Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Call Me Coach

"The glory of young men is their strength, And the honor of old men is their gray hair." - Pr. 20:29

If you've followed my blog for a while, you probably know that I'm into health and fitness, as well as theology, art, and music.

Just recently, this passion has turned into a possible avenue of production.  Beachbody, a nationwide health and fitness compcny, and the producers of such best-selling workout programs as P90X and Insanity, has started Team Beachbody- a way for people like me to get involved in the Beachbody business model as independent coaches.

So anyway, I'm now officially an independent Team Beachbody coach.  If you need someone to hold you accountable for the way that you're treating the body that God has given you, that's a huge part of my job description- and there's a growing group of people on Facebook who are ready to do just that.  If you know you need to be taking better care of yourself, but aren't sure how to start, let's talk!  If you want to lose weight, be stronger, faster, healthier, less prone to injury, wiser in your diet choices, or maybe even more energetic, then please take a moment to shoot me an e-mail.

(For those whom it may edify, here's an old post on this topic- Biblical principles of physical fitness.)

So there's an update on what I've been doing recently.  I certainly appreciate your prayer as I seek God's Will in this area.  I can see some great opportunities to share the Gospel as I get involved with people on a personal level- but there is also the ever-present danger of compromise, and the temptations that come with the underclothed culture of fitness communities.  Again, I covet your prayers!  If you have any questions about what this means for me or what it can mean for you or anything else, please ask- either in the comments below or by e-mailing me via the above link!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

HERO - First Look

Shad Eash, a good friend and very skillful graphic artist, has been working on this cover for a while now, and we're reaching the end of the journey. I wanted to share some of the latest revisions with you all- and I'd love to hear your feedback.

HERO is not my first album, but it will definitely be a much more mature album than my previous stand-alone release (praise God for growth!).  The album takes its name from the title of this piece- and that piece should give a good idea for the epic tone that I'm trying to achieve with this album.

I would appreciate any prayers that you feel led to give in the direction of God's blessing upon this endeavor (well, and any other prayers you feel led to give...).  I also greatly appreciate it whenever someone shares my music with others- whether that means Tweeting one of my YouTube videos, sharing this blog post (or my blog) on Facebook, or blogging about my website.  Anything you can do to get what I do in front of more people's eyes is a tremendous blessing.

Thank you all for your support- not just with my musical endeavors, but with everything that I'm trying to do here.  I love the little community of visitors that I've come to know over the years of blogging here.  Y'all are a huge blessing to me.  :-)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

REVIEW: The Avengers

The Avengers was a fun ride. Like its Marvelous predecessors, it managed to serve up considerable amounts of cheese, but a well-paced story, an ensemble of engaging and quirky characters, and a heavy dose of artistic excellence kept the film both engaging and enjoyable.

The Art 

The Good 

There's a lot to say about the quality of the films that Marvel has been pumping out recently. The crisp, clean videography, combined with directorial panache, make them a pleasure to view- even when they aren't a pleasure to watch. The music, while perhaps not always amazing, is usually tasteful and at least industry grade. Sometimes we are even treated to some great themes, like in Silvestri's Captain America.

In The Avengers, I thoroughly enjoyed the script, which was full of witty banter and genuine humor. Many of the actors also sold their parts very well- particularly Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark, whose sense of humor and sense of humanity rescued the film from rising amounts of cheese on multiple occasions.

"Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?"

The story, too, was more satisfying than that of some other Marvel endeavors, neither feeling rushed nor long-in-the-tooth. I suspect that these three things combined- the well-scripted, entertaining, and endearing interactions of the well-acted characters in an engaging story- are the strongest points of The Avengers' art, and are largely responsible for its remarkable success.

Then there's Loki.

Many a good film lacks a great villain.  Not The Avengers.  Loki is at once evil enough to hate, personable enough to like, and human enough to sympathize with- all without there ever really being a blurring of the lines of good and evil.  The strength of the hero(es), it has been said, can only be as great as the strength of the villain.  Loki was not only a convincingly formidable opponent- he also just felt believable.  Even with the goofy helmet.

