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June 11, 2009

It’s a good night to watch a John Wayne movie

Jwayne John Nolte explains why.

(Image courtesy of Big Hollywood.)

Re: Witch hunts

The-princess-and-the-frog Kim, that explains a lot. Including this article (previously linked in a Daily Roundup). Maybe we need to start a quota system for Disney and Pixar heroines to ensure that they all have the (1) right career, (2) right race, (3) right attitude, and (4) submissive boyfriend of the (5) right race.

You'd think some women could find something better to do with their time -- like standing up for teenage girls who become the targets of sexual jokes on national television. Oh, wait, that wouldn't be politically correct.

(Image © Disney)

’A Devastating Blow’

This Sunday, June 14, marks the first anniversary of the death of Esbjörn Svensson. Sam Christie's tribute at the Guardian's Music Blog pretty much sums it up:

[EST's] music was sensuous, soulful and funky music, executed with precision and passion but tempered by the self-awareness of competent jazz players honestly stretching the potential of the music. I underline that this music was born out of self-awareness, not self-consciousness; this wasn't an exercise in vanity. This confident group made music that they wanted to listen to and invited us to join them in understanding it. We came in droves . . .

We have truly lost a genius and it breaks my heart.

Mine, too. I own (I think) all of the trio's albums and I've recently gotten into some of Svensson's other projects, such as the very different Swedish Folk Modern. What I appreciated most (apart from the music itself) about Svensson and EST was that they cut through the paralyzing "Jazz/not Jazz" nonsense that has hurt Jazz in the land of its birth. As John Kelman at All About Jazz put it:

Contrary to Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch, jazz is no longer an American or, even more specifically, Afro-American art form. Jazz has, in fact, always been about incorporating music from various traditions, folk and otherwise, into something of a cultural melting pot.

And few people could stir that pot like Esbjörn Svensson.

I can't bring myself to embed only one sample, so here's two. First is my favorite EST song, "A Picture of Doris Traveling With Boris," from their album Viaticum Platinum.

The second is "Seven Days of Falling" from the album of the same name.

I still can't believe he's gone.

Seeing Jesus Afresh

Jesus Mafa Years ago, when I was going regularly to Russia and Belarus on short-term missions, I invested in a series of A Beka posters depicting Bible stories. The posters were beautifully rendered and were a great teaching aid, whether I was working with children or adults. The posters, of course, depicted Jesus as either white or olive-skinned.

However, once I started going to Africa, I wanted a set of Bible story pictures that would resonate with Africans, from both an ethnic and cultural standpoint. A couple of years ago, I discovered this wonderful resource -- Jesus Mafa -- and ordered a set of their posters, which show a black-skinned Jesus in settings that look like a typical African village.

If you are a white American, take a look at these images and tell me what you think (click here and go through the seven links to see images from Christ's life). Do they change your perception of Christ? Do they give you a greater appreciation for the passages in Revelation which talk about how heaven will be populated with people from every nation, tribe, race, and language? If you are non-white, do these pictures make you feel more at home with Jesus? Why or why not?

(Image © Jesus Mafa)

June 10, 2009

Daily roundup

In Search of Saints

Check out Jim Tonkowich's review of A Crisis of Saints: The Call to Heroic Faith in an Unheroic World. The book's author, Fr. George Rutler, evidently has much to say about "saintliness" -- which Tonkowich defines as "the God-given ability to exercise heroic virtue in the face of cultural breakdown." If we want to heal our culture (and I suppose most of us Pointers and Pointificators do), then we must begin with the spiritual renewal of the Church. Rutler claims that "any crisis in culture is a crisis of saints, and no reform is radical enough unless it is a redemption from sin."

The final essay in the book deals with G. K. Chesterton, who was able to demonstrate his saintliness in, "of all places," the journalistic world. The difference between Chesterton and modern media types, according to Rutler, "is Chesterton's subordination of the self to truth. This is far more significant than the breath of knowledge" (though, goodness knows, Chesterton had that, too). 

