Friday, May 30, 2008

mclaren's mistake about "framing stories"

4. The failure of the world's religions, especially its two largest religions,
to provide a framing story capable of healing or reducing the three previous
crises. We'll call this the spiritual crisis.
McLaren, 'Everything Must
Change', p. 5

I think it is right about here that McLaren's book, and perhaps his views in general, start drifting away from truth and reality.

Let's go ahead and assume that his insights about the 'suicide machine' may have some points to them. Having read a good bit of this book, I can say there is something to be said about some of his diagnoses. Not all, of course, but a bit.

There is a quote I use a good bit from Chesterton, from "What's Wrong With the World" which addresses this concern...

This is the arresting and dominant fact about modern
social discussion; that the quarrel is not merely about
the difficulties, but about the aim. We agree about the evil;
it is about the good that we should tear each other's eyes cut.
We all admit that a lazy aristocracy is a bad thing.
We should not by any means all admit that an active aristocracy would
be a good thing. We all feel angry with an irreligious priesthood;
but some of us would go mad with disgust at a really religious one.
Everyone is indignant if our army is weak, including the people
who would be even more indignant if it were strong.
The social case is exactly the opposite of the medical case.
We do not disagree, like doctors, about the precise nature
of the illness, while agreeing about the nature of health.
On the contrary, we all agree that England is unhealthy, but half
of us would not look at her in what the other half would call blooming
health. Public abuses are so prominent and pestilent that they
sweep all generous people into a sort of fictitious unanimity.
We forget that, while we agree about the abuses of things,
we should differ very much about the uses of them.
Mr. Cadbury and I would agree about the bad public house.
It would be precisely in front of the good public-house that our
painful personal fracas would occur.

This is meant to show that even in the areas where I or anyone else may agree with McLaren's ideas of what the problem may be, his solutions may be such as to my mind be worse the the problem itself.

As well, sometimes he says something is a problem when, in reality, it's not.

I think that one of those times is in the above, in the fourth of his list of what he considers to be global crises, or dysfunctions.

He doesn't explicitly say what the world's two largest religions are, so it seems he assumes the reader has an idea of what those are. It's a bit of an assumption, but I do know that they are Christianity and Islam.

And perhaps right there, we start having a problem. He criticizes the world's religion, and while he singles out those two he doesn't exclude the others like Hinduism and Buddhism, for not having what he call a "framing story" that addresses the other crises. A bit later, he defines "framing story" as such

By framing story, I mean a story that gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It will tell them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what's going on, where things are going, and what they should do.
p. 5-6

So, the first problem seems to be that he seems to expect those other religions to provide a "framing story", whether one from each or one in total, that will do those things in a good way.

But these religions cannot do those things in a truthful way, because they are false religions, and the 'dieties' behind them are demons. It is unreasonable to expect them to produce good fruit, not to mention fruit to eternal life.

Another mistake he makes is in saying that none of the world religions have a "framing story" that addresses the issues in either his list of crises or in the quote above. Christianity does.

Consider these...
"It will tell them who they are..." The Bible does so. It tells us we are creations of God, who are fallen and sinful and unrighteous and unable to help ourselves, unable to make ourselves clean.

"...where they come from..." The Bible does this. It tells us that we began in Eden, in a state of sinless perfection, in right relationship with God, and that we through willful disobedience fell in sin and into a state of rebellion to God.

"...where they are..." The Bible does this. It tells us that we are born into a fallen state, rebellious against God and under His wrath.

"...what's going on..." The Bible does this. It tells us that sin has consequences, and that the world is in the state it's in because of man's disobedience and rebellion against God. Light, the Gospel, has come into the world, through Christ, but men have loved darkness rather then the light, because what they do is evil.

"...where things are going..." The Bible does this. Prophecy tells us some things about the end, and more then that it tells us the ultimate end of each human person--Heaven or Hell.

"...and what they should do." The Bible does this. It tells us that Christ has died for us, and that we need to repent and believe in Him--in His life, His death, His resurrection. After that, we should live in obedience to Him, as the Bible tells us to live.

The problem, then, is not that there is no "framing story" that could be of true benefit to people, it's that this story, rather this truth of Christ's life and sacrificial death and resurrection of the dead, is rejected.

The Bible gives us no false hope in regards to human nature. It does not say that we are basically good creatures who have been corrupted by some kind of social pressure or societal dysfunction. It tells us, with bluntness, that none of us does good, that we are all unprofitable, no one is righteous, all have sinned.

