Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Album - "Providence"


Now available from www.resoundingmusic.com - Music from the Founding Fathers Project which blends the stereotypical fife-and-drum sounds of colonial America with the heart-on-sleeve passion and orchestral grandeur of modern film music.

Buy it here.

Hear it here:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


A while back, Dad and I went to see the first one.

Today, we went and saw the second one.

Spoilers ahead, y'all.

The Art

The Good

The graphics were very good; the computer-generated baboons were realistic enough to not be distracting (which is tough).


It has to be hard to try to create a sequel that keeps the promises and fulfills the expectations that the prequel creates without feeling like an unnecessary "hey, the last one made money!" rehashing of the same old stuff.  The team behind Catching Fire did a passable job doing so.  While the scenes in the arena got a bit long in the tooth at a few points (monkeys instead of dogs, poisonous fog instead of Tracker Jackers, yadda yadda), there was enough newness to the story to still keep the film interesting, enjoyable, worth watching more than once- and certainly enough to catapult into another sequel (but only one more, please).

Speaking of the newness, I really enjoyed the interplay between tributes; lots of very interesting and engaging stuff there; it was fun watching people who would seem to be bad guys turn out to be good guys in the end, and while I saw most of it coming, it was actually kinda nice how it was hinted at throughout the film instead of going for the rather cliché, totally unforeseen twisty conclusion.

The arena design was very impressive.  Unique and interesting.  That place would make a very fun playground.


The music (James Newton Howard) was very good, as usual.  His composition style is very tasteful and almost dream-like in its smooth simplicity, and it fits the rough, almost surreal wold of The Hunger Games very well.  I did notice that the score sounded very similar to the first one, and while I enjoy continuity between films I would like to hear at least a little bit of variety.  But the scene with the kettle drums during the procession- A. Mazing.

The costume design was excellent, and while many films have excellent costume design that is hard to notice because it is so excellent, Catching Fire does not suffer from that problem.


The acting was all good, but this time around I was more impressed with Josh Hutcherson's abilities as an actor than I was in the prequel.  Jennifer Lawrence also did an outstanding job, and, since she is the film's central character, she had plenty of time and a huge variety of situations in which to display her acting abilities.


The variety of characters was nice, and the filmmakers managed to make the list of tributes in this film zany without being (very) cheesy.  Having a tribute pool that wasn't made up of just teenagers was also very nice.


The Bad

That said, it would have been nice to see more interaction, more inter-relational story- more Dickens.  We can get deeper than flirting and petty quarrels.

I will be addressing the romance issues in the worldview section below, but seriously, please, enough of the kissing and drama and stuff.  That's not what I came to the film for.

There were some moments of cheese, too; manufactured crises and miraculous solutions that pushed the limits of believability.  Combine that with "I almost lost you" romantic goop and it was definitely not helpful to the story.

As I mentioned above, at some points the film got a little old, because I had seen it before in the prequel.  The obligatory arena action stuff was far less engaging than the political espionage b-story.

THE CREDITS MUSIC.  DAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH.  WHY.  WHY.  WHY?!?!?!?

I have three more words to add regarding the credits music. James, Newton, Howard.

The Worldview

The Good

I really enjoy the socio-political commentary that The Hunger Games provides.

Everything from the shallow, external-focused, plasticized facade of American culture...


...to the media wars waged by totalitarian governments...


whoops.


...to the power of fear, hope, and the smallest symbols used wisely.


Eventually, the tyrants who put themselves in the place of God will be dethroned.  I'm really enjoying watching that happen in the world of Panem- and I'm also enjoying watching it happen at every stage in history, and continue to happen today.

This film provides a powerful and self-conscious example of the communicative power of aesthetics- down to the clothes that we wear.  It all sends a message.


Peeta seems a bit more manly this time around; less dependent on Katniss to take the lead, and more decisive and in charge.  It still would be nice to see him kill a few more baboons or something, though.