I found Silvestri's Avengers theme very appropriate and well-used, and the impressive visual scope of the film is also definitely worth mentioning.

The Bad 

I mentioned cheese, and I shall mention it again. Though the good points of this film rendered the cheese to be eminently bearable, the fact still remains that Velveeta made many a cameo in this filmographic masterpiece. From moments of stone-faced "I'm awesome"-

to exploits too unbelievable even for supermen-

this film delivers an exquisite array of some of the finest cheeses this aficionado has ever tasted. Firing two pistols at once may look cool, but I don't recall ever seeing a real soldier running into battle wielding both his Glocks at once.  Talking of cheese, I think the film would be rendered more effective if the names of the characters weren't so far-fetched. Nick Fury? Seriously?

The egalitarianism in this film is something that I'll go into more depth on in the worldview section, but the truth is that androgeny isn't just bad philosophy- it's bad art, too. To portray a woman fighting with and overpowering men like this film does begins to smell like an ideology being forced into the story, at the expense of art, realism, and even the story itself. (I mean, seriously, it would be corny enough for a guy to snap out of a chair in which he is bound and level a room full of interrogators!)

The graphics were good, but at some (otherworldly) points I found them a bit ridiculous- at once not creative enough and overly bizarre. I found some of the costuming, too, a bit fantastical, especially on the SHIELD ship, which felt more to me like the Starship Enterprise than the USS Enterprise.

The Worldview

The Good

There is a lot to be admired in the eccentric group of people known as the "Avengers", and there are some quite good morals to be taken away from their story. Captain America remains my favorite of the heroes, being a strong leader, a moral man, and a man of principle devoted to ideals higher than himself.

"You know, the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing."

And his line, "There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure He doesn't dress like that," was my favorite line in the film.

One of the strongest moral messages in Avengers came from the ongoing interchange between Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark. The climax of their rivalry came as Rogers accused Stark of being, in a word, selfish- being a man unprepared to lay down his life for a cause greater than himself. Stark's reaction shows that, deep down, he knows it is true. But in the final moments of the film we see Ironman make a decision that proves that he is more than just an immature playboy in a robot-suit- that he is prepared to do the right thing, even at risk of his own life- that he is a real man.

Real men are prepared to make sacrifices. Real men are prepared to lay down their lives for the innocent and for the Truth. The greatest example of this, of course, was given by Jesus Christ Himself- Who went beyond laying down His life for the innocent, and gave it for the guilty. So this message, and this character transformation on the part of Tony Stark, was a very strong and beautiful portrayal that added depth to the film, power to the story, and genuine character to the personality of Ironman.

The Bad

Of course, Ironman also deserves a mention in the not-so-great section of my worldview analysis. His self-described playboy character is incompatible with a Biblical definition of what makes a hero. Tony Stark is likable, he is funny, he even does heroic things, but until he submits to Christ, no act of heroism which he makes can make him truly a hero.

Miss Natasha Romanoff is also a character in need of redemption (for what, exactly, the film does not specify). Somewhat like Mr. Stark, Natasha seeks to erase the "red in her ledger" by committing acts of heroism.

This is a picture of redemption that is futile, unsatisfying, and contrary to Scripture. Miss Romanoff needs to find her redemption and identity in Christ. Only by the blood of The Savior can the red in her ledger ever be fully washed away. The Scriptural picture of sin and salvation is not the balancing act of yin and yang. No amount of good deeds can outweigh the evil of a single sin to make the sinner holy and justified in the eyes of a thrice holy God. The wages of sin is death, and without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin. Praise God for His marvelous mercy in providing a way for sinners like me- and like Natasha, were she a real person seeking redemption- to be saved. What a glorious gift.

Natasha also embodies one of the most dangerous messages of this film- feminism, all growed up. She isn't alone, joined in the ranks of he-women by Nick Fury's gun-totin', pants-wearin' secretary. 

(STRAW MAN ALERT: "Gabriel is saying that women should never carry guns or wear pants or they are wicked feminazis!" No. I'm not.)

