Monday, December 31, 2012

Byrds' Eye View

In 1965, the American rock band, The Byrds had a hit with arguably the oldest lyrics of any modern #1 song when they released their cover of Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!" In fact, nearly the entire song (minus the melody and just a few words) is copied out of the King James Version of Ecclesiastes 3. As we enter the new year, though, this old song with ancient lyrics still raises some questions and relevant points for us to consider.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Cure for Scrooge-itis

This is the fourth entry in a series looking at some of our favorite Christmas TV shows and movies, and talking about God's message especially to those who do not enjoy the Advent and Christmas seasons. Those who know me well may recognize some of this from a sermon series I did during last year's Advent season. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. For Part 3, click here.

1st edition of Charles Dickens'
A Christmas Carol (1843)
Today: A Christmas Carol

Since Advent is a season to prepare for the coming of the Lord (both at Christmas and when he promises one day to return), this should be a time of reflection, when we look at our lives and ask how well we're living up to God's standards. The Bible says a lot about how we ought to live, and some passages are especially rich. For instance, Hebrews 13:1-16 gives us several principles:
  • Share love with others at all times
  • Show hospitality to strangers
  • Care about people in prison or being tortured as if it was you
  • Treat marriage as precious, and be faithful to your spouse
  • Don't focus on money - be content and trust God to provide
  • Study and learn from the faith of godly people
  • Find a way to praise God no matter what happens
  • Do good and give to others, even when it's a sacrifice

Of course, these aren't always easy. Often, we struggle with these and other Biblical ideals because they feel backwards to our selfish human nature. But consider: how backwards is it that a king would leave his throne to suffer with his subjects and would offer his own life to save theirs after they ridiculed and beat him? Jesus repeatedly shows us that if we want to be the people of God, we have to let him change our selfish hearts into hearts filled with humility and love. And if we have been inwardly changed, it should show in an outward way. If not, then something's definitely not right!

At the beginning of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge seems to be so calloused, he's actually living the opposite of the godly life. He has developed a sickness. Thankfully, as the story unfolds, we see a prescription for the cure.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Overcoming the Grinch

This is the third entry in a series looking at some of our favorite Christmas TV shows and movies, and talking about God's message especially to those who do not enjoy the Advent and Christmas seasons. Those who know me well may recognize some of this from a sermon series I did during last year's Advent season. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Green with envy © 1966 Turner Entertainment Co.
The Grinch is green with envy!
Today: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

This classic tale first appeared as a children's book in 1957, but was immortalized as a half-hour cartoon special a decade later, and was even turned into a full-length movie with Jim Carrey in 2000. While Dr. Seuss is well-known for many of his stories, for me, How the Grinch Stole Christmas has always been my favorite.

“Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot...
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.”
- Dr. Seuss

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Is It a Wonderful Life?

This is the second entry in a series looking at some of our favorite movies/shows to watch during the lead-up to Christmas. Those who know me well may recognize some of this from a sermon series I did during last year's Advent season. For Part 1, click here.

Today: It's a Wonderful Life

Have you ever felt like your life is not going the way you’d like it to? Maybe life would have been better if you had finished college...if you'd gotten that promotion...if you'd married someone else...if you'd spent more time with your loved ones and less money on things that don’t matter..... Of course, we could play the game of “What ifs” all day if we want, but dwelling on the past will never change a thing about the future. Still, it’s hard not to think about it sometimes. Often, it can be particularly enticing to wonder “What if...?” during the holiday season - especially when Christmas seems to come faster every year, and the years begin to slip away!

George considers suicide © 1947 Republic Entertainment Inc
At the end of his rope, George Bailey considers the unthinkable
If you know what I'm talking about, George Bailey could definitely identify with you. George grew up in the small town of Bedford Falls, but he never planned to stay there. No, George wanted to travel, and he wanted to become a great architect and make a real difference in the world. That was the plan, but as my mom says, "If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans!"

Friday, November 30, 2012

Loving Charlie Brown

Christmas is just around the bend now, and TV channels are already starting to play all those Christmas-themed movies and specials we know and love. With that in mind, I thought I would spend a few weeks talking about some of my favorites. Those who know me well may recognize some of this from a sermon series I did during the Advent season last year.

Today: A Charlie Brown Christmas

We all know the Christmas season is supposed to be a joyful one. We fill out cards, share a big family meal, exchange presents, and just generally have a good time. We decorate our trees and sing our carols as we reflect on the love we share. And for so many people, it's a season filled with smiles and laughter and gladness. But for so many others, it's not.

One person who struggles to find happiness this time of year is Charlie Brown, star of Charles M. Schulz’s popular Peanuts cartoon strip. Normally, we expect our heroes/stars to be brave, self-sufficient, strong, intelligent, outspoken, successful, good-looking, optimistic - but generally speaking, Charlie Brown is none of those things. Instead, poor little Charlie Brown is insecure, bald, and seems to have a permanent case of bad luck. He is what you might call a "born loser". His friends call him "Blockhead", his baseball team always loses, and Lucy always moves the football away before he can kick it.

And so, every year, when A Charlie Brown Christmas comes on (as it has without fail since 1965), it comes as no surprise that Charlie Brown has a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit. While everybody else is happy and excited, Charlie Brown feels misplaced. In fact, these are his first lines in the special:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Click Here and Be Thankful!