And in regards to the Gospel, the Bible is under no illusions about how people as a whole will respond to it. The account of Jesus' life and death should itself be enough to show that His message will not be well-recieved by all, or even by many. And as He said, if the world hated Him, it will hate those who follow Him. Elsewhere we are told that all those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecutions.

And so, I must reject McLaren's premise as stated in the first paragraph above. The Bible does provide what people need--truth about themselves and their condition, and the truth that God has provided hope and salvation for rebellious people. The problem is not the Bible's claims, but rather how people have rejected them, and gone their own ways.

This hope and salvation will not be found in anyone else, in any other religion or philosophy or social program. It is found in Chrst only. Any attempts to improve the world without acknowledge mankind's need to be repent and be converted will only end in failure.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

star wars novels--why we need to say good-bye to luke, han, and leia

A few days ago I read the last book in the newest Star Wars series. The whole series was actually very good, with some interesting character developments and twists. Still, it kind of brings in to focus a lot that is wrong with the way the whole Star Wars universe is going.

The main problem is this--the big three characters from the first movies, Luke, Han, and Leia, are still around, and still have to be dealt with by the writers.

Keep in mind, they are now pretty old. It's been roughly 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi, so they are well into their retirement ages. Leia is no longer in politics, Luke though is still the head of the Jedi order, and Han is, well, still Han.

But through the store thus far, the next generation of Jedi was being developed and matured. Han and Leia had three kids--the twins Jacen and Jaina, and the youngest Anakin. Early on, in fact, it was hinted at the Anakin was suppose some kind of super-Jedi. Also, we now have the son of Luke and Mara, Ben, who's no slouch in his own right.

Now, Jacen and Anakin are dead. Jaina is still around, but I think most of us readers would most welcome if they would finally quit trying to play her relationship angst all over the place and have her and Jag finally settle down, or do so for at least as much as either of them could. On the other hand, there is the daughter of Jacen around now, too, and who knows how they'll make use of her.

But as well, in the Jedi order, there is the next generation that still has to play behind Luke in all things. The other supposed super-Jedi, Kyp Durron, is slowly approaching middle age and was almost a non-entity through most of this last series. Others were around but were not used much. The future was suppose to have been Jacen, but with going all Darthy and Sith, that's now out the window.

In other words, in stories like these, eventually the good guys have to lose people. In the Vong war, for example, characters like Chewie, Anakin Solo, and Ackbar were lost. In this last series, Mara Jade Skywalker and Jacen Solo were lost.

But outside of Chewie, none of the main movie characters have become one with the force. And it's starting to hurt the stories, as they are killing off the next generation in order to preserve the old ones.

Let's be fair here. When Salvatore wrote the story that killed off Chewbacca, it was not well-received, and by some things I've seen, Salvatore got some responses that were far from nice. Given that, it can be understood why other authors would be reluctant to do anything involving the death of one of the other popular characters.

But at the risk of sound callous, it's high time and even passed time. And the readers are just going to have to deal with it. These characters, as beloved as they are, simply cannot be kept around in the stories forever. If, say, you don't want Luke to be killed off, he can pull a Yoda and go off somewhere and not be central character anymore, but I have my doubts about such a thing really working.

It's time to bid our farewells to them, and welcome the new leaders and villains in the Star Wars stories. If given a chance, I think it could prove to be as good a thing as what has been.

But it needs to be done soon, before too many more newer characters don't make it through the editing process.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

a twist on Christ's temptations

For Jesus, God's natural ecosystem is not only one of care, but alos of limits. So when Jesus is tempted (Luke 4:1-3), he refuses to turn stones into bread (which would subvert God's natural system of provision)...
Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, p. 139

Luke 4
4:1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led in the Spirit in the wilderness
4:2 during forty days, being tempted of the devil. And he did eat nothing in those days: and when they were completed, he hungered.
4:3 And the devil said unto him, if thou art the Son of God, command this stone that it become bread.
4:4 And Jesus answered unto him, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone

Matthew 4
4:1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
4:2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered.
4:3 And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.
4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

One can seriously question where in either of these accounts McLaren finds any support for his contention. And if you consider Jesus' other works, his idea simply folds.

