Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Being A Hero vs. Doing Heroic Things: Katniss, Bond, and James B. Donovan

Several blockbuster movies this fall have presented very different views of heroism. James Bond (Spectre, 11/6), Katniss Everdeen (Mockingjay Part 2, 11/20), and James Donovan (Bridge of Spies, 10/16) all embody a version of what it means to be a hero. Are they all worth emulating? Should we make a distinction between being a hero vs. doing heroic things?


At one point in Spectre, one of the expendable Bond girls says, “You’re a good man.” He’s not. He’s good at what he does, and that is a very different thing indeed. Quantum of Solace and Skyfall showed Bond with the glamorous façade rightly removed. He was a haunted, hardened man, fixated on fighting for a mother country that was as ready to betray him as embrace. In the process, he left a trail of used (and often dead) women in his wake.

Those movies actually brought me back to the Bond franchise, because they rightly showed that nobody can do what Bond does without chipping away at one’s soul. Bond was no longer the man we admired because we wanted his life; he was the man we wincingly accepted because we recognize that sometimes it takes monsters to fight monsters.

Spectre wipes away the grimy image of the recent Bond and recreates the myth. He’s bigger than life, handsome, and suave; he’s always smarter, always better, and in the end he always gets the girl (even if he’s just killed her husband – which was, frankly, one of the more unsettling seductions in the Bond canon). Spectre is getting great reviews for resurrecting the ghost of Bond’s past. I wish they had let the old Bond rest in peace.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Marshes and Marshwiggles

There was a point in my life where I lost my imagination. 

I don't mean misplaced it temporarily like I do my cell phone at least once a month. I lost the ability I had as a child to see the wonder and creativity infused into even the most ordinary things in the world.  There were times when it briefly sparked, illuminating life with its light and warmth, but it would fade yet again as the business of life dampened its glow.

Several year ago, a hike through a swampy woods on a blustery, 50 degree day in Northern Michigan rekindled that spark.

I'll be honest - this was not where I intended to be. My plan for the day involved an NBA game and a nice cup of Cherry Chocolate coffee while vegging on my sofa, but here I was on a trail hemmed in by barely budding trees and surrounded by lots of wintery grays and browns.

The dullness and potential serenity of this woodsy jaunt could not restrain my 6-year-old caffeine-in-a-bundle, Vincent; his equally frenetic friend Marilee, who was at times literally a blur; and my 12-year-old son Braden, who gamely tried to keep up with the other two. Vincent took the lead ("Stop! Wait! I'm the leader!"). Makeshift wooden gun in hand, he fearlessly led us through a gray/brown maze of lingering winter bursting with wolves, superheroes, villains, and invisible zombie giants, as Marilee screamed at...something, I'm not sure what. Bugs, maybe.

I must have absorbed some of their energy, because I soon realized this ordinary woods offered a smorgasbord of very cool things. Uprooted trees might not actually be zombie forts, but they were pretty awesome in their own right. So as the kids screamed and wildly shot giants with their stick guns, I fired up the camera app on my first generation Droid and started to see the mystery and wonder of the woods.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Psychosexual Obesity And The Dating Apocalypse

Vanity Fair's "Tinder and the Dawn of the 'Dating Apocalypse'" is a must-read for those who are wondering where our culture is heading in terms of dating, sex and marriage. It's not an easy read, and it's R-rated graphic. I recommend it only because it is brutally honest about trending sexual behavior in the United States.

It's also helpful that it's not from, say, the Family Research Council. I have nothing against them, but we expect conservative or Christian groups to write about the ripple effect of unboundaried sex. It's not often a source such as Vanity Fair writes a story that, while not taking a stance about what people should do, clearly shows why so many people who are conservative or traditional in areas involving sex have legitimate reasons for being concerned about certain social trends.

I'm just going to highlight some excerpts. You can click on the link to go to the full article (which, once again, I recommend with great caution).

