The Bible Project

I am preparing to preach at ACAC on Feb 24 and 25, and I am also teaching two classes this term (Personal Development and the Psalms) at the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry. As I prepare for classes and ministry, I am utilizing the ministry out of the Pacific Northwest called The Bible Project.

If you are not familiar with this ministry, I encourage you to do so. They have produced short (under 10 minutes) videos, using animated white board technology, to give an overview of biblical themes and the books of the Bible.

They have one of the finest ministries I am aware of to help people understand and study the Word. And their material is great for all ages.

Check out their site. You will be glad you did.

A Truly Dark Knight

I had a chance over the weekend to go see the latest Batman move, A Dark Knight, which has been out all summer.  I think I was the last person in the U.S. to go and see it.  All summer I have read rave reviews about the movie, so my expectations were high.  When my wife and I went into the theater, the woman who sold us our tickets asked, "Have you seen it yet." When we said we had not, she said, "Oh, I saw it and I want to go back to see it again." Then we were really pumped believing that we had come to see an awesome movie, and two and a half hours later, my only comment was:

I didn't like it.

I know, I am probably the only person in the U.S. who didn't like it, well one of only two who didn't like it -- my wife didn't enjoy it at all either. 

I thought the late Keith Ledger did a great job playing a deranged, preposterous character and will probably receive a posthumous Academy Awards nomination.  That was about the only positive thing I could say about the movie, which isn't exactly ringing praise.  Here's why I didn't like it.

1.  They have ruined my Batman.  He's not my Batman, he's just the Batman I grew up with when I read his comic books whenever I could get my hands on one.  The Batman of old was a charter member of the Justice League of America, a good guy along with Superman, Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern.  They have now remade him into a neurotic, confused super hero who doesn't know if he is a good or bad guy and the public isn't sure either.  I sent an sms to our son when the movie was over, saying, "I want my Batman back!"

2.  The movie was full of gratuitous violence.  I don't mind make=believe violence, but this violence was never-ending and had no real purpose that I could understand.

3.  The Joker's character was omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.  In other words, he was, as I stated earlier, preposterous.  I have seldom seen a movie that had so many calamities and setbacks for the good guys at the end of something or someone that was pure evil. But not credible evil.  We never found out what his story was and where he came from, or how he was able to pull off all those dastardly deeds. 

4.  The movie was too long.  It could have ended at the two-hour mark and I would not have been disappointed.

The best thing about going was that we went early and didn't pay full price.  I think I'll go back and see the first of this new Batman sequels, Batman Begins, and mourn what could have been a good series of sequels.  I went back looking for the woman who sold us the tickets, but she was gone, probably in the next showing of what we found to be a total waste of time.

Prince Caspian

I have been swamped with work the last few weeks, but not too busy to see a movie or two on the weekends. I reviewed Indiana Jones a few weeks ago, did not bother reviewing Iron Man (it was entertaining but with no redeeming value), and last week saw the latest adaptation of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

In this edition, our four young heroes are transported from World War II England back to Narnia when Prince Caspian blows the magic horn in Narnia.  Our four friends find that 1,3000 years have elapsed in Narnia since they were last there and that have been summoned to assist Prince Caspian as he opposes his evil uncle who is plotting to seize the throne. 

C.S. Lewis was a brilliant writer, able to portray Christian life principles and values in a way that was both entertaining and inspiring.  The movie captures the essence of Lewis as we see our flawed heroes fail, prideful, forgiving, brave, petty, strong and waiting for Aslan, the mighty lion who has the power to save those who put their trust in him.  Aslan does not disappoint, but he takes forever to show up, arriving just in the nick of time.

I found myself wanting to stand and cheer during the movie, but my cause for celebration wasn't the movie itself.  It was Lewis, who wrote to impact his day and is still impacting society through these cinema adaptations.  I wanted to applaud my faith -- I know that sounds silly -- which is so in touch with human drama and realities. (When is the last time you saw a good movie from a Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu writer that captured your heart and imagination?).

I left this movie wanting to do what Lewis had done: Take his gifts and use them in such a way that they touched people where they lived while highlighting eternal issues.  If you haven't seen Prince Caspian, do yourself a favor and go.  It will do you good, especially if you consider what you can do to touch the world around you like Lewis did his.

Indiana Jones

We are enjoying a national holiday here in the States called Memorial Day (it was formerly called Decoration Day, when we decorated the graves of our war dead).  This is the first time in nine years I have been home for Memorial Day.  I am usually in Zimbabwe at the Action Conference, but it didn't work out for me to be there this year.  Last night, I saw on our new porch on our new patio furniture, reading for my upcoming classes, journaling, and staring at the blue sky.  It is definitely good to be home.

