Archive for September, 2009
I remember seeing the trailer for Henry Poole Is Here and thinking that it looked like a kinda funny movie. If you saw the trailer as well and thought that it was a light-hearted movie touching on faith, please be aware that this is not a comedy. Please be aware that you will spend 90% of the movie watching Luke Wilson with a pained expression on his face. I won’t say if this is a good or a bad thing, but it’s something to be aware of all the same. And it’s good to be aware that this review contains spoilers for the movie. Not that you aren’t going to basically know what is going to happen in the movie after 30 minutes into it, but still. I want to be fair.
Remember, spoilers ahead.
Henry Poole is a man with little time to live and little interest in spending what time he does have left actually living. He moves into the house where he assumes he’ll die, and attempts to not get engaged with his snoopy neighbor or the single-mom hottie next door with the curious 6-year old daughter. He didn’t ask for any improvements to be made to the house before purchasing it, but his agent arranged for it to be restuccoed and repainted. This last part is crucial, as his nosy neighbor discovers the face of Christ in what Henry writes off as a water stain in a poorly done stucco job.
Did I mention that Henry is an atheist?
Athiest +Face of Christ on his wall = conflict.
The movie wants to provide hope. It seems to define hope very generically as “hope in this world” – at least that’s the theme that keeps being reiterated on the ‘making of’ feature that is included on the DVD. For a film that centers around the image of the Son of God on an atheist’s wall and the attendant challenges and miracles tied up with it, God, Jesus, Christianity, miracles, the Bible – none of these words or names are mentioned in the ‘making of video’. Frankly, they’re only used as props in the movie itself. It’s as though it was a movie centered around an inspiring dog – apparently the cast and crew consider a ‘hope’ based on Christian concepts and icons to be as generically accessible as a special interest segment on a three-legged cat on the local news.
There are a plethora of problems with the movie. It tries too hard. It relies on clichés for characters as well as dialogue. Henry is a lovable guy who is acting – understandably – rather unlovably. The snoopy neighbor has a heart of gold as well as a deep and rich life of faith. The single-mom hottie next door doesn’t seem to be particularly spiritual, but she repeatedly talks in terms of praying for things to happen or not happen, as opposed to the more generic term hoping. The single-mom hottie falls for Henry almost upon setting eyes on him as does her daughter. All the stars are aligned to beat poor Henry into submission. Which is ironic, since faith is portrayed exclusively as a choice.
Faith is depicted as a personal choice to believe something – though exactly what is never explicitly stated. At the very least, to believe that the stain on Henry’s wall might actually be a miraculous, bleeding image of the face of Christ that could have all of the curative powers traditionally associated with such manifestations. The grocery store clerk chooses to believe, and God pays off. The neighbor girl chooses to believe, and God pays off again. Will Henry choose to believe or not? Will God give in for such an amiable gruff of an atheist? I’ll bet you can guess.
The symbolism is not exactly subtle. The fence separating Henry and the single-mom hottie’s back yard is chain link with those lovely plastic strips woven through to give the illusion of privacy. Except that most of them are broken off, resulting in all sorts of cross-shapes popping up in scenes around the fence. Henry’s yard is pretty sparse and uninteresting, while his deeply faithful neighbor has a rich, vibrant, lush yard complete with a pool and shade trees. Get it? Henry’s life is bare and empty because he doesn’t have faith. Esperanza has faith, and therefore her backyard kicks butt.
That’s another little thing. Names. Esperanza (Hope). Dawn. Patience. Dawn wears a shirt at one point emblazoned with Harmony. What an amazing coincidence of names around Henry – all pointing to faith and hope. All of this would be somewhat passable if the ending were better. If it were anything but the drawn-out predictable ending that you know is coming as soon as the cast of characters are in place. All of the muttered God’s and Jesus’ and Lords and other forms of taking the Lord’s name in vain would be halfway worthwhile if the ending of the film really reflected not only hope, but an honest struggle of some sort. A resolution of sorts beyond the Make-A-Wish variety. But that’s far and away beyond the ability of this film.
