Monday, July 31, 2006


We seem to like our myths about the battle between good and evil relatively clear cut, but we also like our heroes vulnerable, sometimes even indulging in various sorts of guilty pleasures, while supposedly being ‘at heart good persons’. ‘Superman Returns’ is a quite interesting and lovingly crafted update of the Superman saga. Superman in this telling has been away for a while looking for the remains of his home planet, only to discover there really wasn’t anything left. He returns to earth once more, to encounter a much aged Mom Kent (played quite fetchingly by an over 80 Eva Marie Saint no less), and a world which has moved on beyond Superman. Superman’s sometime girl friend Lois Lane has even won a Pulitzer for her story on ‘Why the World no longer Needs Superman’, but methinks she protesteth too much (trying to exorcise the demon of her love for the man marvel). Brandon Routh does a marvelous job walking into the shoes of Christopher Reeve, even to the point of recreating the crooked smile of Clark Kent, and much of the apparel of the characters in this movie seem to have been brought out of mothballs from an impossibly old Goodwill store. However, crime has not been sleeping or become obsolescent, for Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor has every up to the minute techno gadget one could want at the cusp of the 21rst century. It is this juxtaposition of old and new which makes this movie both comforting and unsettling in different ways.
Superman of course is super once more, and up to his old tricks of fighting crime, rescuing damsels in distress, and even taking on his old arch-enemy Lex, who in this incarnation of the tale almost does in Superman by attacking him with shards of Kryptonite. What makes this telling of the tale interesting is that even Superman needs rescuing once in a while, and unlike Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane who could not get his friends to watch with him in his darkest hour, Superman is actually rescued by Lois and her boyfriend through various acts of daring do. And oh yes, there is a little Superboy as well in tow. Seems Superman had not been entirely successful before running off to his home planet in keeping his Super-knickers up. But then Lois always was quite the girl. America increasingly likes their heroes flawed. It makes them more approachable, brings them down to earth a bit, which takes some doing in Superman’s case. Maybe this is why in a sin-riddled era so many people find it hard to find Jesus even approachable much less identify with him. He is just too good to emulate, too good to be ‘you’ (or me for that matter). The cry now seems to be not merely for a believable savior, but one who behaves more like us—even marrying a Mrs. Jesus perhaps.
If ‘Superman Returns’ is quaint, fun, and raises only a few ethical dilemmas, what then should we make of Michael Mann’s recreation of his TV blockbuster--- Miami Vice? First one has to say, that the cinematography in this movie is stunning, and much like some of the best episodes of the TV show, although we are spared the art deco tacky side of Miami culture. Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Fox) in this incarnation dress in basic black and white. Once again we are placed in the seamy and unseemly world of under-cover cop work against the drug lords, and are asked to ponder the question whether it is o.k. for cops to do wrong in order to serve the greater good of preventing major crime. The movie reminds one of the script of perhaps the most famous of the television episodes which also starred Glen Frey (yes the Eagle) getting involved in a Columbian drug bust. Missing in action from the movie is a soundtrack like the one the TV show used to have. Rock and roll has been replaced in the opening scenes with some hip hop, rap, and club music, betokening the change in the music culture and industry since the time the TV show aired. Clearly Rock and Roll isn’t what it once was, in terms of being a creative force and dominant music form in American culture. Rock and Roll may not be dead, but it is on life-support when the only rock tune in this movie is a retred version of ‘In the Air Tonight’ in the trailer, especially when rock and roll created so much of the ambiance of the TV show.
While Farrell and Fox both play their parts well enough the discrepancy in acting ability becomes all too clear when these two are juxtaposed. Fox is expressive and brings life to his character. Farrell is mostly deadpan, and while looking the part of a vice cop, seems like someone sleepwalking through the part. Both men have difficulties with their women of differing sorts. The supporting cast in this movie is strong, but for those of us who love the AFLAC duck commercials, it is hard to erase the image of those commercials from one’s mind when the lead Fed in this movie is the African American man who plays the lead in those commercials!
Not that this movie could not have used some comic relief. The action is taut, there is no filler in this drama, but there are also few, if any, memorable lines either. The bad guys are thoroughly believable, and the good guys have only a modicum of redeeming features—one of which is the loyalty of Crockett and Tubbs to each other and to their difficult tasks. There is not only an effective graininess to the film texture. This is also the case with the lives being portrayed. But the question remains about these cops--- do the ends really justify these kinds of means, including getting in bed with the crime lords in order to expose them--- so to speak? Perhaps we should take the title ‘Miami Vice’ as a double entendre. Who better to dabble in vice, then a vice squad which is so familiar with its practices?
And in the end, the thing these two movies have in common is that the good guys seem to win, for a time, but in the case of Miami Vice, not without the heroes sullying themselves in the process. And with them the audience--- it was rather chilling when the audience in the theater here actually laughed when one of the bad guys got blown to bits by an uber-gun. Have we really become so inured to violence that we can laugh when human life is brutally destroyed or exult, for instance, over the revenge taking of Israel which involves destroying so many innocent lives?
The subtext of a movie like Miami Vice is of course that in violent times one must fight violence with violence ‘by any means necessary’. But if we do this, do not we become what we despise? ‘Superman Returns’ cosmetizes the violence and makes it palatable. ‘Miami Vice’ doesn’t and yet the audience seems to get vicarious thrills in watching the bad guys ‘get what they deserve’. As it turns out, it is not just public discourse that has become coarse in our culture. So has our entertainment, and unfortunately that tells us a great deal about the direction our culture is listing towards. It was an inspired writer who warned that ‘those who sow the wind, will reap the whirlwind’. I fear that the storm warnings for our culture are all too evident--- especially when it even surfaces in our summer blockbusters.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Conquest of Faith and the Climax of History

