Reviews

Saving Darwin – A Book Review

Posted on October 29, 2008. Filed under: Reviews |

cover of book

cover of book

 Saving Darwin – A Book Review 

 

It’s no big secret.  Quite some time ago, I did what many Christians would believe was the “unthinkable”.  I admitted that I believed the Theory of Evolution.  To put it more mildly, I don’t have a problem with its claims and I definitely believe the science behind it.  I’d always had issues with what I believe to be the unnecessary divide between faith and science and the evolution/creation debate, quite frankly, wasn’t helping.  I finalized my decision when I realized that I was limiting God by saying, “He couldn’t/wouldn’t have created life by doing it this way.” 

It was then that I discovered that I wasn’t the only one to think this way.  When I became a Roman Catholic, I’d discovered that those in the Church didn’t have a problem with it either.  As I expanded my horizons I’d found more and more of my professors, colleagues and theologians found evolution to be the most intellectually honest way of describing how life got to where it is today.

While there are many creationist books out there written by many dedicated fundamentalist and evangelical leaders, there are very few books written by Christians actually supporting evolution.  It could be possible that with the polemics of the evolution/creation debate in the U.S., many Christian authors and thinkers have decided to stand on the side lines and not have shots taken at them.  After all, some Christian leaders have said that Satan himself developed the Theory of Evolution.  Who would want to have that thrown at them, being marked as one consorting with the Devil.  Or perhaps they believe that the argument is best saved for the scientists or that the debate itself has already been settled and no more needs to be said.  Either way, the Christian voice for evolution stands eerily mute.

Stepping to the plate in support of evolution is Karl W. Giberson and his book Saving Darwin:  How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution.  Giberson is professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College and the director of the Forum on Faith and Science at Gordon College.  In the book, Giberson gives a brief history of his own wrestling with the claims of evolutionary science as he develops from a young idealistic man filled with aspirations of becoming a scientist doing his bit to defend creationism from the “godless” legions promoting evolution. 

Along the way he wrestles with the understanding of the biblical story of creation that he grew up with and the increasingly overwhelming evidence of the science he has come to know and trust.  Over the years, he began to reconcile belief in a Creator God and evolution. 

In Saving Darwin he describes, in detail, the context and process in which Charles Darwin developed his theory.  Giberson goes to great lengths to show how Darwin was a man who had struggled with his own faith and how it relates to the natural world.  With honesty and integrity Giberson dissects the demonized Darwin and presents him as a man who had much respect for God and for those who had faith in Him but eventually had to set aside the biblical story of creation that he had learned and came face to face with what his own studies had led him to.

In the following chapters, Giberson lays out the turbulent history of the evolution/creation debate in the school systems and the courts.  He shows how the current American thought on creation had been molded by people from Ellen G. White’s vision and her vision of creation, to the book The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb to the current juggernauts of Creationism and Intelligent Design Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson and Ken Hamm.  

Giberson intricately deconstructs the commonly held misunderstanding many people have of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” and the media frenzy that surrounded the event.  He goes to great lengths to show the reader that both sides of the trial have been misrepresented through the years and most of what we believe to be true about the trial have been influenced by such things as the play “Inherit the Wind”.

He expertly introduces and describes the context and people involved with the other major trials that involved teaching creation in public schools, culminating in the 2005 “Scopes 2” Arkansas Trial.  He talks about the arguments made in defense of creation and the how and why the courts made the decisions that they made.  He accomplishes all of this without any bias or demonization of either side.

This is a great book for those interested in the nuts and bolts of the creation/evolution controversy in the U.S. (evolution doesn’t seem to have as many detractors in Europe or Asia, in the opinion of Giberson, this is due to the fact that the creation we are familiar with started with Ellen White of the Seventh Day Adventists and was promulgated by one of her disciples George Price). 

Having said all of this, the subtitle of this book should have been, “The Tumultuous History of Evolution in the United States” rather than “How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution”.  He does a great job at detailing the history of the sciences behind evolution and creation.  Interspersed between this court case and that creationist, Giberson leaves you with one tidbit or another of evidence supporting the claims of evolution.  Not until the last twenty to twenty-five percent of the book do we get any claim at length as to why we should feel comfortable with choosing evolution.  All previous writing seemed to be done simply to show why creation is not taught in schools.  That’s great for a history book, but not for a book claiming “How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution.” 

