Monday, June 30, 2008


WALL·E is worth seeing for it's first half hour. Without spoken dialogue writer/director Andrew Stanton and the team at Pixar take computer animated cinema to a whole, new level. We find ourselves in a familiar yet forbidding world: a deserted American (I presume) city looking like an amalgam of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It's sometime in the future and the Earth is devoid of greenery and buried under mountains of trash. The landscape reminds one of Blade Runner (although this dystopic vision of the future is seen mostly thru smoggy sunlight), Mad Max, Spielberg's A.I., even the dusty world of Tatooine.

WALL·E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is busily and solitarily collecting the detritus of Western civilization, compacting it into neat cubes and stacking it...and stacking it some more. Along the way he (yes, he's a masculine robot) finds treasures ("one man's trash is another man's treasure") which he brings back to his homey bunker (it reminded me of Robin Williams' basement home in The Fisher King). I should mention the omniprescence of the logo BnL for Buy n Large, a Wal-Mart/Target-type superstore that's cornered the market on everything from robotics to your child's education -- the ultimate merging of government, business and marketing it seems. Pixar even set up an elaborate website for this believable fiction.

It's the small details that make the first third of this movie the most compelling. I'll just mention one. WALL·E is unloading his BnL cooler of the day's treasure and pulls out a piece of plasticware. He has the forks and spoons that he's collected segregated on the shelves of his home. But WALL·E is flummoxed because this isn't a fork or a spoon, it's one of those combination implements (a spork?) that one may get along with your loaded baked potato or strawberry parfait. Surely the brilliant invention of someone trying to make our lives a bit more convenient.

You may guess where this is going. I think there are multiple themes being explored at multiple levels, which I'm puzzling on (I found the ending problematic), but on the surface this is clearly a polemic aimed straight at overconsumption, consumer culture and cavalier disregard of our planet's future. This movie will irritate some conservatives. But to me it's a deeply conservative message, if speaking of an older Edmund Burkean kind of conservatism, before the "c" word became too often synonomous with untrammeled comsumerism and a slash and burn approach to the environment. A conservatism that didn't think building the best widget for the lowest price trumped all other societal considerations. I do see the irony though of a Disney movie (of all things) uncomfortably satirizing the hand that feeds it. Is this what Marx meant by capitalists hanging themselves with their own rope?

Don't get me wrong. This is a fun, entertaining movie, but it's not Toy Story or Finding Nemo (Stanton's previous film) by a long shot. And as I mentioned there are various other intriguing themes that could be explored, but I'll let you discover them for yourself. No doubt many viewers will recognize allusions to the Old Testament narratives of Eden and the flood.

Legendary Ben Burtt contributes the voices and sounds of the robot characters in WALL·E. Star Wars fans will recognize the name of the man who created the iconic R2-D2 and C-3PO. No doubt the possibilites available to him now must seem infinitely more than he had to work with in the 70s! Thomas Newman contributes an effective score, and Peter Gabriel adds a song over the closing credits that makes obvious the main "message" of this movie. "But we wanted to fly/When we messed up our homeland/and set sail for the sky..."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Viva Fernando Torres

Here's a clever Nike ad featuring the hero of Spain's 1-0 win over Germany in today's European championship final. The ad shows Liverpool -- where Torres plays professionally -- transformed into Madrid on the Mersey.

Watch it here.

A timely reminder

Viola Larson on the faithful Church

Friday, June 27, 2008

The steady stream of congregations leaving the PC(USA) is about to become a flood

Just in from

Assembly Approves total package of changes on ordination standards
Written by Webmaster
Friday, 27 June 2008

The General Assembly has voted to approve all three major items related to ordination standards:

1) they have added a new authoritative interpretation of the constitution that is specifically designed to allow sessions and presbyteries to ordain persons who do not abide by the constitutional standards for ordination;

2) they have removed an existing authoritative interpretation that prohibits homosexual practice for church officers.

These two actions are immediately effective.

3) The GA voted to send to the presbyteries an amendment to the constitution, namely the deletion of the "Fidelity and Chastity" standard and the addition of language that says a sincere effort to obey one's personal interpretation of scripture is the standard for ordination.

It is difficult to imagine what more this Assembly could do to speak clearly about the state of the PC(USA). These are not little changes. And they were made with full knowledge of the effects of "little" changes at the last General Assembly.

