we were helping the poor as we are commanded to do throughout the entire Bible, welfare would be superfluous. Yes, I really believe that.

You can read Brian Maher's article in its original context at:

Confessions of an Ex-Conservative
by Brian Maher

Confession: I used to be a rock-ribbed conservative, or at least I thought I was. The scales slowly began to fall from my eyes after almost accidentally stumbling upon the works of Mises, Rothbard, Nock and a host of other genuine champions of human liberty. I’m beginning to realize that I was really much more libertarian than conservative all along. Not necessarily a Libertarian, but libertarian.

While I find the notion of private police services and courts intriguing, for example, I genuflect to what I consider reality in recognizing that the elimination of all government functions is at present hopelessly quixotic, and I believe it’s best that one picks one’s battles wisely. For now, I’d settle for the far more modest goal of the complete dismantling of the welfare and regulatory state, thank you.

The main reason why I’ve abandoned the Republican Party is its growing embrace of the State and its unforgivable expansion of government spending. It’s been said in the past that the Democrats will take this country over the cliff going seventy while the Republicans will take us over the cliff going fifty-five (or something like that). It’s now becoming abundantly clear that the Republicans will also plunge us to our collective demise going seventy – or perhaps sixty-five; or maybe even eighty. When we’re in freefall it won’t matter how long it took us to get there.

At least partly responsible for this development is the ignoble and oxymoronic doctrine of "compassionate conservatism," a bastard child that should have been strangled in its crib long ago. Like a virulent strain of bacteria it persists, however, and one of its adherents recently wrote an article condemning the benighted among us who still cling wistfully to the quaint concept of limited government. Of course he simultaneously exalted the virtues of activist, muscular government.

One Michael Gerson is a former speechwriter for George W. Bush. He is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a compassionate conservative. His association with George Bush is not surprising since the latter is the most compassionate president in American history, if compassion can be measured by the amount of our money a president spends. In a recent Newsweek column, Gerson took traditional conservatives to the woodshed for failing to lavish sufficient spending on New Orleans, ground zero for compassionate conservatism and various species of collectivism, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. What was instead required, according to Gerson, was, "an active response from government to encourage economic empowerment and social mobility." Uh-huh. So what we need most is more of the same government action that created much of the social rot in New Orleans in the first place. Isn’t that always the solution, though?

Especially despicable in Gerson’s opinion were those conservatives who wanted to cut government spending in other areas to offset some of the behemoth costs of the relief, such as AIDS spending for Africa. Pure villainy. Could we slash one dollar from the Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors? Perish the thought. That wouldn’t be, well, compassionate. And compassion should be the business of government. It doesn’t matter that compassion is a trait of individuals, not governments. The only genuinely distinguishing trait of governments is force. Please take a moment to absorb the full implications of that last sentence. What Gerson and other collectivists of various stripes really demand is compassion (from us) enforced at the point of a gun, which, dare I say, is hardly compassionate by any reasonable definition of the word. But I digress.

Gerson goes on to dismiss libertarianism, with its "disdain for government, reflexive preference for markets and an unbalanced emphasis on individual choice". Oh, the horror of it all! Who could possibly believe in such heretical concepts? He cites Russell Kirk’s description of libertarianism as "an ideology of universal selfishness," a characterization with which I would have to assume he agrees. I guess socialism is therefore an ideology of universal selflessness, and therefore superior.

Gerson has apparently never seriously considered the possibility that government is actually the enemy of civil society, that it actually undermines the very social institutions of family and church that he so claims to cherish. To the contrary, he claims that, "government can act to strengthen them". Sounds a lot like Great Society liberalism to me. In reality, however, it is almost axiomatic that civil society recedes as government gains. I would gently refer Mr. Gerson to the city of New Orleans as an example of the havoc that the welfare state can visit upon a community. It probably wouldn’t do much good, however, for obvious reasons.

Gerson goes on to warn his fellow Republicans about campaigning against big government during the next election cycle. Query: Would anyone with even the most rudimentary cognitive skills take them seriously if they did? While Democrats campaign on health care, poverty and education, Gerson warns that such rhetoric would "be procedural, small-minded, cold and uninspired". Indeed. Confiscating less of your money for the grandiose plans of politicians is small-minded. Even worse, it’s… uninspired.