When we arrive at the last forty or fifty pages and are given reasons or arguments reconciling Christianity and Evolution it seems a bit too rushed, as if Professor Giberson had realized he needed to wrap up his book and to do it fast.  That was a bit of a let down. 

I don’t want to come off sounding like the book was a disaster, it wasn’t.  Giberson gives you plenty of stuff to mull over as you’re reading, enough to keep your attention and keep you reading.  Although I don’t think it necessarily lived up to its title I do think that it was a good read, especially for someone who is curious to find out about how we got in this mess in the first place.  For anyone on either side of the debate, this would be a great primer for at least understanding the other side. 

All told, I liked the book.  It shed a lot of light on both sides of a controversial and heated topic.  In the end Saving Darwin is Giberson’s clarion call for Christians to carry on a respectful, irenic discussion with science as we try to remain both intellectually and spiritually honest.

 

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The X-Files: I Want to Believe – A Review

Posted on July 25, 2008. Filed under: Reviews |

 

 

 

 

The X-Files:  I Want to Believe – A Review

Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz join forces again in the newest iteration of the X-Files universe (The X-Files:  I Want to Believe) as David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprise their roles as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.  My greatest fear walking into this movie was that it was merely going to be a two hour episode where Mulder can say “shit” and get away with it.  Also, I went in to the movie knowing absolutely nothing about the storyline and wondering how much this film would delve into the X-Files mythos.  What I ended up walking out with was a mixed bag.

I’m not sure exactly how much time is supposed to have elapsed from the end of the last season to the start of this movie but I got the distinct impression that it was years.  As we begin to get reintegrated into the world of the X-Files we find Dana Scully living a normal life, working as a doctor in a hospital.  One day she is approached by an FBI agent (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) asking for the whereabouts of Fox Mulder.  The FBI puts a deal on the table forgiving all of Mulder’s past transgressions and dropping the charges against him if he would only assist in investigating a case of a missing special agent.  Scully takes the offer to Fox and convinces him to trust the feds in an attempt to get him out of his seclusion.

“I’m done chasing monsters in the dark”

The reason the FBI is interested in bringing back the team of Mulder and Scully is due to the fact that an ex-priest named Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly) is claiming that he is receiving visions from God in regards to the case.  Upon meeting Crissman we discover that he is also a convicted pedophile setting the stage for the inevitable doubts to be cast in his direction.  After all, how could a disgraced priest who had sex with “37 altar boys” possibly receive forgiveness, let alone visions, from God?  From the word “go” we have to wrestle with the fact that there are times that we may not like the people that God forgives.

As the crimes continue to spread and more people get hurt, the legitimacy of Crissman’s visions increasingly become questioned and scrutinized.  Fox Mulder wants to believe that the disgraced priest is truly having visions, that the suspicions of his complicity in these crimes are false and in the end his belief will be rewarded.  As the case progresses, belief and faith are stretched to the breaking point and Sully and Mulder’s relationship begins to fall apart (yes, the legendary chemistry is still there and played out well). 

Crissman:  “So you believe in these sorts of things?”

Mulder:  “Let’s just say I want to believe.”

 

Each of them is caught in a situation where they must wrestle with their doubts as their faith or belief in something is called into question.   For example, Scully is confronted with a decision which her hospital would find unethical and the religious authorities in the administration are dogging her every step.  She also has a serious problem with a pedophile receiving help from “God”.  As the movie unfolds we are shown the evil of faith and science and good of faith and science. 

This makes for an interesting contrast.  What seems like polar opposites actually have a lot in common.  Faith and religious belief have been used arrogantly and even violently, but it has also been used to create love and peace.  Similarly science has brought horrors and unleashed disasters, but without science much that improves our quality of life wouldn’t exist.  The problem that Dana Scully seems to have is the same thing that most people have.  It’s not that she dislikes God or doesn’t want to believe in a higher being, she has a problem with God’s representatives and what they do.  But that begs the question, does the lack of tact or compassion in some people who call themselves followers of God necessarily imply that God must not exist, or at the very least, share the worst attributes of the worst of his so-called disciples?