Well, Thanksgiving is upon us, and you know what that means...

BLACK FRIDAY SALES! 

I heard someone say once, "Only in America can you have a whole day devoted to thanking God for what you already have, and then the next day go out and trample over one another in the name of a good sale for things you don't need!" But it seems to me that things are getting worse. I was already complaining when I saw that Walmart was gonna start their "Black Friday" sale at 8 PM on Thanksgiving Day - that seemed ridiculous enough - but then I saw a flyer announcing that K-mart's event begins at 6 AM Thanksgiving Day!

Click © 2006 Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)
I think it's time to start a movement. We've heard so much over the past few years about "putting Christ back in Christmas". I think it's time we remind people to put the Thanks back into Thanksgiving! We need to remind people that Christmas is about more than presents and Thanksgiving is about more than just rushing out to buy presents! These holidays, for the Christian, ought to be times of reflection and celebration. Just as Christmas becomes the celebration of the greatest gift of all, when God sent his Son to live and die for us, so Thanksgiving is a time to remember the many gifts God has given each of us, especially the gifts of life and family and love. These gifts are greater than all the "stuff" we can ever buy in a store (Luke 12:23), and that's a lesson Adam Sandler's character learned the hard way in the 2006 movie, Click.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lost Causes

The United States seems to be in the midst of a cultural "civil war" with Christians on both sides. Many of my conservative Christian friends are upset at the results of the presidential election, while some more liberal Christian friends see the results as a good thing. Believers on the "Religious Right" look at the Democrats' stances on abortion and gay marriage and see them as being in direct defiance of what the Bible teaches. Those on the other side look at the Republican plan and accuse them of neglecting the verses about caring for the poor and showing no favoritism to the rich. Even though we were meant to be united in Christ, the Church seems to be split over whether the letter of the Word or the spirit of the Word is more important. They are divided over interpretations and preferences. And if we look around at how many different denominations there are, it really shouldn't come to us as any big surprise!

Lincoln Memorial
Abraham Lincoln led America through some divisive years
At times, it can be downright depressing, as people on each side feel like they're fighting an uphill battle for the principles they hold dear. In addition to the presidential election, there are things like the vote to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington and the vote to allow same-sex marriage in more states that continue to spark debates and legal battles. These things polarize the population, and then we see the rise of atheist groups and the growing acceptance of other religions, and we see Christian symbols being removed from public places, and it can be easy to believe that fighting for our Biblical principles is a lost cause - especially when the Bible says things will only get worse!  Jesus says that when we hear about wars and rumors of wars, and when natural disasters are springing up all over the place, and when Christians are being persecuted right and left, these things are only "the beginning of the birth pangs" (Mark 13:8) - the first signs that the end of the world is coming. But in the same breath, he encourags us not to give up, for "the one who endures to the end will be saved." (Mark 13:13)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Seen Any Monsters Lately?

As a general rule, a sequel is almost never better than the original film on which it’s based, but many would agree that 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein is a rare exception to the rule.

The Bride of Frankenstein © 1935 Universal Studios
Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein
Some people point to the pacing, the quality of acting, the introduction of humor, the score or other aspects to explain why Bride is such a great film. For me, even though I still personally prefer the 1931 film, the reason I think Bride is so strong is because it makes use of several elements from Mary Shelley's original novel that had been overlooked in the first movie. The creature seeing his reflection in the water, the blind man in the lonely cottage, the creature learning to speak and the idea of Frankenstein creating a mate for his monster are all pulled from the pages of the book. This film also succeeds at painting Frankenstein’s fiend in a more sympathetic light, which - as I mentioned a few weeks ago - is true to the original tale.

To me, this is also a very visual story with rich symbolism everyone can learn from!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Don't Be Dazzled by the Devil!

"Discipline yourselves; keep alert. 
Like a roaring lion 
your adversary the devil prowls around, 
looking for someone to devour."
- 1 Peter 5:8

Back in 2000, Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley starred in Bedazzled, a remake of the 1967 British comedy by the same name. Elliott (Fraser) is a computer nerd who wants to be popular and win the girl of his dreams. He sells his soul to the Devil (Hurley) in exchange for seven wishes. But each time he makes a wish, something happens to keep him from happiness and he inches a little bit closer to eternal damnation.

Seeing the Devil's true colors © 2000, 20th Century Fox
Elliott is Bedazzled until he sees the Devil's true colors!
The amount of language and sexual innuendo, along with the final message of this PG-13 flick, make it something you would probably never want to show in a church setting. but the Biblical truths below the surface are still worth our consideration.

This movie actually has a lot to say about the nature of the Devil and of temptation.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Worth Fighting For

Here Comes the Boom © 2012 Sony Pictures
Recently, Amber and I went to see Here Comes the Boom, the new movie starring Kevin James and Henry "the Fonz" Winkler as teachers at a school facing budget cuts. Biology teacher Scott Voss (James) was Teacher of the Year a decade ago, but seems to have lost some of the fire that once made him great. Still, when he learns that the school will soon cut the music program and force Marty Streb (Winkler) out of a job, he knows he has to do something to raise the $48,000 necessary to save the program, inspire the students and help his friend in need. The solution he finds: mixed martial arts fighting in the UFC!