Katniss showed a good deal more selfishness and weakness in this film, and while I wouldn't consider those admirable qualities, it was nice that the film is not presenting the "teenage heroine who fixes everything through her super-genius-overwhelming-beauty-physical-prowess-invincibility-in-combat-amazingness."  Katniss seems real.  After watching the first film a few times, I began to like her a little less.  In this film, while not really becoming more likable, she became more lovable, because we got to know her a little more and see her struggles.



The Bad

Catching Fire seemed to push the content envelope, if not intentionally, certainly noticeably.  The bleeped-out F-words, the scene in the elevator which provided me with wonderful opportunities to study the theatre wall, and the statement about being an object of public lust were all a bit unexpected after the complete lack of such content in the first film.

Any review of The Hunger Games, I or II, would be remiss if it failed to address the problem of the killings.  It seems that the thought never crosses anyone's mind, even in the midst of uniting against the Capitol, that "hey, we could just, like, not kill each other!"  While we still see remorse and concern for the taking of life, we don't see anyone really refraining from taking life because of that remorse or that concern.  Killing people is just kinda assumed.

The ethical question of "why not?" which the first film failed to answer finds no more resolution now than it did in the first; if there is no God, there's not really any reason or rule for any of the ethical decisions presented in the film.



Also, Peacock-boy needs to put a shirt on... and a few ladies in the film could benefit from doing the same. The skin-tight clothing craze is something I'm quite tired of, speaking of modesty (I'm looking at you, Marvel.  You too, DC.).  Karate masters have done über-demanding physical feats for years in loose, flowing garments.  If our filmic heroes were really that good, they could do the same.

Aside from being a teen-centric, love-triangle-infused drama, The Hunger Games and Twilight have at least one other thing in common- they both found a convenient and justifiable way to get the heroine and a very good looking guy her age sleeping in the same bed.  For Bella, well, she was cold.  It was necessary for her health.  For Katniss, well, she was scared.  It was necessary for her sanity.

Which brings me to one of my biggest problems with this series- a problem which I failed to address in my review of the first film.  The world of The Hunger Games is built on a very implausible, very carefully constructed set of assumptions and events.

Every year, one teenage boy and one teenage girl from each district is chosen at random, put on public display and worshiped as demi-gods, and then thrown into a giant computer game in which they must kill each other or be killed- all without any choice on their part.


This provides a field-day for the teenage imagination, and the most dangerous part about it all is that given the circumstances, anything imaginable is pretty much justifiable.  You can pretend to be in love with whoever you want, because it might save your life.  You can kill people, because it's self-defense. You can be alone with the woman of your dreams day-in and day-out because hey, you're from the same district, and you need each other.  CPR and cleaning the blood off of her face (gently and tenderly, of course) and tearful embraces are all fair game.  You have to stay with her all night, because she's scared, and she asked you to, and what kind of jerk says "no, grow up and get over it"?!?

And technically, it's true; if I am by some act of Providence stuck on a desert island with a young woman my age who stops breathing, I'm not going to forgo doing CPR because it might ignite the fires of passion.  Goodness.  Grow up and help the girl.

So with the rest; self-defense is Godly and Biblical.  Putting on an act to save lives is perfectly fine, as the Hebrew midwives can attest.

But God bringing those situations to pass in His Providence is one thing.  That might happen, oh, once in a million teenagers, and when it happens, we can act in wisdom under the guidance of Scripture like responsible adults.  That's a far cry from building the perfect fantasy world in which the hormone-filled romance-hungry teenage mind can lawfully do all those things which we'd just love to be able to get away with if the situation arose.  That's a very dangerous thing.


Dear Christian young people, we cannot allow Hollywood to set our thought patterns.  Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ is not just about not thinking bad stuff- it's about thinking good stuff.  Daydreaming about rescuing Katniss or being rescued by Peeta, being worshiped by the upper crust of society or followed by the rebels who need a leader- it's a waste of thought-time that needs to be redeemed.

There's a real world that needs leaders.

Hollywood puts out a steady stream of opportunities for us to find temporary emotional satisfaction in... whatever.  Be a fan.  Watch another movie.

We don't have the time to do that.  There's a war on.  And we certainly don't have the time to let the time spent watching movies leak into our daydreams and thereby spend even more time watching movies- this time, with ourselves written into the script.