The Conquest of Faith and the Climax of History-- Heb. 12. 1-4, 18-29
Delivered at St. Salvator’s Church St. Andrews Scotland July 21 2006 for the Hebrews Conference

In 1993 I managed to run the Boston Marathon--- yes all 26 miles of it. I had trained for it, but nothing could ever prepare you for that sort of life experience. I knew that the only way I would ever see the ‘archegos’ the trailblazer out in front of the pack, was if I went up to the starting line before the race began and looked at the Kenyans and Nigerians with their huge upper legs and otherwise lanky and diminutive frames. They would run the race in just over two hours. It would take me about five. But there were many things I learned along the way. For one thing I learned that I needed to follow the leader and go exactly the same path he had trod. Going off the course would disqualify me. Nor was I to follow the pseudo-runners, like the man wearing a rainbow afro wig and zigzag across the couse for a few miles with a T-shirt on which read ‘Kiss Me, I’m Jesus’. No he was not my trailblazer either. For another thing, while I could take encouragement from the cheering of the great cloud of witnesses lining the race course which wound through numerous small Massachusetts towns like Ashland before arriving in town, still I would have to run the race myself. They could not do it for me. I took inspiration from a man running while pushing his quadrapelegic son the whole 26 miles down the course, and from a 74 year old lady who urged me to run with her up heartbreak hill. When I entered the city exhausted, as it was very hot that April Patriot’s Day, I was roused to new life by the cheering Harvard and BU students riding the above ground tram as I headed for the Prudential center. And when I turned the final bend and saw the finish mile I kept repeating to myself the title of one of my favorite old books--- Are you running with me Jesus?’ Finally I fell into the arms of one of my best friends, who took my picture crossing the finish line. Suddenly I was wrapped in a NASA foil blanket and give fruit juices and I collapses in a happy heap. I had finish the course.
The great encomium of faith we find in Heb.11 begins with the following stirring phrase--- “Now faith is the substance/assurance of things hoped for, the proof/conviction of things not seen. About these things the ancients bore witness.” On this showing faith is not about looking back in longing or in dread or in belief, it is about looking forward towards our hope with conviction and assurance, for the very existence of the miracle of forward looking faith is called a proof of things not seen. But this stirring beginning to the ‘hall of faith’ chapter in Hebrews has an equally stirring climax, only its not in Hebrews 11, it is in Heb. 12.1-4 which has been read as part of our lesson for today.

Unfortunately Stephen Langton (1150-1228) the one time Archbishop of Canterbury, did not serve us well when he provided us with the still current division of the Bible into chapters and verses, which divisions I keep having to remind my students are not inspired, and indeed sometimes are not even very inspiring. Especially unfortunate is the separation of Heb. 12.1-4 from the material in Hebrews 11, for in fact Christ is the climactic exemplum of faith, as we shall see, the paradigm and paragon of true forward looking faith and faithfulness in this sermon called Hebrews.