In other words, to get elected, Republicans must promise as many or more goodies to the masses as the Democrats. H.L. Mencken astutely referred to elections as advance auctions for the sale of stolen goods. They are at that. Of course, most Republicans’ conduct in office has never come close to matching their limited government rhetoric. Ron Paul and a few others are laudable exceptions. Now Republicans should drop the pretense altogether and simply attempt to beat the Democrats by showing that they have bigger hearts. We’d have thinner wallets but hey, politics is politics.

According to Gerson, the answer lies with GOP state governors like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. I’m sure he’d include Ahnold out in California and even mayors like Mike Bloomberg and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Do any of these men believe in a limited role for government? To ask the question is to basically answer it. Gerson actually thinks otherwise. Particularly disturbing is Gerson’s endorsement of Romney, actually celebrating the fact that he "mandated basic health insurance while giving subsidies to low-income people" (emphasis added).

So it’s praiseworthy – and conservative – when the government forces you, ultimately at gunpoint remember, to buy health insurance, whether you want it or not. It will actually be illegal NOT to own health insurance, if you can afford it. And the government will determine whether you can afford it or not. If you can’t, no need to worry. Your fellow citizens will kindly pick up the tab on your behalf, being as generous as they are. This isn’t the place for an economic analysis but suffice it to say that government intervention in the health care field is largely responsible for its spiraling costs in the first place.

The demand for socialized medicine is the logical outcome of the fact that government intervention in the marketplace produces cascading economic distortions, which are used at each stage to justify further and further government intervention, a self-perpetuating cycle that ultimately establishes complete government control of an industry. Speaking of health care, Ahnold just proposed a similar program to Romney’s in California. Is this the future of conservatism, in the land of the free?

Yet this is precisely what Gerson and his merry band of "compassionate conservatives" want to foist upon the entire nation. I expect that from the Left, but this influential portion of the "Right" has been seduced by the siren song of big government, and has become a willing accomplice in the forward march of state power. Needless to say, government has strayed far beyond its traditional negative role of defending person and property. Where is a lover of liberty to turn when faced with such grim choices?

In fairness to Gerson, he’s just looking out for his Party and its electoral success. In some respects, he’s right. To many of us Americans, talk of freedom and limited government sounds nice and all, but it doesn’t really grab us. It doesn’t fire our imaginations. It isn’t sexy. Promises of universal health care, saving the environment, curing sickness, rebuilding New Orleans and ending poverty are. What right-minded person can be against these things? And let’s face it, we don’t really want to know the details. They might burst our bubble.

Quite frankly, it is difficult to imagine a full-throated libertarian platform finding any sort of traction with the American people at this point in time. We’re too conditioned to believe in the virtue of benevolent government; too fearful of bogeymen in our age of terrorism; too addicted to the promise of government succor; too intoxicated by the seductive lure of the FED’s easy money. We won’t surrender these things easily. We get what we deserve, ultimately. Gerson and his fellow compassionate conservatives are merely a reflection of the times in which we live. Nothing more, nothing less.

January 17, 2007

Brian Maher [send him mail] is a freelance writer living just outside of New York City.

Copyright © 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

Hardee's Spoof

Well, here's our latest bit of nonsense:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Little Minds Miss Sunshine

A week or so ago I finally watched Little Miss Sunshine. I typically make it a point to read family movie reviews on the Internet before watching movies that are R rated to see if there are any sex scenes or nudity. Yeah, this may seem prudish or immature, but I am subject to being “immature” (if that’s what you call a weak spot for pornography), and for me, seeing a scene that is sexually explicit is akin to an alcoholic taking just one gulp of beer. I just better not do it. Maybe you think it’s silly, but it’s true.

Anyway, I was reading Focus on the Family’s movie review of LMS on its website, Plugged In, and
it enumerated all the morally-suspect aspects of the film. It almost swayed me not to watch it, honestly, because the reviewer said that the final dance scene went too far.

It did sound bad…until I actually saw the movie. And in context, the scene was not bad at all. First of all: it was social commentary. In the reviewer’s attempts to count every speck of sin in the movie, he missed the bigger picture. The boy, while on the pier says, “F*** beauty contests,” and rightfully so-was the reviewer watching the other part of the beauty pageant, in which little girls are judged by mere externals? Would he rather these little girls be exploited so long as they play by the rules? Is a striptease any worse than the objectification that was happening on the stage? And as my wife pointed out-the majority of the girls on that stage will one day be doing stripteases because that’s the logical end of the beauty pageant scene for many of the contestants who fail. We’re not talking about a noble goal here: to be the best looking. Olive’s performance was not necessarily an endorsement of lewd sexual behavior, but an indictment on beauty pageants-showing them for what they really are: paper thin morality that covers a hypocritical obsession with externals.