Throughout the film, we watch Miss Romanoff fighting men and monsters indiscriminately. The androgeny is thorough, and apparently no one, the whole film long, gives a second thought to the fact that they're fighting against (or alongside) a woman. Would a man like Captain America, with the chivalry of the WWII era still strong in his mind, even consider treating a woman- regardless of her ability- like just another soldier? More importantly, would Jesus? (Neh. 4:14)

My siblings and I have been listening in to the Botkin sisters' excellent webinar on what the Bible has to say about beauty, specifically in the realm of feminine fashion. Last Tuesday, the webinar featured an analysis of the fashion of certain eras and how those fashions correlated with the culture's view of womanhood at the time. What does Natasha Romanoff's wardrobe say about America's view of women today?

I submit that it says two things, loud and clear:

1. We see women as indistinct from men in any significant way beyond the obvious physical differences. The costumes of the heroine are very utilitarian, with no frills, no skirts, no lace, no feminine touches whatsoever. Men don't usually spend much time beautifying themselves. Neither does Natasha, nor the new woman that she represents. She dresses to kill.

(STRAW MAN ALERT: "Gabriel thinks that women aren't anything more than eye candy and their primary job is to look pretty for their husbands." Nice try. Wrong.)

2. We really enjoy drawing attention to and sensualizing the obvious physical differences. Let's be honest, folks, the skin-tight wardrobes of the primary female characters in the film are immodest. They're sensual, shapely, and suggestive. Just because she's covered doesn't mean that she is covered. Miss Romanoff is dressed to kill in more ways than one. (Pr. 7)

(By the way, some of our male heroes could do with a wardrobe increase of a size or two. Steve Rogers has no more right to showcase his muscles than Natasha Romanoff has to draw attention to her curves.  I've heard enough girls drooling over Thor that I'm ready to suggest a looser pair of trousers.  Male modesty is different from female modesty, but it isn't less important- more on that here.)

So, really, in the name of making women equal, the feminism and egalitarianism that we see in films like The Avengers does just the opposite. It degrades womanhood, casting it aside in favor of a perverted mixture of sensuality and androgeny. It reduces both men and women to their anatomical differences, making them objects to be consumed, lusted after, and used, while any significant distinctions in role are cast aside. What kind of liberation is this? It discourages Biblical manhood in favor of a feminized and soft masculinity, and it erases Biblical femininity, sending the women to the front lines to fill the role of the men whom it just sent away from the battlefield!

Men, we need to take the lead. Be the man. When something goes bump in the night, don't send your wife out with the gun. I don't care if she's a Russian-born assassiness. It's our job and our calling to be both the physical and the spiritual protectors of our families. It should also be our joy. We've abdicated this position for far, far too long.

Ladies, come home! Not just in the basic stay-at-home-mom sense, but in the deeper sense of being a keeper of the home, who loves being a wife, a mom, a sister, a homemaker, a woman. Don't let the feminists set the narrative. Don't buy their lie. Natasha Romanoff will never have as much impact on the world as one faithful mother.

One more observation. There were a couple of scenes where Miss Romanoff was in serious danger, and the tough-guy bravado peeled away for a moment.

In those moments, she seemed small, soft, feminine. In those moments, I wanted to protect her, to rescue her, to be her knight in shining armor. Most of the time, she was hard and masculine, and I was kinda left hoping one of the guys would show her up.

"Sorry, miss, but you've only trained to be a man.  I was born one."

Even better, that one of the guys would treat her with gentlemanly courtesy and expect her to act like a lady, instead of accepting her as "one of the guys."

(Note- I don't mean to suggest that "showing her up" would be a proper course of action on my part or the part of the male heroes, and I hope that if I met Natasha Romanoff I would treat her with the same courtesy, chivalry, and love that I aspire to treat all women with.  For me to try to "show her up" would be a violation of the very principles that I'm talking about in the first place.)

(STRAW MAN ALERT: "Gabriel thinks that women should be fearful, weak china-dolls who can't do hard things, can't work hard, can't sweat, can't use a gun, can't throw a punch, can't protect themselves and their families." Wrong on every count.)