Last Friday, my wife and I went to a late showing of the new movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  It has been 20 years since the last Indiana Jones movie and Harrison Ford looks good for being 65.  The movie didn't get good reviews, but I would give it a "B."  The escape scenes were preposterous, the ending ridiculous, and the pace slow at times.  Yet it was entertaining, brought back great memories of the previous three Indie Jones' movies, and featured the possible heir apparent to Jones when he decides to hang up his whip.

All in all, I have seen a lot worse movies, so go see it and take it for what it is: a movie that continues a long history of Lucas/Spielberg films that have become legends in their time.  This one will be no exception.

A Weekend of Television

Our son is home for a visit this weekend, so we have sat in front of the television more than usual. This is what we've watched:

  1. Super Bowl 42 -- My son and wife picked New York to win; I picked New England. Don't get me wrong; I am glad New York won. I just thought New England would find a way to preserve their perfect season. They did not and I think their big heads and inflated egos got in the way of making history with a perfect season. If there is any more boorish coach than New England's Bill Belichick, I haven't seen him in my 57 years of watching football. Make no mistake, however; New York earned their victory. Congratulations to all New York fans everywhere. It was a boring game that became a classic in the last quarter.
  2. Planet Earth -- Our son gave us this five-DVD, ten-hour compilation of BBC shows about our planet and it proved to be a breathtaking, spectacular series. It featured sixty-minute shows on oceans deep, shallow water oceans, ice worlds, wilderness and so much more. The photography was fantastic and the series had no "edge," refusing to make statements about conservation and the like until the last DVD. All of the series was a visual feast and pure joy to behold.
  3. The War -- My wife gave me Ken Burns' 15-hour documentary series for Christmas and we finished it over the weekend. Both our fathers served in the Army in WW II, so we watched with special interest as Burns' utilized his story-telling genius to capture the essence of The War. Burns focused on four American towns and the impact the war had on them; the towns were Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; Luverne, Minnesota; and Mobile, Alabama. We lived in Mobile for 14 years, so that view was especially interesting for us. The series included interviews with veterans who served from those four cities. The music, pictures, video clips, interviews and story line brought tears to our eyes on more than one occasion. The series showed that war is hell, but also depicted the devilish nature of the Nazi and Japanese regimes that made the war a necessary evil.

In the last two months, we purchased a new high definition TV and DVD to go with it, so now I suppose I have to put it to good use. Those two series are what I consider good use. There are a few other series I would like to purchase and watch. When I do, I will give you a report as I did here. I would highly recommend either series above, but be prepared to invest a significant chunk of time in watching them all, but it's time well spent.

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Amazing Grace

My wife and I had the opportunity yesterday to see the movie, Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce and the successful battle he waged to end slavery in the British Empire. Since most of the movie was made up of dialog around the issue of abolition, the movie relies on the acting, since there is no "action" to speak of.  I think the actors delivered on what they had to do.

The movie accurately depicts Wilberforce's faith as the motivating factor in his crusade and the dialog is openly Christian and God-focused. The film runs two hours, so it may be a little long, but the theme and the price Wilberforce paid to see his cause through to the end are gripping.  I would strongly recommend seeing this movie.  You had better hurry, however, for it won't be around for long.

One interesting thread in the story is Wilberforce's relationship with John Newton, former slave ship captain and author of the song Amazing Grace.  Newton is played by Albert Finney, who turns in a strong performance. 

As the world remembers what Wilberforce did 200 years ago this year, it would be good to read up on his remarkable career.  It is also a good time to ask if there is any contribution that you need to make to your generation like Wilberforce did to his.  If there is, what are you doing to see it take place?

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White Christmas

The title of this entry doesn't refer to the weather report for Christmas day, but rather the 1954 movie starring Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby.  Why do I even mention this?  Because every year my wife and her sister watch this holiday cinema while I look for something else to do.  This year, I decided to assist them by purchasing the DVD version and giving it to them as an early Christmas present. 

They immediately opened the package and watched the movie, while I slept for two hours on the couch as they watched it like they were doing so for the very first time.  Today we are carrying out another Christmas tradition when we visit the section of Pittsburgh called the Strip District. 

Now the Strip District sounds like a nasty part of town, but it isn't.  The Strip got its name since it's a strip of land just outside downtown Pittsburgh where all the markets bought their wholesale produce decades ago.  They still do, but the area has now gone public and commercial with restaurants and specialty shops.  We will go to the fabulous Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. to buy cheese and Italian food products.  Then we will go either to Wholey's Fish Market or Benkovitz Seafoods to buy our fish for Christmas Eve dinner.  From there, we will wander through the stores, which will undoubtedly be crowded today with last-minute Christmas shoppers.

We are having mild temperatures this year, so it doesn't look like we won't have a white Christmas this year.  That's fine with me.  I don't get along with snow or cold temperatures, which is why I enjoyed living down South for 18 years.  I hope to get back there some day.