Crissman to Scully:  “You’re a woman of faith.  Not the same faith as your husband.”

We come to find out that if anything, these things that we are confronted with can be used as a tool to strengthen rather than destroy our faith.  These obstacles aren’t insurmountable, they can be overcome.  It’s not easy; we have thousands of years of people trying to live spiritual lives that can attest to that.  But the pay off in the end is being more grounded in what you believe in, you are more solid for having weathered the storm.  It doesn’t mean that doubts won’t rear their heads again, they will.  It doesn’t mean that you’ll live a life filled with certainty about everything, you won’t.  What it does mean is that you have grown.  You have become more fully human. 

To wrap this up, for as average as I thought this movie was, I’m a little confounded by how much it has actually caused me to think.  This has actually raised the bar for the movie a bit for me.  Now that I have had time to sit and process it all I have come to conclude that while I may not have adored the execution of the film, it was better than I anticipated.  Was it a two hour long episode?  Yes.  Did it delve into the long-winded X-Files mythos?  Not really.  But it did cause me to think and that is what art is supposed to do. 

 

*As a post script, I really enjoyed the Where’s Waldo-like game of “Find the Mis En Place”.  As Scully and Mulder were discussing something, Dana was standing off to the side a bit while the hospital’s name (Our Lady of Sorrows) took center frame.  Also before something major happened to Mulder there is a man in the hospital sitting in the foreground holding an urn.  I think I may have even seen the word “Champ” scribbled on a basketball sitting on Mulder’s desk after he made a major breakthrough.  Let me know if you’re able to see anything else.

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The Dark Knight – A Review

Posted on July 20, 2008. Filed under: Reviews, Spiritual Musings |

 

 

 

The Dark Knight – A Review

The Good, the Bad and the Fallen

My anticipation for this new Batman movie, directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) was akin to a child on Christmas Eve. I knew that if I waited long enough I’d be presented with something that made neat noises and had cool blinking lights. When I got to the theater to open my gift what did I find? Something really cool that made neat noises and had cool blinking lights! To begin with, the trailers had me riveted (must see trailers of the summer for “Watchmen”, the new James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace” and “Terminator: Salvation”). By the time the actual movie began to play, I already had goose bumps covering my arms.

The basic premise of the movie is that the mob is being run out of town by Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), at times with the help of Batman (Christian Bale). In their moment of desperation, the Joker (Heath Ledger in his final performance) offers his services to bring an end to Batman. The Joker then goes on a rampage of wanton death and destruction bringing forth a new enemy for Batman and even causes the caped crusader to doubt his own worth and place in Gotham society. The better Batman does his job, the worse it becomes for the citizens of Gotham as the criminal element (in this case the Joker) has to become more and more brazen and violent to do what they do, becoming a never ending cycle.

 Ledger’s eagerly anticipated performance was well worth the wait. I found myself genuinely creeped out and disturbed by not only what he said but by how he said it. His movements, expressions, intonations, quirks, hell everything he did was over the top. It was like watching an even more psychotic version of Alex from A Clockwork Orange, a man who merely wants to revel in chaos, destruction and fear. Unfortunately for the rest of the cast, Ledger’s acting nearly overshadows the stellar performances given by everyone else (as a matter of fact, Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon blew my socks off again and Eckhart as Dent was mesmerizing.) By far, this is the darkest Batman movie I’ve ever seen.

The parallels that the world of The Dark Knight and our post 9/11 world are as well concealed as a bull in a china shop. An iconic shot of Batman standing amidst the still-burning rubble of a recently bombed building while firefighters scurry around searching the debris brings to mind images of the ruins of the Trade Center after they fell. One line that ends up being said twice in the film is, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” which seems to be the film’s way of questioning whether or not in our own reality we’ve become the bad guys. Though prevalent, these obvious allusions did not detract from the experience of the movie or from the reality of the Gotham’s world.