For example, Jesus taking water and making it into wine at the Cana marriage. Or Jesus calming storms. Or Jesus healing sick people and raising them from the dead (since sickness and death are a part of nature as well). Or His killing of the fig tree. Perhaps mosts telling, we twice have Jesus taking small amounts of food, enough to feed maybe one or two people, and miraclously increasing it to the point where it fed thousands.

And there are instances of God providing miraculously in the Old Testament, too. Jesus would have been very familiar with, for example, God providing Israel with manna, as well as with water coming from a rock. And Elijah being provided food by birds at the brook. God miraculously provided water for Samson after a battle.

Why, then, did Jesus not make the stones into bread? Very likely because the wilderness and His fasting was in obedience to His Father, and the temptation would be for Him to do something against His will. It's not that turning the stones into bread would be in itself wrong, any more then eating was wrong for Adam, but at that time for Him to have done as Satan tempted would be sinful, and Jesus would have none of it.

...refuses to take a religious shortcut to authority and kingship (which would subvert God's natural system of gaining honor through humble service)...

Luke 4
4:5 And he led him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
4:6 And the devil said unto him, To thee will I give all this authority, and the glory of them: for it hath been delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.
4:7 If thou therefore wilt worship before me, it shall all be thine.
4:8 And Jesus answered and said unto him, It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Matthew 4
4:8 Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
4:9 and he said unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

In responding to McLaren's contention, look at how Jesus responds to Satan's temptation. One could argue that the world and all its kingdoms were already Jesus'. Jesus responds against the notion of worshiping anyone other the the Lord our God.

One could see it as Jesus refusing to give in to the temptation to compromise, and refusing to cooperate with an Satan-inspired initiative, which would only have made things worse in the end.

After all, if Satan had really given Jesus all those kingdoms, especially for such a seemingly small price, then would it not have been better for them? There isn't even the hint that Jesus would need to fight for them, they would simply be given.

But is that not the type of temptation many emergents fall in to, when they try to tell us that any who worship other gods, such as Allah or any in the Hindu pantheon or whatever it is Buddhists worship, can be as much worshipers of God as those who believe in Christ? Are they not then compromising with satanic ideas, and even if they are only trying to do what they think is good, would that excuse them?

...and refuses to indulge in spectacle to prove himself (which would subvert Gods natural system of being proven through trials and experience).

Luke 4
4:9 And he led him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence:
4:10 for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to guard thee:
4:11 and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.
4:12 And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God.

Matthew 4
4:5 Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple,
4:6 and saith unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.
4:7 Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God.

Again, Jesus answers a completely different temptation then McLarens says He does. Many of Jesus' miracles were very publicly done, and did provide proof of His divinity. One could, for example, look at the healing of the paralytic to show how Jesus used a miracle to also affirm His power to forgive sin, something only God can do.

But for Jesus to have done the miracle in the passages above would have bene to do something against the Father's will. As with the making of stones into bread, it's not about the act itself, but about the will of God, and whether an action is according to it or not.

So, I contend, and I think rightly, that in this paragraph from the book, we see examples of McLaren's poor interpretative skills, or maybe more likely, his attempts to read what he wants into the texts. His assertions have little to no backing by what the texts really say; instead, it seems his interpretations are influenced by ideas he wants to find in them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

movie review--speed racer--look at all the colors!!

A word of caution; if you go to see "Speed racer", make sure you've had nothing stronger then caffeine, and preferable as little of that as possible. And as someone who almost swears by caffeine, that's quite a bit of advice.

I remember watching a few episodes of the cartoon when I was very young, but I have little memory of it, so I can't say how the movie compares to it (the short-lived Geico commercial doesn't count, I suppose).

For effects, the movie doesn't bother a bit with trying to make them look real, and somehow that makes it rather more realistic then often happens in movies where it does try for realism. Race course tracks that would make a roller coaster feel envious, cars that do things that no car can do while still remaining drivable, somehow in trying to be cartoonishly outlandish and hyperrealistic, the effects become almost more realistic then normal.

The visual appearance of the movie is one of it's biggest appeals. It really is one fo the better-looking movies I've seen. The brights are very-bright, they are everywhere, and they go by really fast.

Throw in inept ninjas, a not-so-bad bad guy, a not-so-good good guy, pirahnas, a back-stabbing teammate, and a too-intelligent monkey, then what more could you want in a movie?

Well, not much more. Maybe less, like less Susan Serandon. I could handle John Goodman, most of the time. And this movie raises a further question--between "We Are Marshall", "Vantage Point", and now "Speed Racer", when does Matthew Fox have time to film for "Lost"?