Overall,

Saving Mr. Banks was better, but Catching Fire was an acceptable sequel to the first film in the series, and certainly left me ready to watch the next one.

3/5

Thursday, April 3, 2014

To Which I Say LOL

So I've been thinking about the age of the earth, and I have to admit that I think it's time we got past the archaic and old-fashioned idea of evolution.

And though I worded that in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, I'm quite serious.  I think it's high time we stop taking evolution seriously and empowering and validating the "scientific community."

Evolution is a spiderweb of hypothesis and conjectures.  It is not proven; it is not scientific; it deserves no more serious consideration than any given fairy tale, and probably a good deal less.

It's kinda like "flat-earth" theory; it's hanging around long after it has any reason to do so.

I have no intention of insulting my atheist and evolutionist friends; many of the proponents of evolution are very, very intelligent.  However, the theory that they advocate is not intelligent at all, and the presupposition that they start with, their amazing mental capacities aside, still renders them fools. (Psalm 14:1)

Furthermore, the truth of evolution necessitates the irrelevance of everything else.  If evolution is true, then the intelligence of our atheist friends becomes meaningless.  What does intelligence mean, if the world is random?  What can you know, and why would you care to?  Science becomes a study of what happened at the time that the experiment was run, and not a study of how the world truly and fundamentally works.  Because if this is all an accident, then the world doesn't work.  It just happens.

The only way an atheist can do good science is if he does it like a Christian- assuming continuity and law in the universe.  And the only way law exists is if there is a Lawgiver.

Then there's the whole big-bang thing.  Millions and millions of years ago, there was this stuff, and it blew up, and made more and better stuff over the course of millions and millions of years.  This is indeed a fairy tale; yet it is far more deadly, for it has as its aim the dethroning of God.  God will not be dethroned; any society that tries will find itself hanging from the gallows it built for its Creator.

The questions regarding this fable abound; where did the first stuff come from?  The stuff that had to be there for the big bang to happen- who made that?  Or did it just always exist?  If it always existed, how do you know that?  Doesn't that mean you assume that?  Which means you have faith?  Which means that you are religious, and that those prehistoric celestial rocks are your god?

And then there's life- when did non-living matter become living matter?  How could we prove any answer to that scientifically, if it was a historical event?

And then there's morality and truth- how can we know anything?  How can anything be wrong?  Was Hitler a bad guy, or just a guy we disagree with?  Or was he actually assisting the evolution of the species?

As others have said, I don't have enough faith to be an atheist.  Every facet of reality testifies to the genius, the reality, and the necessity of God; it is not and never was a matter of evidence.  It is a matter of faith.  The atheist starts with the faith presupposition that there is and can be no god, and he mangles all the evidence to support that- even to the point of hilarity.

I know my atheist friends have plenty of responses and evidences that they would love to (and probably will) give me; I expect the response to be a barrage of multisyllabic words and suggestions for further reading (that's not to mention the insults, vulgar jokes, and name-calling).

A lot of that will go over my head, and I don't plan to spend much time trying to decipher it.  Not because I, or any of us, couldn't decipher it, but because I don't think it's worth the time.  If evolution had anything real to say, it wouldn't have to hide behind big words and ponderous tomes.

------------

An atheist on Twitter responded to one of my statements on this issue, mockingly suggesting that tacos were the ultimate proof of God.

I thought about this (maybe a little more than I should have) and came to the conclusion that he was right.

Maybe tacos aren't the ultimate proof of God, but they're all you need.

Consider the taco.


You take some corn which came from dirt, and you put it in a pan made out of metal which came from dirt, and you put that pan on a flame, and you fry it in the blood of smashed olives, which also came from dirt, and if you do so for the right amount of time at a certain temperature it becomes crispy and remarkably delicious.  Then, you put the shredded muscles of a cow into this corny creation along with bits and pieces of plants and maybe some minerals that you sucked out of the ocean.  Now, before you beheaded the cow, hopefully you used some of her milk to make cheese, which also belongs on there.  Throw on some diced tomatoes, and some onions, and maybe some lettuce, all of which came from dirt.