There was one thought that kept popping into my head as the movie unfolded: people need a savior. They need someone who they know will protect them and they know will be there for them when they are needed. Batman couldn’t always be there and I believe Bruce Wayne stated it best when he said, “People need a hero with a face.” People need a hero that they can identify with, someone they know is like them and has the same hopes and fears which will motivate them to do what is best.

 When God became man, he identified with humanity. He presented us with a savior with the same desires, same temptations, same fears and dreams as we have. We were given a hero with a face. When we needed it most humanity’s hero appeared and saved a dying world while showing us a different way of doing things. He showed us that we don’t have to fear the night, that we are cared about. And much like the Dark Knight, our hero was despised and an outcast but he still did what needed to be done simply because it was the right thing to do.

In conclusion, this movie stirred my mind and sated my imagination. With the emotions, visuals and overall “feel” of the movie, it was a film that was more or less “experienced” as much as watched. It took you to some pretty dark places but it truly stirred your thoughts beyond the celluloid. Great movie, a must see at the theater and most definitely a must buy when it comes out on DVD.

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Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations – A Review

Posted on July 7, 2008. Filed under: Reviews |

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

Chef and best selling author Anthony Bourdain prepares to take us on another tasty romp around the world in the Travel Channel’s newest season of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations beginning July 7th at 10 p.m . If any of the previous seasons are any indication, this season will once again please the culinary curiosity in us all. Unlike some travel food shows Chef Bourdain takes great pains to roam off of the beaten path to discover a country’s or a region’s native dishes and along the way does what he can to take part in the indigenous culture’s traditions.

Bourdain narrates his journeys with wit and reverence. In each episode he takes the time to explain an abbreviated version of the area’s history casting light on how the local food developed into its current cuisine. Avoiding the tourist traps, Bourdain lives up to the Travel Channel motto “Be a traveler, not a tourist” and dines in such diverse places as the African Savannah, local pubs and the occasional fine dining restaurant. Along the way he has a “fixer” in tow to guide him to the right spots which more often than not includes little mom and pop joints and the ubiquitous hole in the wall. Every so often he is even invited to take part in a normal family dinner which can be as small as the average nuclear family to as large as an entire village/community.

As we are shown the world through the eyes of this adventurous chef, it’s hard not to notice how deeply ingrained food is in a culture. With a McDonald’s or a Burger King only a couple of miles in either direction from most people, we have a tendency to sacrifice the importance of the meaning of a meal for convenience. No Reservations reintroduces us to the importance of food in society. For much of the world a meal serves not just to nourish us, the meal ministers to people as they draw together as a family or community to sit and talk about the day or about important past/current events.

As I watch I can’t help but draw a correlation between how the world celebrates its diverse cuisines and the communion table. As a church, we draw together as a family to celebrate and remember an important event in our collective history. In communion we are joined by all of our church family around the world; past, present and future. In No Reservations, we see how love is put into each dish and that same love is dispersed to all who partake in it, much the same way as the love God has for each one of us is commemorated and diffused into each one of us as we participate in our various communion rites.

In summation, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations presents us with a world that we may have forgotten; a world where food is more than a meal but is the heart and soul of a culture. As Bourdain continues his travels to exotic locals and the dive right around the corner perhaps we can get in touch with the importance of the shared meal again and maybe it will help us to approach the communion table with a renewed body, mind and spirit.

*As a side note, I would like to say that if you can find it on TV or maybe pick up the second season on DVD, please watch the Beirut episode. While the No Reservations crew was in Lebanon a couple of Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah sparking a wave of Israeli attacks and Lebanese counterattacks. The crew was able to catch on film the celebration of children in the streets upon hearing the news of the captured soldiers, the nervousness and trepidation of guides who’s family whereabouts were unknown, the partying of Lebanese young folks as they try to ignore the small war happening around them, even the dramatic bombing of the Beirut airport. It’s a fascinating look into people’s reactions to fear and strife and also peers into the hearts of a people who are surrounded by violence.