It’s a balmy night in Manhattan’s financial district, and at a sports bar called Stout, everyone is Tindering… At a booth in the back, three handsome twentysomething guys in button-downs are having beers. They are Dan, Alex, and Marty… 
“Guys view everything as a competition,” he elaborates with his deep, reassuring voice. “Who’s slept with the best, hottest girls?” With these dating apps, he says, “you’re always sort of prowling. You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger. It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.” He says that he himself has slept with five different women he met on Tinder—“Tinderellas,” the guys call them—in the last eight days. 
And yet a lack of an intimate knowledge of his potential sex partners never presents him with an obstacle to physical intimacy, Alex says. Alex, his friends agree, is a Tinder King, a young man of such deft “text game”—“That’s the ability to actually convince someone to do something over text,” Marty explains—that he is able to entice young women into his bed on the basis of a few text exchanges, while letting them know up front he is not interested in having a relationship.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Are Pro-Lifers Hypocrites?

An abortion routine from Reginald Hunter, a comedian, has been making the rounds lately on social media lately. He's asking a relevant question: are pro-lifers hypocrites if they think it is sometimes okay to take human life? However, his flawed argument fails to do justice to the issue.

* * * * * * * * * * 

"Fundamentalist conservative Christians believe that an embryo in a woman’s body is sacred, and no one should harm it."

“Fundamentalist, conservative Christian” usually drags up mental images of uneducated, angry, bigoted hypocrites. Rhetorically, it’s a great way to get people on your side. Logically, it’s both irrelevant and inaccurate. There are secular pro-lifers as well as pro-life supporters from many other religions. 

I assume “sacred” was chosen to make it seem like solely a religious issue. It's not. Yes, religious people believe there is a religious perspective on the question of abortion, but it's only one of several components that make up a unified, cumulative case argument for why abortion ends the life of a human being.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Six Flawed Claims in Buzzfeed's "I’m Christian But I’m Not…”

Plenty has been written about Buzzfeed's viral video featuring a number of people who address all the ways they believe Christians have been unfairly stereotyped. As much as I appreciate the spirit behind their attempt, I'm not thrilled with the attempt itself.  First, the fact that Christ is not mentioned in a discussion is a significant oversight. Second, though there are  some decent observations (you can read the whole text here), there are also a number of claims that reveal a fair amount of confusion about what it means to be a follower of the person and teaching of Jesus.

"I’m Christian but I’m not close-minded."

Let’s not kid ourselves: everyone is close-minded about something. I am close-minded about torturing babies or driving drunk. I have friends who are close-minded about global warming, eating meat, and whether or not Christianity is a good idea. On the other hand, I am open-minded, if by that you mean I listen to competing voices on religion, politics, and current events, try to weigh them fairly, and seek to be honest about whether or not what I believe to be true actually is true.

It’s a virtue to keep an open mind – until it’s time to close it. Being close-minded isn’t automatically a bad thing – though it can be. It’s not always easy to identify when that moment arrives, but we all do it. In this case, I would hope that identifying as a Christian means someone has made an informed decision between the claims of Jesus and the claims of other world religions. Choosing to follow Jesus on biblical terms requires an agreement that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one has access to God except through Jesus (John 14:6). Even if followers of Christ entertain questions and doubts (as I suspect we all do in some fashion), if we claim to follow, obey and worship Jesus and not other gods, we have closed our minds around something.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rejecting Reality: How Planned Parenthood And Its Defenders Hide The Truth

In early July, The Center for Medical Progress began to release videos procured after three years of undercover work. They released short teaser videos, long videos from which the short versions were edited, and transcripts. The videos not only showed the calculating, callous way in which key players in Planned Parenthood viewed their clients and the unborn children, they also provided reasons to believe that certain Planned Parenthood clinics were breaking the law in the process of harvesting fetal tissue. 

That's when Planned Parenthood and their defenders began a methodical campaign of  distortion, denial and deception to help people avoid looking at the reality of abortion and the industries that profit from it. One example requires a certain amount of speculation*; the facts supporting the rest of my points are clear enough on their own.