So, in the reviewer’s rush to judgment, he became an endorser of the beauty pageant. I think conservative Christians tend in this direction way too often-going through the world with a kind of naïve shortsightedness that blinds them to the evils that look good on the surface, when if they’d look a bit closer, they’d see that sin is festering there worse than in the seemingly evil areas, where, I might add, redemption has the tendency to shine through.

Christians tend to become Pharisees by requiring movies to have a clean outside, but a less than admirable inside. Hangman’s Curse was a Christian film that was released some time ago. I don’t think there was one cuss word in the whole movie, and there were some positive things about it, but underlying its clean exterior, it was a crappy movie, filled with clichés, unrealistic characters, and a scene that I would classify as downright ungodly. The football coach is about as one-dimensional a villain as has ever been written. He doesn’t care at all about the poor kids who’ve been beat-up and victimized because he’s an evolutionist. “Survival of the fittest,” he drones. So, the writer punishes him by killing the coach with an army of oversized tarantulas. This is the type of trick bad screenwriters resort to: killing people off who represent ideologies you disagree with. But conservative Christians like these type of movies. So there’s no cussing, but guess what? Not only is it not entertaining, but there is nothing redemptive or instructive in the entire film. The film is an exercise in the art of patting oneself on the back. Does God admire this?

As far as Little Miss Sunshine goes, there is plenty of redemption. A family filled with hateful, self-righteous and vindictive people, repent, unite and embrace one another in the most humiliating way: dancing with their most innocent member before a jeering crowd. That was love, that was selflessness, and humility depicted in a way that the right wing I guess is too blind to see.

If you want repentance you can’t show someone getting on his or her knees and saying the sinner’s prayer. It won’t translate on film. It doesn’t work. Repentance that works in film is Matt Dillon’s character risking his life to save the woman he molested in Crash, not Kirk Cameron’s sitting in a stall and saying the sinner’s prayer in Left Behind. We’re talking about stories here, and stories work best when the person doesn’t jump out and say-“You need to accept Jesus as your Lord and savior.” Jesus didn’t do that when he told parables so why do we? There is an appropriate time for preaching and it’s guess when-while you’re preaching! Save the sinner’s prayer for a sermon.

Good art isn’t always made from all the pretty and nice things in the world. Often, especially on this fallen planet, you have to show the mire in order to get to the redemption. You can’t have the resurrection without the Cross, and you’re rarely going to get good art if you skim the surface and retreat from the dark spaces. Let’s not be small-minded people who can’t see the sunshine for all the specks.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Haggard, Hypocrites, and Hell in the Media

Recently I’ve been wondering why journalism in all its forms seems dedicated to the notion that the most important news is bad news. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it gets tiresome hearing or seeing the words “Iraq,”1 “insurgents,”2 “Haggard,”3 or “Gibson,”4 every time I turn on NPR or open up the paper (Insert time appropriate word: 1-Palestine, Israel, N. Korea; 2-guerillas, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda; 3-Foley, priests, Clinton, Jefferson, Pee-Wee; 4-Michael Richards, etc.). You’d think we’d be impossible to shock after the long parade of scandal, tragedy, terror, and corruption that has been passing us by even in the years since Kennedy’s assassination. You’d think Foley would be par for the course since congressman Gerry Studds was guilty of not only salacious correspondence, but a full on sexual encounter with a page 23 years ago.5 And Foley comes as a shock?! You’d think after Nixon, we’d be prepared for corruption, but, no, we still spend months scrambling for every scrap of info about Abramoff. Why is it still interesting?

A few years ago, I was talking to a police officer about the sad depths to which people sink, when I commented that even the best of us have the capability to sink to these depths. I’ll never forget his rebuff: “There’s no need to put a black mark on everyone.” Implied in this statement is the idea that mankind is spotless-only peoples’ choices make them bad, and those few bad people are the problem. Perhaps the media, like the police officer I encountered a few years back, is obsessed with negative news because they still refuse to acknowledge that mankind has a deeply-ingrained evil. They dedicate their powers to exposing the anomalies, thinking they’re doing humankind a service. “If we blow the whistle on all the bad-guys, then the world will be a better place.”