Famously Jesus is said to be the pioneer and perfector, or trailblazer and finisher of faith. You will notice that I did not say “of our faith”. There is no word ‘our’ either hinted at or explicit in the Greek text. Our author is telling us that while in the marathon race to the finish line of life we are surrounded by many forward looking folk, a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, never the less we are meant to cast off our leg irons and arm weights and focus entirely on Jesus, the leader of the pack, the trailblazer of our path into the heavenly sanctuary, the pioneer of true forward looking faith and faithfulness. Our author goes on to make VERY clear he is saying Christ is our ultimate example of faith and faithfulness for he goes on to add “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Heb. 11-12 brings to mind the words of the naturalist John Muir who said, ‘we look at life from the backside of the tapestry. What we normally see is loose ends, tangled threads, frayed chords. But occasionally light shines through the tapestry and we get a glimpse of the larger design. Heb. 11-12 is giving us that big picture glimpse.

Our author is worried about the level of morale amongst the Jewish Christians in Rome in the 60s, who have already seen Peter and Paul go down for the count, and while they themselves have not yet suffered to the point of bloodshed, they have had property confiscated and they have seen their leaders martyred. The temptation to go native, or to turn back to a safer more licit form of religion must indeed have been great. Our author, who provides stern warnings against apostasy throughout his epideictic discourse (see e.g. Heb. 6) is certainly one of those who believes that the Christian believer is not eternally secure until they are securely in eternity.

Thus he exhorts the audience, with real concern about their breaking or abandoning faith, to follow the example of and keep their eyes on the trailblazer Jesus, to endure the same sort of shame he did, to die if need be, and to sit down with him in glory. Thus far our author sounds rather like an ancient version of those who promise pie in the sky, by and by and we must indeed seriously ask has our author exchanged eschatological afterlife thinking for ethereal other world thinking? Many have thought so, and have drawn analogies with Philo, or the neo-Platonists. I am unconvinced however, for our author is not at the end of the day a Platonist who sees this world as but a pale shadow of eternity, he is an early and thoroughly eschatological Jewish Christian, as my old mentor C.K. Barrett long ago pointed out, commenting on the eschatological character of Hebrews. In fact, as it turns out, our author is much like the author of Revelation affirming both a vibrant afterlife and a glorious other world as lying in the future of true believers. In different places in his discourse he places different stresses on one or the other, but at no point has he simply exchanged his eschatological birth rite for pie in the sky by and by.

This becomes especially clear not only when we consider our author quoting Hab. 2.3-4 in Heb. 10.37—“he who is coming will come and will not delay” or Heb. 10.25 where we hear about “the Day” of judgment and redemption that is coming, or Heb. 9.28 where we hear that Christ will appear a second time not to bear sin but to bring salvation. Or Heb. 13.14 where the heavenly city ‘to come’ is to be entered not merely by dying but by resurrection from the dead, and we could go on. What is surprising in this epideictic discourse is not the focus on what is true now in heaven, for the time focus of such rhetoric is the present time, what is surprising is the future references we do have in a piece of rhetoric which is not deliberative in character and is not arguing for an adoption of some new course of behavior or action in the near future. Instead he is arguing for persevering in the beliefs and behaviors the audience had already embraced long ago. And this brings us to the remarkable theophanic language used in the peroration in Heb. 12.18-29, the truly stirring and emotive climax meant at once to thrill and send a chill down the spine of the audience as final judgment and final salvation is vividly depicted.

Here we have a tale not so much of two cities as of two theophanies. God comes down on Sinai mountain and the people cannot bear the numinous presence and the trumpet blast and the final words of doom and gloom on a sinful people who had been building golden calves while Moses was visiting with God up the hill. No, says our author, if you will preserve in true faith, a better fate awaits the present audience he addresses. Rather, he says you have come to the very edges of a very different mountain--- Mount Zion rather than Mount Sinai. Our author has perhaps learned this contrast from Paul (see Galatians). It’s the heavenly city, the better country that Abraham saw from a far, that they have now drawn near to. Is our author envisioning his audience being raptured into heaven, into the presence of the angels and the living God or simply dying and going to heaven?