I really like the premise for this movie. There are some good actors who wandered into it. But the film never has the spine to really do anything that it sets itself up to do. As such, you feel bad for Henry – a lot – but since you know how it’s going to end he quickly becomes annoying. Henry’s refusals to recognize the obvious seem forced and disingenuous – culminating in his final post-modern refusal to acknowledge the obvious evidence purely because he can’t apparently handle the thought that he might be wrong. This should have been a great movie about the Christian faith and the Christian God and the world being overrun with His grace and healing. Instead, it truly is a movie about a stucco stain. I guess there’s something to be said for truth in advertising.
Last spring some of my colleagues in the area and I had a little heated theological discussion. The presenting issue was a rather poor article in Christianity Today entitled Speak the Gospel, Use Deeds When Necessary. The article dealt in various ways with the oft spouted maxim “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” The idea being that we don’t need to tell someone the Gospel, but rather we can demonstrate it to them through our actions.
I was a proponent of the maxim, and defended it vigorously against two of my brethren. In particular, one of them argued that the Gospel could only be spoken, it could not be demonstrated. The Gospel might inspire our actions, but it would be impossible for someone observing or receiving those actions to know that they were Gospel motivated if we never actually spoke the Gospel. The Gospel is the unique story of the Son of God becoming incarnate to be born, live, work, suffer, die, and rise from the dead again – and the importance of all of this for every living person on the planet.
Eventually, I changed my position to agree with them.
Good works are only that – good works. They benefit our neighbor, and we are commanded to do them as followers of Jesus Christ. But we are mistaken to think that the works alone will communicate the unique message of the Gospel to anyone. At best, our good works might open a door towards conversation, at which point we could share the Gospel. But unless we actually speak the Good News of Jesus Christ to someone, they may not know that it is this Good News that motivates our actions, and this Good News that easily eclipses whatever meager kindness we may extend to someone.
A Muslim can do good deeds for their neighbor. So can a Buddhist.
So, it would seem, can a strip club.
It’s good that the Muslim, the Buddhist, and the strip club are doing good deeds to serve their neighbors. But those good works look awfully similar to the good works that a church might do to raise food for the hungry, or to provide clothing to the less fortunate. Identical, in fact – unless the church also includes the Gospel somehow. We must use words to communicate the Gospel, because only the spoken Gospel can differentiate between simple neighborliness, mis-guided theology, or the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
More and more this is reshaping my thoughts on the social activities that are traditional to Christian congregations. If a church was offering the same flu shots and free buffet as the strip club, but nobody ever shared the Gospel with the people that came through the doors, the action is, while nice and neighborly, possibly inappropriate for the church. The people who benefitted from the flu shot and the food might never benefit from anything deeper, just as the patrons at the strip club in the article don’t seem to be particularly affected by anything else that happens at the place.
This is a hard argument to make and to hear, and I’m not necessarily suggesting that it should be universally applied. But it bears some thinking.
Anybody – apparently – can provide free flu shots and a free meal. And it’s good that they do so. But only the church can provide the Gospel, at least as a corporate entity. Individual Christians are able to share the Gospel in any manner of settings, but the one thing that a person should get at a church that they probably won’t get at any other organization is the Gospel. So a church that focuses on social services without also providing the Gospel is missing the boat completely. Just as a church that did not engage the community at all would be missing the boat. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. The church needs to own that the most valuable gift it can give is the Gospel, and then engage in whatever social ministries it feels led to and capable of with the understanding that the Gospel needs to be shared through those programs.
Somehow. In some way. It needn’t necessarily be through preached sermons. Maybe it will be through short written or graphical accounts of the Gospel. But it needs to be included somehow. Because our good deeds alone are not going to share the Gospel with anyone. And if we as Christians and congregations aren’t the ones to share the Gospel in and with all that we do, exactly who else is going to share it?
Part of me hopes the strip club won’t, or lots of churches are going to go out of business pretty quick. But another part of me thinks it would be cool if the strip club *did* share the Gospel. A whole lot of people might hear it then who would never hear it otherwise.
It was only two short years ago that the CIA assured the press that Iran’s military nuclear ambitions had ceased in 2003. There was no shortage of additional criticism and scorn heaped upon then-President George W. Bush for his saber-rattling regarding Iran. I’m not sure that any intelligent person honestly believed what the CIA had to say on this issue, and that would seem to have been well-deserved skepticism.