In closing, Tonkowich offers these encouraging words from Rutler's book: "If there were giants in the land then, there can be giants now. It is, after all, the same land, and we are of the same human stock, and the times and issues are certainly no less important. And God is no less faithful to those who ask...."

June 09, 2009

Daily roundup

More proof that Americans are spoiled rotten

Wall_e_eve As if any were needed. . . . While women in other countries are getting stoned to death, tortured to death, or wiped out before birth, we whine that there aren't enough female characters in Pixar movies.

(Image © Pixar)

Chesterton, Anyone?

28thlogo2 Fittingly, while I was contemplating starving men, I received an invitation to the American Chesterton Society's 28th annual conference. It’s being held in Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium, and includes intriguing topics like “Chesterton and Alfred Hitchcock” and “The Dangers of Trifling with Chesterton.”

I’m sure, if you go, you will be ingesting ideas of meaty substance.

(Image © American Chesterton Society)

’Newsweek’ editor: Obama ’sort of God’

We've talked about Obama worship before -- but I'm not sure I ever expected it to get quite this literal.

(H/T John Romano at Big Hollywood)

Before the Throne of God Above

Need a little encouragement today? Listen to this beautiful song by Selah, and find comfort in the knowledge that our great High Priest is praying for you this day.

"Now that we know what we have -- Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God -- let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all -- all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help." (Hebrews 4:14-16, The Message)

June 08, 2009

Daily roundup

Some Devilish Thoughts on Stem Cells

You will recall my mention of a menacing piece of correspondence from Down Under—way Under, which recently came to my attention. What follows is another dispatch that has surfaced, bearing the scrawlings of that hellish mystagogue . . .

Dear Swillpit,

Your latest report on the American front contained an item that is sure to be a watershed for our cause: the government funding of embryo destruction. It seems their decision makers really believe that it’s all in the interest of noble medical goals. Give rein to their folly. Later, we will have an eternity enjoying their shock at how they were played like a hand of rummy.

The quotes in the press clippings you included were particularly stirring. Statements like, we will be guided by “scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” and our decisions need to be “based on the recommendations of experts and scientists outside of politics and religion,” indicate that the guardrails we have been tugging on for centuries are at last, everywhere, crumbling.

Thanks to the efforts of field agents who have been patiently conditioning them with wileful whisperings, I feel that our long-fought outcome is within grasp.

In the not too distant past, the question before them was, “What should be done to improve their lot?” Now, by our incremental influences, they only think in terms of what can be done without regard to whether it should be done. Step by step, we have ushered them along a path which, just a few decades ago, they would have shuddered to look upon, but now course down in full stride! ...

Continue reading here.

American journalists sentenced in North Korea

Nkorea_200 Euna Lee and Laura Ling have been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegal entry into the country and "hostility toward the Korean people." NPR has more.

(Image © Yonhap/AFP/Getty Images)

June 05, 2009

Daily roundup

About Time

India-Delhi-Lotus-T#130AFAE I'm old. And I'm, to my surprise, getting mellower with age. (Really.) Part of this senescence-induced mellowing is an increased appreciation for some of the more -- let's say -- gentle expressions of '70s pop music.

Now, I have my standards: no Orleans or America for me. But I've never stopped loving James Taylor and I'm not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear on hearing of Dan Fogelberg's passing. (A guy who listens to "Leader of the Band" and doesn't get a lump in his throat is no friend of mine.) 

All of this is to say that I've been re-acquainting myself with Seals & Crofts. The problem is that my favorite, or least most memorable, album and song of theirs was unavailable. You could get all the "Diamond Girl," "We May Never Pass This Way Again" or "Summer Breeze" you wanted from iTunes or Amazon but, until recently, not "Unborn Child."

For those of you who are too young to remember, the album was released about a year after Roe v. Wade. It's a concept album whose theme is life, innocence and a mother's love, all of which are incompatible with abortion. As the title song went:

Oh little baby, you'll never cry, nor will you hear a sweet lullabye.

