Archive for August, 2009

Two Movie Night

August 22, 2009

Despite approximately 235,932 things I ought to be doing when Gena is out of town, somehow I accomplished pretty close to zero of them.  Perhaps three kids contribute to that order of things.  Procrastination needs to take up and accept it’s share of blame as well, though.

The first movie was part of a neighboring church’s movie night.  Space Chimps was the scheduled fare.  In an concerted effort not to waste pixels and valuable bytes of storage space (yes, bytes – it’s intentional), I’m not going to bother reviewing this movie other than to assure you that it is every bit as bad – and possibly much, much worse – than you might have thought it was.  Avoid this pointless movie at all costs.

The second movie came during potentially prime productivity time, however, so I have really no excuse, other than a feeble effort to continue to justify our Netflix membership.  Towards that end, I watched Serenity, the Josh Whedon movie based on the adventures of his short-run sci-fi television series, Firefly.  I knew my wife wouldn’t be interested in watching it, and I wasn’t sure what I’d think of it without ever having seen the television series. 

I liked the movie.  Whedon does a good job at developing realistic characters in unrealistic situations.  He imbued both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel with strong, paranormal characters struggling with very normal issues.  This skill netted him a huge fan base that made this film possible in many regards, despite the overall failure of the television series.  I didn’t feel in the least bit lost for not having seen the television series.

The movie takes place in the undetermined future on the fringes of colonized planets in another solar system.  Whedon utilizes an interesting combination of Old West motifs, Asian influences, 20th century cultural referents and sci-fi staples to bring his story to life.  And thus you have the protagonist wearing a Colt-style revolver on his hip while docking in an Asian-infused port of call reminiscent of something out of Blade Runner.   It all looks hip and noire, which is what I expect from Whedon, with a slightly retro vision of the future that makes the future seem realer than if he had opted for a Star Wars-esque cantina sequence.  Special effects are passable, but are not the main emphasis of the film – a delightful change in a sci-fi film.  I appreciated getting to care about real people rather than yawning through nonstop spectacular CG effects. 

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of the typical post-modern humanist blend of philosophy throughout.  “I don’t care what you believe, just believe!” is a pretty good summary of the film’s underlying themes.  Each character is in search of or exercising an existing belief.  It may be a belief in another person or a belief in a higher cause and even a higher power.  Mostly the beliefs are in transient things such as fulfilling a purpose.  It would be an amazing movie if the characters believed in something more worthy of their caring natures and heroic actions.

Strong performances and character-development drive this film, and if you enjoy those sorts of efforts, I’d recommend this one.

7 Quick Takes Friday

August 21, 2009


Before we get into the mix, I’d simply like to say that I think it’s cheating to post your seven quick takes for Friday on Thursday night.  However, I didn’t invent this game – I’m just jumping in for the fun of it.  Still.  Hmph. 


I’ll be baching (yes, this is how you spell it, even though it looks like some sort of bastardization of a classical musician’s work) it for 24 hours while Gena heads back to Phoenix for a quick family pow-wow.  I don’t worry too much about handling the kids solo for that time frame – I feel very capable.  But I also want to try and figure out special things to do with them during that time.  Which of course, requires extra thought and effort on my part.  I’m grateful that my kids and I are comfortable enough together that it will be special no matter what.  I just pray that I’ll be able to come up with some out-of-the-ordinary things to occupy them, exhaust them, and maybe create a few memories.

And I pray safe travel coming and going for my wife!

I’ve been doing some reading this week on the topic of vocation and how it has been interpreted and defined theologically.  Towards this end, I reread Gene Veith Jr.’s book The Spirituality of the CrossI also blogged a brief review of it.  It’s a great little read on some of the fundamentals of Lutheran theology (traditional Lutheran theology – not the mess that has been made of Lutheran theology by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The ELCA has taken yet another step towards removing themselves from the pale of Biblical Christianity this week – please pray for this church body and the many congregations that are now forced to decide if it’s time to leave the ELCA for more orthodox denominational affiliations.). 

In any event, it was good to read a synopsis of the classical Lutheran stance on the issue of vocation.  I’m still sifting through it mentally, probing the edges where I’m a bit uncertain, and then attempting to probe myself to understand why I’m uncertain about those things.  I look forward to another thinking & planning & writing session with my colleagues on Tuesday!

