Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tales from the Box Office

I keep up with the box office and movie industry.  I feel it gives a good pulse of society and culture.  I like to play arm chair movie manager just as much as the next guy, which seems to be a lot because people often write about the movie industry. 

The Atlantic has a piece about the horrible box officeincome of the summer, especially the last month, and while The Atlantic writer gets close, she misses two major things that show her leftist bent.  Misunderstandings like this are why the industry is losing money to places like Netflix. 

The first reason why the summer receipts are so bad is not so much betting on a few properties and putting lots of money into pushing certain movies, but rather the calendar itself has changed.  And of course we can always play the “maybe it would have been a better idea to put money behind the marketing of Captain Underpants rather than the Mummy”, I don’t think this is the real reason.  Rather, the changing calendar has changed the Summer Blockbuster window itself.  Take a look at the big money movies this year.  You won’t find an August opening movie until #22.  Yes, they are mostly still out, but in years gone by you would have found more higher on the list because August was still blockbuster season.  Why the change?  School.  Most kids are back in school by the second week of August now.  The time for movie theater trips is over.  Friday night football is usually going before September.  This is no longer movie time, but school time.  If you look at the list again you will find many pre-Memorial day releases.  Guardians of the Galaxy at #3, Logan at #6, and Fate of the Furious at #7 are both prior.  School is basically over for many by May.  They may be attending still, but meaningful school is over.  So movie time it is.  That gives them time to be out and well-reviewed by the time Memorial Day hits keeping financial returns strong.  Those movies also are all sequels so the movie goer is already invested.  No need to wait to release if the people are already waiting for you.  For movies appealing to younger children one can be released even earlier.  See Beauty and the Beast #1 and Lego Batman #8. 

And yes if you look at this by opening weekend alone it does not change much.  Still no August releases until #20.  Dark Tower was probably a bad movie and would have had massive drop off, but I bet its opening would have been better if it had been released in July.  The same is probably true for the Hitman’s Bodyguard, which is a typical summer movie fare, but only garnered 21 million opening weekend thanks to it being after summer was over because school had started back. Its nice performance on Labor Day weekend shows that it suffered, not from story, but from the fact August people don't see as movie time anymore.  

The other major omission from the Atlantic is the content of the movies that seem to make the most money.  Hollywood really does hate its main audience.  Just like political pundits cannot figure out how Trump won most of the country, they can’t figure out what makes a movie most of the country wants to see.  The top of the box office list is dominated by super heroes, which fundamentally are a good v evil tale.  The heroes are from the 40’s and 50’s and so are also fundamentally about American ideals including traditional morality.  That is half of the top 5.  In fact, every super hero movie released by Marvel or DC is in the top 10 including a Lego Batman movie.  The top spot is taken by an age old fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, which also then reflects good old morals such as not judging a book by the cover and such things that we used to want to teach our kids.  It did add in a few seconds of agenda pushing, but it was so in the background no one cared.  Dunkirk as well is about WWII where good fought evil and is about heroism in leaving no man behind.  Despicalbe Me 3 is a franchise for kids, and The Fate of the Furious is something like the 8th or 9th entry into its franchise and features the biggest box office name in the business today Dwayne the Rock Johnson. 
The only exception to the traditional morality and tales is at #10 in Get Out.  Now Get Out was universally loved by the Hollywood critics probably causing an uptick in its sales numbers.  And I do mean universally.  The only critic to be negative about the movie was Armond White, and he was lambasted on Twitter for failing to fall down in love of this movie.  The movie is about racism set in a horror movie genre using the suburbs as the backdrop.  The all white people are really racist, even the liberals, is not a theme that most people want to see even if it is done in a unique horror movie style.  Now it did make a lot of money, but it will fall out of the top 10 soon.  The movie will probably end up behind Boss Baby, another cartoon, and probably behind Pirates of the Caribbean too.  But the remake of “It” is clearly going to end up in the top 10 after the 3rd biggest opening weekend of the year in September.  This will knock all exceptions out of the top 10. 

Now look at the list of movies that littered the flop category.  It is littered with two types of movies.  Liberal garbage, which comes in two types: movies that preach liberalism (see Fifty Shades Darker, Emoji Movie, and the Shack) and movies that are starred in by those who spout liberalism so much they are hated by most people (ex. Snatched).  Detroit might be the best example here.  A limited opening garnered it critical praise for its police brutality and civil rights themes.  It then went into over 3,000 theaters, and still made less than 20 million dollars.  And the other type of movie is the movie with good source material that was changed, ignored, or tampered with to remove its traditional message that made them classics in the first place.  Now in this group I do place those remake of 80’s and 90’s cultural icons that were redone in such a way to show contempt and hatred for them.  CHiP’s and Baywatch are perfect examples.  I watched CHiP’s, but not Baywatch as a kid.  Regardless of whether or not you liked those shows, they were successful.  Remaking them into pathetic comedies that neither does justice to nor celebrates the source material is bound to fail.  If you hate something, don’t try to write a movie for it.  Many Hollywood people today hate American anything from its past, so expect it to fail.  Also King Arthur falls here.  The heroic Arthur restoring order, setting up the Round Table, and searching for the Holy Grail is not in this movie, and the movie failed miserably. 

