Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The 'Ick Factor' And The Planned Parenthood Videos

While discussing the recent Planned Parenthood expose, I have been told that my opinions about abortion are influenced by the ‘ick factor.’ Apparently, my opposition to abortion can be minimized or dismissed because I think abortion is gross. If I recommend that people view a picture or video so they can be fully informed, the response is fairly consistent: “There are a lot of medical procedures I don’t want to watch. Just because seeing them might make me squeamish doesn’t mean they are a bad idea. After all, I don’t want to see what happens in a heart surgery, but heart surgeries are a good thing.”

That's true. Something is not wrong because it makes me squeamish any more than it is right because it doesn't make someone else feel the same. So is this a legitimate argument? Am I and other pro-life advocates simply wanting to create a moral framework to support our weak stomachs? Obviously, I don't think that's the case.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Best Stories

"What good are fairy tales if we can't find our way?" - Ransom Riggs, Hollow City

As the peculiar children in Ransom Rigg's series are desperately trying to find a way to save someone they love, several of the children keep reading a book of fairy tales that apparently contain important truth. One of the children complains that the tales are useless. As far as he can see, they are lost; they need concrete truth, not fanciful stories.

It's a valid concern, but not a sound one (as Hollow City eventually shows). Not all truth is didactic and plain. Some of the most important truths are conveyed to us through fictional stories. Look at the parables Jesus used: a man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho; a woman with ten silver coins lost one; a rich man stole a poor man's lamb.  None of them were 'true' in the sense that they actually happened to a particular person, yet the were all true in a way that transcended the story itself. A story that begins "once upon a time" does not always mean falsehood is about to follow; in it's best form, it presents true embedded in a timeless kind of story - if we take the time to find it.*

So what good are fairy tales if we can't find our way? I would argue that the goodness and truth of a well-told tale (and I am broadening this term to mean any type of fictional tale, fable, parable or story that creatively imparts truth about life) is actually most valuable when we can't find our way. However, for this to be true, three key elements need to be in place: truth, honesty and hope.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It's Not Just Entertainment

As the Traverse City Film Festival approaches, anyone going to downtown Traverse City will inevitably see one or twenty posters with this year’s slogan: “One Great Movie Can Change You.” I completely agree. This is not a new insight, of course. People have recognized the power of entertainment for thousands of years. However, the slogan has encouraged me to revisit how the arts and entertainment both reflect and shape us.

Obviously, the arts reflect us as they respond constantly to the environment in which they occur. Read any Western Civilization textbook and you will see the ebb and flow over thousands of years. If a good story, song or image doesn’t resonate with something in a person’s life, no one is going to care, and the out-of-touch artist, author, musician, or filmmaker will lose his or her audience.

But entertainment shapes our culture as well. This was clearly the case even before ubiquitous media has burrowed into our 21st century psyche. Andrew Fletcher, a Scottish writer and politician, wrote of a wise friend who believed that “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation…most of the ancient legislators thought that they could not well reform the manners of any city without the help of a lyric, and sometimes of a dramatic poet.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Inside Out


Riley is an eleven-year old girl who is not, in fact, the main character in Inside Out. Most of the plot focuses on her emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness. Up until this point, Riley has led a life largely controlled (literally) by Joy. But when her family moves to a new town, Joy suddenly has to compete with other emotions like Anger and Sadness in ways she did not have to before; in other words, her formerly quiet inside emotions are about to come out for the world to see.

Inside Out is the latest Pixar extravaganza from the director who brought us Up and Monsters Inc. Metacritic has given it a 93 out of 100; Rotten Tomatoes has a 98% critic rating (check out this link for some of the more choice reviews). Along with the well-deserved accolades from critics and audiences, parents of autistic kids are reporting that this movie is helping their kids better identify and express their emotion. The psychologist who helped develop Riley's inner life told Pacific Standard:
"I got an email from a mom who took her highly functioning autistic boy to the movie, and seeing the movie was the first time that this young guy had insight into his emotional difficulty. He said: "Mom, I know I have anger, fear, and disgust, but I really struggle with sadness and joy—I don't know where they are." And she said it was their breakthrough moment. I was blown away."
Inside Out is creative, insightful, funny, heart-wrenching and full of hope. I may or may not have teared up several times. I most certainly laughed. In the midst of my enjoyment, a few understated but important elements in the movie stood out to me.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodge and the Future of Marriage