Oh unborn child, if you only knew just what your momma was plannin' to do.
You're still a-clingin' to the tree of life, but soon you'll be cut off before you get ripe.
Oh unborn child, beginning to grow inside your momma, but you'll never know.
Oh tiny bud, that grows in the womb, only to be crushed before you can bloom.

Oh no momma, just let it be. You'll never regret it, just wait and see.
Think of all the great ones who gave everything
That we might have life here, so please bear the pain.

Continue reading "About Time" »

June 04, 2009

Daily roundup

Huh?

Kal600 Some of you may recall that actor Kal Penn left House for a position with the Obama administration. Shin Inouye, White House director of specialty media, offered this explanation when asked why Penn hadn't started work yet:

"The suicide of his character on House was quite shocking," Inouye says, "so everyone thought there should be a bit of timely delay before he takes up work for the administration."

. . . .

Mr. Inouye, do we need to have a little talk about a concept called fiction?

(Image courtesy of The Wrap)

John Calvin, literary muse

RobinsonAuthor Marilynne Robinson has won yet another prestigious award, Britain's Orange Award for a novel written by a woman. 

Robinson was typically modest about the award, saying, "I always suspect that there's someone in some obscure place who has five unpublished novels in a box in her closet. She will die and her executors will publish her novels and she will become the great spirit of the age, and all the rest of us will fall into her shadow."

Perhaps, but in the meantime Robinson stands alongside writers like Flannery O'Connor (another award-winning female) who have managed to write about faith with such artistry that they transcend the usual sacred/secular divide.

Robinson, a professed Calvinist, says:

One of the things that I like about the theology is the assumption that one is flawed. You never do anything exactly right, you never achieve what you aspire to.

That tension, she says, makes great story fodder. Let's hope it inspires her to a few more novels.

(Image © Reuters)

June 03, 2009

Daily roundup

Your roots are showing

N_mj_obamaarrives_090603.standard On the eve of President Obama's speech in Cairo, ABC News' Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller examine the difference between White House rhetoric and campaign rhetoric on the topic of Islam:

The other day we heard a comment from a White House aide that never would have been uttered during the primaries or general election campaign.

During a conference call in preparation for President Obama's trip to Cairo, Egypt, where he will address the Muslim world, deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Denis McDonough said "the President himself experienced Islam on three continents before he was able to -- or before he's been able to visit, really, the heart of the Islamic world -- you know, growing up in Indonesia, having a Muslim father -- obviously Muslim Americans (are) a key part of Illinois and Chicago."

Given widespread unease and prejudice against Muslims among Americans, especially in the wake of 9/11, the Obama campaign was perhaps understandably very sensitive during the primaries and general election to downplay the candidate's Muslim roots.

The candidate was even offended when referred to by his initials "BHO," because he considered the use of his middle name, "Hussein," an attempt to frighten voters.

With insane rumors suggesting he was some sort of Muslim Manchurian candidate, then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his campaign did everything they could to emphasize his Christianity and de-emphasize the fact that his father, Barack Obama Sr., was born Muslim.

The candidate's comment at a Boca Raton, Florida, town hall meeting on May 22, 2008, was typical: "My father was basically agnostic, as far as I can tell, and I didn't know him," he said.

The fact that a politician might say -- or downplay -- almost anything to get elected is hardly a revelation. It's even understandable, as Tapper and Miller put it, why Obama would have felt the need to "de-emphasize" his heritage. But it's a little disorienting to have White House staff now publicly saying things that, just a few months ago, would have gotten the president's opponents raked over the coals.

(Image courtesy of MSNBC)

Christian Worldview Conversations Can Be Found Almost Anywhere

Drag poster Now I make no recommendation of the new horror movie Drag Me To Hell, owing to its gory violence, dabbling in the occult, and premarital sex references. However, I can say that it was better acted than most films in this genre, with the ability to laugh at itself, while still keeping a few jump-in-your-seat surprises in store throughout.

But what I was most struck by is how it would provide for some teenagers watching the film a springboard into the topic of moral consequences for one's actions.

