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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category


I expected more from American Gangster.  It stars two first-rate actors, and personal favorites, in Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.  It is directed by Ridley Scott.  The acting and direction were very good.  The story was interesting too.  So, I’m not quite sure why I’m not content, or as content, with this movie.  Perhaps my expectations were too high.  Perhaps it was that the story takes place over such a long period of time, but offers no time line to better understand its development.  And I thought it would have more action.

It is the story of 2 men whose lives intersect, and are very similar.  Denzel plays Frank Lucas, a body guard for a Harlem mob boss.  He watches his boss, and after his death decides to step into his shoes as the neighborhood’s beneficent dictator.  He must remove some competition, and convince the Italians that he is their equal.  His is a story of dogged determination and perseverence.  He had a good head for business, but decided to use his abilities for evil instead of good.  But he justifies it based on the good he does for his family (whom he’s brought up from NC to work for him) and the community.

Russell Crowe is Ritchie Roberts, a clean cop who also displays dogged determination and perseverence.  As head of a drug task force, he hunts Lucas for years.  In the meantime, he passes his bar exam.  He cares about his son, but has trouble relationally.  He’s a womanizer, so his wife left him.  One of the subplots is the fight for custody of his son.  Since he refuses to take any bribe money or steal evidence, he drives a beat up junker through most of the movie.  It is his conflict with his wife that opens up one of the most amazing lines of dialogue.

“Don’t punish me for being honest.  Don’t take my boy.”

“You don’t take money for one reason: to buy being dishonest about everything else. … You think you’re going to heaven because you’re honest, but you’re not.  You’re going to the same hell as the crooked cops you can’t stand!”

Wow!  What an apt description of how self-righteousness functions in our lives.  We narrow God’s law down to a few things- in this case being a clean cop.  As long as we do that- we are righteous in our own eyes.  We neglect the rest of God’s commands which would condemn us, and use the ones we keep to condemn others.  He blinds himself to just how messed up he really is, and feels a martyr for suffering for his one area of obedience.  This is a great window into our souls!

Those crooked cops stand between the men for years.  Lucas hates the fact that he has to pay them off.  In another great line of thought I couldn’t find again to copy- he compares their love of money to an addict.  The crooked cops (and the hangers on in his life) can’t get enough- they are just as addicted.  Another great window to our souls!  They also hinder Roberts’ efforts to bring Lucas down.  When Roberts get the goods on Lucas, he uses him to bring them down.

The movie ends with Lucas getting out of prison to be met by Roberts who is now his lawyer.  Oh, the irony of it all.  Roberts is essentially on the take as a defense attorney, but probably sees himself as defending men from the crooked cops.  He, too, is now addicted to money.

American Gangster is what you’d expect of a gangster movie- plenty of bad language, shocking violence and a bit of nudity.  But as a morality play, it does offer us some insight into human behavior.  As a morality play, it doesn’t offer us insight into how to change and be free of our self-centeredness and addictions.

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The defamation suit filed by Roger Clemens against Brian McNamee has resulted in some unintended consequences for the Rocket.  Lots of allegations against him regarding his personal life (which his suit claimed pointed to his sterling character).  You could see this coming, but it is still sad whether the allegations are true or not.  Roger issued a Giambi-like apology while denying the allegations.  My, that was helpful.  Either he has the worst lawyer ever, or he is the worst client ever.  This rivals the Seinfeld episodes with Kramer’s fast-talking lawyer to whom he never listened.

But another story caught my eye.  It took place in Nashua, NH.  This would be the small New England city in which I grew up.  It involved fans of the Red Sox and a Yankees fan.  And what unfolded was a pathetic testimony to how some people take this thing way too seriously.

I am an avid Red Sox fan.  I’ll admit I’ve had a few lively dialogues while attending games in Tampa (actually the Rays play in St. Pete which is an additional 45 minutes away).  Mostly that was challenging outrageous claims on omniscience on the part of Rays fans.  I once asked a guy if he was God since he seemed to know so much about the motivation of a man he never met.