It's hard to imagine Doug from The King of Queens as an inspirational athlete a la Rocky Balboa, yet I think the fact that nobody expected it is part of what makes this action-comedy work so well! And don't worry: you don't have to be a UFC fan to enjoy the movie - I'm not, and I loved it!

Despite the violence or anything else, there is a lot for Christians to like, and I put this on my "Highly Recommended" list! I don't want to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it yet and intends to, though, so be warned that while I'll try not to give too much away, this post does contain some spoilers!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Monster Within

With Halloween around the corner, I felt inspired to write a little about one of my favorite monster stories. When I was in college, for a literature class, we read Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Originally subtitled "The Modern Prometheus", everyone knows this is the tale of a scientist who pieces together a body from dead tissue and brings it to life, but the miracle he hoped for ends up in tragedy. Everyone also knows the famous face of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster in the classic 1931 horror film (Note: "Frankenstein" is the name of the scientist; his creation has no name).

Frankenstein's monster
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster
What I didn't know until I read the novel, though, is that the book and the movie are worlds apart. For one, the movie blames the creature's behavior on the fact that Dr. Frankenstein mistakenly gives it an "abnormal brain". In the novel, there is no hint to this, and there are very few details given about the actual creation process. The creature in the book speaks and is intelligent, unlike the movie monster. And the creature in the book is much more sympathetic than its cinematic counterpart: largely because of its appearance, the creature is abandoned by its creator and hated by society, which forces it into solitude and drives it to seek revenge. The movie touches these themes, but still portrays Frankenstein's creation as a monster, while the novel clearly claims that despite the creature's actions, the real monster is man.

Friday, October 5, 2012

007 Lessons from 007's 007th Adventure

What boy didn't grow up wishing to be a spy/detective? When I was little, my grandparents would buy me "Spy Gear", which included things like fingerprint kits, toy passports, toy motion detectors, and tips on how to tail someone. Then and now, I could never get enough of mystery stories, and I still love to watch a good thriller - whether it's something serious or a spoof like Get Smart. But everybody knows the ultimate secret agent is one Mr. Bond...James Bond!

Sean Connery as James Bond50 years ago today, Sean Connery introduced us to James Bond, MI6 Agent 007, in his first big screen adventure, Dr. No, and now we await the release of the 23rd official installment in the series. Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig (the 6th actor in the lead role) will open in the US on November 9, 2012. (For release dates in other countries, see the list here.)

Gearing up for the new movie, I decided to watch some of the classics. To be sure, James Bond is a character with many vices, so I wouldn't recommend him as a role model; but as I watched Diamonds Are Forever this week, I noticed "007" truths every Christian on a mission should remember.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

If Only All Days Were Mayberry Days!

Every time you turn on the TV, it seems, people are fighting. Court shows give us stories of neighbors fighting neighbors and co-workers fighting co-workers - even family members going after each other! Whether you're watching daytime soaps or talk shows or prime time programming, it seems like almost everything is filled with people insulting each other and stabbing each other in the back. On the news, we see conflicts between nations, or we see images of protests, political bickering, and Muslim riots.

What's sad is you don't even have to turn on your TV to see similar things. There are plenty of real-life families where people have fought to the point they're no longer speaking to one another, and sometimes office politics can get downright vicious.

Gone fishin' © Viacom International Inc.
I don't know about you, but it makes me long for a simpler time. That's one reason why I love The Andy Griffith Show. Though it was born in a decade marked by civil rights protests, the assassinations of JFK and MLK, an increasing drug culture and the Vietnam war, the show reminded America that there could be a better way.

It's not that life was always peaceful in Mayberry - folks there had their share of problems, too - but with the good Sheriff Andy Taylor on the job, there was no conflict that couldn't be resolved in 30 minutes or less, and there was always time to relax on the front porch or go on a little fishing trip. The great thing about The Andy Griffith Show, though, is that not only does it paint an ideal world, but when conflicts arise, it also often explains why and then shows us what to do about it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Would You Do?

What would you do if you witnessed poverty and injustice firsthand? Would you look the other way? Would you kick someone while they're down? Would you laugh at their misfortune? Or would you be moved to compassion and stand up for what's right? This was the question posed in a segment last Friday on ABC's program, "What Would You Do?"

When you first hear the question, I hope your initial response is that you would step in to help, but the point of the show is to place people unexpectedly in situations and see what they would really do. The show asks unwitting people to give not a hypothetical answer, but a practical one. The scenario is that a Good Samaritan brings a homeless man into a restaurant, seats him at the bar, gives him $20 to buy a meal and then leaves, but the bartender refuses to serve the man and even confiscates his money. While the homeless man, the Good Samaritan and the bartender are all actors, the people seated nearby are not. As the scene is played out over and over again, the question is: if you were sitting next to the homeless man, what would you do? The answers may surprise you.

For those who missed it, here's the segment I'm talking about:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Faith and Medicine

People Will Talk © 1951 Twentieth Century Fox
Last night, as part of a tribute to Cary Grant, Turner Classic Movies premiered People Will Talk, a romantic comedy from 1951. Grant plays Dr. Noah Praetorius, a physician who adds a holistic approach to the way he practices medicine. Along the way, he falls in love with a female patient who is pregnant with her ex-boyfriend's baby, and later we discover he is hiding a big secret about one of his closest friends. Fairly risqué themes for the era! And when people start talking, the doctor must defend himself at a hearing.