In the film, Christine (played admirably by Alison Lohman) is a likable young loan officer with a nice, smart boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long). Christine's troubles begin when she is told by her boss that it's her choice as to whether to give a poor old gypsy lady a third extension on her mortgage payment.  

Christine's heart tells her to grant the old lady's request. However, her ambition for the coveted job of assistant bank manager gains the upper hand. Wanting to show her boss that she can make the "tough decisions" necessary for that promotion, she turns the old lady down. Worse, she accidentally humiliates the octogenarian on her way out of the bank, prompting the old lady to curse her.

Continue reading "Christian Worldview Conversations Can Be Found Almost Anywhere" »

’Up,’ Up and Away

Still-from-Disney-Pixars--001 I wish that I had time to fully analyze the profound and hilarious insights of the new movie Up. And I wish that I could discuss all of the reasons that Pixar is the best movie production team in America, encapsulating all that is right in telling a good story.

But in the meantime, WORLD Magazine and Christianity Today both offer great reviews of the film, which has been almost universally praised by Christian and secular critics alike. And rightly so.

That Pixar can consistently create such believable, admirable, and likable characters is quite the accomplishment, especially amidst the inevitable pressure to bow to cheap humor and marketing gimmicks. I'm sure the movies aren't perfect -- but they're not too far off.

(Image © Pixar)

June 02, 2009

Daily roundup

Music for the soul

Ig5-cover Having recently moved to a new area and gone through the "church shopping" process, I've had ample opportunity to observe some of the different styles of music in churches around my local area, from the staid to the ear-splitting. 

All of which makes me appreciate even more the lovely melodies and harmonies and the thought-provoking and soul-stirring lyrics on the Indelible Grace CDs.  The focus of Indelible Grace is on updating age-old hymns, many of which have fallen out of common use, for a modern audience.

Over at the 9Marks blog, Mike McKinley provided the lyrics for one of the hymns that Indelible Grace has recorded, one that, although written 112 years ago, seems particularly apropos to this time of economic uncertainty:

I do not ask to see the way
My feet will have to tread;
But only that my soul may feed
Upon the living Bread.
'Tis better far that I should walk
By faith close to His side;
I may not know the way I go,
But oh, I know my Guide.

Refrain
His love can never fail, His love can never fail,
My soul is satisfied to know His love can never fail.
My soul is satisfied to know His love can never fail.

And if my feet would go astray,
They cannot, for I know
That Jesus guides my falt'ring steps,
As joyfully I go.
And tho' I may not see His face,
My faith is strong and clear,
That in each hour of sore distress
My Savior will be near.

I will not fear, tho' darkness come
Abroad o'er all the land,
If I may only feel the touch
Of His own loving hand.
And tho' I tremble when I think
How weak I am, and frail,
My soul is satisfied to know
His love can never fail.

(Image © Indelible Grace)

June 01, 2009

Daily roundup

Ah, the pathos: The droning of self-excommunicates

In the last few days a couple of headlines have popped up that have an interesting running theme: excommunication. I’m not talking about the common use of the word, namely expelling Catholics from the Catholic Church. Rather, I’m referring to Protestants breaking communion with a church or religious organization.

A few days ago, the Associated Press reported that Liberty University will no longer recognize the College Democrats club on campus.  Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Hine told the club’s president, Brian Diaz, that the Democratic Party stands against the principles of the university and therefore cannot be facilitated or supported by the University any longer.  Some of the issues that clearly divide the values of the College Democrats from those of the school’s founder, Jerry Falwell, are abortion, socialism, and the gay rights agenda.

Similarly, a little later, the Associated Press reported on the “ousting” of 61 Episcopal clergy due to their opposition to “consecrating” an openly gay bishop. As former Bishop John-David Schofield said, "The Episcopal Church needlessly isolates itself from their brothers and sisters around the world." In this case, though the clergy were officially ousted, it's the Episcopal Church that is ousting itself from the worldwide Anglican Church.