PFR will very soon speak to the church about this GA and where we now are as denomination and as a renewal movement.

Walter Murch: standing tall

If you asked me which person working in the movies today I'd like to have dinner with, there's a good chance I'd answer Walter Murch -- editor and sound designer par excellence. Murch's artistry isn't performed behind or in front of the camera, but standing (he doesn't sit when working) in front of an editing bay or a mixing board. Since the early 70s Murch has been associated with a pair of California filmmakers that changed the face of Hollywood -- George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola -- and he's had fruitful partnerships with many other fine directors. But my admiration for Walter Murch goes beyond his accomplishments in cinema. Simply put, he's a gentleman and a scholar -- someone who's comfortable in a wide range of disciplines. Novelist Michael Ondaatje describes him as a "man whose brain is always peering over the wall into the worlds of scientific knowledge and metaphysical speculation." Ondaatje and Murch met during the adaptation of Ondaatje's novel The English Patient into what became the Academy Award-winning movie. He later conducted a series of interviews with Murch that were published as The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. Rarely has a book given me as much pleasure. Ondaatje writes:

He is a true oddity in the world of film. A genuine Renaissance man who appears wise and private at the centre of various temporary storms to do with filmmaking and his whole generation of filmmakers. He has worked on the sound and/or picture editing of such films as American Graffiti, The Conversation, The Godfather (Parts I, II, and III), Julia, Apocalypse Now, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Ghost, and The English Patient. Four years ago he recut Touch of Evil, following Orson Welles's ignored fifty-eight-page memo to Universal. He has written and directed Return to Oz, an ambitious sequel to The Wizard of Oz. He has written In the Blink of an Eye, a sort of "Zen and the Art of Editing," as pertinent for writers and readers as it is for filmmakers and audiences.

But he is a man who also lives outside the world of film, the son of an artist whose theories and attitudes on art have deeply influenced him. He can sit at the piano and play "the music of the spheres," based on the distance of the planets from one another, translated by him into musical chords. And in recent years he has been translating the writings of Curzio Malaparte. He doesn't like to watch other movies when he is working on one himself, as he is ninety percent of the year. And he doesn't watch television, ever.

He is a low-key, gliding presence in a crowded and noisy room. He has a pair of ears that can pick up the hint of hum on a soundtrack, hiding within a twenty-track scene made up of gunfire, burning napalm, shouted orders, and helicopters. In the editing rooms of Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, or the Saul Zaentz Film Center, he stands in front of an Avid editing machine, fine-tuning a cut that will eventually seem fluid but which is in reality a radical jump watch Murch at work is to see him delve into almost invisible specifics, where he harnesses and moves the bones or arteries of a scene, relocating them so they will alter the look of the features above the skin. Most of the work he does is going to affect us subliminally. (Introduction, pp. xiv-xv)

It's been said that editing is what separates film from other visual arts. It falls to the editor to take the hours of raw footage shot by a director and fashioning it into a coherent and compelling movie. No one understands the process better, or can explain it more eloquently than Murch. As in this comparison of the "spaghetti-sauce method" of editing a film and the "Procrustean" method.

Film travels at one mile an hour through its projector. So in Apocalypse Now, we shot over two hundred and thirty-five miles and reduced it all to two-and-a-half miles -- a ratio of just under 100 to 1. That's high, but not unique: Michael Mann's recent film The Insider had a similar ratio. There will be long stretches in the evolution of a film where nothing seems to fundamentally change -- plateaus.

And how you prune or chop will determine the very character of a film. There are two approaches to reducing the length of a film: There's what I call the spaghetti-sauce method, which is simply to put the film on the stove with some heat under it, and stir. You taste it occasionally and say, That's great! Now the carrots are working with the tomatoes in a good way, or, No, it's a little too thick, let's add some water! Gradually, organically, the volume of the film reduces to the appropriate level.