You could probably add a third category of just awful story telling.  The Circle would fit that.  This movie ended in such an awful and unintelligible fashion that you felt ripped off from what up until that point had been a pretty good movie.  I still get mad just thinking about all the foreshadowing that was flushed down the toilet for an ending that I still don’t think I get.  I actually watched the bonus features on that DVD to see what happened, and apparently the people talked about all of this emotion building in their main character that I never even came close to seeing and in the end she didn't act on any of it anyway.  The movie they were communicating was completely different from what came across on screen.  No one wants to see such bad movies. 


What is the lesson?  The lesson is the culture makers in this country are redefining morality.  They are committed to it.  Most of the country would prefer it not changed, but most don’t fight it.  They probably don’t have the answer which is found only in Christ.  Lots of people follow traditional morality without a reason why.  The next generation is being shaped now by these culture makers.  They are going to be okay with all the moral non-sense.  They just won’t know how to tell a decent story and will have no idea what entertainment actually is.  

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

13 Reasons Why And the True Tragedy

13 Reasons Why has created a lot of discussion since its release on Netflix.  It is based on a book, which I have not read, but I viewed the shows.  People feared a contagion affect, and it now appears to have been happening.  It was not hard to see coming.  When the hero of the show is the one who commits suicide, then you are glamorizing suicide.  But the real problem of the show is not that.  The suggestions for removing the death scene fundamentally miss the point.
In my opinion, the problem is the accurate portrayal of high school in a non-Christian/Post-Christian world.  Yes, the main character Hannah gets every possible type of bullying, which is probably unrealistic, but almost everyone is going to have experienced a couple of those types of bullying situations.  Hannah does seek help in the last show from the guidance counselor, but he has no answers.  The problem is not that he is just too busy, but that he has no real solutions.  The show seems to come up with some sort of “we should love each other more” answer, but that is just hot air and kids today know it.  They know they can’t be totally loving, and they sure know that the people around them are not going to be super loving.  Maybe a suicide would help for a time in a school, but even that would not be a permanent fix. 
That is the problem with 13 Reasons Why.  It asks the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”  But it comes back with a different answer.  It comes back with “There isn’t one.”  When that is the answer, why keep living in discomfort?  Why keep going when everything is painful and hurts inside? 
The culture is learning that all the reasons suicide are wrong rest firmly on the Christian worldview that the culture is rejecting at every turn.  Without any idea of redemption, sanctification, divine love, thou shalt not kill, and being created in the image of God, suicide cannot be condemned.  The experts in those articles don’t want it to look peaceful, they want the suicide to show the pain and loss of the family.  But, the non-Christian world tells us to live for ourselves and that pain is bad.  Hannah was in pain, so she ended her pain.  Now her parents are in pain, they have the same option available to them. 
13 Reasons Why is a horrible show because of its non-Christian worldview.  But it does remind Christians that there are a lot of people out there that in pain, in search of comfort, and do not know the answer of belonging body and soul to the faithful savior Jesus Christ.  The church has an opportunity to reach those people.  To teach them about Jesus Christ and the cross. 


“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”  - 2 Corinthians 5:4-5

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

I read the New York Times Bestseller Hillbilly Elegy, and it is a very good book.  It is well written, honest, and gives a glimpse into a life style many don’t know.  The subject matter makes the book tend towards sadness and pity, but has just enough humor in it to stop it from becoming overly depressing.  The book looks at not just the life, but the mind-set behind what we think of as Appalachia. 

Full disclosure, I grew up in Appalachia.  So much so that when I read the opening chapter of this book and he said his family lived in Ohio from Kentucky, I thought “That is not Appalachia; that is not the South.”  I had to fight against my own upbringing to be able to listen to this Ohio guy talk about Appalachia.  I have been to many towns like Jackson, KY, and my own hometown would probably be Middletown, OH if Eastman chemical ever closed.  I imagine Kingsport maybe a lot like the Middletown that his grandparents moved to when their factory was still open.

Remembering that I actually enjoyed the book, don’t buy the hype that this book is “a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election” as Jennifer Senior from the New York Times writes.  It really has nothing to do with the election.  It is a look into a forgotten group of people.  Maybe this forgottenness played a role in the election, but the book is not really trying to address any of that. 
It is a beautiful picture of a society that grows increasingly more lost.  The brokenness, the hopelessness, and the ever rising climate of drugs and violence are real.  I went home to Kingsport this year, the first time in four years, and the change is saddening.  There is such a thing as mountain poor, and this books shows it well.  It also ends up showing how that poverty does not stay in the mountains but ends up in places like Middletown, OH.  If you want a look at what poverty can do to people and to a community, then read this book.  It is revealing and eye opening.