In fact he is not. Like the author of Revelation he envisions a corporate merger of heaven and earth, or perhaps better said, a replacement of this current world, both heavens and earth, that is wasting away, with an eternal form of heaven and earth, which when Jesus returns and the dead are raised will become heaven on earth. Our author says we who are still earthbound are receiving a kingdom (12.28), the very one devoutly to be wished and long prayed for—“thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”. And so it is that our author envisions the second coming as a second theophany, a coming down of the heavenly city to earth, a final judgment and redemption in space and time, not an escape into the bodiless existence of a purely spiritual heaven without a final resolution of the matters of justice and redemption. John Chrysostom ably summed up things in his homily on this very text, and I am paraphrasing him here-- At the former theophany the people stood far off. At the final one they are said to have drawn near and are beckoned to stay close. At the former theophany they are in the wilderness, at the latter they are at the gates of the new Jerusalem, the ultimate symbol of true human civilization. At the former theophany there was gloom and darkness at the latter a festal celebration complete with partying angels. At the former theophany the people begged God to speak through Moses and not directly, at the latter they are urged to listen directly to God. At the former theophany even Moses the mediator trembled and no one dared to touch the holy mountain, but at the latter Jesus the mediator will be present and God’s people are beckoned to enter in at his return. At the former theophany sinful Israel is present, at the latter the spirits of just persons made perfect. At the former theophany there is blood from violence and judgment on sin, but at the latter theophany there is only the sprinkled blood of Jesus which preaches peace and enables mercy. At the former theophany worship amounts to fear and trembling before God, at the latter worship involves awe and wonder and thankfulness and acceptable worship of God.

This brings us back to the opening definition of faith. It is not just about faith in things in heaven not currently seen. It is also about things hoped for in space and time that are coming to a theater near us when Jesus comes back. In his recent scintillating Freitas lectures at Asbury Mark Allan Powell spoke about the difference between Christian faith’s great expectations and the resort to calculations or prognostications. The early church earnestly expected Christ to return, but that expectation was not trivialized into calculation. Expectations, even great expectations are not dogma or doctrine, they are things devoutly to be wished and earnestly desired. They are based on the promises of God, but they do not try to resolve the tension between the already and the not yet by giving way to predictions.

The earliest Christians, including the author of Hebrews knew that God has revealed enough of the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not need to live by faith. Indeed, our author insists that we must live by faith just as all those who have come before us, including Jesus, the ultimate model of faith and faithfulness, have done. We have assurance of what is hoped for, but this is in no way the same as having knowledge of when faith will become sight, and hope will be realized. When faith degenerates into speculation, or even worse into pretended knowledge that “the end is at hand” then it ceases to be the hopeful forward-looking, trusting of God about which our author speaks.

It is ironic to me that both Albert Schweitzer and modern Dispensationalists are wrong about the eschatology of Jesus, Paul and other NT writers in the very same way. Schweitzer thought that Jesus and his followers believed and predicted that the end was definitely at hand, and acted accordingly, though bless their hearts, they were wrong. Modern Dispensationalists think the end is now at hand and think they can prove it with multi-colored charts, Left Behind novels, and escapist theology. One has to say, that bad theology came out of that revival in Glasgow in the 1820s which Darby attended and which got the rapture theology rolling for the Plymouth Brethren, then for D.L. Moody, then for C.I. Scofield and on and on.
And what is interesting about this comparison of two bad misreadings of the early Christian hope is not just the misreading of the NT evidence, but the fact that in both cases expectation was wrongly assumed to equal prognostication or prediction, which is not the case. Indeed, to predict the timing of Christ’s return with accuracy would make unnecessary the very sort of trust in God, and assurance about the future hope that our author says we should embrace and insists is essential for a Christian as they look forward into the future. Great Expectations when coupled with true faith and trust, should never degenerate into paltry prognostications of whatever sort. That is just human beings getting an itchy trigger finger and not being able to leave matters in God’s hands. I want to leave you with two stories of forward looking faith.