The Yankees are our “arch enemy”.  I saw some ugly events as a child in Fenway sitting in the right field seats in the late 70’s.  Reggie Jackson was verbally abused continuously.  Yankees’ fans were also attacked verbally and with beverages.  I do not condone any of those actions, but detest them.  Some of my best friends are Yankees’ fans.  We have a playful rivalry, not one that is life and death.  I’ve even watched them play one another, in the playoffs, with some of my Yankee fan friends.

But, in Nashua things got ugly after a fist fight between 2 women (what are we coming to?).  One stomped off to her car and the crowd noticed the Yankees’ bumper sticker.  The taunts began.  [for the record, you may not like the Yankees, but they certainly do not stink or any related term.]  She responded by driving straight for the crowd.  Admittedly she had been drinking and her decision-making process somewhat impaired.  Theirs undoubtedly was too.  For she thought they’d move; and they thought she’d stop.  But she ran into the crowd killing a man.

Sports is no reason to kill a person.  Yet this happens all over the world, not just in Nashua, NH.  We will never be able to coexist as long as we gain our identity in someone or something other than Christ.  We will protect our idols, even if we have to kill.  This, folks, is who we are- all too often.

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I was not a big comic book fan.  But I usually enjoy movies based on comic books.  I suppose too much is lost emotionally with drawings rather in motion pictures.  I’m thinking more of the shifting emotions.  Or I am a snob.

I’m not a big Iron Man fan, nor was I anticipating the movie.  Robert Downy Jr.?  Not even remotely a draw for me.  But Jon Faverau (Mikey from Swingers, director of Elf) is the director (as well as pulling a cameo as Tony Stark’s driver) and the trailers made it look interesting.  The initial reviews have been pretty good.  So I plunked down my $6.50 and enjoyed a matinee.

I’m glad I did.  As the first in what the producers hope is a series, this movie introduced the character and set the stage for all that is to come.  Robert Downy Jr. was a good casting move for this movie.  You buy into him as Tony Stark- a womanizing, smart-mouthed man prone to the excesses that his incredible wealth affords him.  His family has been in the defense industry since World War II.  He is an engineering genius.  His parents died while he was a teen.  His father’s friend Obediah ran the business until Tony joined him when he turned 21.

You really don’t like Tony.  He’s arrogant and a user of people.  But all of that changes when he is captured by terrorists in Afghanistan.  The religious aspects are complete ignored.  What the movie focuses on is that they are using weapons manufactured by his company!  Despite patriotic intentions, his weapons systems are being used by aggressors not just for defense.  Stuck in the cave for 3 months he has an epiphany.

But he’s trapped in a cave.  He is recovering from heart surgery after shrapenal from one of his weapons injures him in the attack.  The also-imprisoned doctor uses a magnet to keep the remaining shrapenal from going into his heart.  There he must build his latest weapons system for the warlord.  Instead, Tony makes a technological discovery and also creates a metal suit with weapons to make his way to freedom.

He succeeds in escaping and decides to develop his original design.  Back home people don’t understand the change in mindset that has overtaken him.  It is a picture of repentance (without the religious component).  His whole reason for living, and how he lives, changes.  He is, essentially, a new man.  He tries to right the wrongs of his past.  Unfortunately for him, there is a betrayer who tries to destoy him.

There aren’t as many battle scenes as I’d like, but they fit the story line.  The focus is on character development.  Tony comes face-to-face with his personal emptiness, confessing to his personal assistant (played well by Gwyneth Paltrow): “You are all I have.”  Due to her attentiveness to his compulsive nature, he is all she has too.  A very different looking Jeff Bridges plays Obediah.  He looks like he’s put on some muscle (thicker, but not fat), grew a goatee and shaved his head.