My wife and I watched a regular movie last night for the first time in months, probably.  Our Netflix queue has been busy with the extended versions of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King – also known as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  We’ve been putting off watching To Kill a Mockingbird for a couple of months, and so we jumped at the chance to watch the newest arrival – Rabbit-Proof FenceA review here if you’re interested.  Regardless of how we felt about the movie, it was great to remember how awesome it is to sit together on the couch with your wife watching a movie. 

I have to say it didn’t surprise me when a study determined that Baby Boomers were continuing their recreational drug use as they age, with nearly twice as many 50-somethings admitting they had done drugs in the last year than indicated so in 2002.  I’ve written with disdain about the weak arguments about how we’re never going to win the war on drugs so we might as well legalize them.  I think this study should remind everyone that there are reasons that drug use remains a huge problem in our country – there are now several generations of folks who don’t see anything wrong with a little recreational drug use.  It’s hard to convince kids to avoid drugs when their parents and grandparents are toking up.  Pot must be safe – grandpa does it!

An interesting but too-brief article in Time regarding what happens to our digital identities when we die.  Something that most people may not stop to think about is who has access to their e-mail, their instant messaging identities, their virtual reality identities, their social networking accounts, and other recreational online identity sources.  Each company has different ways of handling these situations, and there are now third party organizations that are springing up promising to manage people’s accounts and passwords, and to help in drafting “legacy letters” which can be sent out to people who know you should anything unexpected happen to you. 

For a culture that is bent on avoiding the whole issue of death, this poses a whole new wrinkle in things.  On a personal note, I experienced what this could be like many years ago.  I had gone on several dates with young woman in another town, when I received an e-mail one day from her e-mail account – but written by her mother – informing me (and who else I’m not sure) that the young woman had died unexpectedly.  I e-mailed back asking for a little more information, but never received it.  I’ve always wondered if she was just trying to find a way to not have to go on another date with me, or if she had actually passed away.

It’s worth giving some thought to how you want people you know online (and perhaps exclusively online) to find out about your death.

For others who are taking part in the 7 Quick Takes Friday project, how do you come up with your seven items?  In browsing other sites, I’ve seen some folks who take a thematic approach, others that seem to write whatever is on their mind at the moment, and others with no discernible pattern or theme.  I’m just curious if folks save up the things they want to talk about in this sort of shot-gun format, or what.  Thoughts?

I’ve been obsessed the last week or so with a video game that I spent millions of dollars playing when I was younger.  It’s been made available for free in a flash form, and I’ve been reacquainting myself with this strange little game

I’m almost over my re-obsession though.  Definitely.  Really.  I am. 


Book Review: The Spirituality of the Cross

August 21, 2009

If you’re curious about the distinctiveness of Lutheran theology, but don’t have time to read more scholarly or ‘dense’ works on the topic, Veith’s text is an admirable summary of the core theological differences between Lutheranism and other Christian denominations.

Veith’s stated purpose is not to provide theological arguments against other denominational approaches to the faith, but rather to lay out as simply as possible the Lutheran approach, noting where it differs from others without overly defending Lutheranism or attacking others. He does a good job at this, which lends the book focus, clarity, and an ecumenical accessibility that is less likely to offend than it is to inform.

Veith makes good use of a variety of different theologians, from Luther himself, of course, to Gustaf Wingren, H. Richard Niehbur, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These supports anchor and inform Veith’s work while providing it with depth and insight. Veith’s purpose is not to preach, but to relate and to inform, and he strikes a tone that is friendly and easy to understand.

Having a Senior Moment?

August 20, 2009

I’m sure that the Smithsonian Institute is a sage and august institution well deserving of the prestige and the trust which the American public (or the American public who have heard of the Smithsonian) accords it. 

I however, am not so happy with the Smithsonian.

Instead of throwing away their membership solicitation letter unread, (as I do with most such letters), I instead opened it up and was amazed at the stunning level of benefits available to me for a mere $10 per year.

I was further amazed to find out that this was because they were knocking $49.99 off the yearly price – as a Senior Discount.