Then you eat the thing, and it both brings you pleasure and keeps you alive.

To say a cosmic whoops was the mastermind behind the taco is beyond hilarious.  It is ridiculous- worthy of ridicule.  The prophets of evolution have joined the prophets of Baal, cutting themselves and prancing madly about the altar of man.  Neither of them deserve to be taken seriously.

I am beginning to believe that the best response to the sesquipedalian scientificalness of evolution is a cacophony of hearty laughter.

------------

Therefore.  Evolution: In Response to Which I Say LOL


Friday, February 21, 2014

Whose God is Their Stomach


What is it that, if it was taken from you, would take with it your joy?

That thing is your treasure.

And last week, I realized, with a pang of humbling conviction, that I was treasuring food way too much.

If anyone can get away with gluttony, it would be me.  I'm 19, I work out, I run Spartan races, I'm careful to only eat the healthiest foods (usually, at least)- lots of people struggle with gluttony, but I can't be one of them!

And then my little brother has to go to the bathroom right as my chimichanga comes out of the kitchen at the Mexican restaurant, piping hot, and as I stand up to escort my sibling my joy stands up too... but only to walk in the opposite direction.

Gluttony really isn't about having a big belly.  That's a side-effect that we may or may not experience, but the lack of that particular side-effect doesn't mean that there aren't other fruits growing, buffet-style, off the tree of our plate-shaped sin.

It's about satisfaction; mastering the flesh; seeing food as a wonderful gift from God that is to be enjoyed, rather than seeing food as my source of joy, and becoming one of those whose god is their stomach (Phil. 3:19).

It's not a conscious thing- sin rarely is!  I certainly don't bow down, thrice a day, before a golden Vita-Mix in worship.

But that only makes it more dangerous, because it's hard to justify bowing down to blenders, but that third plate of Thanksgiving dinner- well, it is Thanksgiving, after all!  And I'll burn it off in my workout tomorrow, anyway.

And so, I pray- God, deliver me from the snare of gluttony; from the demands of my flesh; from the very snare which David prayed upon his enemies (Ps. 69:22)!

I want to be an 80% eater- not a 105% eater.  In other countries and other times, people are/were used to eating to refuel, not to gorge and satisfy themselves.  I, on the other hand, am used to eating, not until I am no longer hungry, but until I am full.

That's not really healthy; it doesn't benefit the body; it certainly doesn't benefit the soul.

Eating too much damages productivity; it results in lethargy, in discomfort, and in physical unpreparedness.

If I am mastering my flesh properly, the result should be energy and readiness for whatever tasks lie ahead.

So I've come up with an accountability question for my sisters to ask me at the end of every meal-

"Could you do burpees right now?"


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Acne of the Soul


It's truly amazing how God has made our body reflect our spirit.  Before the fall, no sickness, no injury in either; after the fall, sickness and injury in both.

Sin is like a zit.  The longer it goes without being addressed, the bigger and uglier and more painful it gets.  When it is finally addressed, there's likely to be a good deal of pain, bodily fluids everywhere, and maybe some blood.

But sin is far more than cosmetic.  It's an infection of the soul, and if left untreated it will kill every time.

Harboring and hiding sin, rolling it under the tongue, keeping our pet sins in the closet like so many Asherim- this is a spiritual cancer of our own making, a sure-fire way to break fellowship with God and with our family in Christ, to kill joy and fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of regret.

Yet God has given us a simple antidote.

Confession.

It's one of the hardest things to do, and one of the happiest things to have done.

It starts with the confession, not just of sin, but of being a sinner, and of needing Christ to save and deliver us.  That, our first confession of faith, is of primary importance.

But God calls us not simply to make a general confession once and stop there.  We are called to holiness (Matthew 5:48, Deuteronomy 18:13), to a long and arduous battle with the flesh that ends when it dies (Romans 7).

1 John 1:9 talks about the forgiveness and the cleansing that awaits the one who will confess his sins- not as someone who has confessed, but as someone who confesses and is confessing- a repenter.