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Dark Floors: The Lordi Motion Picture – A Review

Posted on June 16, 2008. Filed under: Reviews |

  Dark Floors: The Lordi Motion Picture – A Review

While I’m not a huge fan of horror movies or the Finnish metal band Lordi, I was slightly intrigued when I saw that a movie had been made with the band as supporting characters. Costing nearly three million euros to produce, this was not meant to be a cheap flick. The plot revolves around a father (Noah Huntley from 28 Days Later) and his autistic daughter (Skye Bennett, Torchwood) trying to escape from a hospital after an MRI goes wrong. Upon entering an elevator with four other people they become trapped in the dark hallways of what is now an empty hospital. Dead bodies litter the floor as the group attempts to make its way to freedom.

In the beginning I was highly impressed with the production value. Special effects and relatively decent acting kept my attention for a while. The movie initially did a great job of making you fear the unseen. You never knew what was going to be around the next corner or what tricky mind game was going to be played next. Unfortunately, my mind began to wander as things began to fall apart.

The Lordi band members in their full stage garb began popping up and it was at that moment that I feel the movie became forced. The monsters were un-original; they seemed like band members trying to scare people. Also I quickly began to realize that I’d seen this plot before in the Silent Hill series of games and the Silent Hill movie. The characters were never fully developed so you weren’t given the chance to bond with them in a way that made you care about them or their predicament. And come to think of it, you never really discover the reason behind why their monstrous tormentors were chasing after them.

For all of the imperfections in this movie, there was one main theme that kept my interest throughout. We learn early on that the only way out is for the father to sacrifice his daughter by giving her over to their pursuers so that he and the other people might live. While I’ve heard THAT story before, I’m always interested in how it’s going to be interpreted by others on the big and small screens.

For me, it helps to have an actor play out the anguish of a parent mulling over the painful decision of having to give up their child for the well-being of others. I think that it allows us to see through the material world that we live in, a spiritual truth that at times may be difficult for us to grasp. We all know that the sacrifice that God gave through his Son was not an easy one for either being. The choice was inherently difficult for both. We have often seen the trials and anguish that Jesus was put through but the pain of the Father can be subtly displayed for us through movies such as this.

While not the perfect movie, Dark Floors does have a few redeeming values. From the intensity of the fright in the beginning of the movie to the spiritual lessons it attempts to convey, this movie keeps itself afloat long enough for you to finish it and continue to ponder how you yourself would react to situations such as this.

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Battle for Haditha – A Review

Posted on June 9, 2008. Filed under: Reviews |

 Battle for Haditha – A Review

On November 19th, 2005 a tragedy occurred.  A roadside bomb in Haditha, Iraq (located in the Al Anbar province) exploded, killing one U.S. Marine and injuring two others.  What happened next is still shrouded in controversy.  It is alleged by some that the remaining Marines may have sought retribution for their slain comrades and went on a rampage killing 24 and wounding 2 (15 of those that died were civilian non-combatants including a 1 year old).  A few Marines claim that they had received small arms fire from one of the houses and moved in to clear the area.  We may never know the true story of the events from that day but writer/director Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney, Biggie and Tupac) and first time writer Marc Hoeferlin (Ghosts) deliver to us an accounting of what may have happened on that fateful day and give us a peak into the lives of people who must deal with the realities of war.

From beginning to end, Battle for Haditha gives you the feeling that you are watching a documentary.  While the characters are fictionalized, the people they are meant to portray are all too real:  A Marine who keeps a picture of his kids in his helmet to remind him of why he’s fighting, a young couple attempting to live normal lives amidst the chaos of war, an aging insurgent (who is an ex-Iraqi Army officer) who plants a bomb because he needs money and for the love of his country not for the stereo typical religious reasons.  Each of these people could have been as real as your next door neighbor. 

Unlike other war movies of late, Battle for Haditha delivers its message without getting preachy.  You can feel the impact of a war on everyday people where there are no bad guys and no good guys.  Everyone is doing what they do for love of country and the belief that what they are doing is right.  Too often movies have demonized one side or the other in its attempt to make a point or to drive home an emotional impression.  Here we are given a story in which both Marines and insurgents are shown as victims of circumstances out of their reach. 