The Associated Press has presented the Liberty University situation as an “ousting,” or a “barring” of participation of a radically liberal group from engaging in communion with Liberty University. I have trouble with this because neither institution has been vague about what it believes. I hope it comes as no surprise that Liberty University, the same institution founded by the conservative Baptist Jerry Falwell, stands firmly against homosexuality, abortion, and socialism. Likewise, the Anglican Church worldwide does not believe in homosexuality as part of God’s plan. 

When both of these institutions align themselves so closely to specific values, aren’t violators of these values ousting or barring themselves? The institutions have done nothing except uphold what they have always believed. 

Continue reading "Ah, the pathos: The droning of self-excommunicates " »

The wrath of God: Sunday comics edition

I hadn't read Doonesbury in months, but a panel in this Sunday's strip (the "Reverend Sloan, I've been noticing" panel; the Washington Post doesn't run the first two "throwaway" panels) caught my eye, and I went on to read the whole thing.

How would you respond to some of the points Garry Trudeau raises here? I realize it's hardly the first time they've been raised, but they usually make for a pretty interesting discussion topic, whenever and wherever they're raised.

May 29, 2009

Daily roundup

Re: ’American Idol’

Jason, I had heard something before about the Idol "culture war." I agree with Colleen Raezler, to whom you linked, who seems to suggest that it's a mistake to put the emphasis in a singing competition anywhere but on the singing. It's a mistake when liberals do it -- and it's a mistake when conservatives do it, too.

How much do we really know about the lives and beliefs of people on a TV competition? Anyone remember what happened with "churchgoing Baptist" and abstinence advocate Clay Aiken? I'm not saying that Aiken turned from Luke Skywalker into Darth Vader the moment he revealed his sexuality; I'm saying that people who bought his carefully cultivated image -- including people who voted on the basis of that image, if any did -- were in for a rude awakening. Human beings are not perfect, and more often than not, public images have tiny but significant cracks in them -- cracks that tend to widen over time. And every time we go around saying things like "Vote for the Christian reality-show candidate!" we face the very real possibility of ending up with egg on face and people taunting us with "Where's your Christian role model now?"

It's terribly tempting to latch on to anything or anyone that looks like a wholesome example of Christianity and morality nowadays, when they're getting so hard to find. I understand that. But let's be realistic about it and not be ready to fall for every attractive image that comes along, without having any idea what's really behind it. And let's remember that talent competitions are supposed to be about talent. If we get up in arms about people making an issue out of religious and political beliefs in the wrong context (Perez Hilton, call your office), then we shouldn't be doing the same thing.

Before He Was ’American Idol’

Last Wednesday night Kris Allen, a college student from Little Rock, Arkansas, was crowned this year's American Idol. Kris the underdog won over rocker and this season's frontrunner Adam Lambert. What was interesting about this year's season was the cultural war that much of the media made out of the American Idol finals. The musical battle between reportedly gay Lambert and evangelical Christian Allen was considered by many a valid debate on issues that are occupying America today.

Now that Kris Allen is getting lots of media attention, I found out recently that he is a worship leader in his church. Here's a YouTube clip of him singing a Chris Tomlin song. Listen to the lyrics of the song. Can you imagine him as the American Idol? How do you think he will do artistically and being a light in the music industry?

May 27, 2009

Daily roundup

May 26, 2009

The proof is in the penitent

Brotherston When Billy Barclay's mother saw her son's killer on TV singing praise songs, the only thing she could find in her heart was disgust. Apparently, convicted killer Garry Brotherston became a Christian in prison and is now openly discussing his conversion on Christian TV. But, for Billy's mom, it doesn't sit right.

“There is nothing that he can say that will convince me he’s a Christian," she told the Clydebank Post.

If we believe anything at Prison Fellowship, it's that people can change--that bank robbers can become philanthropists, that drug dealers can become pillars of society, and that murderers can become peacemakers. But ... it must start with repentance. And that means not simply repenting before God, but also repenting before those one has most grievously injured--in this man's case, to the family of his victim.