The ending was not as good as the rest of the movie.  It was a letdown in some ways.  But this was a good summer blockbuster.  But it is not mindless.  It has themes of repentance, redemption, betrayal, sacrifice etc.  He can only survive because of a power outside of himself.  Not quite a new heart, but pretty intriguing.  The ‘new’ Tony Stark uses his wealth and genius to help the poor and oppressed, not for his own excess.  These are things that a Christian can affirm, and should be doing.  But the ‘old’ Tony will pose some uncomfortable moments for parents (no nudity, but some implied sexual immorality).  In the context you see that his sin does not satisfy. 

Overall, Jon Faverau did a good job with the pacing of the movie.  There was enough humor to keep it from being too serious.  Much of this takes place while he builds the high tech suit at his home workshop.  The soundtrack also had lots of hard rock, but Black Sabbath’s Iron Man doesn’t show up until the credits.  The soundtrack fit the movie, and that’s what you are looking for in a soundtrack.

This is the first good movie of the summer blockbuster season.

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Yesterday I listened to an interview with Frank Viola and George Barna about their book Pagan Christianity?.  I keep thinking of the former pitcher for the Red Sox.  You have to really have your head in the sand to not notice all the books critical of the “institutional church”.  This is a phrase that was used ad infintinum during the 70-minute interview.  Never defined. 

Here’s my beef with the beef against the institutional church.  Actually I have a few beefs.

1. Overgeneralization.  Yes, many of the criticisms are true of many churches.  But none of the criticisms is true of all churches.  So you end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  Yes, for instance, many churches are all about buildings (I could tell you stories, baby).  But not all are.  And that includes some big, famous congregations.  For instance, Redeemer PCA in NYC does not have a building.  They continue to rent facilities.  

But sometimes owning your facility is a good thing.  Rent was one of the problems we ran into in our restart.  If we had put our money into a new facility on a visible piece of land we might have done better.  I don’t know, and never will.  But buildings alone are not the issue- but the attitude about buildings.

2. Lack of Personal Responsibility.  They blame the church, not themselves.  Yes, there are some dysfunctional churches, and churches that enable spiritual slackers.  But most churches I’ve been associated with want people to grow and be involved.  Most people who are not engaged are not engaged because they don’t want to be engaged.  Those people fail to take personal initiative to build relationships with others, allow others into their lives, go to small groups and the list goes on.  It is easy to make the “institutional church” the scapegoat. 

The larger the church the more effort you may have to put into getting to know people.  But I’ve been in churches of over 1,000 and been able to make friends and build relationships that lasted longer than my time there.  Am I special?  No!  I recognized my personal responsibility instead of expecting everyone to initiate contact with me.  Most churches nearly beg people to be involved, they aren’t wanting to have a congregation of spectators.

(more…)

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Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you.  CavWife (CW) ran across this story today.  It comes from the Yale Daily News and is about a Yale art school senior.  It is sad, distressing and disgusting.

Her senior project is “a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself “as often as possible” while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.”

She says she did not design this for shock value or scandalize anyone.  Self-deceived or clueless, I’m not sure.  But any reasonable adult would realize that this would shock people.

Personally, I cannot believe someone would even consider doing this.  Art should make us think, but to the betterment of our souls.  It should not de-humanize us.  Due to our depravity, it is far too easy for us to show the ugly side of life.  But it requires far more work to show beauty, dignity and honor.  So, when we give our depravity free rein, it reveals the worst in us instead of the best in us.

Sinclair Ferguson touches on this sad reality.

Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace. But exposing sin is not the same thing as unveiling and applying grace. We must be familiar with and exponents of its multifaceted power, and know how to apply it to a variety of spiritual conditions. Truth to tell, exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter. Therein lies our weakness.

    Sadly, both bad art and bad preaching fall into this trap.  Both express only our depravity, and neglect our dignity.  Both settle for sin rather than grasp for grace.

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I’m not talking about the movie.  I’m talking about the ruins left behind by ‘progressive’ ideas.  Two blog posts by Al Mohler illustrate.

One of Ronald Reagan’s greatest regrets, so I’ve heard, is signing the “No Fault Divorce” law as Governor of California.  A man who grew up a few blocks from the “Brady” house in California decided to check in with his friends from high school to see how the rapid increase in divorce among their parents affected them.  His Newsweek article shares some of the shocking stories.  The author is only 2 years older than me.  Although divorce was not quite as common in southern New Hampshire, I know I felt some of those fears as a child.

Despite his experiences, Mr. Jefferson states that he’d marry his partner if allowed to by law.  This leads us to the next topic Dr. Mohler addresses.  Many ‘progressives’ have a “not my kid” mentality about homosexuality.  These are people who willing and warmly embrace homosexuals (actually, many Christians do too), so they are not “homophobes”.  But they are conflicted when it comes to their own children.  And apparently their kids have caught on.  Homosexuals in Christian families report having an easier time telling their parents.  These of course are probably families that understand the gospel and practice unconditional love.  Why do I say this?  A family that “gets” the gospel understands that all of us are corrupt and prone toward evil.  Some of us just pursue “respectable” evils like gluttony, gossip and greed to name but a few.  You don’t have to approve or like your kids’ choices, but you are to love them like you love yourself. 

The ruins of ‘progressive’ thought (which exalts personal freedom over mutual obligation and personal responsibility) are broken families and uncertain kids.  Not only are kids uncertain if their parents will stay together, but if their parents will continue to love them if they knew the truth about them.  Afterall, isn’t that why some/many of their parents are divorcing- they couldn’t handle the truth about one another.  Obviously, sometimes it is one spouse’s unwillingness to change destructive behavior.  But this still undermines a child’s relational foundation.

My hope is not in “conservative values”.  I’m not into moralism though I have conservative values.  My hope is in the gospel, the power of God to save everyone who believes.  We can be saved not only penalty of sin, but the power of sin.  Communities that “get” the gospel will provide the relational stability necessary for children to grow up able to love others.

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I was watching part of In the Heat of the Night today.  No, not the TV show with Carroll O’Conner.  The classic movie with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.  I love it when Virgil responds to Gillespie’s denigrating question about his name through nearly clutched teeth, “They call me Mr. Tibbs!”

There is one important scene where Tibbs confronts Mr. Endicott.  He is the rich guy who pretty much runs the town, and was trying to stop the new factory from coming into town.  He viewed himself as a caretaker for the helpless black man.  He realizes they have come to question him about the murder of the Chicago businessman and slaps Virgil in the face.  He promptly strikes him back.

Endicott is shocked that Chief Gillespie does nothing.  Tibbs and Gillespie head to the car.  Gillespie realizes that Tibbs really ought to leave town now.  Tibbs asks for 2 more days to take that fat cat out of his house on the hill.

The light goes on for Gillespie.  “You’re just like we are, ain’t you?”  The light when on for me too, for I hadn’t noticed that exchange before.

Tibbs looked down on white people just as much as white people looked down on him.  This seems to be the big obstacle in the whole discussion of race in America.  We seem reluctant to admit that many blacks look down on whites as much as many whites look down on blacks.  This is what shocked so many people about Rev. Wright’s sermons.  This was not Chris Rock, who we expect to be outrageous.  But here was a pastor, a respected pastor in his community and denomination, speaking to a (mostly) black audience and saying many of the things white people are afraid to hear- many blacks really don’t like or trust us.  And Obama just minimized it.

The obstacles are on BOTH sides of the fence.  And we’ll never make any real progress unless we address this on both sides.  In some ways Rev. Wright’s numerous comments (reality check, it is not an isolated slip of the tongue) deflate my hopes for racial reconciliation.  On the other hands, it reminds me how necessary it us for us to proclaim, believe and live out the gospel.  Sadly Rev. Wright felt content to play the victim rather than address the sins of the people under his care (which seems more the role of a sermon than the sins of those ‘out there’.

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