Ouch.  And Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Rabbit-Proof Fence

August 20, 2009

Now that our family has successfully made it through Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: Extended Version (Book 1, Book 2, Book 3), Gena and I were able to sit down and watch our next Netflix queue item last night – Rabbit-Proof Fence.  We’re still putting off To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been sitting on our mantle for roughly two months or more now.  Someday, we’ll get up the gumption to watch it (I watched it in 9th grade, but that probably doesn’t count any longer.  I’m sure it’s changed by now).

The premise is simple – three young girls forcibly removed from their Aboriginal mother because they are half-castes seek their way back home on foot – a grueling 1500-mile journey. 

Yeah, 1500-miles.

While the movie was interesting to me from a historical perspective (curious that the Australians had a similar program to ones that were implemented in the US) to improve native populations, there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on history, but rather on the telling of this one sliver of history. 

I wasn’t overly impressed with the movie as a story-telling exercise.  The actresses who played the three young Aboriginal girls were compelling in their shyness and reserve – but this made them difficult to relate to and empathize with.  I’m sure that was probably partially intentional, but it severely limited my involvement with their plight.  Additionally, the sheer enormity of what they undertook is just unfathomable to me.  I can’t image doing it – and therefore it’s difficult for me to imagine them doing it.  How do you adequately depict that sort of emotional and physical undertaking?  Perhaps you can’t.  At the very least, I didn’t feel that this film depicted it adequately.  And that’s without discussing the rather anti-climactic and confusing nature of the film’s ending.

The girls were adorable, but again, I couldn’t relate to them in the least.  Kenneth Branagh was good as the extremely controlled and efficient A.O. Neville, who oversaw the program for 25 years.  David Gulpilil was amazing to watch.  He conveyed a great deal of emotion without words, and with a face held rigidly impassive for almost the entire film. 

The rabbit-proof fence is of course both a historical reality and a metaphor.  It represents – and is – the arrogant effort of one culture to impose it’s will onto another.  While we culturally pay lip service to abhorring such practices now that we know better, the truth is we all do this to varying degrees.  If we make the philosophical or theological move to say that humanity is on a linear track towards ever-betterment, then we are left with the recognition that some areas of humanity will be farther along on that development than others, and that the right thing to do is help those less fortunate and less developed cultures and societies to advance.  It sounds pretty philanthropic, until you see the sorts of decisions and actions it necessitates.  Humanists have not given up on this basic assertion, but they have been forced to be more subtle about methodology. 

I appreciated the fact that, while never shrinking from the cold-heartedness of the government’s policy, the movie refused to play into clear black and white categories (pardon the pun).  Neville is portrayed not simply as efficient and determined, but also as actually concerned for the welfare of his charges.  He is gentle with the children in the relocation camp, and he worries about the safety of the runaways as they make their way towards home.  And he even, ironically enough, understands that even though a culture may use “neolithic tools”, this does not mean that their thinking or their mind is neolithic.  He marvels at their ingenuity even as he attempts to eradicate it.  A very realistic depiction of the bundle of contradictions that make up the human being.

Actually, I much more enjoyed the short documentary Following the Rabbit-Proof Fence that was included on the DVD from Netflix.  it chronicled primarily the search for the children who would play the lead roles, and how they were crafted into actresses.  It’s kind of a quirky little documentary (is that redundant?), but it actually allows you to feel a connection to the people in the movie that the movie itself never permitted.  I strongly encourage you to watch the documentary after you watch the film. 

Cool Tool

August 20, 2009

Just as a reminder – I like technology!  We just need to be careful with it. 

This seems like a cool application of technology, and it will be interesting to see what sorts of things can be uncovered.

Daddy’s Little Girl

August 20, 2009

When Dove came out with their real beauty campaign a few years ago, I was skeptical.  I wasn’t alone.  Plastering billboards with scantily clad models in ages and sizes far removed from the typical beauty advertisement was a bold move, and not without detractors.  But it also hit home on an important topic of women’s self-esteem and the absurd standards of beauty used to sell everything from soap to surgery.