Patriotism and love for ones country is okay, even virtuous, but at times we forget that those we are fighting also love their country and do what they feel is best for it and their families.  If we were placed in the same position we may react the same way, using any means necessary to force out someone we may perceive as an occupier.  While it may not be popular to sympathize with your enemy in this way, we are called to love our enemies and one of the first steps to loving them is understanding that they are human just as we are and they feel just as we do.

 A final point that I’d like to stress is that Battle for Haditha illustrates, almost poetically, the fact that violence begets violence.  Each violent act, from the moment of the initial IED blast to a tape of a young girl who survived the Marine assault on her home being shown to a group of insurgents, creates a ripple effect in which more people become victims. This adds exponentially to those who wish for vengeance and retribution, continuing the cycle of killing and destruction.  Every one of the characters deeply wishes for peace and longs for the time when the world seemed safer.  This is what they fight for, this is why they are doing what they do but it’s a sad oxymoron:  fighting for peace.  We see that a radical break from the cycle of violence is sorely needed and it takes a God-given courage to be the one to turn the other cheek.

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The Hood – A Comic Review

Posted on March 31, 2008. Filed under: Reviews, Uncategorized |

 The Hood – A Comic Review

As of late, Brian K. Vaughan has become my favorite comic book writer.  Runaways, Pride of Baghdad, Y the Last Man:  all are fantastically written comics based on even more fantastic ideas.  The Hood is another comic to add to this list of new favorites.  This is a comic about a young man, who for a lack of a better term is a “hood”, named Parker Robbins.  Parker is a petty criminal trying to eek out an existence for himself and his pregnant girlfriend any way he can.  This isn’t to say that he’s being noble for the sake of his relationship;  he sleeps around with whores and lies to the mother of his child about having jobs.  He’s kind of a slimy jerk.

In the process of trying to heist some goods from a waterfront warehouse, he happens upon a demonic creature.  Believing that he has dispatched the horror he steals its boots and hood (the other reason behind the title).  Only later does Parker discover that the clothing he recently boosted off of an incapacitated demon hold magical powers.  The boots allow Parker to fly while the hood grants him invisibility.  This defining revelation now sets the stage for the rest of the book.

 

Vaughan’s genius in writing lies in taking a story we are all familiar with and twisting it.  The twists that he adds to any of his stories aren’t unbelievable, it’s not like they come out of nowhere.  In fact his twisting of the familiar is that which makes his stories more realistic.  Most of us are accustomed to tales which involve normal people discovering super powers then using those powers for good by fighting those who prey upon the innocent.  The twist that Vaughan lends to the character of Parker Robbins is that once Parker realizes what he can do, he uses it to his advantage in committing and getting away with crimes.  This new found power is used for evil, not good.

Aside from the fact that this book is purely and simply a good read, it forces us to take a look at what we have been given and what we do with it.  Receiving a gift seems to be a good test of character.  Many of us don’t use our gifts, whether material or spiritual, always with the benefit of others in mind.  Thinking of material gifts, many of us have made the statement, “If I won the lottery I’d…” and finish it off with donating money to the church, an orphanage, our families, etc.  We insist that we’d use the money for good.  But let’s face it, when we have an excess of money now, we are more than likely going to spend it on something that we want. 

Spiritually speaking some of us are given gifts by God for the benefit of the church and the benefit of all mankind.  Unfortunately we often times horde these gifts to ourselves instead of sharing with others.  We shy away from the responsibility that said gift brings us.  Too often when a gift is bestowed upon us, we don’t use it to uplift people around us.  Our first thought is for ourselves.  The gift merely accentuates the behaviors and the activities we’ve been carrying on with the entire time. 

 

The Hood is a good, though extreme, illustration of this.  I’m nowhere near saying we are all going to become criminals when given a gift from God.  I’m merely exhorting us to think about what the gift has become under our control.  What have we done with it?  Who has benefited from our newfound talents and treasures?  Maybe when we discover that we’ve been granted a gift from above we should take stock of our priorities and revamp them if necessary. 