Anyway, back on topic...

The story itself could have been all too typical, and it wasn't all that surprising, though it did have some twists too it, like the one racer who uses Speed and Racer X and betrays them after their win. Also how the Racer X thing was left revealed but unresolved at the end was also a twist, maybe to leave something open for a sequel.

It is a hard movie to categorize, though. It is almost a kid's movie, but there are things in it that not very kid-friendly. I'm not sure I would recommend it for kids. It's a little simplistic for a grown-up's movie, though, but they could still enjoy it.

The message of the movie, though, is a bit iffy, at least to my mind.

For example, when Goodman's character starts ranting about how some people have too much money, I could almost agree with it, so long as we begin with the idea that the first person who has too much money is John Goodman. Or whomever wrote that line into the script. Or the Wachowski brothers and Joel Silver.

Or how about the apparent aversion to sponsors. All well and good, until you wonder who's paying for all those crazy race tracks to be built, and who puts up the prize money those racers are racing for? Granting, I didn't notice any of the cars in the movie having a big Tide or Bud logo stenciled on their hoods, but that just means that it's a movie, while NASCAR is, well, almost real-life.

One could find some good things in the family interaction, and Speed and Trixie seem to keep things pretty clean between themselves.

I liked the movie. I recommend it, with some cautions.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

movie review--iron man

It had been a slow time for us movie-goers. I suppose some may disagree, but at least for me, it's been a while since much of interest has come out.

Not anymore.

'Iron Man' wastes no time, but puts us right in the action. It does kind of slow down a bit towards the middle, though that also has some of the more humorous scenes, so it doesn't suffer from a lack of interest. The final minutes are, of course, the big fight scene, which while not as strong as the ones in the Spiderman movies, is good enough. There is a small but possibly significant scene after the credits.

The casting for this movie is mostly spot-on. Downey Jr plays a Tony Stark that is rather layered--outwardly glib and brilliant, busy and demanding, with lots of superficial aquaintences but few people close. His remarks are pithy and funny, but his main commitments are to two things--his own pleasures and his work.

The movie follow pretty closely the original Iron Man origins story--Stark is kidnapped and wounded, and in order to live he has to wear a device that keeps shrapnel from reaching his heart. In order to escape, he creates a suit of armor and fights in it. This leads to his continued modifications and use of such armor, thus the creation of Iron Man.

I've seen at least one place where it is claimed the Stark has a change of heart away from the making of weapons when he is kidnapped by terrorists. I think that is a questionable conclusion. Yes, one thing he does right off on arriving back at his company is try to discontinue the weapons research in his company, but 1) it doesn't seem to be a permanent thing, but more to get to the bottom of why those terrorists were using his company's weapons, and 2) the new and improved Iron Man armor is far from being only defensive and non-lethal, as is shown when he uses it to put bullets into the heads of terrorists holding hostages.

I'm not sure it can be said that Stark has any kind of change of heart. What can be said is that he realizes that there is something rotten in the state of Stark Enterprises, and he works to take responsibility for it and to clean things up.

Another good bit of acting was Paltrow's character, Stark's assistant Pepper. I had seen her before in some movies, and had a difficult time recognizing her as Pepper.

The movie flowed pretty well, didn't bog down much, the effects were very good, and all in all it was a very well done movie with a pretty good message.

Things I would have liked to have seen more of?

Well, maybe Happy. He's a pretty main character in the early Iron Man stories, and while he does get one mention as Stark's chaffeur (sorry if I spelled that wrong), that was about it.

One question that could be asked is, why didn't Stark have the shrapnel removed once he returned to civilization?

Also, how did having the things in his chest effect his heavy social life, especially when he was trying to keep it secret?

Finally, Stark's main weakness in the comic is alcohol. The movie has him drinking a few times, but doesn't show it as being much of a problem for him. There was the scene on his private jet, but even that was low-key in that regard.

The final scene, the one after the credits, adds a final touch of interest both to this movie and to what and how Marvel may be doing there movies in the future. So far, there has been no crossover from one movie to the other--Spiderman does his thing, the Fantastic Four do theirs, and for all we know, they know nothing about each other. But with Nick Fury and SHIELD and the "Avengers Project" he mentions, I wonder if that may change.

I wonder as well if that will be brought up in the coming Hulk movie. After all, the Hulk was one of the original Avengers, though if I remember right he didn't last long.

So, over all, I recommend it.