Yes, it was a stroke of genius in terms of marketing moves and the exposure that was generated.  But it was also true, in some sense of the word.  The right to try and look perpetually 25 regardless of the cost, the personal risk, and even the indignity of the pursuit seems like an odd medal for the feminist movement 30 years on.  The National Organization for Women (NOW) has a website that focuses on objectionable and positive ads, but doesn’t seem to make any sort of comment on our culture’s obsession with women needing to stay young indefinitely.  Perhaps this is a right that women have won? 

In any event, I think Dove has done a lot more – for probably mixed reasons – to highlight the unnaturalness of the beauty industry.  Towards that end, here are two great videos that help to drive home the point.

The first one deals with the distortions of both digital and manual nature that transform women into goddess-like entities to be envied and emulated through the purchase of expensive beauty aids.

The second one should strike home with parents everywhere.  Start talking to your daughters (and sons!) at an early age about what matters when we look at another person. 

Your Life Calling

August 19, 2009

What’s your vocation?

The idea that vocation in some way refers to what we do is pretty ingrained – at least in folks who have some awareness of the word and what it implies.  If we look at it linguistically, then vocation is a derivation of the Latin verb vocare, which means “to call” or “to name” or “to invoke”.    At one point in history, this was a rather broad term that was associated in a theological sense with God’s calling to humanity, and by extension, to individuals.  It became associated in religious circles with the idea of God’s calling on the life of an individual.  Eventually, this idea was narrowed further to focus specifically on a calling to church work, to full time ministry or ordination or the vows of a monastic order. 

But if the idea behind vocare and vocation is God’s calling on the life of an individual, what does that mean?  What is God’s call on the life of an individual, and is it Scriptural to assume that such a calling is in reference to the type of work that person does?  Is  the concept of vocation too narrow, in other words?  Is there anything Biblically that reinforces the idea that God is overly concerned with the type of work we do? 

To hear many Christians talk, the answer is yes.  It seems that many Christians have the idea that God has a specific intent for their work-life as well as their personal life, and that they are either in sync with that will or out of sync with that will.  The difficulty then becomes discerning that will.  How do I know if it’s God’s will for me to go to this college or that college?  How do I know if it’s God’s will for me to become a teacher or a nurse?  How do I know if it’s God’s will that I marry this person or not?

The implication is that if it’s not God’s will, it won’t be blessed. We’ll suffer.  We’ll experience trouble and hardship and doubt and uncertainty and failure.  And by extension, if we *are* in God’s will, then we’ll be blessed, we’ll enjoy prosperity and joy and a relatively smooth ride in our life.  All of this based on discerning God’s will and following it properly.  Like a child attempting to jump on a sidewalk without ever stepping on a crack because they don’t want to break their mother’s backs.  Except that in this case, the cracks in the sidewalk are invisible, leaving us to agonize about our next step lest disaster overtake us.  Our vocation becomes a new form of law that crushes us and weighs us down and forces our attention inwards to what we do, rather than outwards to whose we are.  This seems to be the theology that drives a lot of good Christians to agonize over what God is calling them to do. 

Is this what the Bible teaches us, though?

I don’t see a lot of Biblical emphasis on the type of work we do.  It’s clear that we are designed to work, but beyond that, we seem to be given a lot of latitude in what sort of work we choose.  Cain and Abel chose different professions, but it would be mistaken to say that God approved of Abel’s profession but not Cain’s.  The Bible exhorts us to diligence and faithfulness in whatever we do, but doesn’t focus a lot on what we do.  I don’t doubt that God has a calling on our lives, but is that calling specifically job related, or much broader?

I think it’s much broader. 

The vocation that God is concerned about for us in the Bible is not what we do but who we are – whose we are.  God’s calling on our lives as creations of God is to be in relationship with God.  This means, Biblically, that we acknowledge the identity and work of God the Father through God the Son, Jesus Christ, as empowered and led by God the Holy Spirit.  This is our vocation – right relationship.  This is our calling in the sense that God has a deep and eternal interest in whether or not we fulfill our calling, our vocation, as His creations by acknowledging that He is our Creator and responding in love and gratitude that He has not only created us but rescued and redeemed us.  A love and gratitude that overflow in love towards the rest of His creation, the rest of His creatures. 