However, the book is ultimately very frustrating for not only its lack of answers, which it is upfront about, but also its inability to see the real problem staring it in the face. 

JD Vance, the author, ends the book talking about some need for social safety nets are needed and how some problems the government can’t fix.  He is trying to advocate for some middle of the road kind of approach.  But, if he would just read his own book with a thought of Christ and the gospel, he would have the major portion of his answer.  Vance’s story involves a broken home, a mother who was a drug addict and a father who ran off.  Multiple marriages later, and more abuse than I care to think about, Vance escapes thanks to the GI bill and divine providence that goes unrecognized.  At one point in the book, Vance lives with his mother’s second husband and adopted father.  The father has found religion, admittedly a Pentecostal variety, but he is now married and with kids of his own.  Vance is surprised at how normal they are and how they don’t fight, they don’t scream, and they don’t hurt each other.  But, he does not stay because he feels he doesn’t belong and he will not give up his rock-n-roll CDs.  His own family, including grandparents, profess but never really go to church.  He often wonders why some make it and some don’t.  But, he often acknowledges the devastation of the broken home created by divorce and regrets the social ethic he learned of looking down on education and elevating fighting.  The problems Mr. Vance sees are sin, and the solution is Jesus Christ.  The problems stem from an unchristian worldview and can be fixed by the blood of the savior and following His worldview.  Yet, it is not really ever considered as an option. 

It is heartbreaking to think of generations of those trapped in the hopelessness of this environment.  But the solution is not going to be found ultimately in anything man invents.  The solution is the hope of Jesus Christ who redeems us from our sins and saves us from all the power of the devil.  Mr. Vance may have escaped Middletown, OH and Jackson, KY, but he has not escaped the problem.  Appalachia is a place where the reigning power of sin has beaten the hope out of people.  Their reality demands a hopelessness.  He has traded it for a world of money and power where the reigning power of sin feeds delusion and lies regarding the problem, the answer, and situation ending up in misplaced hope and shifting sand confidence.  Both places are under the reigning power of sin and subject to the wrath of God because of it. 


Without the gospel, the Hillbilly Elegy ends much, much worse than what he lived through.  Without the gospel it ends in damnation and eternal torment.  With the gospel, it not only avoids damnation and gives a better life after death, but it redeems life on earth and equips people to handle the situations faced even in the deep “hollars” of Appalachia.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

Condemnation is Important

Sometimes what is not said is louder than what is said.  Consider this example of a parent with two kids.  One kid hauls off and punches the other kid right in the face.  The punch broke the child’s nose and required surgery to fix.  What would you think the child who punched his sibling would learn if all his parent said was “My thoughts and prayers are with your sibling.  I am glad the EMTs got him to the hospital quickly.”  Do you think that the parent would have taught the child that it was wrong to punch?  Did the parent discourage future punching?  The parent’s failure to speak words of correction has a greater impact than the parents words of sympathy.  Sometimes we have to be willing to say an act is wrong, vile, evil, or hateful.  We just do.

I bring this up in regards to the amazing response of many to the recent shooting of Representative Steve Scalise, a Republican staffer, and some others at a baseball practice.  What is amazing about this response is what was missing.  Remember, this was a Democratic shooter hunting Republican lawmakers.  Let’s look at some twitter responses from leading Democrats.

First Hillary Clinton:

2 sides take the field tomorrow, but we're all ultimately on one team. My thoughts are with the members of Congress, staff & heroic police.


Clinton offers no denunciation of the act itself.  Interestingly, her Twitter statement lacks any hashtag, which seems to imply she does not want it easily found or widely read.  For comparison, here is a Tweet from the day before from Clinton in which she remembers the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting: 

My heart is with the loved ones of the 49 people killed at Pulse, the city of Orlando, & the LGBT community. #WeWillNotLetHateWin


The violent act in this case is a year old.  Clinton does use a hashtag, and calls the shooting “hate.” 
Now onto Joe Biden, former Vice President:

Jill and I are praying for the victims and their families. Grateful for courage of my former colleagues, first responders & Capitol Police.

Again, no denunciation of the act itself.  Prayer and thoughts.  No indication of violence being evil or wrong.  Let’s look at his one year remembering of the Pulse Nigh Club shooting:

We meet unspeakable tragedy and hate with unbound resolve. I stand with the LGBTQ community, today and every day. #OrlandoUnitedDay.


Again this act was “hate.”  And we see that the Vice President understands hashtags, which were absent above. 