Although it's not a perfect analogy,I was struck by the many ways Dr. Praetorius - like Superman - stands out as a sort of type for Christ and a hopeful model for the way Christians ought to behave. He also speaks some words of wisdom I think are worth our consideration.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wisdom from the Wild West

Jimmy Stewart made 'em. Henry Fonda made several of 'em. Clint Eastwood built a reputation on 'em. John Wayne made more of 'em than you can probably name. Roy Rogers... The Lone Ranger...

Westerns - the stuff of legend!

Over the years, tales of the Old West have captured the imaginations of people young and old around the world. Often, these are stories about courage and survival. They're stories about struggling to provide for a family. Sometimes they teach us about race relations or the dignity of the poor. They teach us about things like responsibility, duty, respect, and honor. They teach us about right and wrong. And sometimes they remind us that the lines between good and evil are not always as black and white as we'd like them to be.

In 1957, Glenn Ford and Van Heflin starred in 3:10 to Yuma, the story of a struggling rancher determined to put the outlaw Ben Wade on the train to Yuma Prison. Fifty years later, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale played outlaw Ben Wade and rancher Dan Evans (respectively) in what I consider to be an excellent remake. It's rare for me to prefer a remake over an original, but in this case, I do. But whether you prefer the original or the updated version, 3:10 to Yuma is an interesting commentary on the roads we choose and the rough terrain and slippery slopes they can lead down.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hakuna Matata

According to a reader who posted on the TWE Facebook page (and apparently a book called The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust, which I have not read), Disney's The Lion King has a lot to say about the Christian's journey to become the person God intended him to be, and I'm inclined to agree. From the beginning, when the newborn Simba is anointed and presented to the entire kingdom (think baptism), until he comes to reign over the kingdom at the end (Revelation 2:26-28; 3:21), the film certainly has religious overtones a discerning Christian should not ignore.

Consider these quotes that seem to mirror Scripture:
"Everything the light touches is our kingdom." - Mufasa (Colossians 1:11-14)
"You see? He lives in you!" - Rafiki (John 14:23; 1 John 4:15)
Along the way, the movie illustrates the insidious nature of temptation and how it leads us into danger, gives an example of God's sacrificial love, and shows how Satan tries to use guilt, lies, and accusations to keep us from living up to our calling. But rather than simply rehash what was written on the Facebook post, I want to focus on the motto taught to young Simba by Timon and Pumbaa in a pivotal scene:

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Measure of Success

Last week, I mentioned that James Dean was one of Elvis Presley's favorite actors. Dean had major roles in only three movies, but ever since his untimely death at age 24, he - like Elvis - has persisted as a sort of cultural icon of the '50s. While he is perhaps best known as the star of the teenage battle cry, Rebel Without a Cause, today I'm looking at James Dean's final film, George Stevens' Giant, also starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.

This sprawling epic was actually the highest-grossing film in Warner Bros. history until Superman came out 22 years later. (Read some of my thoughts about Superman here and here.)

Giant tells the story of Texas rancher Bick Benedict (Hudson) as he struggles to raise a family and pass on his values to the next generation. His wife, Leslie (Taylor), challenges his views on everything from gender roles to parenting styles and race relations. Over the course of several decades (and a movie only 14 minutes shorter than Gone with the Wind), his life is contrasted with farm hand Jett Rink (Dean).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paging Dr. Elvis

Thirty five years ago today, the King of Rock 'n' Roll left us. I wasn't born when Elvis Presley died, but for millions around the world, the moment they first heard the news is engraved in their memories. For millions more, his memory lives on. He continues to sell records and pack stadiums. Over 600,000 people flock to his Graceland mansion each year (I was there not long ago). He has his own 24/7 channel on SiriusXM satellite radio. And every year since his death, fans have gathered at the gates on August 15th to hold a candlelight vigil in Elvis' honor. Last night, Memphis police estimated a record 75,000 fans were in attendance!

Elvis in 'Change of Habit' ©1969 Universal Studios
Elvis as Dr. John Carpenter in 'Change of Habit'
If you're a fan like me, you know the words to many of his songs, maybe you've been to Graceland a time or two, and if you're not celebrating Elvis Week in Memphis, maybe you're watching TCM - they're playing 24 hours of Elvis movies today!

Elvis starred in 33 movies - 31 Hollywood features and 2 concert documentaries. Critics dismiss many of his films as formulaic musicals with little substance. However, Elvis always dreamed of being a serious actor like James Dean or Marlon Brando, and he occasionally got the chance to show what he could do. Fans often point to Jailhouse Rock and King Creole as proof of Elvis' acting abilities. I want to look at another his more serious films and point out some lasting lessons that are worth your time whether you're a fan like me or not.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Goodbye, Norma Jeane

As a child, Norma Jeane Baker had a rough life. Passed between foster homes and relatives, abused and lonely, she looked at the movie screen and imagined how nice it would be to escape and have it made like Jean Harlow. Modeling herself somewhat after Harlow, Norma Jeane hoped to rise above her circumstances as she transformed into the unforgettable persona of Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe in 1957 © Sam Shaw Inc.Although she is best known for her stereotypical role on film as the quintessential "dumb blonde", in reality, Marilyn was neither dumb nor a natural blonde. While her popularity was largely based on her looks, she was business-savvy, demanding contracts that gave her the right to approve her directors. And when she didn't like the direction of her career under 20th Century Fox, she broke her contract and began her own production company. She used everything at her disposal in effort to get what she wanted out of life.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Holy Metaphors, Batman!