Robyn Blumner was one of the many writers who unloaded criticisms upon the Foley’s and Haggard’s of the world: the hypocrites who preach against a sin only to indulge in it in private. Blumner stated in a recent editorial: “In Dante’s descending circles of Hell, hypocrites were cast into the eighth and penultimate level in honor of their status…I think Dante was too kind. On the scale of despicableness, the hypocrite is king.”6 Ron Hart, in another editorial wrote, “These folks have a special place in Hell reserved for them.” 7

Now before I voice my response and before you think I’m justifying Haggard’s or Foley’s actions, let me offer a few caveats: first, I recognize that this kind of media judgment is not reserved to liberals criticizing conservatives. The knife cuts both ways, and when every conservative was throwing stones at Clinton for the Lewinsky scandal I was right there with them, but I was pretty naïve then. In my older and hopefully wiser years I’m learning that these witch-hunts, regardless of their source or target, do little to make the world a better place.

Second, I do believe that the two writers I’ve referenced were right about hypocrites-that they deserve every bit of hell they get. Jesus himself spoke many parables to this end. Nonetheless, there are a couple of things that bother me about these writers’ position.

First, their tone just gets to me. They write with such a snobbish, snide and vitriolic ad hominem, you’d think they’d never done a bad thing in their lives. This is actually the thing that pushed me over the edge to type this essay out: I was watching O’Reilly factor over the Christmas break, and the guest host was tearing into Michael Richards and Mel Gibson with such self-righteousness, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Now get me—I don’t think that what either one of them did was right or justifiable, but for goodness’ sake folks, have you not ever screwed up? Have you not ever flown off the handle and said something you regret later? Should their be accountability? Of course, but can’t we do it with a little more restraint? Can’t we be a bit more understanding? Can’t we be decent enough to admit that we too have screwed up in similar ways? This brings me to the other problem I have with the pundits: in launching their tirades against the Haggards and Foleys, they do the very thing they claim to despise in Haggard and Foley-judging others.

Hart states, “After denying that he ever met the gay escort who says he had a three-year relationship with him, Rev. Ted finally confessed. Yet, before I cast the first stone, what man among us has not summoned a gay male prostitute to our hotel room for a massage and to score a little methamphetamine with Church money?” (emphasis mine). The italicized above is alluding of course to the woman caught in adultery in John 8, whose prosecutors were a group of scribes and Pharisees ready to stone her. Now I’m sure SOME of the Pharisees and scribes could have asked a similar sarcastic question regarding the prostitute: “Before I cast the first stone, what one of us hasn’t committed adultery?” And some of them probably could have passed that test. But notice –Jesus didn’t say, “He who is without adultery, let him cast the first stone,” but “sin.” Even these self-righteous men knew enough of God’s law to know they had their share of sin, so what did they do? They dropped the stones and left. Not so, Hart. He proceeds to state that the likes of Haggard should burn in hell.

I’m really starting to notice that the cover boys for hypocrisy in this nation (the Swaggarts, Bakkers, Foleys, Haggards) have become a nice dumping off point for a new crew of scribes. The hypocritical four above may be or may have been Pharisees in the worst sense of the term (Yes, I’m one of those people who actually believe people can change), but we as a people have become a nation of scribes-writing, reading and indulging in the scapegoating of big names so we don’t have to deal with the real problem: ME.

Jesus could get off with saying hypocrites should burn in the depths of hell because He wasn’t one. But that’s not true of Hart or Blumner or me. The people behind the scandals may get railroaded in the papers and they may be hypocrites now, but thank God that He’s not like Hart or Blumner, or else they wouldn’t have a second chance. None of us would. Psalm 109:31 says of God, “For He stands at the right hand of the needy, To save him from those who would judge his soul.” I find those words at the end interesting-“judge his soul.” When mankind denies the blatant reality that we are all beset by weaknesses and failings, it makes it easy to single out those whom on a social level are worse than us, and not only demand discipline, but judgment upon their very souls.