Manly Amazon-womanhood trades in chivalry for competition, and the immense value of the gift of femininity for a cheap wannabe-masculinity.

This competition isn't a problem with the male heroes. In their case, I would be equally glad to have a friendly tussle or to fight alongside them against the bad guys.

Indeed, I would certainly enjoy the competition ("Come on, Captain, let's see who can do more push-ups!"), and there would be a mutual friendship and respect and camaraderie that just would not be there between myself and miss Romanoff- so long as she insisted on me relating to her as a man.  I mean, really... what guy wants to lose in an arm-wrestling match with a girl?  And what guy really wants to win in an arm-wrestling match with a girl?  He's left with two bad options.  That's a real bummer of a competition.  (The right choice? The third option.)

So, ironically enough, the only way for me to truly relate to Natasha with the same feeling of togetherness and unity as I would with the guys would be if she lived out a different role from my own.  Only then could we enjoy true equality.

She can never be equally as manly as the men.  Even the good ol' egalitarian US military, now proudly sending the precious daughters of our country into front-line combat to be shot-up and mutilated (yay for progress!), still has different- easier- physical fitness requirements for women than it does for men.  How does this make any sense at all?

If she seeks equality by becoming a man, she will be disappointed, because she is not and cannot be equally manly.  She was never supposed to be.

But if she seeks equality by seeking womanhood she becomes priceless.  Now she can become everything that she was created to be- a helper suitable for the man.  (Gen. 2)  Now we have true equality- each of us fulfilling our God-given roles, finding equal value in different purpose.  Now we complement and need each other (because even as she was created for the man, remember that it was not good for the man to be alone either!).  Now the woman needs the man to be what God has called him to be.  Now he needs her, because she is something he isn't, and she does something he can't.

Of course, ultimately, our goal should not be to find equality, but to find Christ.  To seek first The Kingdom of God, and His righteousness.  Then comes the rest.  Praise God, included in that little "the rest" is not only equality as brothers and sisters in Christ- but also the amazing privilege of being joint heirs (though we could never be equal) with Christ Himself!

So I thought the two major worldview weaknesses with The Avengers were feminism and a false portrayal of redemption by our own good works.

Some other issues worth mentioning:

Thor and Loki are supposed to be gods.  The film makes light of this, but they do wield supernatural powers.  Captain America's line really rescues this issue for me, but it's still important to remember that anyone but The One True God claiming godhood isn't a joke, it isn't funny, it isn't artistic- it's blasphemous, sinful, and wrong.  We can find other ways to tell our stories, without toying with things that are not for us to touch.  May God give us the eyes to see these things as He sees them.

A related point to this is the almost Scriptural importance given to the Tesseract- an object which one character says is more than knowledge- it's truth.  This is an eerie contradiction to Christ's claim that He is The Truth. (Jn. 14:6)

On a similar note, the earth does not need Thor's protection- we need the protection of Almighty God.

Our heroes have a good bit of rivalry shared between them, which isn't necessarily bad worldview on the part of the film (it's not shown as a good thing), but which does provide a great opportunity to discuss pride, gentle answers which turn away wrath, and so on. (Pr. 15:1)

Mr. Banner- the Hulk- is always angry?  That's not an admirable or heroic trait.

The topic of aliens and other worlds is also one that may warrant discussion.


I really enjoyed The Avengers.  Fun, funny, yet meaty, with a surprisingly good moral to the story, it's one I'll definitely watch more than once.  It is worth mentioning that I watched a cleaned-up version, so while I know that there was some bad language, I didn't hear any!  Also, along with the tight clothing throughout, one of the opening scenes involves a woman in attire that shows more skin than would be preferable- parents be wary.  Children might also be scared by some of the alien creatures.  There are a few mild innuendoes also woven into the script.  That said, for a "grown-up" movie, The Avengers was pretty clean.  Despite the occasional shot of cheese, I found it well worth the watch (unlike some other superhero films that I've seen recently...), and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  I look forward to seeing it again.