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The Universe – A Review

Posted on February 7, 2008. Filed under: Reviews, Spiritual Musings |

  The Universe – A Review

As I was growing I held to a deep fascination with space.  I would buy books filled with artist renderings, I would attend some club meetings (like the Orange County Astronomers), I would even take as many opportunities as I could to go star-gazing with my friend (he had this immense telescope that took three people to lug around and put together).  Something about it all helped to put into perspective how small, how much of a tiny blip we really are.  It was a story unto itself.  Endless abysses, roiling tempests of fire, soaring vistas, all bigger than imagination itself the universe held so many mysteries left to be discovered.

The History Channel’s series The Universe is one of those great outlets for the imagination.  Though it is a show based on science and facts it truly lends credence to the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction”.  Each episode explores new vistas and new ideas as it takes us on a field trip beyond our own backyard.  From planets in our solar system, to dark matter, to the life and death of stars, each show helps us to realize how much more is truly out there to be discovered.  Each hour long episode reminds us how much we don’t know or understand about the existence of all things, let alone our selves.

For every new subject tackled, experts in each field add their two cents to the bigger picture.  Each guest has the knowledge AND charisma to help us to understand some of the harder to grasp concepts of astronomy and astrophysics.  Along with the professionals The History Channel illustrates via computer animation what these different things would look like.  When available, photos from different observatories and satellites are used to help propel our imaginations through the stunning array of canvases the show is painting for us.  This is all done in such a way that whether you’re an auditory learner or a visual learner, you’ll walk away more educated and inspired.

As I watch each episode, I can’t help but feel stunned by it all.  There are times when I have to pause my DVR, close my eyes and imagine what it all is like.  The sizes and distances that are spoken of are blindingly incomprehensible.  The odd things that happen which defy all sense of our own physical reality (like something which is measured in miles spinning 11 times every second) boggle the mind.  It can almost leave you mad if thought about for too long.

But with all of the immensity, all of the destructive power the universe holds there is a depth and beauty to it that defies speech.  I can only think of one word to even describe what I think and feel, “God!”  I don’t intend for that to mean some sort of pantheistic idea where everything is god and god is in everything.  I simply mean that as I ponder it all, the first thing that comes to mind is that this has all been touched by God.  Too often when I’m praying or reading scripture I forget just how BIG God is, how utterly “Other Than” he is compared to me and all that I know. 

God is the God of the universe.  Too often I see that as God is the God of my little world that lives in my head.  Every so often, something comes along to help put into perspective just how wrong I am and just how small I’m thinking.  I know it may sound odd but the show The Universe is almost like a catalyst for a mystical experience with God.  Sometimes you become so in awe of the power of God and his creative abilities that you have to lock yourself away in your prayer closet and bask in the glorious mystery of it all.  I know that everyone who watches this show will not be affected in the same way (heck, my wife thinks I’m a nut for watching it all the time) but I hope that as your surfing through the channels looking fro something to watch, you’ll stop for a moment and enjoy a guided tour through the amazing universe.

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John Constantine Hellblazer: All His Engines – A Comic Review

Posted on February 3, 2008. Filed under: Reviews, Spiritual Musings |

  John Constantine Hellblazer:  All His Engines – A Review

Many great writers have given us the stories of John Constantine (Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis) each taking turns at spinning yarns about the dark, brooding bane of Hell.  For those worried that Mike Carey (Ultimate Fantastic Four, X-Men) wouldn’t be able to carry such a heavy mantle, put your minds at ease.  All His Engines is a well thought out story of salvation, turf wars, and old gods. 

When a strange disease that causes children to fall into comas claims Chas Chandler’s grand-daughter Tricia as its next victim, Chas turns to his best friend John to help save her.  As the story begins to unfold we learn that Tricia is being held hostage by a demon with plans to take over all of Los Angeles as his own territory.  The demon’s scheme is to force Constantine into working for him to chase rival demons out of L.A.  Constantine reluctantly agrees, knowing full well that the demon has no intention of releasing Chas’ grand-daughter after he’d fulfilled his part of the deal. 

Carey’s idea behind this tale is great.  I mean, come one!  A demon gang war in Los Angeles for the control of lost souls?  Fantastic!  The way that Carey lets the story unfold allows it to keep its secrets close to the chest.  I can’t begin to even count how many twists and turns were involved as it all comes to a rather climactic finish.