After the tragedy in Aurora, it took me a little time to get around to seeing The Dark Knight Rises. After finally seeing it, though, you had to know I'd have something to say about it!

Logo for The Dark Knight Rises © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC
The Dark Knight Rises logo
For those who haven't seen it yet, I recommend you see the movie before continuing, as A) it's very good, and B) this post will necessarily contain some important spoilers. For those who continue, I'll explain how The Dark Knight Rises has a lot to say to Christians about spiritual warfare.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What's the Big Idea?

When I first heard the Farrelly Brothers were making a modern version of The Three Stooges, I was less than enthusiastic. I thought, "What's the big idea? How can you make a Three Stooges movie without any of the original Three Stooges?" But after the trailer showed that the new Stooges looked and sounded a lot like the originals, curiosity got the best of me, and I had to see it!

The New Three Stooges © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
The new Three Stooges ©

Well, like a slap in the face, I was completely amazed by what I saw! Although I was still skeptical going in, I found the whole thing to be a pleasant surprise that stayed very much in the spirit of the originals while bringing in new material. If you liked the old Stooges, I imagine you'll like the new ones, too!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thoughts on the 'Movie Massacre'

Devastating news this morning.

A gunman opened fire in a crowded theater in Aurora, Colorado last night at the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. As of the last report, 14 people are dead, and as many as 50 are injured. Several are critical. Children are among the victims, including one baby reportedly shot point blank. It's terrible! It's almost unbelievable! It's so incredibly sad!

Supposedly, the shooter was wearing a gas mask and a bulletproof vest, so reporters say he may have resembled the villain, Bane. As I picture the scene in my mind, the chaos they describe feels a lot like something right out of one of these modern movies. Batman's universe has always been a place filled with chaos and fear, but you don't expect that image to step off the screen and into our world. It makes you wonder what could happen next. It stirs up strong emotions.

What do we do when chaos and fear threaten to overtake our world?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't Drink My Milkshake!

In 2008, There Will Be Blood was nominated for eight Oscars. It won two, including the Best Actor award for Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Daniel Plainview. I didn't get around to watching it until this week when I discovered it on my cable service's "On Demand" platform. I must confess I was totally unprepared. The description on IMDB says, "A story about family, greed, religion, and oil, centered around a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business." I read the description, noticed the poster and came to the conclusion: Western. I figured the title probably referred to typical cowboy movie violence.

There Will Be Blood © 2007 Paramount HEI was wrong.

There were no bandits robbing the stagecoach. There were no shoot-outs at the local saloon. In fact, there really wasn't as much bloodshed as you might expect, given the title. But when there was violence, it was brief but brutal.

Instead of a modern take on the traditional western, what I found myself watching that night was an interesting but sad commentary on the downward spiral of a life without God.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Andy Griffith - America's TV Dad


July 4th is a day of great celebration here in the United States, but this year it feels a little more somber than usual because just yesterday we had to say goodbye to Andy Griffith. Andy is remembered for his roles in great movies like A Face in the Crowd and No Time for Sergeants, and for his work later on TV’s Matlock. But Andy is best remembered as Sheriff Andy Taylor on the greatest TV show ever made, The Andy Griffith Show, which aired for eight seasons on CBS in the ‘60s and has lived on continuously in re-runs for over 50 years. The news of Andy's death seems doubly harsh because it's only been a couple months since we lost Andy's friend and co-star, George 'Goober' Lindsey.

Andy Griffith © Viacom International Inc.
Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor
Few shows have endured as long or captured the hearts of millions quite like The Andy Griffith Show. Maybe that's because the show wasn't just hilarious, but it also had heart. The host of lovable characters often remind us of people we know, their small-town problems tend to hit close to home, and we share many of the same traditional family values portrayed on the screen (or we wish more people did!). In many ways, we feel as if we know the people of Mayberry, and their town is also our hometown, or we wish it was.

One of the most endearing aspects of the show for me was the father-son relationship between Andy and Opie. As a little boy, I looked up to my dad the way Opie looked up to Andy, and I hope some day to have a little one who will look up to me the same way. I want to be that kind of dad.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Spider-Sense is Tingling

Spider-Man © 2002 Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Columbia Pictures Industries Inc, and Marvel Characters, Inc.
My spider-sense tells me there's a new Spider-Man movie coming out soon (OK, not really - I saw a trailer for it). The Amazing Spider-Man is set to hit US theaters on July 3, and will star Andrew Garfield in the title role instead of Tobey Maguire. After seeing the extended trailer, I have high hopes, but it'll have to be really good to replace 2002's Spider-Man as my favorite Spidey adventure. While we wait for the new movie to come out, let me share some thoughts about the original.

A couple months ago, I shared about how I see Superman as a sort of "type" for Christ. Well just as Superman can be seen as a representative for Jesus, I think Spider-Man makes a good representative for Christians. The 2002 movie also stands as an explanation of the two ways people can be transformed.

Friday, June 22, 2012

What Do You See?