Brotherston's transformation might indeed be sincere, but the proof lies in actions of remorse and repentance. In an interview, Brotherston claimed to think of his victim's family every day. But has there been a letter of apology? Nada. Has there been any attempt at communication? Zip.

In Catherine's As We Forgive, we learn of a man named John who waits more than 10 years to seek forgiveness from a woman whose father he had murdered during the Rwandan genocide. At first, the woman--Chantal--rebukes him in her anger, accusing him of false repentance. But John doesn't leave the apology there--he follows up by visiting Chantal to help her cultivate her land, demonstrating by his actions that his remorse is linked to his soul. Over time, Chantal finds the strength to extend forgiveness to John, and she, herself, is transformed by the freedom it brings.

Conversion must be punctuated by remorse. I don't blame Billy's mom for her skepticism. I'd probably doubt the man's sincerity too.

(Image courtesy of the Clydesdale Post)

May 22, 2009

Daily roundup

Posting will be light Monday because of Memorial Day.

The Problem of Power and Snake-Oil Salesmen

Winfrey Somers Last week, Catherine asked a legitimate question about Oprah Winfrey's power: "Now is it just me, or is anyone else just a little freaked out about how powerful Oprah is?" 

Like you, Catherine, I too am freaked out by Ms. Winfrey's power. When I think of it, the famous observation that Lord Acton made is always at the back of my mind: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

In fact, Winfrey seems to be getting away with hosting modern-day snake-oil salesmen who use her sensationalistic show to promote their potentially deadly schemes. In a recent edition of Salon, Dr. Rahul Parikh sounded an alarm over a recent episode where actress Suzanne Somers peddled her hormone replacement therapy, which just might kill more than a few desperate and incautious women. 

Parikh reasonably points out that the Somers incident is “not the first time Winfrey's advice on health issues has raised concern. In the past, the media mogul has been criticized for promoting cosmetic therapies that were untested and later deemed dangerous.”

In a litigiously explosive society such as ours, I have to ask, where have all the lawyers gone? Is it her power, or does her use of the phrase "just might" keep her from being sued over stamping her imprimatur on dangerous therapies like the one Somers is advocating?

(Image © The Oprah Winfrey Show)

Duty or Choice?

Rethinking word usage just might make a huge difference when talking about weighty matters like life and liberty. Mike Metzger says that political speeches used to be filled with the word "duty," and the word "choice" was rarely used. It seems that American evangelicals helped regulate "duty" to the closet and have helped further the pro-abortion campaign by embracing the word "choice."  

Words matter!  

Who said they were ’anti-sex’?

2009_0519_meghan_mccain I'll be the first to acknowledge that the Republican party needs to make some changes, but I don't think this is the way to go about it. (Note: sexual themes.)

(Image © Comedy Central)

Banjo workout

Today's fun Friday video comes courtesy of the Blog Dad, who lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes bluegrass. Maybe it'll serve as inspiration for all of us who need to exercise more.

May 21, 2009

Daily roundup

Pictures from the Hubble Telescope

Omega-swan Awe-inspiring pictures from the Hubble telescope sometimes leave me at a loss to understand people who can see this and tenaciously continue cling to a belief in a materialistic view of life. Enjoy the pictures, but before you leave this post, first read a beautiful poem about stars by Madison Cawein.

The Stars

These--the bright symbols of man's hope and fame,
In which he reads his blessing or his curse--
Are syllables with which God speaks His name
In the vast utterance of the universe.

Image © NASA/Associated Press)

May 19, 2009

Daily roundup

Abandon all hope

Dantes_inferno The other day, in an essay on Dante's Divine Comedy in C. S. Lewis's Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, I ran across this sentence:

. . . We include every appeal to the imagined exercise of the five senses, always excepting those images which are directly represented as parts of Dante's story and which would appear on the screen if anyone (which God forbid) made a film of it.

Poor Lewis. I hope he's really busy with heavenly matters and doesn't have time to follow what's going on here.