Adoniram Judson was a remarkable missionary to Burma, remarkable not least because he seemed to have no success, no converts for well over a decade yet he stuck to it. Indeed the tribes he was ministering to had become impatient and hostile towards him. There came a day of confrontation when the chief of one tribe was ready to throw Judson to the flames and had him tied up. He came and eyeballed Judson and said “what do you think now of your God, now that you are about to die?” Judson stared right back at him and said in memorable words “the future is a bright as the promises of God”. Famously, it was the tribal chief who blinked, untied Judson, and said he would hear more of this God. This was the day Christianity took root in Burma. Notice Judson did not say “the future is as bright as the predictions of human beings.” He knew the difference between trusting in God’s promises, and reducing expectations to calculations.

I was privileged enough to study in seminary with Elizabeth Elliot, the wife of Jim Elliot, the subject of the recent movie “The End of the Spear”. It is a stirring and true tale of young Christian couples working with the violent Waodani Indians in South America. On furlough, and shortly before he was martyred, Jim Elliot was asked by a reporter why he was so hopeful in his work with such resistant and violent people. He replied “He is no fool, who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” Shortly thereafter, Jim was killed by one of the Waodani. Only a couple of years ago at Franklin Graham crusade in Florida, the man who killed Jim Elliot came and gave his testimony. He said: “Formerly, I lived badly badly. But when Jim Elliot came and helped me to see Jesus, and then gave up his life for me, I knew I must respond in faith.” Indeed so. The great cloud of witnesses referred to in Hebrews did not cease to march the trail into glory in the first century. It has continued on into the present.

The question for us is—will we embrace this faith in God’s promises, will we live as the church expectant, not the church triumphalistic? Will we fix our eyes on Jesus and follow his model of trust in God and faithfulness unto death? If we will, then indeed there is assurance of things hoped for, and even internal proof of things not seen.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bonny St. Andrews

The third oldest university in the United Kingdom is St. Andrews University, with 5,000 undergrads today and numerous grad students. The town itself is a little seaside village on the west coast of Scotland, and let me tell you--- the water is very cold in the North Sea. I went swimming yesterday and it was the hottest day on record in St. Andrews. It didn't matter--- the water was still about 50F max. The town has a long religious history, with a ruined abbey and a castle keep where John Knox was imprisoned among its other intereting sites to visit. Of course today it is most famous for its golf course, the Old Course, which has hosted many a British Open. I played it on Friday-- 2 pars, one bird, and though the cost was very pricey (think hundreds of dollars) the experience was priceless. Hope to post some pictures when I get home, including one of me on the famous 18th hole bridge. St. Andrews, without question, is one of the best places in the world to study theology with a world class faculty, to which has just been added Marcus Boeckmuhl from Cambridge. I have had a wonderful time with my old friends Richard Bauckham (who is soon retiring) and Bruce Longenecker. Now we are beginning an important conference on the book of Hebrews with papers by Richard Hays, Morna Hooker, Richard Bauckham, Craig Blomberg, yours truly and lots of others. It promises to be grand. More anon.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Life of the Mind--Fragile but Fertile

The life of the mind is fragile. I have been constantly reminded of this from my time in academia. I have seen one academic after another fall prey to chronic fatique, and I learned only the other day from a brain expert that for academics, one can spend up to 75% of ones latent energy in brain work. This is why a person can completely tire out after only sitting in a chair and reading and thinking most of the day. Another aspect of this is that the mind is subject to the affective side of our lives, such that if there is a lot of emotional turmoil it become difficult not only to concentrate or focus but even just to think coherently. We are psychosomatic wholes, and we think too little about the effect of the mind on the body and vice versa. There is something to the saying 'as a person thinks, so they are' though this has degenerated into nonsense about thinking one's health issues away or 'the power of positive thinking' as if it were a panacea that culd cure all ills. It is the height of irony that Mary Baker Eddy who was one of the most unwell religious figures I know of of, touted the nonsense of mind over matter, or even illness is a mental illusion that we hear in American culture from time to time.

But there is another side to this-- namely that God has put eternity in our minds, so we will not be content with the temporal. Several small things seem to point to this. Have you noticed how when you havent seen a person for a long time and then see them again you are surprised to find them different or aged or both? Your mental image of them has not changed, even though you know rationally they have aged. Why? Or again the siren song of the brain tells us we can do things that we actually could only do when much younger. I call this the mind writing checks the body can no longer cash. It happens to me when I try to play sports, say basketball for instance. Afterwards, when I am sore and tired my body reminds my brain that I was way over optimistic about what I could manage.