I think what truly makes me enamored with the character of John Constantine is what he is underneath the surface.  Sure he has the airs of someone who has seen and been through too much to want to care anymore.  Sure he has his own scarred and checkered past and don’t forget the trench coat and chain smoking that lend itself to the sense of John being more dark than he actually is.  But I would like to offer that with all of the occult stuff aside, John Constantine is quite Christ-like.

I don’t mean that he is Christ-like in a Messianic way.  He is Christ-like in the way that we as followers of Jesus are called to be.  He takes up the cause of the weak and downtrodden.  Even though he comes off as someone who is solely self serving, almost everything he does is for the greater good.  Mostly, it’s because he does in the physical what we are called to participate in among the spiritual realms.  The way that Constantine faces down and is willing to deal with the frightening manifestations of the demonic realms are much akin to what we are called to do in our spiritual lives.

Constantine is a shining example of what a gruff Christian would probably look like:  a little world weary and weather worn, sometimes a bit rough around the edges, but always TRYING to do what is right, whether even if it means sacrificing things greater than he could have imagined.  John Constantine may unwillingly be a great Christian example for us to follow.  Is it any wonder?  After all, his initials are J. C.

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My thouMy thoughts on The Moment of Truth

Posted on January 23, 2008. Filed under: Me and only ME ranting, Reviews |

My thoughts on The Moment of Truth

There are questions that everyone wants to know.  But we keep some of our secrets to ourselves.  As honest as we would like to consider ourselves, as much as we’d like to think that our lives are an open book for anyone to read, there are things that we keep inside.  Those are our deepest, darkest secrets.  We keep them to ourselves to protect others and to protect who we are. 

There is a difference between living a lie and keeping a secret.  Living a lie is going throughout your day-to-day existence pretending you are something you are not.  Keeping a secret is not as destructive as perpetuating a lie and it’s not the same thing.  We all know someone who has confided in us and given laid out their heart to us, asking us never to tell a soul.  To tell someone else would be damaging to the relationship as well as to the individuals involved. 

And so enters The Moment of Truth (hosted by Mark L. Walburg).  Most people know I have a disdain for reality TV.  Some of it stems from the lack of reality it shows (people act differently when they’re on camera), some of it comes from the people that watch the tripe that comes on the screen, but most of it comes from the networks that push this reality-porn on a (now) writer-less, TV starved nation.  But this is actually really pushing the limits of any kind of decency for me.  A show where you win $500,000 if you don’t lie to very personal, often closed door questions is appalling. 

On this show a contestant is strapped up to a lie detector and is grilled with 21 questions.  While the audience sits and awaits the climax of this mental masturbation.  What is wrong with our lives that we need to sit and listen to the most hidden of people’s personal secrets to get some entertainment?  Either way a person answers, we know they’re going to be humiliated and someone is going to leave the show emotionally scarred (if you check out the message board on the official website, you’ll find one discussion about what people’s guesses are for the amount of breakups/divorces this show will cause.)

Survivor is one thing, Big Brother is another, but this?  This is just poor taste in recording and viewing.  Questions like “Do you wish you were still single?” and “Do you think you’ll still be married in five years?” are absolutely worthless questions.  As a married person myself, there have been times when I’ve answered yes and no to both of those questions.  No need to share those answers with the rest of the world so I can make a quick buck.  How about a reality show that puts the producers on trial?  “What won’t you do for advertiser’s money?”  “How many people are you willing to humiliate for a buck?” “How ‘bout we rake you over the coals and air your dirty laundry in front of the nation as we watch your family stare in horror?”

I may live a dull life at times.  You know what, that’s what makes me more than happy.  It makes me appreciate the interesting times more than if I was constantly on the go.  But I don’t need to watch the misery of others to make myself complete.  I don’t just blame the producers, I blame the viewers.  If there weren’t people out there who’s day wouldn’t be truly over unless they watched someone having a more miserable life than they are, the networks would stop making this vomit.  I’m going to do myself and the world a favor by voting with my remote.  This is why I have DVR and a DVD player. 

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