(Image © Electronic Arts)

May 18, 2009

Daily roundup

As We Forgive Sightings (and Soundings)

As We Forgive 2 I thought Point readers might be interested in hearing an interview I did recently with theologian and radio personality, Steve Brown, about my book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda. You can download it to your iPod or MP3 player or just listen online. I talk about forgiveness, reconciliation and the Rwandan genocide.

If you haven't heard of Steve Brown or his Key Life Radio program before I hope this will be a good excuse for you to get acquainted with him. He's one of the most authentic yet grounded Christian radio personalities you'll find. And he's always delightfully entertaining to listen to.

Also, if you are interested in seeing the film by Laura Waters Hinson which inspired my book, it will be airing on PBS this month on quite a few stations across the U.S. So if you haven't had a chance to attend a screening or buy a copy yourself, you'll get the opportunity to check it out for free.

Lastly, an interview I did with Ed Gilbreath over at Urban Faith is available. Ed used to work for Christianity Today and is the author of the book Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's View of White Christianity.

(Image © Zondervan)

Christians and entertainment: Open thread

Tv_house_tilt_small On Friday, in Diane's thread on Castle (which was starting to turn into a thread on Nathan Fillion's previous show, Firefly) Andy made an interesting comment:

OK, people, time out. So Tim is OK with watching a show by admitted atheist Joss Whedon, that includes scenes like Kaylee doing the nasty with a mechanic in the engine room, and other characters that include a courtesan and Christian minister that would do the Unitarians proud. But Tim says that's OK because it's not a stumbling block for him. Firefly only "pushed the envelope a bit." If it had aired in the sixties, it would have gotten some network folks arrested. Not to mention that the premise of the show is that East and West have melded, with Buddhism as much or more practiced as Christianity.

This is not meant to be concern trolling, because I am glad that so many Christians share my enjoyment of Firefly, (best show ever.) But for a subculture that prides itself on "in but not of the world," you guys seem a tad co-opted on this one. Not that I see anything wrong with that.

In order to get things back on-topic, I promised a separate thread on Monday morning to deal with this subject, which deserved a thread of its own anyway. So what say you, Pointers and Pointificators? How should Christians set their standards for entertainment? What role should our faith and our morals play? Where have we gotten our ideas about this, and are they valid or do they need to be rethought?

This is a topic to which I've devoted a lot of thought and writing, but I'm going to stay out of it for now, though I may jump in later. I'm more interested in hearing what everyone else has to say. So have at it!

(Image courtesy of DesignStudios)

May 15, 2009

Daily roundup

Arms and the woman

Michelle Obama Recently, readers of the Washington Post have been subjected to large and unhealthy helpings of treacle during breakfast, to the point where we're starting to think about keeping a bucket handy. A couple of weeks ago, it was television columnist Tom Shales who had readers sputtering into their cornflakes with an account of President Obama at a press conference that read like a 12-year-old girl’s description of Edward Cullen. The star of The Barack Obama Show was “comfortingly cool and collected,” “articulate,” “friendly,” “accessible,” “gracious to a fault,” a man of “perfect comic timing,” and, on the whole, “flabbergasting.” Apparently he had even developed superpowers, as Shales swore that Obama “made eye contact with us folks at home” through the television screen.

But the pièce de résistance was an adverbial pileup that would have made a high school writing teacher send the author back to write another draft: “You ask, he’ll answer—earnestly, disarmingly, enchantingly even.”

The piece caused unbridled hilarity among commenters on the Post’s website, leading ombudsman Andrew Alexander to point out that TV columns, unlike straight news stories, are not supposed to be objective. He missed the point: The majority of objections were inspired not by the piece’s lack of objectivity, but by its resemblance to something out of Teen People.

Yet Shales’s love letter looked positively cold next to Sally Quinn’s Mother's Day ode to Michelle Obama’s arms. It’s hardly the first such tribute, of course—like severed appendages in an old B movie, the First Arms have taken on a life of their own, earning widespread awe. They even have their own blog. But Quinn’s tribute left all others in the dust. These are not just arms, she explains: They are “transformational.”