Iran revealed today that they were constructing a third nuclear enrichment site which had not been disclosed previously to the international community, and which the international community was supposedly unawares. Hopefully unsurprisingly, Iran is defiant that there has been no breach of their obligations to the international community. Already the press is mongering about the historic shift in the UN Security Council, with Russia – perhaps recently encouraged by President Obama’s plans to scrap a European-based Star Wars defense shield program – seeming to indicate that they might support sanctions against Iran. If they were to do so, this would put China in a less enviable position if they opted to vote against sanctions.
The concern is that the site seems rather small to be producing uranium for energy production, but just the right size to produce one or two nuclear weapons per year. And from a site underneath a mountain that has been kept hush-hush while international monitors were focused on known refinement facilities, ensuring that they weren’t developing the higher-grade uranium needed for a weapon.
The CIA assures us all that they’ve been monitoring the facility since 2006. A year before they publicly endorsed the idea that Iran wasn’t doing anything wrong with it’s enrichment programs.
I dunno about you, but that sounds pretty suspicious in itself.
Interesting stories posted here and here about the founder of a International Church of Jediism and some difficulties he encountered recently while attempting to do some grocery shopping. If you aren’t already familiar with getreligion.org, and are interested in the portrayal of religion by the press, definitely start viewing their site. Their brief take on the story is where I first heard about it. There appear to be several different Jedi churches or religions, with the one linked above homed in the New Zealand, and another homed in the UK. This particular story has to do with the UK-based group.
The founder of the group was ridiculed and ejected from a supermarket because, when asked, he refused to remove his hood, claiming that as an adherent of the Jedi Church, his doctrine prevented him from going bare-headed in public. This caused some understandable snickering, and he was told to unhood or leave. He is now considering legal action and is accusing the store chain of religious persecution.
So is the Jedi Church, or the Church of Jediism, a legitimate religion? A religion is traditionally defined as a set of beliefs and practices. There is often much more tangible associated with the religion, but at core it breaks down into these all-encompassing aspects of a person’s life. Speaking broadly, a religious belief or a religion exerts this level of influence in an individual’s life because it is believed by the individual that the beliefs and practices represent truth. At a fundamental level, the person believes that they are engaging in, pursuing, and living out truth.
Is this how the Jedi Church/Church of Jediism sees themself? As a means of understanding and participating in Truth?
These two expressions(?) of the Jedi religion seem related with one another, yet they make conflicting statements as to the reality of the Jedi faith. New Zealander Jedi’s seem convinced that what they believe is truth, and that this truth actually predates the movies that expressed it:
The force has always existed and always will. Our faith in the force existed well before the fictional Star Wars movies brought popular recognition to the terminology and concepts that our members always innately held, but had difficulty describing in a shared forum.
I find this an impressive assertion, because almost all of those who describe their religion as ‘Jedi’ were born after 1970, which would mean the sagest of them would have been seven when Star Wars was released and gave voice to the truths that they had, hereto for, “innately held, but had difficulty describing in a shared forum.” I had difficulty describing much of anything in a shared forum when I was seven. These guys were apparently some pretty deep-thinking second graders.
But I digress.
So the force is truth that has always existed but was only revealed as such in the Star Wars movies. Gotcha. Except that, when pressed with a basis beyond the movies on which to legitimize themselves, the New Zealand-based Church of Jediism very quickly change tunes. Truth is what we make it, what we like it to be. “So in summary, no religion is truth. It is all just a matter of faith.”
Ummmm…so which is it? Is it an eternal truth that finally finds expression in the Star Wars mythos, or is it just another example of something claiming to be true without actually being true? It’s the typical postmodern argument – truth doesn’t exist. Except they said just a few sentences earlier that truth does exist, and that this is truth. Yet at the same time, they don’t feel required to provide any greater explanation or validation for their beliefs. They don’t have to be actually true, because in fact, there is no such thing as religious truth, or perhaps truth at all. A convenient argument that can be used to justify pretty much any belief or practice you’d like to subscribe to. And an argument that ignores the fact that for all of the major world religions, truth is pretty important. They all claim to be describing ultimate truth. While some might be more tolerant in the short term of other beliefs, all of them believe that ultimately, you wind up with a very particular
The UKers also pay lip service to this idea of Jediism being eternal truth, but then go on to admit that it’s rather a fanciful thing which basically provides major inspiration for living one’s life. They sum this up nicely with the statement that:
In closing we encourage people to watch the films, read the books and enjoy them for what they are, wonderfully entertaining stories. But most of all to take a look at the positive messages expressed within and apply them to your own lives.
Daniel Morgan Jones, the one who was mocked when he tried to buy food while wearing his Jedi hood, has himself indicated on the website itself that this isn’t really a true religion. Although he claims that the energy field that binds us all together was only described by the movies, not invented by them, he also claims that the Church of Jediism is based on the films, just as Christianity is based on the Bible and Islam is based on the Quran. He embraces the “positive messages” of any and every belief system, while also promising to create a community where there is no “bias or any type of prejudice. A community that does not reject other religions”. That’s awesome, but is it really a religion? He’s describing something far more akin to the social teachings of Confucianism, which is viewed by many as a philosophy rather than a religion.
And is he really being persecuted in the way a Muslim woman wearing a head scarf would experience persecution if forced to remove it? Is he being persecuted for his faith in the way the Jews were during Hitler’s reign, or the way that the early Christians were under Nero and other Roman emperors? Considering the fact that the store owners were able to craft a pretty convincing rebuttal of the Jedi Church’s “doctrine”, his position would seem problematic at best. His web site makes no mention of the head covering issue in the section on doctrines.
Jediism doesn’t seem to purport to provide Truth, one of the hallmarks of credible religious organizations. The followers’ efforts to gain for themselves the status of religion, including the right to claim that they are being persecuted for their faith, ultimately only makes a mockery of religion in general, and all those who have suffered – even to the point of death – for their beliefs.
This week, I thought I’d experiment with a theme for at least six of my seven entries. And based on the dead silence on some of my heavier posts earlier this week, I thought perhaps a bit of light-hearted merriment would be more appealing.
Disappointment of the week – finding out that there is no way to export my blog from GoDaddy’s Quick Blogcast system to WordPress.com. Which means that I’m back to the drawing board for a cheap yet professional new blogging home. Suggestions?
Enjoyment of the week? Spending the afternoon at Disneyland with my family. Our annual passes (available to Southern California residents) expire in less than a month. We’re not sure we’re going to renew them. And I vow to make Mickey regret his generosity for the year. Anybody that wants to go to Disneyland with us? Our goal is to go every week until our passes expire, and I’m grateful for flexibility with my day off each week!
Along the lines above, and as a friendly tip to other travelers, when the temperature at Disneyland approaches triple digits, and you go on a weekday after Labor Day, you don’t have to wait very long in lines. We spent an extremely toasty afternoon at Disney’s California Adventure park, and were able – in the span of a few short hours – to ride the most popular rides in the park. Rides that normally have wait times of 40 minutes or more: Soarin’ Over California, California Screamin’, Grizzly River Run, Toy Story Mania, and Mickey’s Fun Wheel had wait times of 15 minutes or less. In a single afternoon we were able to ride all of these rides that we hadn’t been able to get on in the past eleven months because of long lines and young children.
This year has been a good lesson for me. I tend to choke on big purchases. I feel guilty spending lump sums of money. The purpose of the expenditure is really not much of a consideration, nor is whether or not I’m getting a good deal. If it costs more than $100, I tend to procrastinate and find reasons to delay or avoid the purchase. What if I need that money for something else?!?! I think it’s my inner fiscal paranoid that screams any time he is faced with a major purchase.
Which is what an annual pass to Disneyland is for a family of five. It was a chunk of money (although Disney is now offering an option to break up the purchase of the annual pass into monthly payments). But it’s without a doubt one of the best purchases I have ever made. We’ve definitely gotten far beyond our money’s worth in memories, photos, and fantastic times. Our children will never know the agony that I and other youngsters the nation over have to endure by only being able to visit Disneyland once every few years (or less frequently!). We’ve been able to go and relax, not stressed out about having to do everything each time, since we’ve known that we would be returning within a few weeks.
You spend a lot of money over the course of a lifetime. Not all of those expenditures are smart, or wise. But it’s important to remember that it isn’t necessarily the amount of the expenditure that determines whether it’s wise or not. Some opportunities are too good to pass up, even if you have to bite the bullet financially.
My wife and I wonder almost every time we visit what it is about Disneyland and other Disney parks that is so incredible. In our nearly dozen visits in the past year, we’ve never grown bored, the experience has never felt tedious, and there is always that quickened step even after a 90-minute drive through some of the worst traffic in the world. I don’t know how they do it. I’m tough to impress. It takes a lot to hold my attention, and I’m brutally good at noting the shortcomings in the world around me at any given moment. Yet I’m always excited to be returning to a Disney park. Despite the hassle of parking and waiting for trams and still lugging around a double-stroller and dealing with people who have never learned the rudimentary lessons of navigating in a crowded place. I would love to know what sort of drugs are sprayed into the air around and throughout the park so that every visit is cool.
‘Cause I would buy those drugs in a heartbeat and spray them in my church.
What is your favorite attraction at Disneyland/California Adventure or some other Disney theme park? I have to admit I was pretty skeptical of California Adventure a year ago. How could it possibly compare to the classic Disneyland? Well, it compares favorably, thank you very much. Oodles of Pixar tie-ins lend a newness to the Disney franchise. Now having had the chance to ride just about every ride in California Adventure, my favorite is a toss up between the Toy Story Mania ride and the California Screamin’ ride (see links above). On second thought, while California Screamin’ is pretty impressive by Disneyland standards, I’m sure it’s a rather ho-hum roller coaster ride when compared to other parks. So I’ll say that, for the time being, Toy Story Mania is my favorite California Adventure ride. As for Disneyland? That’s tough. The classic cornball comedy of the Jungle Cruise? Blasting the evil Emperor Zorg in Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters? The nostalgic thrill of Space Mountain? I’ll be a bit unconventional here, and say that my favorite is just riding the monorail that spans the two parks. It’s a relaxing way to see some of the park, and it doesn’t have the heavy expectations in terms of thrills or memories that more traditional rides do.
As much fun as the rides and other attractions are at the two Disney parks, I think that personally, the most fascinating thing about going is people-watching. You see all kinds at Disney parks. Gang bangers. Punks. Goths. Jocks. White collar. Blue collar. Old. Young. Beautiful. Not-so-beautiful. Augmented. In need of augmentation. Pierced, tattooed, sun-burned, blea
ched – you name it, they come. We were waiting to ride Soaring Over California today and there was a gaggle of teen girls in light punk attire. They had the make up and the attitudes and the outfits, but were also waiting patiently in line for a simulation of hang gliding over California.
We passed two extremely white girls in goth attire. Painfully, glaringly white. And they ended up a couple of dozen people behind me as I waited in line with my oldest boy to ride California Screamin’. And of course, being Southern California, there are many, many, many women who are obsessed with their appearances to an excruciating extent. And they stand in line next to folks that haven’t been aware of their appearance since probably the Ford administration.
And it all works somehow. They all get along somehow.
I don’t understand why. I don’t know if we’re bound by the same glowing childhood memories that guide us back to these places like spawning salmon later in life. I don’t know if those childhood memories help people set aside the prejudices and issues that they might normally feel overwhelmed by in the real world. I can’t explain why I could sit and joke with a group of young tattooed men and women in a simulated tractor wheel that was preparing to float down a fake rapids. I don’t know why there’s such a high level of that elusive tolerance stuff that is being crammed down our throats everywhere else in our culture.
Whatever the reason, it’s powerful. And I can’t help but wonder why people don’t treat church that way? Why they aren’t drawn back to church even if they strayed away during their young adult years, pulled by childhood memories? Why isn’t there the tolerance and the getting along that I find at Disneyland? Why – even amongst people that are almost completely alike to one another – do most congregations have trouble finding unity and tolerance, yet the most diverse of people can somehow figure out how not to spoil each other’s day while waiting in line for It’s a Small World?
Maybe churches need to charge people more. Maybe we should stop catering to people, and instead let them know that they’re going to have to wait their turn, and it may take a while. Maybe the pot lucks should feature more mediocre food. I don’t know what the issue is. Perhaps it’s just enough to recognize that when people put their minds to it, they can get along well enough. Maybe they’ll take that lesson with them to church on Sunday. Or home to their families. Or into their workplace. Life is short and expensive – maybe we should avoid ruining one another’s day, every day.
An interesting turn of events is unfolding across the pond in Great Britain.
They have a law, you see. A law which says that it is illegal for someone to aid someone else in committing suicide. It’s fairly simple and straightforward.
Only it isn’t.
Because while there is this law, it isn’t necessarily enforced. Or at least, not consistently. And so, not surprisingly, a concerned citizen petitioned not long ago to have clarification on when the law would be enforced, and when it might not be. She wants specifically to know if *she* would be prosecuted for taking her husband to Switzerland to an assisted suicide organization.
And Parliament agreed that this was a reasonable request. They did not agree to simply eliminate the law, but they did feel it was reasonable to give some guidelines on when one might or might not have reason to suspect that they would be prosecuted for breaking the law.
So the law remains, but has to be clarified as to when it will be treated as a law, and when it will be ignored because certain people don’t think that the law is appropriate. The clarification makes it rather clear that the perceived intent of the law, as far as the State is concerned, is to protect those who could be taken advantage of, or who might not truly wish to be assisted in a premature death, or may not have a convincing medical reason to seek premature death.
There wouldn’t be this confusion if the law was just a law, enforced as most important laws are – not perfectly, but relatively consistently. And this is an important law, hence the reluctance of Parliament to rescind it. But if the law is important enough to have on the books, and not tamper with, shouldn’t the population expect that the law is going to be applied without the need for a formal clarification of when the law will and won’t be applied?
Are there other important areas where laws are arbitrarily applied, and where there are elaborate studies done to determine how they will – and won’t – be applied? I’d be curious to hear about them, cause none come immediately to mind.
Let it never be said that I refuse to acknowledge if someone disagrees with me.
After several posts on the atrocious writing skills in general of many of the students I encounter, I ran across this little blurb that would seem to, if not contradict, at least cast a different light on the discussion. Reading and Writing journal published an article that says spelling goes the other way – good spellers of traditional English are good spellers of chatspeak. Those who spell poorly in the English language make similar areas in chatspeak.
However there’s more to communication than just spelling. Punctuation, grammar, syntax – all of these elements seem to be falling by the wayside, and this article does not (at least in the abstract) deal with those aspects of writing. It would be interesting to do a study that tracked how students wrote and spelled prior to learning textese, and then follow up once they had begun to do significant amounts of texting.
As religion and spirituality have continued to spiral into a personalized, individualized, compartmentalized, iPodized commodity in Western Civilization, you hear people saying things that sound almost like what the Bible says, but not. When people decide that they’re equipped to create their own religion, essentially, keeping the things they like and ignoring the things they don’t, we quickly find out that the maxim from Ecclesiastes “There is nothing new under the sun” is really true. More often than not, New Age, individualized spirituality tends to fall into predictable patterns that were known and rejected long ago as being incompatible with (or blatantly contradictory to) the Biblical witness. As Christians, it’s good for us to know that just because something sounds kinda nice, doesn’t mean that it’s true, or that it’s Christian.
One of the earliest and most invasive heresies in Christianity was the Gnostic heresy. Gnosticism did and does thrive on claiming to be Biblical and Christian, while twisting and mangling the theological cornerstones of the faith to turn the Biblical witness of a vibrant, real, communal faith into a personalized, spiritualized, gutted-corpse of a hope. Gnosticism was soundly rejected by the early church fathers, despite it’s broad appeal. And for good reason. I think this handy little table is fantastic for identifying some of the key claims of Gnosticism, and comparing them to what the Bible actually teaches. The only thing it lacks are specific Biblical references so that you know where and how the Biblical witness contradicts the teachings of the Gnostics.
It’s important to be aware of these differences, because they are still quite prevalent today – even among people who claim to be Christians in good standing. Oftentimes, these erroneous beliefs are an attempt to balance a very amazing Biblical God with our rationalist tendencies. What we can’t understand, we explain away soas not to violate our intellectual groundings. I suggest reviewing this every so often, particularly if you’re talking with folks who say they’re Christian, but seem to have some curious ideas about things.