The opposite approach is more brutal. There was a brigand in Greek mythology, Procrustes, who lived on the road between Athens and Sparta. He had a cabin at a place where the road got very narrow, along the coast. Everyone who happened to pass his cabin was obliged to spend the night, and sleep on Procrustes' iron bed. While you were sleeping, he would either stretch you so that you were as long as the bed, or he would lop off things that stuck out, so that no matter how tall or short you were, by the time you left his cabin, you were the same length as everyone else who'd been the end, we usually use some combination of both: the spaghetti-sauce method and the Procrustean. (pp. 136-140)

In this NPR interview Murch says the role of a film editor is "a combination of being a short order cook and a brain surgeon. Sometimes you’re doing incredibly delicate things, other times you’re doing the equivalent of flipping burgers." And he's quick to point out that both surgeons and cooks stand to do their work. Next Friday we'll take a look at his contributions to film sound.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sophie Scholl on film: fact or fiction?

In response to last Friday's feature on Sophie Scholl: The Final Days I received an email from Ruth Hanna Sachs of the Center for White Rose Studies taking serious issue with aspects of the movie. In particular, the way the film presents Sophie and Hans as the leaders of the White Rose, and takes it's cues from the version of events propogated by older sister Inge Scholl. As I wrote in reply to her email, putting history on screen is problematic. I've long realized that a movie is usually not the best place to get an unembossed history lesson. After reading Ms. Sachs' scene-by-scene critique of the Sophie Scholl script I still admire the film greatly, but I can see that it may not be as historically authentic as the filmmakers would have us believe. But that doesn't surprise me. Nor am I surprised when heroes turn out to be flawed, or heroic actions spring from less-than-pure motives.

Ms. Sachs graciously agreed to let me post her email. I've included a link to the Center's website below. Check it out.


I saw your blog about your enthusiasm for Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl movie.

While I am always pleased to see that people have “found” the White Rose story, you should know that the Rothemund/Breinersdorfer portrayal of the heroic actions of those college students and the adults who learned from them is by no means accurate.

To begin with, neither of the Scholls was the “leader” of White Rose resistance. Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Traute Lafrenz provided the “moral backbone” of the group. Christl was acknowledged as such by everyone who knew him. Alex (not Hans) penned the wonderful words that set the White Rose apart from other resistance groups, namely the words decrying the murder of Jews and Poles. Willi Graf provided firsthand account of the war crimes he had seen while on the Russian front – without his eyewitness testimony, they likely wouldn’t have been as fired up as they were, since the rest of them did not see the war crimes for themselves. And Traute Lafrenz was the first person in the group to be involved with active resistance while she was in Hamburg, BEFORE she came to Munich. They did not stop talking and start working until Traute transferred to Munich and was introduced to the group by Alex Schmorell.

The Scholl-centric version of the story is extremely problematic, because it has been perpetuated by Inge Aicher-Scholl, oldest sister of Hans and Sophie. Inge told their story because during the war, she was a die-hard Nazi, Ringführerin of Jungmädel in Ulm, responsible for teaching anti-Semitic and Nazi racial ideology to all Jungmädel leaders. Inge never, ever recanted her Third Reich politics. She merely pretended they never happened. She recruited two other people who were Nazis during the war to assist her in spreading the White Rose story as she invented in: Franz Josef Müller and Jürgen Wittenstein. Wittenstein was even Nazi Party Member #7667868. Contrary to his writings, the students of the White Rose avoided him because he proudly wore the Nazi party pin in his lapel.

These three used Inge’s White Rose fiction to cover their Nazi pasts. It is instructive that Fritz and Elisabeth Hartnagel nee Scholl refused to join Inge’s “work” because it was fiction.

Our Center for White Rose Studies is dedicated to spreading the unbiased, true story of White Rose heroism, recording the wonderful deeds and acts of all 180 or so whom the Gestapo identified with the group. If you would like to know more, please check out our Web site at:

Note especially the detailed review of the Rothemund / Breinersdorfer movie at: == You will be interested to know that even Ulli Chaussy, who served as historical consultant on the movie, was more than a little annoyed by the liberties they took. Above all, with the character of Robert Mohr, whose hands were not at all clean. Mohr was a typical hard-nosed Gestapo agent who earned a substantial promotion because of his handling of the White Rose case. The image of him shaken and moved by Sophie Scholl was one he invented out of whole cloth post-war as part of his de-Nazification efforts – something Chaussy documented for Rothemund / Breinersdorfer, that they ignored.

I’ve also written two volumes of our White Rose history trilogy, and we’ve published all the primary source materials in English translation that we can to date, with more to come as intellectual property issues are cleared up.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about our work, or why we do what we do.