The recent Oberfell v. Hodge decisions has generated intense discussion about homosexuality, the nature of marriage, the power of the Supreme Court, the meaning of equality and rights, and the impact on churches as well as faith-based business and organizations. I don't care to jump in to any of those conversation in this post. I would like to offer a different reason that this decision concerns me. In order to do so, I need to back up 23 years.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Neil Gaiman's Interworld Trilogy: A Hero In A Cautionary Tale


I was first introduced to the writings of Neil Gaiman through Neverwhere, a dark, moving, parallel universe fantasy that takes place beneath the streets of London. As I further explored his writing, I found him to be constantly creative, often profound, and entirely capable of writing books for both adult and youth audiences (American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, respectively). 

The three books I have mentioned only scratch the surface: he has multiple best-selling and critically acclaimed books and graphic novels to his credit as well. Gaiman’s recently finished InterWorld trilogy is an excellent addition to his canon. It is inventive, thought-provoking, and filled with characters who embody many of that attributes to which we all should aspire.

A brief synopsis of the plot: Joey Harker discovers he is a Walker, a person with the ability to “walk” between parallel realities. He also discovers that Joeys of all shapes and sizes from these realities are part of InterWorld, and organization that seeks to keep two opposing forces, Binary and HEX, from taking complete control of all the worlds. Binary sees everything through the lenses of science and logic; Hex sees it all through the lenses of magic. One character notes:
“New worlds are always being created. Some are worlds in which science holds sway, others are worlds in which magic is the motive power. Most worlds are mixtures of the two. We of InterWorld have no problem with either ideology. Our problem is with HEX and with the Binary, who both seek to impose their belief systems and methods of reality on other worlds —sometimes through war, sometimes more subtly. InterWorld exists to maintain the balance…. 
The Binary and HEX are locked in struggle, both overt and covert, for the ultimate control of the Altiverse. They’ve been going at it for centuries, making real slow headway because of the sheer magnitude of the task. I think the last census we intercepted indicated somewhere in the neighborhood of several million billion trillions of Earths— with more of ’em popping out of the vacuum faster than bubbles in champagne… Each of them wants only one thing— to run the whole shebang.”

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Down The Rabbit Hole: On Caitlyn and Culture

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' 
'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.
'I don't much care where -' said Alice. 
'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat. 
'- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,' Alice added as an explanation. 
'Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, 'if you only walk long enough.” 
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner story has given us a window into the culture in which this shift in identity has taken place. This post is not about Caitlyn as a person. Caitlyn's difficult internal struggle is very real, and it deserves compassion. Though I'm guessing Caitlyn and I disagree on how resolution and healing can be found, I hope that Caitlyn finds them.

What follows are not observations on Bruce/Caitlyn as much as thoughts on trends in our culture's ability to process complex issues such as this one. Supporting Jenner's new self-identity does not happen in a vacuum. It requires a manner of reasoning and a particular worldview perspective that I believe is leading us haphazardly down a rabbit hole of deeply confusing philosophical and moral dilemmas.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Duggars, Duplicity, and Dilemmas In Christian Community

The recent Duggar scandal reveals some huge problems for the Christian community. I'm not going to pile on the family here - plenty of other blogs are doing that. It's a sad story on many levels. I am simply going to note that the Christian community must learn some important lessons from this situation or we are destined to see this scenario play out over and over.

First, we must commit to being people of integrity.  Jesus offered an important caution to those who were rushing to judgment: “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:7). It wasn't a call to overlook sin; it was a reminder that hypocrisy haunts us all. That's in important verse for a family (and a son) who are very publicly involved in political causes centered around Christian family values.  For a family with Josh's history embedded in their familial DNA, the Duggars were remarkably outspoken in public policy causes that focused on the sexual sins of other people.

It’s a bad idea to position ourselves as if we are speaking from a pristine pedestal of purity in any area of life. We Christians must own our stuff. We shouldn’t be calling out the skeletons in the closets of others if we can’t acknowledge our own (see Paul's instruction in Romans 2:17-24). Our past sins don't automatically deny us the right to speak about the same issue when we see it in others - maybe we are passionate because we want to warn others of the  wages of sin. That's understandable, but without honesty, transparency, love and grace, it's going to end badly. If we are really all about protecting victims and changing people’s hearts, we need to start in our own homes or churches. (Google “mote” and “eye” for more detail.)*