Mr. Elwood P. Dowd is a kind, gentle, soft-spoken man. He is well-mannered and easy-going. He loves to pay compliments and invite people over to dinner - even people he has just met! He will just as quickly befriend a drunkard or an ex-con as anyone else. You might say he's never met a stranger! By his own admission, he believes every day is a beautiful day, and he has learned to find something pleasant in every situation. "I always have a wonderful time wherever I am, whomever I'm with," says Mr. Dowd.

Harvey © 1950 Universal StudiosIn short: he's crazy!

People think he's crazy not so much because he's always so pleasant (although perhaps that's a good enough reason nowadays!), but because whenever you meet him, the first thing Mr. Dowd wants to do is introduce you to his best friend, Harvey. Harvey is also very easy-going and soft-spoken. He and Mr. Dowd make an excellent pair.

Oh, and by the way, Harvey is a six foot tall white rabbit (six feet, three and a half inches, to stick to the facts).

And he's invisible.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Think Pink

Whenever the Pink Panther diamond is missing, we all know who to call... Inspector Jacques Clouseau! (or is that CHIEF Inspector?)

Sellers as Clouseau in 'Revenge of the Pink Panther' (1978)
Sellers as Clouseau in 'Revenge of the Pink Panther' (1978)
Many have imitated, but none can replace the great Peter Sellers, who - with writer/director Blake Edwards - created and perfected the character in a series of loosely connected films in the 1960s and '70s. The movies were so popular that the cartoon Pink Panther character who appeared in the first film's opening credits inspired a series of animated short films of his own! The animated version of the inspector from the second film's credits likewise got his own series of short films. In the live-action realm, Alan Arkin, Rich Little, Roger Moore, Ted Wass (as another detective), Roberto Benigni (as Clouseau's son), and most recently Steve Martin have all tried their best to take Sellers' place, but most agree that no one holds a candle to the original.

My personal favorites are 1964's A Shot in the Dark and 1975's The Return of the Pink Panther, but I also must admit I thoroughly enjoyed Steve Martin's reinvention in 2006's The Pink Panther. I know many "Panther-purists" may be unhappy with me for saying that, so let me try to explain myself.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Real McCoy (And the Real Hatfield!)

Last week, The History Channel aired a three-part miniseries about the legendary blood feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. More than 13 million people tuned in to watch this dramatic reenactment of a nearly 30-year war that broke out between two Appalachian families at the end of the Civil War. The show set a new record as the most-viewed telecast ever on basic cable!

Now, I've lived most of my life only a couple hours from where all the action took place, but I have to admit, I never took the time to dig in and learn what really happened until now. As it turns out, it's an interesting tale - albeit incredibly sad - with much to teach us.

Kevin Costner as Mr. Hatfield & Bill Paxton as Mr. McCoy © 2012 Thinkfactory Media
Kevin Costner as Mr. Hatfield and Bill Paxton as Mr. McCoy
Randolph "Ole Ran'l" McCoy and Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield started out as friends. They served together on the Confederate side of the Civil War, but through a series of events, that friendship became strained and eventually the bad blood between the two families got out of control. For one thing, Mr. McCoy may have felt put out when Mr. Hatfield found an excuse to abandon their Confederate band and returned home to build a profitable business while the others were out fighting. A land dispute between Mr. Hatfield and one of Mr. McCoy's relatives (and a later dispute over some hogs) did nothing to ease the tension. And things got even worse when it was suspected that one of Mr. Hatfield's relatives had shot one of Mr. McCoy's relatives after an argument. These and other conflicts would be hard for anyone to ignore, so it's no wonder the McCoys became so upset with their neighbors across the river!

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Real King

"The Hillbilly Cat"       "The Memphis Flash"       "The Pelvis"

Whatever you call him, there's no denying that Elvis Presley is the King of Rock 'n' Roll. 149 songs on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, of which 114 were Top 40 songs, 40 were Top 10, and 18 went to #1. Over a billion records sold worldwide. Over 150 different albums and singles certified gold, platinum, or multi-platinum. Even now, 35 years after his death, Elvis' popularity continues. Over 600,000 people visit his home, Graceland, each year. Last weekend, Amber and I visited both the Graceland mansion in Memphis, TN and the tiny two-room house in Tupelo, MS where Elvis spent his early years.

Visiting Graceland

Obviously, as I mentioned last month, I'm an Elvis person. I've been a fan for as long as I can remember. I used to sing Elvis songs for my friends in elementary school. I impersonated him once for a church talent show. I've even dressed up as Elvis for Halloween a couple times!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Anybody Want a Peanut?

"Mawage. Mawage is what bwings us togethaw today."

Next week, Amber and I will celebrate our 7th anniversary, so in honor of that, I thought I'd write about one of our favorite romantic movies, 1987's The Princess Bride. It's an adventure / comedy / fairytale that shows how "true love" can conquer anything, and it's one of the most quotable movies I've ever seen..

The movie begins when a sick little boy (Fred Savage) receives a visit from his grandfather (Peter Falk), who gives him a present: a book. "That's right. In my day, Television was called Books," the grandfather explains. "Does it have any sports in it?" the boy inquires, to which the grandfather excitedly explains: "Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes...true love...miracles!" While the boy is less than enthusiastic, his grandfather begins reading aloud to him The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, and slowly over the course of the film, the boy comes to be enthralled by the story.

'The Princess Bride' © 1987 Twentieth Century Fox
Cary Elwes and Robin Wright in 'The Princess Bride' © 1987 Twentieth Century Fox

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Moving to Beverly... Hills, That Is

Do you ever get the feeling like you just don't belong here? If so, maybe you're right!