The mind is something far greater than just the brain hardware, and it is truly amazing to study how the mind can rewire itself and restribute the work load when some of it has been damaged by stroke or disease. There is a sort of mental compensation faculty built in. And it is clear from Alzheimer studies that memory and remembering is a key to being a normal function person, or even to have a personality.

The ancient Egyptians were smart about many things, but not about the mind. They thought the grey matter of the brain was detritus and could be sucked out of the skull and thrown away while the internal organs were a key to the afterlife and needed to be mummified and preserved in canopic jars. The Hebrews thought that mind and the heart were intertwined. Sometimes they spoke of the thoughts of the heart, sometimes the thoughts of the mind, but the heart was seen as the control center of the personality, whereas we now know the mind is. Yet there is wisdom in what Carson McCullers used to say that the heart has 'reasons that reason knows not of'.

And finally what exactly did Paul have in mind when he exhorted us to have the mind of Christ? Its worth pondering.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Durham Days

From 1977-80 my wife and I lived in Durham and our daughter Christy was born here. It is nice to be back in beautiful Durham (google Durham Cathedral and oggle the pictures). I have had a glorious day with members of the Divinity Department (Loren Stukenbroeck, John Barclay) and spent some good time with my former mentor C.K. Barrett and his wonderful wife Margaret. Kingsley is now almost 90 but his mind is still quite keen, and he still loves to teach the Greek NT. My visit with him was followed by dinner with my good friends Bishop Tom Wright and his wife Maggie. It has all too seldom been noticed in the U.S. that the epicenter of excellent, and I might add mostly orthodox NT scholarship has been Durham England (not somewhere in the U.S.) for the last 150 years--- the following names should be very familiar to those who read NT literature--- B.F. Westcott, J.B. Lightfoot, Alfred Plummer, C.K. Barrett, C.E.B. Cranfield, James Dunn, and now John Barclay and Tom Wright. To this we could add other Durhamites like Morna Hooker, John Painter, and last but not least yours truly. There is hardly any place better on earth to study the NT than here, in the shadow of the world famous Norman Cathedral. But that is not all for you see Durham has been a living center of Christianity since the time of the Venerable Bede, who single-handedly helped save the church from the Dark Ages and wrote one of the first full commentaries on James and Jude. It is a rich heritage, and a tough one to live up to.

When I went into the Bishop Aukland palace where Tom Wright lives I was stunned by all the pictures of the great scholars and bishops who passed through here going all the way back to St. Cuthbert. Equally impressive were the huge number of bookshelves in this palace. You see Durham bred scholarly bishops like Lightfoot and now Wright. They believed in a learned clergy, not just learned scholars. I do as well. Clergy should be the Bible experts for their people. But there is another wonderful dimension to Durham as well--- it is a center for Wesleyan studies as well as it is a Methodist stronghold.

It is a blessing to be back in Durham, one of my spiritual homes.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Red Mist

Seeing red, a red sea
fogs up the brain
Acting irrationally
Bordering on insane.

The red mist permeates
The facets of the mind
Acting on impulse
Wits left behind.

Shots fired in anger
Impulses expressed
Leaves us walking wounded
Depressed and distressed.

Be angry, but sin not
Thus says the Word
Or pay the price for petulance
The cost remains absurd.

When sun sets on angry
It seethes in the brain
Permeating one’s thinking
A form of mental rain.

While there is righteous anger
It’s seldom the case
This is the motivator
Of acts done in haste.

Anger leads to violence
More often than not
Stealing what righteousness
A fallen person’s got.

Part the red sea in your brain
With the Spirit’s aid
Or leave a trail of victims
From choices you have made.

July 10 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Rob Bell Hits the Rock Venue Circuit

I am providing here a link to a New York Times article about Rob Bell's summer tour, which does not rely on multi-media pyrotechnics yet is appealing to many young folks around the land. Read the article and give me your reaction. I personally like what he is doing, having meaningful conversations with a Christian orientation to audiences in secular venues. Here is the link. The original article is in Saturday's paper.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Pirates of the Carribean II--- Yo Ho Ho....