At any rate, if you read this before Christmas, we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas.  I hope that you have some Christmas traditions that are pursuing this year with family and friends.  If not, then why not create some that will become an important part of your holiday celebrations.   

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Casino Royale

While in New York yesterday afternoon, my family and I decided to go see the new James Bond film Casino Royale.  The first shock was traffic at 4 p.m. in New York City on our way to the theater.  It was gridlock.  We made it to the theater in time, however, to find out that a ticket cost $12 and a tub of popcorn was $7! 

This movie introduced Daniel Craig, the new James Bond.  The director, Martin Campbell, borrowed the concept of Batman Begins and Superman Returns as he tried to bring forward elements of the former Bond movies while remaking and reestablishing the Bonds' character with Daniel Craig as the new Bond.  I would say he was successful.  I asked my wife what she thought and, while she generally liked it, she thought it was too violent.  (There is lots of blood.)  My daugther thought it was good, but I was the one who guessed the plot twist that they introduced as the movie progressed.

I won't give away any of the plot or special effects except to say that I think our new Bond is here to stay for as many movies as he cares to make.  There hasn't been a James Bond like him since Sean Connery.  So if lots of high tech action and some secret agent beatings and killings don't bother you, I would recommend you see Casino Royale and let my readers know what you thought on the site where this entry is posted.   

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Back in Seattle Again

I am back in Seattle this week to finish my training with The Pacific Institute and to attend their annual international conference.  Since I got in a day early, I thought it was only fitting that I went to Safeco Field here to see the Seattle Mariners play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  For those outside the U.S., those are baseball teams.

Seattle isn't having a particularly successful year, but their  Japanese star, Ichiro Suzuki, is.  There were many Asians there tonight to see Ichiro and the Seattle catcher, who is also Japanese.  One of the foods they sell at the concession stand is sushi called the Ichiroll. I didn't eat any sushi tonight, but I ate just about everything else.  I had a jumbo hot dog, a hamburger, one adult beverage, one lemonade, a box of popcorn and a bag of peanuts.  It may seem like a lot of food, but I didn't have lunch--that's the best excuse I can come up with for eating so much.

I had tickets in the first row on the third base side.  They were great seats, but I actually prefer being back a little more.  It's easier to see the whole field from back there.  I left the game a little early and jumped into a taxi, who then got pulled over for a traffic violation.  It was his second of the night from the same policeman from what I could gather from their heated conversation.   Let's just say they weren't getting along all that well when I decided to get out of that taxi and look for another one.

This weekend I will be in the Washington DC area, so I have tickets to see the Washington Nationals play the New York Mets on Saturday night.  Then I will see one more baseball game in Pittsburgh next week before I return to Africa on August 22.  That will make six games I squeezed in this summer. 

Before I left Pittsburgh, my wife and I went to see Tom Cruise's new movie Mission Impossible III.  I think they should rename it Mission Preposterous.  It was silly, but I've seen worse.

Why do I tell you all this?  Because I want to encourage you to have fun doing whatever it is that gives you joy just like I do.  Baseball and movies are fun for me, and I work to fit in as many as possible while I am working hard and traveling.  There's nothing wrong with that, is there?  If there isn't, then why aren't you having more fun, doing things you love to do with those you love to do them with?  There's no excuse not to, so start planning to have some fun.  If you don't want to have fun, then send me your money and I'll go have fun for you.

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Superman Returns

I promised a review of my latest venture into movieland to see Superman Returns, so here goes.  I grew up on Superman comic books and the original television show when it was being shown in black and white!  I haven't missed one of the Superman movies since they began featuring the late Christopher Reeves. 

This edition is a bit long at 2 hours and 40 minutes.  I was surprised at the continuity with the previous Superman movies.  There's still the great soundtrack by John Williams and all the characters are there:  Perry White, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson and the criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (now played by Kevin Spacey).  I was intrigued at how the current movie revisited scenes and themes from the originals, sometimes repeating them and at other times building on them. 

The current Lois Lane is portrayed by someone much more appealing than Margot Kidder in the earlier movies.  I won't reveal the main plot, but will tell you that Superman has a love child!  I guess Superman still stands for "truth, justice and the American way" but not for chastity or waiting until one is married to have sex.  Oh well, I guess no one is perfect, even the Man of Steel!  But what an inconsistency with the intent of the founders, who positioned Superman as perfect, except for his weakness around green kryptonite.

This movie is highly entertaining and the special effects are great.  Many have raised the possibility the Superman Returns incorporates Christian themes.  I doubt if the producers or writers had that in mind, but some of the things Superman says could come out of the Bible.  But in no way is this a biblical or Christian movie.  I accept it for what it is--a Holloywood movie and not a Sunday School lesson.

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