My colleague Bob used the analogy of a father and a child.  The father loves the child.  The father’s love is not dependent on what the child does – it transcends it.  What the child does can affect the relationship between the father and the child, but it cannot change the love the father has for that child.  If the child decides to become a doctor, the father is happy for the child and encouraging and supportive.  If the child chooses to become a professional mime, the father may decide to make some alternative arrangements for his retirement planning, but loves the child all the same.  The love never changes.  The child has great freedom to live out their life within the love of the father. 

This doesn’t mean that the child can’t displease the father through their actions.  It doesn’t mean that the child can’t reject the father’s love, reject everything that the father has taught the child.  It doesn’t mean that the child can’t hurt or even destroy themselves through poor choices and willful disobedience.  This doesn’t change the love of the father.  The father loves the child through it all, in spite of it all.  The primary concern of the father is that the child be in relationship with him, and that the child be living their life in a way that does not harm themselves or others.  Even if that means being a mime.

Biblically, I’d argue that our vocation is right relationship with God.  Part of this involves internalizing the guidelines that He gave us for living our lives, and using those guidelines when making decisions about where to go to school, who to marry, what sort of employer to go to work for.  In the case of two options, where neither one violates how God wishes us to live our lives, we exercise our freedom, knowing that God’s love remains intact and surrounding us, and that God has not necessarily predetermined a ‘right’ vs. a ‘wrong’ path from this decision point.  We live in grace, not judgment, hope, not fear. 

Does this make any sense?

Onward Christian Hobbits

August 18, 2009

We just completed watching the marathon that is The Lord of the Rings: Extended Version.  I’m guessing it was about 28 hours long.  With our three children (ages 7, 4, and 3).  So yes, we will undoubtedly win some people’s award for Worst Parents in the World.  But, I’d like to say that our kids were not freaked out by it, have suffered no nightmares, and have not attempted to re-enact battle scenes with kitchen knives.


I was struck by the role of the hobbits in this piece of work.  They play an enormously important role.  Frodo carries the ring.  Sam carries Frodo.  Merry & Pippin are noteworthy for aiding (if not instigating) the destruction of Saruman’s military industrial complex, and reducing the once-powerful wizard to cowering in his tower.  They are immensely important in many ways.  But they are not warriors.  In fact, their respective duties are made possible in many ways by the more immensely powerful (in stature and battle-readiness) people that round out the Fellowship and join in various ways along the journey. 

The Hobbits are important, but they aren’t warriors. 

We could be misled on this point in several ways, if we aren’t careful.  After all, Frodo in particular wears armor for the latter 2/3 of the story.  Merry & Pippin both find themselves as commissioned warriors in different armies, equipped with the livery and finery, the armor and the weaponry appropriate to their roles.  Sam and Frodo both bear swords for most of the movie.  If we were judging by the situations in which they find themselves, and some of the stuff they wear, we might be tempted to consider these hobbits warriors.

But we’d be wrong. 

What happens to each of them when they attempt to be warriors – either by chance or by choice?  Frodo receives a near-mortal wound from the King of the Nazgul.  Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs and nearly eaten for dinner.  Pippin is nearly killed atop the walls of Minas Tirith during the siege of that city.   Merry is nearly killed on the field of battle outside that same city in the effort to break the siege.  Repeatedly, in any situation that calls on the hobbits to do more than simply avoid the battle, they are in constant need of rescue and protection.  They have armor, and they have swords, but they aren’t warriors, and nobody around them assumes that the fact that they are armed means they should act as warriors.  Their very natures and statures preclude this.  Their armaments were much more oriented towards protecting them in the midst of the battles.

I got into an argument about a year ago with someone who was ardently arguing for the role of Christians in securing the Earth for Jesus.  And I’ve had discussions with others on this same topic – people who make a great deal out of reclaiming cities for Jesus, or becoming prayer warriors, or attacking the enemy and subduing him in the name of Jesus, binding even Satan himself.   The metaphor of the Christian warrior conquering evil in the name of Jesus. 

Ephesians 6:10-18 is frequently the verse that is used to justify this metaphor.  After all, the argument goes, why would we be outfitted for war, if we were not warriors?

Because we’re hobbits, not warriors.

We’re equipped for our protection, not because we’re qualified to go on the offensive.  The Ephesians 6 verses exhort us to do several things – “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”, “take your stand against the devil’s schemes”, “stand your ground”, “and after you have done everything, to stand”, “Stand firm then”, “pray in the Spirit on all occasions”, “be alert”, and “keep on praying for all the saints”. 