It is usually the case that the second part of a trilogy is less satisfactory or satisfying than either the first, which sucks you in, or the final one which resolves the loose ends and tidies up the plot. Clearly enough, 'Dead Man's Chest' the second of the Depp 'Pirates' sagas falls into this classification, rather like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It is two and a half hours long and it is rather dark to say the least-- featuring the Machiavellian Davy Jones who shows up to tell Jack Sparrow his time is up. There are plenty of ghoulies in this movie like in the first, only more so, and I wouldn't really recommend this movie for children. It is too dark, despite its humor, sight gags, and yet another enjoyable performance by Johnny Depp.

However even Depps swagger, humor, and wonderful facial expressions can not entirely lighten the mood of this movie, which at junctures turns into something of an allegory about how Sparrow has no moral compass, and needs to grow a conscience. There are also some hilarious reflections on life and death by two members of Sparrow's crew, with the one eyed man being something of a philosopher. This is only just a little more surprising than the portrayal of Davy Jones as a maniacal organist.

Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley both reprise their roles admirably and well, but in the end the movie stands or falls with Depp, and we really needed more in depth Depp in this movie than we got. Then too, even for an action film, there was too many totally impossible actions scenes for one to willingly suspend one's disbelief in every case. Something should have been learned from the overkill of this sort of stuff in the King Kong remake. Hopefully there are still some better summer movies than this yet in store, but this one has enough redeeming features to make it worth watching. Part three which has already been filmed (made at the same time as part 2), will hopefully put the fun and swash back in the buckle of this series of films.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Reflections on Growing Old

The following are comments by men and women over 50 on their creeping decrepitude. As my English Prof at Carolina once said--- 'there are days after 40 when you realize your body is your mortal enemy.'

The nice thing about growing senility is you can hide your own Easter eggs, and you can also pray the senility prayer---

'Lord grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.'

'My memory's not as sharp as it used to be. Also my memory's not as sharp as it used to be.'

'Don't let aging get you down. It's too hard to get up again.'

'Don't think of it as hot flashes, think of it as your inner child playing with matches.'

'Its scary when your stomnach starts making the same noises as your coffee maker.'

'The elderly widow was approached by the undertaker with the question: 'How old was your husband when he died?' She replied 'He was 98, two years older than me.' She then paused and added :' Its hardly worth my going home now is it?'

The elderly gentleman said--- 'I have had bypass surgery, am largely deaf, and have both prostate issues and old age diabetes, and take about 40 different medicines that give me dizzy spells, but thank God I still have my driver's license!'

'These days about half the stuff in my grocery cart says 'For fast relief.'

An elderly widower asked the preacher to arrange to have him be cremated when he died, and have his ashes scattered over Walmart. When the preacher asked why the reply was 'This way I know my offspring will visit me twice a week.'

A news reporter interviewed an 104 year old lady about what was the best thing about being 104. Her reply was 'There's no peer pressure.'

The Guy's Rules

I pass these along as they are from a Canadian friend who gave them to me. These are the things some men wish women knew, but usually are too cowardly to tell them. Please note that these are numbered and placed in a certain order on purpose. Please also note that I don't necessarily agree with them all.

1) Men are not mind readers.

2) Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If its up, put it down. You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down though we need it up usually.

3) Watching sports on Sunday after church. Its like the full moon or the changing tides. Its inevitable--- let it be.

4)Shopping is not a sport, and no we will never think of it that way. And please stop telling us how much you saved by buying something.

5) Crying is emotional blackmail. Yes, we know it works sometimes.

6) Subtle hints do not work for most of us. Strong hints don't usually work. |Just tell us what you want, and assume we are thick as a post.

7) Yes and no are perfectly acceptable answers to most questions. We are not being coy.

8)Come to us with a problem if you want help solving it. If you only want sympathy, that's what your girlfriends are for.

9) A headache that lasts for 10 months is a problem. See a doctor.

10) Anything a guy said in an argument 10 months ago is inadmissable in a current argument. In fact all comments become null and void after seven days. They have a shelf life.

11) If you think you're fat, please do not ask us our opinion. There are no right answers to such a question.

12) If something we've said can be interpreted in two ways, and one of them makes you mad or sad, then of course we meant it the other way.

13) You can either ask us to do something or tell us how you want it done, not both. If you already know the best way to do it, then perhaps you should do it yourself.

14) Whenever possible, if you have something important to say during a sports match or movie on the TV, please wait until the commercials.

15) Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

16) If it itches it will be scratched. Men do that--- yes even in public.

17) All men see in only 16 colors, like a Windows default setting. Peach for example is a fruit, not a color. We have no idea what mauve is. Also, men only smell certain things-- things like hamburgers cooking.

18) If you ask a question you don't want an answer to, expect an answer you'd rather not hear.

19) You have enough shoes and too many clothes.

20) If we ask what's wrong and you say 'nothing' we will assume you are telling the truth. Don't be shocked if we don't ask again in five minutes.

21)I am in shape. Round is a shape!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

More of Omar's Story

Last summer my older cousin Ali was able to come in from Ohio to be at our wedding. I think it was really good for my dad to have someone from back home who was able to be there, and he filled in as my grandmother’s escort, sitting with her on the front row.

Ali was forced to serve in the Iraqi Army in the first Gulf War. Other cousins were also conscripted, stationed on the front lines and in Kuwait City. Some of them were rounded up in the mass-surrenders after the ground war began, and they all made it home. But Ali had a different story. He was a field surgeon on the front lines with the Republican Guard. Sadaam thought that if he placed the medical units close enough to the rest of the soldiers then the Americans wouldn’t bomb and shell them. He was wrong.

Somehow the Iraqis knew when the American ground troops would be coming over the dunes, and so they were given a five-day pass to go home to Baghdad and say their goodbyes. Ali knew it would be a meat-grinder, and he knew that under Sadaam desertion meant death and trouble for your family. So while he was in Baghdad he had another surgeon friend take out his perfectly good appendix. While he was in the hospital, his entire unit was annihilated.

Around that same time a Marine friend of mine named Nelson had been part of an artillery outfit that was shelling Iraqi positions inside Kuwait. Suddenly an Iraqi artillery shell slammed into the hood of the truck Nelson was standing next to, but it was a dud and didn’t go off. He lived to come home and tell me that story.

Also at our wedding, only four rows back from Ali, was my friend Joe, who is an Army Ranger veteran. On the other side of the isle from Ali was one of my two mother in laws, whose stepbrother was part of the Army forces that moved through the same area of Kuwait where Ali had been. On another pew was my friend Johanna, whose husband has served in Afghanistan and is now training for Special Forces duty in the Middle East.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The best phrase came from a taxi driver in Cairo, right after the invasion of Iraq three years ago, who upon finding out that my brother was half Iraqi and half American said, “Ahhh… is funny. Your country is attacking your country.”

I have often become frustrated when I have heard people in my church make statements like, “Remember who we’re fighting here,” before they lead prayers for our military victory. A professor here once said that the only two choices we have is to either “convert them or keep them from hurting us.”

Well… first of all you can’t fight and win a “war on terror.” Terrorism is a method, not a country or ideology. I once heard it said that fighting a war on terror is like having the flu and declaring a war on sneezing: you’re only attacking the symptoms. As long as there have been people, there has been terrorism.

But what frightens me is the mindset in this country, and in the church, that seems to think terrorism was born and raised in the Middle East, and if we can take out the Muslim Arabs then the world will be a safer place. Put this idea up against the ideas in large parts of the Arab world that America has, in a sense, been a terror herself with her policies toward the Middle East. So you get what we had last week. The cycle continues, and we have “become a monster to defeat a monster.”

So who is the enemy? I believe that on this side of the Cross, according to the Scriptures, that “we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12)

If you track through the entire story of Scripture, you see that while God may have fought battles on Israel’s behalf in the Old Testament, the trajectory was always towards the Cross, which redeemed the Creation intent. Jesus set for us an example of living and witnessing that intent through loving, serving and forgiving our enemies. The way of Christ was not to kill and destory those who had abused and killed Him. But for some reason we still say, “in God we trust” while we drop the bombs (just in case God doesn't come through, I suppose).

Imagine what would have happened if the entire mass community of Christians who prayed so fervently for our troops to “defeat the enemy” would have instead prayed against the real Enemy and for peace between humanity.

So who is the enemy? Well, I have Iraqi Army veteran family and U.S. Army veteran friends. I have been raised by Southern Methodists and Shiite Muslims. I cannot abdicate the gospel message of Christ to a bomb, but can only bear the Cross, the ultimate battlefield victory over the Enemy.