Best regards,
Ruth Hanna Sachs
Center for White Rose Studies
Lehi, Utah USA

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

N.T. Wright on "Our Father"

The first occurrence in the Hebrew Bible of the idea of God as Father comes when Moses marches in boldly to stand before Pharaoh, and says: Thus says YHWH: Israel is my son, my firstborn; let my people go, that they may serve me (Exodus 4:22-23). For Israel to call God 'Father', then, was to hold on to the hope of liberty. The slaves were called to be sons.

When Jesus tells his disciples to call God 'Father', then, those with ears to hear will understand. He wants us to get ready for the new Exodus. We are going to be free at last. This is the Advent hope, the hope of the coming of the Kingdom of God. The tyrant's grip is going to be broken, and we shall be free:

I see my light come shining,
From the west down to the east.
Any day now - any day now -
I shall be released

N.T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer

A message from Wess Stafford

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tim Keller CT interview

I do think a lot of Christians — because they don't understand the grace narrative — get out into the world and find it very tough to navigate. I think it's because they don't understand the gospel, not because they can't answer all the theological questions.

Tim Keller in Christianity Today, June 2008

Read the complete interview here.

Spurgeon on assurance

Now, it is impossible for you to love God without the strong conclusive evidence that God loves you. I once knew a good woman who was the subject of many doubts, and when I got to the bottom of her doubt, it was this: she knew she loved Christ, but she was afraid he did not love her. “Oh!” I said, “that is a doubt that will never trouble me; never, by any possibility, because I am sure of this, that the heart is so naturally corrupt, that love to God could never get there without God first putting it there.” You may rest quite certain, that if you love God, it is a fruit, and not a root. It is the fruit of God's love to you, and did not get there by the force of any goodness in you. You may conclude, with absolute certainty, that God loves you if you love God. There never was any difficulty on his part. It always was on your part, and now that the difficulty is gone from you there is no more difficulty left. O let our hearts rejoice and be filled with great delight, because the Savior has loved us and given himself for us. So let us realize the truth of the text, “I am your husband.”

Charles Spurgeon, The Relationship of Marriage

Friday, June 20, 2008

The road to European glory

I don't know if anyone else is following the Euro 2008 football championship going on now in Austria and Switzerland. That's soccer to us Yanks. It's sort of the World Cup minus Brazil and Argentina. It's a great spectacle and at it's best produces some compelling drama. It's sport plus faux-nationalism set to a techno soundtrack, featuring fans in silly outfits and pampered athletes with one-word pop star names (Portugal who was sent packing by the Germans yesterday feature a couple of midfielders named Deco and Nani). What more could one want? England is still in mourning because their team didn't qualify for this year's championship. But Frank Skinner of The Times has been trying to put a smile back on his countrymen's face with his hilarious dispatches from the Alps on the Euro madness.

Read his blog here.

When worldviews collide

If you go to Perlach Cemetery in Munich, Germany you'll find the grave of Sophie Scholl (born 9 May 1921 - died 22 February 1943). She's buried next to her brother Hans Scholl and friend Christoph Probst. All three were executed for their involvement in the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance. If you're not familiar with the story of Sophie and the White Rose, the Shoah Education Project has a brief bio on her and her brother. Read it here. I want to focus on the superb dramatization of Scholl's last days by director Marc Rothemund and writer Fred Breinersdorfer in their 2005 film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage). After watching it two or three times its become one of my favorite movies and favorite performances by a female lead -- German actress Julia Jentsch playing Sophie. This is a film with universal appeal, but as a Christian it's especially powerful.

The backbone of the film is a series of interrogations of Scholl by Investigator Mohr (Gerald Alexander Held) in his darkly-panelled office at Gestapo headquarters. Initially, Scholl attempts to cover up the resistance activities that have gotten her arrested, and she professes to having apolitical views. The savvy interrogator isn't buying it. "Do you think you can hide your true convictions from us?" Mohr asks. As it turns out, she can't, and these interviews morph into a well-written, marvelously-acted confrontation between two opposing worldviews -- the Nazi ideology of the Gestapo-man and the Christian convictions of the student.