(UPDATE 9/26/15: When a reader offered a rigorous challenge to the veracity of many of my claims (you can read our dialogue in the comments section), I realized I needed to restate some of my points with better clarity and precision. I want to be as committed to truth as I wish Planned Parenthood and the press would be; I hope this update accomplishes that purpose.)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wayward Pines

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in, or walling out."   

Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines books have sold in 25 countries including Germany, Brazil, Japan,
Italy, Estonia, Bulgaria, France, Turkey, Spain, Hungary, Holland, Serbia, Taiwan, Czech Republic, Russia, Greece, Portugal, Korea, Poland, Israel, and China. M. Night Shamylan also recently produced a TV series which introduced the story to a much broader audience. The TV show and the book series parted ways around Episode 5; this review will focus on the (much better) books.

The story centers around Ethan, a Secret Service Agent who is very good at what he does - unless it involves staying faithful to his wife, Theresa. He is one of those well-intentioned men that we tend to cheer for even as we cringe. At least he's honest when he describes himself:
"The father of Ben. Husband of Theresa. I live in a neighborhood in Seattle called Queen Anne. I was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the second Gulf War. After that, a Secret Service agent. Seven days ago, I came to Wayward Pines—" 
"Those are just facts. They say nothing about your identity, your nature." 
"I love my wife, but I was unfaithful to her… I love my son, but I was rarely around. Just a distant star in his sky… I have good intentions, but…" 
"But what?" 
"But all the time I fail. I hurt the ones I love." 
"I don’t know."
Ethan has been brought to Wayward Pines, a city thousands of years in the future that is the lone human outpost in a world that has gone to hell in an evolutionary hand basket. Though he is there against his will, he realizes it’s a second chance to become the husband and father he never was - if he can survive the reality of the world in and around Wayward Pines. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Are The Blood Moons The Beginning Of The End?

  • In 1976, Pat Robertson predicted that the end would occur in 1982.
  • In 1977, William Branham predicted the Rapture no later than 1977.
  • In 1981, Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel, had a "deep conviction" that the world would end that year. 
  • In 1985, Lester Sumrall predicted the end in a book entitled I Predict 1985.
  • In 1988, Edgar Whisenant wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 to explain why the Rapture would happen in 1988. He later revised the date to 1989.
  • In 1994, Harold Camping predicted the Rapture would occur on September 6 - then September 29, then October 2, then March 1995.
  • January 1, 2000, was the day Jerry Falwell predicted God would judge the world. This was also the day that Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins at one point claimed would inaugurate global economic chaos, and that the Antichrist would rise to power.
  • In 2000, Ed Dobson published The End: Why Jesus Could Return by A.D. 2000.
  • In 2000, Lester Sumrall tried again with I Predict 2000.
  • In April 2007, Pat Robertson’s book The New Millennium identified the day for Earth's destruction. That day has since passed.
  • May 21, 2011 was Harold Camping next guess for the rapture, with the world ending five months later. When May passed without incident, he claimed it was a spiritual rapture.
Now, John Hagee (Four Blood Moons) and Mark Biltz (Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs)  are leading a movement that claims the blood moons of 2014 and 2015 are pointing to the return of Christ this year in September (possibly) and warning us of the beginning of the tribulation, a war against Israel, or other calamitous events (almost certainly). 

Taking a stance on the blood moons has become an overly contentious issue in Christian circles. Both the proponents and skeptics are having their ability to understand the Bible accurately called into question, and that's a hard pill to swallow.  In recognition of the tension, I must note where we are united as Christians before I go into territory where we are not. 

No matter where we stand on this issue, it is Christ who unites us, not our speculation on things to come. If we disagree, may it be like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17), not clanging cymbals full of harsh noise (1 Corinthians 13). I’m skeptical; I have godly friends whose opinions I respect who are convinced. May we all take Paul’s advice to heart as we test all things, and hold fast to the things that are good (1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21).