We are very important, obviously.  God has created us and sacrificed His own Son to redeem us.  But we are not intended to be warriors in the spiritual battle.  Like hobbits, the fact that we wear armor and carry the sword  does not make us warriors.  We have been equipped to keep us safe from the enemy, but we should not confuse this with an injunction to storm the enemy.  There’s a big difference between standing firmly and charging the enemy line, and Scripture seems to understand implicitly that our role – however important – is not as warriors.  We are to avoid becoming collateral damage, final casualties in a conflict that has already been decided and is winding down. 

Busy Work

August 18, 2009

I was spending an enjoyable late evening with my buddy Jake after a great set of tennis (great because I won, naturally).  I think one of life’s greatest pleasures is to be able to sit and enjoy a bottle of wine and talk about Stuff That Matters with people.  And this was one of those pleasurable opportunities.

We’ve been sort of focused on the idea of vocatio, vocation, as we begin the process of trying to put together an intelligent and Biblically faithful book on the topic.  One of the things we’ve already realized is that the term itself has shrunk greatly in scope, until today people talk about vocation in terms of what your job is, how you labor.  And this is really too narrow an application of the term. 

But that’s another post (or chapter).

We were discussing last night what are the fundamental things that a church (congregation) *must* do to be faithful to it’s Biblical mandates.  Jake argued that Word and Sacrament was the sum total of what a church ought to focus on.  My initial (internal) response was to sort of cluck-cluck at him mentally for being such a good little Lutheran.  However, I sagely reminded him, the Great Commission enjoins us to teach, and when sermons are 10-15 minutes in length on average, can we rightly say that we’re fulfilling that mandate to teach simply in a Word and Sacrament worship?

Jake argued back that teaching or ‘the Word’ could come in any number of forms throughout the week, and needn’t (and arguably shouldn’t) be limited to traditional Sunday morning worship.  Ahhh, I responded, but a congregation that is focused properly on the importance of Word and Sacrament and what God does through these things is going to want to respond.  They’re going to want an outlet to minister, to serve, to participate in the work of God.  And how does the church provide that for them?

His answer was spot on, though I mentally argued against it at first.

His answer was that this is vocatio – the living out of our Christian faith, our response to God’s goodness in Word and Sacrament, forgiveness and grace – and that vocatio is lived out in our homes.  In our workplaces.  In our schools.  In the people we get together with for a shared meal or a few beers. 

Yeah yeah yeah, I wanted to say.  But I mean *really* serving.  *Really* ministering.  You know, doing something for the church.

But I realized more and more how completely wrong my impulse reaction was.  How very conditioned it was by the culture in which I have grown up.  A church culture that prizes commitment to ‘church events’ and ‘church programs’, but rarely if ever teaches seriously on the issue of ministering and serving and really doing something in the context of our families and jobs and neighbors. 

If a congregation were properly equipped for that kind of ministry, what could the church possibly add?  What program?  What study?  What pot luck?  It’s not that those things wouldn’t necessarily happen, but they wouldn’t need to happen anchored to the church, facilitated by the church itself.  People would be doing these things naturally as they sought to live out their vocational callings in the home or the workplace or the classroom.

What would it mean to our society if Christian men and women were properly taught and equipped to minister to their spouse and their children?  What would it look like if Christian men and women were properly taught and equipped to minister to their employers?  And what I’m suggesting is not that we teach them to become pastors in the home or the workplace, or evangelists in the home or the workplace.  But what if we taught them to see ministry in these arenas in terms of attitude, in terms of commitment, in terms of passion, in terms of valuing others?  What if the measure of a very ‘Godly’ person wasn’t how many hours they logged in church Bible studies or work days or fund raising events, but how passionately they gave themselves to their families?  How hard they worked for their employer? 

It’s a simply concept.  Deceptively simple.  And it counteracts the church’s heavy insistence on being the hub of all Christian activity at any given time.  But it resonates so deeply, and seems to so perfectly reflect the Scriptural emphases. 

I can’t wait for the next chance to flesh this out a bit further.  And I wouldn’t argue if a bottle of wine is involved!