By this scene -- the final interrogation -- a subtle shift has occurred. One senses that Mohr is becoming more and more unnerved by Sophie. He can't quite figure her out. "You're so gifted, why don't you think and feel like us?" he asks. In previous scenes Mohr has been the one in complete control -- of the situation and his emotions -- but here we begin to detect a flicker of doubt as Scholl presses him on the nature of the regime he serves. I like the simplicity of the scenes between Jentsch and Held characterized as they are by a conventional shot/countershot rhythm and the absence of music or background noise. Director Rothemund steps back and allows the writing and acting to supply the dramatic tension. Watch as the interrogator becomes the interrogated.

In contrast to Investigator Mohr, Judge Roland Freisler (André Hennicke) is a raving madman. Handpicked by Hitler to preside over the People's Court, he was the personification of justice being turned on her head. In this scene he's presiding over the sham trial of Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst. Lest you think Hennicke's performance is over the top, the trial scenes in Sophie Scholl: The Final Days are based on transcripts and archival footage of Freisler in action. The scene ends with the three sentenced to death and Hans Scholl (Fabian Hinrichs) pointing his finger at Freisler in the manner of an Old Testament prophet and pronouncing woe. "You may hang us today. But you'll be hanged tomorrow!" His prophecy came essentially true on 3 February 1945 when Freisler was killed by a direct hit on his courtroom during an American bombing raid. In a nice bit of irony, the raid was led by a Jewish-American lawyer from Brooklyn, USAF Lt. Col. Robert Rosenthal.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Coming soon

Two of my favorite directors have new projects on the way. Spike Lee with Miracle at St. Anna (view the trailer here) and David Fincher with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (view that trailer here). Both look quite different than anything these directors have done before, and both feature heavily made-up stars. Fincher's film is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Take a look and see what you think.

Waiting for the day of Christ

Reading through Philippians recently I noticed the reoccurrence of the phrase "day of Jesus Christ" or "day of Christ."

1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

1:10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.

2:16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Keeping in mind that Paul is writing to the "saints in Christ Jesus" at Philippi, he explains later what the day of Christ means for those in Christ (it will mean something terrible for those not in Christ).

3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Paul speaks of the day of Christ in different ways elsewhere. It's sure coming is both a warning and an encouragement.

1 Cor. 3:13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.

Titus 2:13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

John expresses the now/not yet tension of our status as God's children and reminds us of the practical implications this "blessed hope" is for the Christian life now.

1 John 3:2-3 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Hoping in Christ means waiting expectantly for his day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Revising the Heidelberg Catechism

Once again the usual "progressive" suspects are bringing overtures to the PC(USA) General Assembly next week to change the definition of marriage in our Book of Order from a covenant between a "man and woman" to "two persons." Also, commissioners will be asked to approve a process for revising the translation of the Heidelberg Catechism used in the Book of Confessions. As Presbyterians for Renewal point out here, this is simply another attempt to remove language from the Constitution of the PC(USA) that says homosexual practice is sin and disqualifying for ordained office. The language targeted is this:

Q. 87. Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?

A. Certainly not! Scripture says, "Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God."

There may be a case to be made that this isn't the most precise translation, but I agree with PFR that concern for historical accuracy isn't the primary motive behind these efforts.

UPDATED 6/18: R. Scott Clark comments over at the Heidelblog

The power of God for salvation

This sermon by Steve Lawson on Romans 1 had me thanking and praising God as I listened in the car this afternoon. Listen here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The hands of the father

The true center of Rembrandt's painting is the hands of the father. On them all the light is concentrated; on them the eyes of the bystanders are focused; in them mercy becomes flesh; upon them forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing come together, and, through them, not only the tired son, but also the worn-out father find their rest. From the moment I first saw the poster on Simone's office door, I felt drawn to those hands. I did not fully understand why. But gradually over the years I have come to know those hands. They have held me from the hour of my conception, they welcomed me at my birth, held me close to my mother's breast, fed me, and kept me warm. They have protected me in times of danger and consoled me in times of grief. They have waved me good-bye and always welcomed me back. Those hands are God's hands. They are also the hands of my parents, teachers, friends, healers, and all those whom God has given me to remind me how safely I am held.