We need accountability, too; brethren who will not allow us to walk into sin without a fight.  This can happen in a Galatians 6 style, where they, uninvited, come into our lives and say "have you noticed the cancerous boil on your soul?"

How much better to invite them in?

We only have so much time on this earth; let us live in view of eternity and, like Paul, strive not to waste any time on living with a guilty conscience (Acts 24:15+16).

Get it out. Get it out.  Sin is like a cockroach- it hates the light.  If we don't shine the light of confession and repentance into our soul, our hearts will become harbors for creatures of the night.

I am not saying that confessing sin to another person is necessary for salvation; certainly not!  Christ is our great High Priest, and is the only Confessor we will ever need.  The Catholic idea of a human priest receiving our confessions and absolving us of our sins is heretical and blasphemous.

But having a fellow warrior to whom I confess my struggles and failures- especially the habitual ones- and by whom I am held accountable on the issues on which I am the very weakest- a father or mother, a brother or sister in Christ, my wife (one day, God willing)- someone who will pray for me, and someone for whom I can pray (James 5:16)- that is surely one of the greatest tools God has given us in the war on sin, and it is surely one of the best ways to forge true, deep, intimate, Christ-centered, holy friendship.

So how are you doing?  What are you hiding?  Is your conscience clear before God?  Do you need to confess something?  Who are you confessing to and praying for?

I'm not advocating "hanging out your dirty laundry."  Don't go write a blog post to the world detailing all of your lustful thoughts and naming everyone you've been angry with in the past month.

But don't quench The Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19, Ephesians 4:30, 1 Timothy 4:2).  If you know you are hiding sin; if you know you are walking in rebellion; if you know you have some Asherim in your closet, and you sacrifice to them often- and if this doesn't bother you- you should truly be terrified.  Whom The LORD loves, He reproves.  If you are truly enjoying your sin, then you need to read 1 John and work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

If you're hiding something, and it does bother you, and it is eating at your soul, and you want to be free, then first pray for God's grace to give you the strength for true repentance, and then-

You know what you need to say, and who you need to say it to.

Do it now.

Waiting never makes it easier.

Do it now.

Kill the cancer.  Break the chains.

Do it now.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Marshmallow Boy


How many young men out there have big dreams for the Kingdom of God?

How many of those young men are actually doing big things for the Kingdom of God?

I myself have wrestled with this; I've talked to brothers in Christ about it; the recent Southwest Family Vision Conference put an exclamation point on it.  

"In all labor, there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty."  That's how Solomon put it.  Mike Wazowski took a more in-your-face approach- "Less talk, more pain, marshmallow boy!"

Guys, we're getting old quick.  If you're like me, you probably have big goals and dreams.  I want to marry young, have a boatload (read: army) of kids, be an elder in my church, a successful entrepreneur and businessman, maybe write a few books...

Those dreams are great.  Taking those dreams out of the metaphysical realm and applying them to our daily decisions, however, is not an easy task. 

We’ve all heard of the “starving artists”; people who, ostensibly for the noble love of their craft, are still flipping burgers at 30 years of age, eking out a living so they can chase their dream.  And our culture tells us that this is a noble thing.

I don’t think Scripture agrees with our culture, though.

As young men, we all have a huge calling as members of the Body of Christ.  We can’t be spinning our wheels; we can’t be wasting God's time (Eph. 5:16).  We’re in the middle of a war, and we’re at a cataclysmic point in that war.  This is not a time for apathetic, lackadaisical manhood.

We can't be playing video games and watching movies.  Rome is burning, and we, the young men, who should be using our youthful vigor to build the Church of Christ and tear down the gates of hell, are fiddling around on our Xbox.

Now is the time to be seeking God, building foundations for our families-to-be, working, working, and working.  Now is the time to be getting married.  Now is the time to draw swords and leap into the colosseum of Reality.  Now is the time to be doing manly things.  Not tomorrow.  Not next week or next year.  We don't have time to waste.  We must assume the responsibilities of manhood.  We are the next wave, and we are sorely needed on the forefront.