Continue reading "Arms and the woman" »

’The world will know’

Soraya The words above are the last words spoken in the shattering film The Stoning of Soraya M. Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the aunt of the young woman who has just been murdered by family and friends, has succeeded in making sure that the crime will not be hidden. Unable to protect her beloved niece, Zahra nevertheless ends the film with this triumph over the evil that destroyed Soraya (Mozhan Marnò).

The story, based on a real case that took place in the 1980s, is told simply and straightforwardly. French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (Jim Caviezel) is stranded in a small Iraqi village when his car breaks down. Seeing the tape recorder poking out of his bag, Zahra persuades him to come to her home while his car is being fixed, and tells him what happened to her niece just the day before.

Via one extended flashback, we see Soraya's husband, Ali, plotting with other men of the village, including the mullah, to get rid of his "inconvenient wife" so he can marry a 14-year-old girl and move to the city. Ordered to work for a widower and his son who need help, Soraya is then accused of sleeping with her employer, and he is pressured into confessing the adultery that never happened.

The conspiracy ends where the title promised it would: with the gentle wife and mother bound, buried up to the waist in a pit, and bombarded with stones by her father, husband, sons, and neighbors. The stoning of Soraya is graphic, bloody, and painfully slow, and explains the film's R rating. (I had hoped against hope they would rush through that part. They didn't.) 

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Pretty is as pretty does

Carolyn McCulley, on her Radical Womanhood blog, talks about a woman's true beauty and why so many of us, even in the Christian community, struggle with this concept. She tells a young man whose girlfriend has concerns about her body image:

"I wonder if perhaps you could do more than just compliment her on being beautiful. What about complimenting her when she is doing beautiful things? We always hear that inner beauty is supposed to be more important than outer beauty, but it doesn't seem to get praised as often--which tempts women to doubt the veracity of that statement."

Why do we women doubt the appeal of inner beauty? Well, to be candid, it's because we forget that our Creator is the ultimate arbiter of beauty. We are awash in makeover messages and as such His perspective is often silenced. From TV shows to magazines, we are drowning in Before and After images. At any given time during a day, there's a roomful of people on TV gushing and crying over the physical transformation of some reality show participant. Everybody and his neighbor shows up to applaud weight loss, a new hairstyle, or a wardrobe overhaul. 

But where is the applause for inner beauty? Where are the TV cameras for the Big Reveal of a renovated character?

Carolyn goes on to talk about the example Jesus gave us, when he told his fellow dinner guests that the beautiful thing Mary had done--breaking a jar of expensive perfume to anoint her Savior--would be remembered forever. This was a good reminder for me today to cultivate that kind of inner beauty and to praise those around me--both women and men--when they display the beauty of a godly character.

Macabre Eroticism in the Guise of Education: A Symptom of Decay

Gunthervonhagens_wideweb__470x306,0 (Note: This post contains sexual themes, and the first link below contains explicit pictures and descriptions.)

In the name of artistic and scientific freedom, Gunther von Hagens is filleting human dignity to the bone. His newest "Body Worlds" exhibit shows plastinated human bodies in the throes of sexual intercourse. Necrophilia, once deemed sick and a punishable offense, now seems to be more acceptable.  

Despite not believing in original sin, in his book Heart of Man, Eric Fromm clearly formulates the problem of erotic fascination and lust toward dead bodies: "It is the one answer to life which is in complete opposition to life; it is the most morbid and the most dangerous among the orientations to life of which man is capable. It is true perversion: while being alive, not life but death is loved; not growth but destruction."

In the West, there is an increasingly unhealthy fascination with death, as well as devils and the occult. These obsessions have one thing in common--they deny the life-sustaining love of God. Life without God produces an "earth-sickness of saddening and maddening proportions," writes David Naugle in his book Reordered Love, Reordered Lives.

"Earth-sickness" is plainly evident in our cultural artifacts. After watching a fair amount of television of late, I  am seeing a horrifying trend emerge. Scenes once reserved for R-rated or X-Rated films, are now rated PG and the whole family gather to watch them.

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