In the 1960s, some of the funniest TV sitcoms fell into what I call the "fish out of water" category. This genre included shows like The Munsters and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., and the humor came from the fact that the main character(s) just didn't fit in with the rest of the world. If you've ever felt weird or outcast, these shows are for you. What they remind me, though, is that we as Christians really don't belong here. We're in this world for a short time, but we should always be looking forward to eternity. Like Abraham and his descendants in the Old Testament, we live for a while in these temporary places, but we look forward to our true home in the city built by God (Hebrews 11:9-10; Revelation 21:1-2).

The Beverly Hillbillies
© 1962 Viacom International Inc.
One of my favorite "fish out of water" shows from the '60s is The Beverly Hillbillies, the story of the Clampett family, as they move from their little cabin home in the Appalachian mountains to the high-society world of Beverly Hills after discovering oil on their property. The new billionaires are catapulted from the lowliest of circumstances into a world where - because they are different - they are neither understood nor accepted. Likewise, Jesus told his followers to expect rejection because the world first hated him, and we are different (John 15:18-19). But don't let rejection steal your joy! Instead, be assured of your eternal reward (Matthew 5:10-12).

Friday, May 11, 2012

Goober Says Hey!

Since this whole blog started, in a way, because of The Andy Griffith Show, I thought it would be appropriate to take some time and comment on the passing of George Lindsey. He played the lovable mechanic, Goober, on The Andy Griffith Show from 1964 until the show ended in 1968, and then he continued the role on the spin-off series, Mayberry RFD, for three more years. George Lindsey passed away this past Sunday, and will be laid to rest this afternoon.

Goober © Viacom International Inc.
George 'Goober' Lindsey
When I heard the news - like so many others around the world - I was sad. Lindsey joins a long list of others from the show's cast who have gone on to the Great Beyond, and as each one leaves us, we're reminded again of how far removed our world is from the world portrayed in the sleepy town of Mayberry. I don't know if things were ever really as simple as it seemed on the show, but for folks like myself, watching The Andy Griffith Show brings back happy memories of family and friends and a time when life didn't seem so complicated or controversial. Right was right, and wrong was wrong. People cared for one another and helped one another. And some of the best times to be had were just sittin' on the porch, relaxing after a good sermon and a nice Sunday supper. Lindsey's passing is a reminder to me that, while the times are changing, one thing is the same: life is short, and we need to make the most of our lives while we're here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Living as a Joyful Noise

A few months ago, Amber and I went to the theater to watch the movie Joyful Noise, starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as church leaders trying to lead their choir to victory in a national competition.

Joyful Noise choir © 2011 Alcon Film Fund, LLC
©

While, on the surface, this might sound like a goody-two-shoes, family oriented Christian movie, it's not. The choir's opening song proclaims, "There's not enough love in our hearts," and it doesn't take long to find out they're telling the truth. It’s a movie full of back-stabbing, blackmail, judgmentalism, self-centeredness, pride, lying, swearing, and sexual sin - and that's all exhibited by the Christians in the film! Dolly's character even at one point shares her belief that "sometimes a small sin is justified" when you believe you're working for a higher purpose - a stance that is not Biblical at all, though I'm sure there are people who agree with her. Sin is always wrong in God's view, and God never calls us to sin (Psalm 5:4; James 1:13). When we are not sure how to avoid sin, we would do well to consider 1 Corinthians 10:13, pray about it, and remember these words:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Speaking Louder

"Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."
- 1 John 3:18

Have you ever been lied to? Have you ever made a promise and later been unable to do what you vowed? Have you ever said something and wished you could take it back? Have you ever wanted to say something, but just couldn't find the right words?  

Last time, I talked a little about the importance of what we say. Words express ideas and proclaim beliefs, and they can be very powerful. They have the ability to change people's lives in all kinds of ways. But sometimes words aren't enough, sometimes they can be deceptive, and sometimes we don't even mean what we say.

"A picture is worth a thousand words."
"Seeing is believing."
"You've got to practice what you preach." 
"Actions speak louder than words."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Words of Life

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits."
- Proverbs 18:21

Last month, Amber and I went to see the new movie, A Thousand Words. Eddie Murphy plays Jack McCall, a literary agent who will say anything to get what he wants. But after an encounter with a spiritual guru, Jack's life is forever changed when a magic tree springs up in his yard. This tree loses one leaf for every word Jack speaks, and the fear is that when all the leaves have fallen, both characters will die. Despite being a light-hearted comedy most of the way, there are several great truths for us to explore.

Eddie Murphy in 'A Thousand Words' © 2012 DW Studios LLC
Eddie Murphy in 'A Thousand Words' © 2012 DW Studios LLC

First, and most obvious, is the truth that what we say is important. Words help us express ideas. The power of words can influence people. We can deceive people or enlighten them. We can bring hurt or we can bring encouragement. And the way we choose to use our words is a reflection of who we are. Whether we lie or tell the truth, it says something about our character. Whether we show contempt or love, that says something about who we are. Consider these words of Jesus from Matthew 12:33-37:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

All the Lonely People

I have to admit, I've never watched Pulp Fiction, but for years, I've heard people quoting Uma Thurman from one of the film's deleted scenes:
"[T]here's two kinds of people in this world, Beatles people and Elvis people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis, and Elvis people can like the Beatles, but nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice, and that choice tells you who you are."
Anyone who knows me very well knows I'm more of an Elvis person, but today I want to talk a little about The Beatles. The Beatles have been controversial at times, but whether you love them or hate them, there's no denying the influence they've had on the world of popular music, and sometimes they have a way of expressing things beautifully.