Not long after Rembrandt painted the father and his blessing hands, he died. Rembrandt's hands had painted countless human faces and human hands. In this, one of his last paintings, he painted the face and the hands of God.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Not a video game

ESV Study Bible sneak peek

The great folks at Crossway have been providing some sneak peeks at the upcoming ESV Study Bible. This week they made available for download the Introduction to Revelation.

Download it here.

I've had a chance to read it and look it over. It's excellent! Hopefully this will prove a corrective to some of the far-out treatments of Revelation in some previous study Bibles and popular Christian literature. Not that it takes sides, but it does a terrific job of placing John's Apocalypse within it's historical and literary context. It fairly and cogently explains the four main schools of thought on how to interpret Revelation, and the three main millenial views. The diagrams are clever and helpful. As I said, the editors don't take sides and make it clear that all of these views are well-represented among orthodox, Bible-believing Christians. But seeing the diagrams of the more complicated interpretations (see page 7) may give food for thought.

BTW if anyone from Crossway is reading this...there's an error on page 4. "They" should be struck from line 4 so it reads: "can help in understanding the way in which the symbols were understandable to John's contemporaries".

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From Good Letters...

After surviving a 36-hour blackout, Caroline Langston reflects on the parable of the foolish virgins, Walker Percy and the meaning of the good life. Even when the lights go out.

A brief history of the Reformation

Robert Godfrey recently gave a brief history of the Reformation to the folks at Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC. The audio quality is uneven (you'll want to turn up the volume), but it's worth a listen. There's a brief Q & A at the end where Godfrey answers some common questions i.e. do Reformed Christians believe baptism guarantees salvation? and what are some differences between Luther and Calvin?


Our desire for happiness drives us outside ourselves. So does the Gospel.

We are full of things which propel us outwards. Our instinct leads us to believe we must seek our happiness outside ourselves. Our passions pull us outwards even when objects to excite them are not there. External objects tempt us in themselves and beguile us even when we are not thinking about them. It is all very well for philosophers to say: 'Withdraw into yourselves, you will find your goodness there'; we do not believe them. Those who do are the most hollow and stupid of all.

What the stoics propose is so difficult and worthless.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées (176 & 177)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This is your brain on Hitchcock...

It's not Friday yet, but that won't stop me from sharing this film-related item. Actually, it's an interesting convergence of neuroscience and film.

Film Content, Editing, and Directing Style Affect Brain Activity Neuroscientists Show

As the friend who sent this to me quipped: "and they say watching movies is a brainless activity, ha!"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sex and the City and Genesis 3:16

I haven't seen Sex and the City (the movie or TV series), but I enjoyed reading screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi's take on it. She points out that it's ultimately about friendship, forgiveness and "women desperately trying to obtain and then maintain the male focus." She writes:

I thought it was fun. I went into it as someone who has enjoyed the sanitized version of the series on TBS. I thought about the movie, what I have always thought about the TV show: Sex and the City is not so much about sex as it is about female friendship. And more particularly, how female friendship allows women to survive their relationships with men.

I am also always fascinated by how episode after episode of the source material TV show here - and to a lesser extent the movie - seems to be a Genesis mystery play built around God, rubbing the Divine eyes in the Garden and grimly forecasting to the Woman, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will Lord it over you." SATC is nothing if isn't watching women desperately trying to obtain and then maintain the male focus.

Everybody is talking about rampant materialism in SATC as manifested by Carrie's and her friends' 800 or so costume changes (yes, I'm exaggerating, but it really seems like there are that many fashion moments in the movie). Really, this didn't bother me, and in fact, this was one of the "cinema of attractions" elements that I really enjoyed in the film. The clothes in Sex and the City are like the CGI special effects of a planet getting nuked in a male-oriented action flick. I mean really, why are shots of a super dress with great accessories more ominously bad for the culture than a bunch of dudes whooping it up at a visually clever rendering of an 18 wheeler bursting into flames?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Looking past Solomon

Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. 1 Kings 10:23-24

1 Kings 11 marks one of the saddest turning points in redemptive history. It begins abruptly, "Now King Solomon loved many foreign women..." It gets worse. Much worse. "Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites...then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem." The great builder of the house of God was now building temples for pagan deities. These weren't touchy-feely gods and goddesses that Solomon was chasing after. The worship of Molech included child sacrifice. Milton imagined him as one of Satan's angels: "Moloch, horrid King, besmeared with blood/Of human sacrifice, and parents' tears."