5 "Studds did not apologize, but admitted to 'a very serious error in judgment.'[5] As his censure was read, Studds faced the Speaker who was reading the motion, with his back to the other House members.[1][6] Later, at a press conference with the former page, both stated that the young man, who was 17, consented. Studds continued to be reelected until his retirement in 1997.[4]"

6 Blumner, Robyn. "Their Demons Make Them Do It."

7 Hart, Ron. "Ministers Do More Than Laypeople."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Great Documentary

Well Dustin keeps turning my attention to some really good stuff with his own blog, and I thought I'd pass one of his ideas on. Last night we watched Dear Francis-a documentary that focuses the AIDS epidemic and its effects on Swaziland. The movie derives its narrative thread by focusing on two Americans college students who traveled with a group to Swaziland to raise awareness about prevention, etc.

The ironic thing about the movie is that is was filmed while my brother-in-law Brandon was in Swaziland with the same group. And the girl that the documentary focuses on was a friend from the Church Brandon and Melissa attended in Mansfield, TX. It was surreal to see her on film, and I half expected the movie to be low quality (I thought sure the budget would have to be very small), but the film is excellent. I highly recommend it.

I've embedded the trailer below, but if you'd like more info go to

Monday, January 01, 2007

U2's Window in the Sky Video

Dustin had this posted at his Blog:

U2's new video-It's incredible.

Marfa Mystery Lights and Human Nature

My parents live in a small town in West Texas where the mountains of the Big Bend march north from the Mexican border, leaving a number of valleys and foothils in their path. The countryside is not only beautiful (if you like the look of the old west), but has certain unique atmospheric characteristics that many believe to be responsible for a strange phenomenon: the Marfa Lights. The lights are visible at night from a small observatory just off U. S. Route 90 between Alpine and Marfa. I'm one of those guys that's fascinated by UFO's, Bigfoot, and such, so when my parents first told me of this phenomenon I was excited to have a chance to see it.

I think I've been there to view the lights on two separate occasions, and over time I've formed theories as to their origin. First, the lights:

These are time exposures of the marfa lights taken from the area of the observation park. You can find explanations of the pictures and the methodology behind them at: Night Orbs.

Now, I can give my testimony that these pictures adequately reflect what I saw at the observation area. I'm not really writing to make you believe that these things exist and are some kind of alien intelligence or something. But I am writing because I find people's reactions to these lights very interesting.

At the viewing park, there is a display that explains the history of the lights, the direction you should look, and (very important) the direction you should not look: the Southwest. This is because Highway 67 runs over the mountains and is visible from the viewing area. Any lights that are seen emanating from that direction are car headlights, and because of the distance and (I'm guessing) temperature change over the valley, these car headlights look very UFO-like indeed.

On the night of my second visit, a whole group of people were practically jumping for joy because they were seeing Marfa lights with their own eyes! Tons of the lights- dancing around, trading places, disappearing and reappearing. Except, of course, they were in the Southwest. I wanted to tell them to read the display for themselves, but who am I to burst their bubble? The ones that bug me more than the naieve believers, though, are the skeptics who say that the Marfa Lights are nothing more than car headlights on Highway 67. These skeptics, so ready to attack anything potentially inexplicable, don't even bother to take the time to find out that the real sightings of Marfa Lights are not what they are attacking.

Here we have the two extremes of the human condition: the man of faith and the man of reason, Mulder and Scully, Locke and Jack, or Bryan and Darrow. The thing that annoys me most about these two extremes is that it is all or nothing: blind faith or blind reason. This culture (as I suppose every one throughout history has been) is plagued with this dichotomy.

I think the thing that's so telling about my Marfa experience is that it shows that people do not want to learn. We want things to fit just as we expect them to, because otherwise we will be forced to change or, GASP, think!

Conservatives do this all the time with liberals, and vice versa. We're so busy thinking the other person is a communist or a fundamentalist bigot, we don't take the time to hear them out. Dialogue is very rare indeed because we want the other point of view to be wrong. This is the territory in which critical thinking is an absolute necessity, but it is usually replaced with bias.

None of us is perfect in this area; there are certain things that we just can't handle accepting, but we all can grow and learn to suspend judgment and look at the world as objectively as is possible.

It's my opinion that the Unidentified Lighted Objects outside Marfa have an explanation, but why dismiss them out of hand without hearing both sides? It would be better to withhold judgment and admit that we don't know everything than to jump to a conclusion based on insufficient evidence, or as some wise thinker once said, "Better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt."