Archive for October, 2021

Watching Netflix

October 13, 2021

I’ve watched very little Dave Chappelle. A few YouTube clips at most. I don’t have a feel for his comedic style or where he might be coming from in life. The little I know about him is just that – little. So I don’t have opinions or perspectives on the controversial material that has thrust him into the spotlight again. Opinions and perspectives expressed in comedic observations, but which directly conflict with or challenge the prevailing championing of transgender issues.

This has earned him the ire of those who once felt he was on their side. A small group of Netflix employees have demanded Netflix remove the show. Netflix has thus far refused to do so, claiming it supports the creative license of content producers, and noting that Chappelle’s work as a whole has been some of the most widely viewed material Netflix has produced. No official word on whether this latest offering from Chappelle, entitled The Closer, follows in that lucrative and widely viewed path.

Personally, I wonder what Chappelle is up to. Either he’s boldly taking a stance contrary to the currently dominant vocal minority, or he’s orchestrating a larger-scale comedic event, where he’ll reveal at some point down the line how he was trolling those folks who cheered his countercultural stance. In the long run, I’d argue that it doesn’t matter.

What does matter, and what we should all be watching for carefully, is whether Netflix caves to that strident but very, very small minority of voices within the company insisting Chappelle’s show should be removed because it conflicts with their personal opinions and ideologies. The rest of Hollywood appears to have mostly caved to such voices long ago, and set about dutifully creating content that supports and encourages the sorts of lifestyles and world views championed by this minority. Upcoming new releases include a son-of-Superman comic line where the titular character is bisexual. Another includes a reboot of the awful 80’s horror franchise Child’s Play, this time serialized on cable channels and involving the main character (other than Chucky) just figuring out he’s gay.

Certainly there are a few voices like Chappelle’s willing to challenge this tidal wave of gender confusing material aimed squarely at children and adolescents ill-equipped to make healthy sense of it. But those voices are few and far between, or at least sparsely covered. When they are covered countering opinions overwhelm the actual material the article is allegedly about.

How ironic that those who champion inclusivity and diversity are adamant that any voice out of step with their own ideologies should be silenced. That was one of their complaints when other voices were reflecting or directing our cultural opinions.

What’s at stake here is creative license, to be certain. The reality is that approval and assent to gender and sex redefinitions is nowhere near unanimous. The minority of liberal voices seeks to create the appearance that their views and ideas (which are always in flux) are the majority view. If contrary material is made available to the public and is commercially successful it will demonstrate this is not the case, threatening the control these voices now exercise.

I commend Netflix. Not for their ideology necessarily, but for being a company instead of an ideological power. Their job is to create content and earn money for doing so. The market determines whether they continue to produce certain kinds of content. I don’t personally like slasher films like Child’s Play, nor am I much of a fan of most comedians today, Chappelle included. The question is whether people should determine what is produced by spending their money on it, or whether companies should determine what people like by only producing a certain kind of material.

So far the latter approach is holding sway, and I believe history will judge that trend harshly – both as a business model as well as a sociological movement. In the meantime, be aware of what your kids and grand-kids are watching, and don’t be surprised if they come to some conclusions about the world and right and wrong that are starkly different from your understandings and beliefs.

Suffering for Your Faith

October 12, 2021

I’m no fan of Jehovah Witness theology, but I certainly respect the conviction of the young men described in this article who are willing to serve prison time rather than violate their religious beliefs of pacifism. I wonder how many Christian young people here in the US would be willing to suffer rather than sacrifice their beliefs.

We recently re-watched the epic The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy since our youngest recently finished reading the books and wanted to compare the movies to the books (overall not bad but a lot of creative license in adding or expanding characters). Throughout the books/movies there is a consistent theme of being willing to face almost certain doom and failure, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Whether it’s Frodo and the Fellowship willing to take on the “fool’s hope” of trying to destroy the Ring of Power in the heart of enemy territory, or Theoden leading the remainder of his troops against an overwhelmingly larger force besieging Minas Tirith, the theme of being willing to die for what is right rather than submit to evil is powerful.

What an essential theme to pass on to our children! Life is a beautiful thing, so beautiful that sometimes it must be risked in order to ensure it remains beautiful and free. I’m reminded yet again of C.S. Lewis’ prescient words:

Since it is so likely that (children) will encounter cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.

Law and Kings

October 10, 2021

This morning we worshiped with a small LCMS congregation in between Tacoma and Olympia. For Bible study, they’re working their way through 1 Kings and we joined them for the latter 2/3 of Chapter 2. This section deals with the transfer of power and how the new king Solomon dealt with several questionable characters his father David had shown mercy to but remained potential sources of future problems. Since Solomon was not the eldest son of David, to whom the throne would have been expected to pass, Solomon’s position is a bit precarious, as this section highlights.

Four individuals receive judgment from Solomon based on combinations of past and present actions. Adonijah, who had already attempted to take the throne while David was still alive; Abiathar, priest under David but who had also supported Adonijah’s claim to the throne; Joab, David’s general who also had supported Adonijah’s claim; and Shimei, a kinsman of King Saul who had cursed David during his dispute with another usurper son, Absalom.

The passage reads rather harshly. Abiathar gets off the easiest – he’s banished and replaced in his role as priest. The other three are all executed by order of King Solomon. It’s a passage that may strike our sensitive ears rather dissonantly. How is it that Solomon, soon to be bestowed with divine wisdom, should condone the execution of these people his father saw fit to spare?

We must remember Solomon is king, but not just any king. He is king over the only Biblical theocracy in all of human history. He rules the people of God by the Word of God, in conjunction (at least theoretically) with the priests and prophets. Disobedience to the king is the same as disobedience to God. Those who thought it was their duty to determine who the king should be erred grievously in doing so. And those who felt they were not bound by the king’s law or their own promises discovered this was not the case. Just as God’s people are not exempt from his Law and are in danger (as the opening of Hebrews 2 warns us) of being drawn away from the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and suffering the condemnation of the Law.

We see in these historical passages both grace and judgment, and are called to remember we have not simply a Savior but a Lord, and that Lord is due and rightly expects our obedience. Our obedience won’t be perfect, flawed as we are with sin. But we must remember always who is the only proper and fit ruler of our lives – and it isn’t us! When we feel we can dismiss the Word of God for our own ideas or the ideas of our culture and day we err grievously and need to come back to repentance. The warnings of Psalm 2 are just as appropriate in our day and age as they were in Solomon’s!

Reading Ramblings – October 17, 2021

October 10, 2021

Date: 21st Sunday after Pentecost – October 17, 2021

Texts: Ecclesiastes 5:10-20; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 4:1-13(14-16); Mark 10:23-31

Context: A challenging group of readings in a culture where earning and buying is how we are taught to define our worth. In a culture where display of what we have accomplished (or what we want others to think we’ve accomplished) drives massive debt and the corresponding anxiety that accompanies it. Where we are taught to work hard to save up to spend and have fun in the so-called Golden Years, even if it means sacrificing time with children and family and friends in the short term. But the Biblical message is clear and consistent – these goals are not only unhealthy they are misleading. In the short term because wealth is fickle and sometimes fleeting, and in the long term because wealth can distract us from what matters most and eternally – our relationship with our Lord and Savior.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 – Traditionally ascribed to Solomon despite the enigmatic attribution of Qoheleth, which means preacher or collector in Hebrew. Solomon is said to have written this challenging work in his old age, reflecting on a life of pleasure but also a life spent looking for meaning. This chapter begins with an exhortation to fear and honor God which forms a natural transition to a warning against the major distraction in our lives – an obsession with wealth. This obsession is dangerous whether still in the pursuit of wealth or after the acquisition of it. There is never security from this obsession, never a point at which the pursuer can be sure they have enough and can rest. Acquisition means nothing without expending, and so peace is never achieved despite the false promises that wealth brings security. In fact, wealth can be lost in an instant, perhaps far easier and faster than it is acquired! The alternative is a more balanced perspective on life that keeps wealth in proper context. Wealth may or may not be attained but life can still be enjoyed as the gift from God that every life is, whether rich or poor. We are designed to work (Genesis 1:28), but to work in right relationship to God rather than in an unbalanced drive for riches. When we lose track of who we were designed by and for, the inevitable result is sorrow and loss.

Psalm 119:9-16 – The second section of this great acrostic psalm echoes some of the language and concepts of the reading from Ecclesiastes. The young man is exhorted to seek not riches but God and his Word, and to guard and keep it as the rich man guarded and fretted over his treasure. God’s Word is more than capable of delighting us more than the passing wealth and trinkets of this world if we only recognize this! What better way to live our lives than with our eyes fixed on our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, from whom all blessings flow whether in times of need or plenty, and who alone promise us a peace that passes all understanding? This requires an intentionality on our part. We can become distracted (as Paul reminds us in the reading from Hebrews 4) and lose our focus. We must daily re-affirm our intent to remain fixed on God’s Word and statutes.

Hebrews 4:1-13(14-16) – Paul continues on the theme he began expositing at the start of Chapter 2 – the risk we are at continually of drifting away from the faith and hope we have in Christ. This is a real possibility (as opposed to those who would teach that salvation cannot be lost) given the reality of our enemy Satan and his powers, as well as the sin within each one of us. Certainly based on the other readings it would be reasonable to read into Paul’s concerns the role of wealth and material riches that seem to distract so many from the most important things in life, but Paul isn’t necessarily talking about wealth specifically. The problem with the Israelites was not the pursuit of wealth but rather a lack of trust in God. An obsession with wealth could certainly be interpreted as a lack of trust in God in some instances. Our trust is ultimately in our great high priest, Jesus, who unlike the limited and imperfect high priests of old has made perfect atonement for us in his own blood, yet understands our weaknesses and distractions and intercedes for us with the Father and Holy Spirit on our behalf not only in justification but in strength for sanctification.

Mark 10:23-31 – For the Jews of Jesus’ day (and for Christians today who subscribe to the heresy of prosperity theology), wealth was understood to be a sign of God’s pleasure with a person. This wealth in turn could be used to give to the poor and sponsor other good works which would in turn further increase God’s pleasure with the individual. So if a rich person who could give to the poor actually was disadvantaged in some way in entering the kingdom of heaven, what possible hope could the average person have? This is the astonishment and dismay of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus’ response is clear – it is not possible to us, but only to God. We cannot do what is necessary to earn our place in the kingdom of heaven, but we can receive membership by the grace of God through forgiveness found in the saving blood of Jesus Christ shed on our behalf. The second part of Jesus’ teaching, in response to Peter’s reminder that the disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus is more complex. Jesus assures Peter these sacrifices are not unnoticed, and nor are they uncompensated, both now and eternally. In embracing Jesus, the believer is united with all the faithful through space and time. The believer becomes part of Jesus’ own family (Matthew 12:50) with innumerable brothers and sisters! This is a reality here and now, though we too often value it too lightly and think of it too infrequently. Family ties are complicated things and sometimes it is easier not to dwell on this reality in this world, and the obligations it may place on us to place our riches second to the needs of our family members. These realities are true here and now. As Luther noted in Christ we are lords of all things and subject to none – although this reality is rarely recognized by those around us! We are at the same time the servant of all, so that our lordship is hidden in our poverty, our lack of control, our willingness to suffer if necessary rather than reject the citizenship we have in the kingdom of heaven. All of this Peter and the disciples and you and I receive here and now – and we look forward to the age to come and the eternal life we will have free of the persecutions that haunt us here and now.

Wealth is not our servant here, nor is it our hope. It is often just the opposite. It often becomes our master, whether we have too little or too much. And it betrays our hope by oftentimes loading us with fear, distrust, and other attendant difficulties. Only in holding our poverty or wealth lightly and continuing to insist on focusing on Christ and his eternal gifts to us does wealth better remain a tool rather than a temptation.

Book Review: Introducing Indonesia

October 7, 2021

Introducing Indonesia – 3rd edition, published by the American Women’s Association, 1975

This was a short and fascinating read. Short mostly because at least half the book is a phone directory of services and businesses in Indonesia – particularly the island of Java and the city of Jakarta – that might be of use to an American moving to Indonesia. Fascinating because, published by the American Women’s Association, it’s clearly oriented to the wife/mother/homemaker who will be setting up house in a new place.

The book provides a brief bit of history but mostly to give an exceptionally broad overview of the many cultures and influences present in Jakartan society. It is the purpose of the book to inform, not to analyze or comment on that history. A similar broad treatment of culture, religion, and arts are also included. It’s clear the emphasis is on Jakarta and the island of Java – not surprising since it’s the capitol and the most likely destination of either government or industry-based relocation. There are a fair number of black and white photos to help provide context for the commentary and to give the reader a basic impression of their new home.

Perhaps the most fascinating section was the brief treatment of the issue of household workers. Like most of Southeast Asia it is assumed that at a certain economic level you will employ one or more household workers. This is an important source of income to a large section of the population. The book lists various roles household workers might have, including driver, maintenance person, cook, maid, nanny, and several others. Advice is also given as to how to best manage a household staff, clearly intended for the American unfamiliar with this situation. Advice on how to find qualified staff, how to vet them and when necessary terminate them is all very curious and undoubtedly much of it is still applicable today.

Published in 1975 this clearly is not an up-to-date snapshot of Indonesia but is interesting for what it is – a snapshot of American perspectives on life in Indonesia nearly 50 years ago.