All this comes as a shock after the preceding chapters in which the writer of Kings describes in fulsome detail the wisdom and power of Solomon. How he built the temple, and how the glory of his unified kingdom was the envy of the world. In chapter 11 it all starts to unravel. The kingdom is torn in pieces and the curses of Sinai begin to come to pass. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived we're told. Yet, it would be difficult to idealize Solomon or make him into a moral exemplar (perhaps if the story ended at chapter 10 we could). But to read the Old Testament with Christian eyes is to look beyond these great figures of OT history to the one they point to. As someone who's watched a lot of movies over the years, including some very dark ones, I'm always looking for a note of redemption. Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don't.

In the dark movies of ancient Israel's history there's always a note of redemption to be found -- a promised Redeemer who'll show up in the sequel. There are lessons to be learned from the life of Solomon the wise, but I'm glad the story isn't ultimately about him. There came another of David's line, King Jesus, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" and "who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (Col. 2:3 & 1 Cor. 1:30)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

William Wilberforce: evangelical Christian and life of the party

This morning on NPR, Weekend Edition's Scott Simon interviewed author and politician William Hague on his new book William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Campaigner.

Listen here

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Consumerism and the Church

Martin Downes has a great piece on the consumerism virus afflicting the Church. Read it here. I'm by no means immune from this virus. I know it affects me in ways both conscious and unconscious. Romans 12:2 is a process. But my consumerist approach to the Church took a drastic turn several years ago when Shannon and I were involved in a PCA church-planting mission for 15 months. I think every Christian should be involved in a church plant at least once in their lives. I promise it will change the way you view church! We called it church in a trailer. Every Sunday our small band would unload the trailer and scramble to set up the rented auditorium, prepare coffee and snacks, prepare elements for Communion (it's not easy filling those little cups with grape juice!), run off bulletins, set up the resource table, organize the nursery and a dozen other things, all in a furious race against the clock. And God forbid that the landlord forgot to leave the AC on, cause we didn't have the key to the controller! Of course, once worship was over and visitors had been sent on their way, we did it again in reverse.

We often wondered if it was worth it. Most of the time it seemed like an investment of time, energy and frustration without a lot of return. It would have been easier to revert to the shopper mentality that Downes describes and find a church where the cost/benefit ratio was more in our favor. But paradoxically it was through that experience that Shannon and I gained something priceless -- a passion for the Church and the Gospel that we didn't have previously -- which we then brought to our present church and will I hope bring to any future church we're a part of. It's not that we didn't love the Church before, but it was more of a conditional love based on the tangible benefits a particular church could offer. Even though that church planting effort ended in what looked to human eyes like failure, I'm deeply grateful that it taught me the high privilege it is to be part of the visible, local church even when it seems very ordinary and small. I agree wholeheartedly with Downes:

Involvement in the local church is not “another” option on the spiritual menu for 21st century Christians. To belong to God's people, to be part of God's family, is the high privilege conferred on God's children. Here is the place where God dwells by his Spirit. Here is the place where God assembles us, speaks to us, and sanctifies us. Here is the place where he has given gifts. Here is where we are to serve him, serve one another, and display the Gospel. It is time to put consumerism back on the shelf.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A time to celebrate (and look ahead)

The nomination of Barack Obama to be the Democratic candidate for president is a feel good moment for America. Or it should be. Regardless of what you think about his positions or whether you plan to vote for him in the fall.

Thabiti Anyabwile captures the moment.

My son Titus will not know a time when no African-American man had ever a chance to serve in the highest office of the land. I've spent all my life thinking it utterly impossible.

My daughters Afiya and Eden can say, "I remember when Barack Obama became the first African American candidate nominated by a major party. We were living in the Cayman Islands watching it on television with our parents... really proud of the U.S."

I heard David Gergen say, "I'm from North Carolina. Barack Obama won that state with large margins. Twenty-five years ago... even ten years ago... that was unthinkable." I'm from N.C., too. I thought it was unthinkable last year.