We need to be focused leaders-in-training, loving our local churches, praying, studying, honoring our parents, investing in our families, making the most of our single years (and trying to bring them to a rapid conclusion!), paying our own bills, starting the next generation of Christian households, cutting out the good to invest in the best.

Or, as Kipling put it, filling every unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run.

So guys- men- what are you doing?  Are your works and your words matching each other?  Are you a man, or an adolescent?  Has God called you to marriage?  Then what are you waiting for?  Does something prevent you?  Then what are you doing to eliminate that barrier?  Are you paying your own bills?  Driving your own car?  Are you contributing to your local church?  Are you making disciples and being discipled?

Are you working, or wishing?

Please pray for me on this.  I need it.  I want to be a faithful warrior- not one who spent so much time sharpening his sword that he never actually joined the fight.

All it takes is a little sleep, a little slumber, a little free time, a little dreaming, and enough busy work to make us feel like we're actually accomplishing something, and ten years of marriage and five kids have been lost in the great black hole of "could have been."

---------------

Many a man claims to manhood,
Many a runner to run,
Many a runner to finish the race,
Which yet he has hardly begun.
Many a man is convinced
That what he's done is good enough,
Many a man has calmly called quits
Just because the going got rough.
Many a man has spent many a year
Dreaming his life's thrilling plot,
And come to the end and realized
He'd already done it- or not.
Yet there are a few who have chosen,
By the Grace which God chose to outpour,
To turn the few talents they're given,
To run 'til they can run no more,
To forsake the good for the better,
And the better for that which is best;
Spend six full days upon labor,
And the seventh on diligent rest;
Rather to work for slight profit,
Than talk of great things and have none;
Spend their time waking than dreaming;
Embracing the sweat and the sun;
To live out their life to its fullest,
And breathless, arrive at the end,
Knowing they've done, and not talked about doing,
Chose to climb, even slow, ne'er descend.
Few men can say this, for most, in their prime,
Succumbed to the comforting whisper of time,
Which says that tomorrow will gladly fulfill
Whatever today is too difficult still.
But that far-seeing man who prays for the grace,
To redeem the time he may run,
That is the man at whom history quakes,
That is the man who has won.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Little Engine That Couldn't


Why does the second generation so often fail to pass the Covenant on to the third?

Is it because we don't try?  Is it because we succumb to apathy, or were never really into the whole religion thing?  Is it because we are unprepared?  Incompetent?  Don't have the resources?  Do we fail to pass on the love of God to our children because we can't?

Or do we fail to pass on the Covenant because we think we can?

As a second-generation homeschooled family-integrated Bible-indoctrinated Christian, I am an über-blessed man, and I share that über-blessed status with many, many of my dearest siblings in Christ.

I wouldn't trade it for the world.

But sin has a nasty little habit of viewing evidences of God's goodness as evidences of ours.

Suddenly, the green pastures of God's mercy have been devoured by Jeshurun, and he's kicking all over the place.

There is no place in the Christian life for "I think I can, I think I can" theology.  We do indeed need to have faith, but none of that faith should be wasted on ourselves.

If second-generation branches are confident in their ability to raise their little grapes the right way, they may find themselves drying up and being cast into the fire.

We must remember to eagerly and faithfully and desperately and joyfully plead with God for His mercy upon us, our families, our descendants, our local churches.   We must never think for a moment that we have everything under control; if we think that we will be able to, in our own strength, do what David didn't-

Tremble.  Tremble before The LORD, for He will not be mocked, and His glory will not be given to another.

We need Him.  We need His grace.  All of our über-blessedness came from Him, and if He is removed from the equation the über-blessedness will soon follow.  If we stand atop our parapet and proclaim what a great and wise second-generation we are, we may soon find ourselves eating grass for seven years.

Because apart from Christ we can do nothing.  We are the little engines that can't.  No amount of positive thinking can change the fact that if I rely on all of the wonderful knowledge and wisdom and Godly examples that God has given to me, I am still, ultimately, relying on me.

And that can only result in a train wreck.