Generally, I prefer their earlier music, but in the later years, there were still plenty of great tunes. One of my favorite Beatles tracks came when they were transitioning from being primarily a touring band to being a more experimental, studio-bound group. Forsaking the traditional "guitars and drums" format I loved so much, they brought in a string octet to record Paul McCartney's tragic ballad, "Eleanor Rigby".

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I'm the King of the World!

This Sunday will be April 15. When most Americans think of that date, we associate it with tax deadlines, but many this year will be thinking about the RMS Titanic, which sank 100 years ago on April 15, 1912.

When the movie, Titanic, came out back in 1997, I remember people joking that there was no reason to see it since we all knew the boat would sink in the end. Now, because of the 100th anniversary, the film is back in theaters, and I asked Amber last week, "Why would anyone go to see it in theaters again? The boat's still gonna sink! And we've already seen it sink!"

But all joking aside, I admit Titanic is a great film, and if you haven't seen it lately, it's worth the 3 1/2 hours to check out your local theater or - if you're like me - dust off the DVD and give it another look.

RMS Titanic
RMS Titanic © 1997 Paramount Pictures

Friday, April 6, 2012

Jesus Christ, Superman - Part 2

Since his creation by two Jewish teenagers in 1932, Superman has been an American icon, and - as I mentioned last time - whether it was intentional from the beginning or not, his story serves as a sort of modern-day parallel to the life of Jesus Christ.

Over the years, Superman has appeared in many forms in comic books, radio, television, and film. Perhaps your favorite Superman is in print, but maybe you love the Fleischer cartoons of the '40s, the George Reeves version from the 1950s, the Christopher Reeve version from the '80s, or any of countless other incarnations.

A few years ago, Amber and I discovered the series, Smallville, which focuses on young Clark Kent before he fully became Superman. We didn't watch when it first began, but we've been playing catch-up on DVD, and we just recently watched the Season 9 finale for the first time.

As we watched, I was struck by the strong religious overtones of the episode. Since I talked last time so much about how Superman and Jesus are similar, I'll start with those connections first:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jesus Christ, Superman - Part 1

"Those who know your name will trust in you, 
for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you."
- Psalm 9:10 NIV

Sometimes, when we're searching for God, we imagine that he's hard to find, but all too often, he's right in front of us. More than that, when we find him, we often discover he's been there all along - we just didn't know where to look. But those who are seeking the Lord will find him.

Even before Jesus walked the earth, he began revealing the truth about himself in different ways - through the words of the prophets, through events in the history of Israel, and sometimes through the direction of the lives of Biblical characters. Several Biblical figures are what we call "types" for Christ - that is, their lives hinted at what was to come when Jesus would arrive.

Joseph in the book of Genesis is one of the best examples of what I mean. Consider these points:
  • Joseph and Jesus were miracle babies (Joseph's mother was barren; Jesus' was a virgin).
  • Both were persecuted by jealous men (Joseph by his brothers; Jesus by the chief priests).
  • Both suffered for wrongs they had not done (Joseph was falsely accused of rape and sent to prison; Jesus was falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death).

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Fairest of Them All

Last night, Amber and I watched the new movie Mirror Mirror. Lily Collins is the lovely Snow White in a modern re-telling of the classic fairytale, and Julia Roberts plays the evil Queen whose sole desire is to be and eternally remain "the fairest of them all".

Lily Collins as Snow White in 'Mirror Mirror'
Lily Collins as Snow White in 'Mirror Mirror' © Relativity Media, LLC

This new film is very different from the Disney classic, but one central theme that remains the same is the focus on outer beauty. While Snow White doesn't intentionally make a spectacle of herself, her step-mother, the Queen is all-consumed with appearances. She wears the most elaborate gowns, forces herself into clothing that doesn't fit, and resorts to magic in efforts to maintain her glory. One interesting twist to the story is the explanation of the dwarfs' home in the forest: they have been banished from the village by the Queen along with all the other "uglies".

I'm reminded of a few Biblical principles. First, what truly matters is not outer beauty, but inner beauty - and no, that's not "just something fat people say" (to quote Jim Carrey's character in Liar Liar).

Friday, March 30, 2012

Truth Without Excuse

"For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."
- Romans 1:20 NIV

In 2006, in a local bookstore, I came across a Sunday School curriculum based on The Andy Griffith Show. For $120, you could buy a kit that included four episodes of the show along with a teacher's guide and handouts for students. At first, the idea seemed strange, but the more I thought about it, it made a lot of sense. After all, the show was more than just a great comedy - almost every episode had some kind of moral content. I tucked it away in the back of my mind that one day, I would love to be able to do this class, though I just couldn't justify the price at the time.

Months later, in a casual conversation with someone, we began talking about our mutual love for The Andy Griffith Show, and I remembered the Sunday School kit. "Wouldn't it be great if we could come up with a way to have the class? If only it didn't cost so much!" And then the idea was born. What if I were to come up with my own curriculum based on the show?