But to Stanley Crouch the glass is half empty. He writes:

What is perhaps most surprising is what can be seen in the rearview mirror. There, reduced to a speck, is the once-huge expectation that the next President would be a Democrat. The current President, after all, has started two wars and completed none, and presides over a palette of debacles that encompasses everything from a crashing economy to a housing catastrophe to an immense loss of American prestige around the world (with the possible exception of those aforementioned indigenous Brazilians). It includes, of course, a lack of trust in an administration that weaseled and fibbed and exaggerated and Cheneyed the American people - but has (and so the GOP will remind us all) kept the nation safe from another attack. No small matter, it will turn out.

So I see little that pleases my jaundiced eye. Yes, voter participation is way up and, in the end, the Democrats will choose a woman or an African-American and, to invoke that tiresome phrase, history will be made. But this messy nominating process has eroded the standing of both candidates. It has highlighted the reality that racism still runs deep and that misogyny, although more imagined than real, is not yet a wholly spent force. This is an ugly porridge that has been placed before us, turned rancid since the cold, pristine days of Iowa only five months ago. We were, with apologies to Bob Dylan, so much younger then.

And the always interesting and usually perceptive David Brooks is pleased to play the role of Dr. Doom to both camps.

Since effectively wrapping up the nomination, Barack Obama has lost 7 of the last 13 primaries. Obama’s confidants say that this doesn’t matter. In states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, primary election results are no predictor of general election results.

That’s dubious. Though voters now prefer Democratic policy positions on most major issues by between 11 and 25 points, Obama has only a 0.7 percent lead over McCain in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. His favorability ratings among independents has dropped from 63 percent to 49 percent since late February.


The Republican camp, meanwhile, is possessed of the belief that Obama is a charming lightweight. Republican senators have contempt for Obama’s post-partisan image, arguing that he and his staff refused to even participate in backroom bipartisan discussion groups.

But Obama is far from a lightweight, as Republicans will learn if he agrees to do joint town meetings with McCain. McCain’s jabs that Obama is naïve will backfire. In this climate, a candidate can’t define the other guy, only himself. When McCain attacks Obama for being naïve, all voters see is McCain being sour and negative.

More fundamentally, McCain’s problem is that his party is unfit to govern. As research from the Republican pollster David Winston has shown, any policy becomes less popular when people learn that Republicans are supporting it. If the G.O.P. sponsored the sunrise, voters would prefer gloom. Many Republicans are under the illusion that they are in trouble because they’ve betrayed their core principles. The sad truth is that if they’d been more conservative, they’d be even further behind.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reading the Scriptures

This Lord's Day myself and another brother/friend will be ordained as elders of our church. Please pray for us. We're both still wet behind the ears. One of the responsibilities of elders in the Presbyterian Church is to assist in public worship, including the solemn and joyful duty of reading God's Word. I mentioned in a post last week the practicality of Bonhoeffer's Life Together. Here is what I mean. He actually addresses the proper way to publicly read Scripture. One might say this is in the way of personal preference or one man's opinion, but I believe he's right.

Often the difference between an experienced Christian and the novice becomes clearly apparent. It may be taken as a rule for the right reading of the Scriptures that the reader should never identify himself with the person who is speaking in the Bible. It is not I that am angered, but God; it is not I giving consolation, but God; it is not I admonishing, but God admonishing in the Scriptures. I shall be able, of course, to express the fact that it is God who is angered, who is consoling and admonishing, not by indifferent monotony, but only with inmost concern and rapport, as one who knows that he himself is being addressed. It will make all the difference between right and wrong reading of Scriptures if I do not identify myself with God but quite simply serve Him. Otherwise I will become rhetorical, emotional, sentimental, or coercive and imperative; that is, I will be directing the listeners' attention to myself instead of to the Word. But this is to commit the worst of sins in presenting the Scriptures.

If we may illustrate by an example in another sphere, we might say that the situation of the reader of Scripture is probably closest to that in which I read to others a letter from a friend. I would not read the letter as though I had written it myself. The distance between us would be clearly apparent as it was read. And yet I would also be unable to read the letter of my friend to others as if it were of no concern to me. I would read it with personal interest and regard. Proper reading of Scripture is not a technical exercise that can be learned; it is something that grows or diminishes according to one's own spiritual frame of mind. The crude, ponderous rendition of the Bible by many a Christian grown old in experience often far surpasses the most highly polished reading of a minister. In a Christian family fellowship one person may give counsel and help to others in this matter also.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (pp. 56-57)