Tim Kaine is a senator from Virginia, and the latest VP candidate offered up by the Democratic Party: 

Praying for Steve Scalise and all hurt in the outrageous attack this morning in Alexandria.


Again, no condemnation of anything.  Just prayers for the hurt.  He even uses the word Alexandria, which was the hashtag being used, but fails to make it a hashtag.  If you go to his twitter feed you will see that he does link to an interview he gave with NPR where he says we need better political rhetoric.  So, bonus points to Kaine for at least that much. 

Nancy Pelosi, the highest ranking Democrat Congressman: 

My thoughts and prayers with @SteveScalise, Capitol Police and staff at the shooting in Alexandria, VA this morning.

No hashtag, no condemning.  Now her response to the one year anniversary of the Pulse shooting:


Hatred will never defeat #pride. #OrlandoUnitedDay


That was hate.  It deserves hashtags.  And there is a video message attached where she condemns the attacks even more. 

Chuck Schumer, the highest ranking Democrat in the Senate: 

Saddened by news of the shooting in VA this am. Thoughts & prayers for Rep @SteveScalise & others injured & hope for a speedy recovery.

No hashtag; no condemning the act.  He did have a second tweet later that thanked responders, but again, no condemnation.  On to his Pulse anniversary tweet:

Their names & faces will not be forgotten, nor will our promise to fight hate & intolerance & to honor them w/ action. #Rememberthe49

This one gets a hashtag and is condemned as hate. 

Just in case you are wondering, the Republicans are not much better.  Here is Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House: 

This morning the hearts of the whole House are with @SteveScalise, the brave Capitol police, staff, and all those who were in harm's way.

No hashtag here either, and no condemning it as hate.  He also had a Tweet on the Pulse anniversary:

Join me in taking a moment to remember the 49 innocent lives lost one year ago today in the #Orlando terrorist attack. #OrlandoUnitedDay


Hashtags, but no condemning this one, either. 

Ted Cruz gets closer:

Praying for our friends, colleagues, and all hurt or impacted by today's terrible shooting.


At least he uses the word “terrible.”  The first time we’ve found any sort of denunciation involved. 
Bernie Sanders’s response stands out as different.  The shooter volunteered for Bernie’s campaign, so the political pressure is greater on him, but his response was much better: 

I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society.

His tweet included a link to a speech he made on the floor in which he condemned it even further.  He made a clear statement that shooting political opponents is wrong. 

Sure, many, if not all, of these may have condemned the baseball shooting in their “press releases,” but who ever sees those?  No one.  Who sees Twitter?  Everyone.  It is not hard to recognize evil as evil, at least it shouldn’t be. 

The Bible is clear that we should condemn that which is evil and refrain from doing it.  Killing another person in thought, word, gesture, much less in deed, is forbidden by God.  Yet, governmental leaders appear to have a problem saying such a thing.

This lack of condemnation is loud to my ears.  Add in all the over-the-top rhetoric such as the assertion that the President is like a Nazi/Hitler or the Republicans are going to take away Granny’s healthcare.  Or even the statement that the Republic would be over if Hillary Clinton had been elected.  Such words are taken seriously by many people.  When a citizen takes the call to “resist” to the level of armed violence, then such an action must be condemned, or we can expect it to be repeated. 

Our nation’s leaders had a chance to restore civility, or at the very least to condemn violence in politics, and they failed to do so.  God save us from the consequences. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Skipping the Church

This post over at A Cry for Justice is indicative both of what I like about the site and of what makes me deeply uncomfortable about it.

The site has published an open-letter type response to an allegedly real letter from a pastor to an abuse victim (non-physical abuse).  I am not defending the pastor’s letter in any way.  I don’t know enough to say anything about the pastor’s situation at all.  So don’t misconstrue this as an endorsement of his letter. 

What I appreciate about the open letter is how clearly the real pain is communicated.  First, I do think pastors need to realize that often when a person speaks about a spouse’s emotional manipulation (I prefer that word to the term “abuse” so that we can keep the distinction between the crime of physical abuse and the sin of spiritual tyranny), he/she is already at the end of the rope.  The sufferer has reached the tipping point.  It is not a new problem in the marriage but a long-standing pattern.  Hope has been lost.  Second, I’m thankful for the reminder that when a pastor approaches marriage counseling, he ought to consider that one of the marriage partners could very well be a rank pagan.  Pretenders and hypocrites exist within our churches.  Pastors are probably the easiest to fool since we see the people the least.  Spouses witness the hypocrisy the most.  Third, divorce is a biblically acceptable outcome in some situations.  Divorcing couples are not a sign of a failing church or ministry; sometimes they are just the by-product of the depravity of man.

What I find deeply troubling about the open letter is its low view of the church.  And it’s regarding this point that I find myself unable to endorse this open letter (much less A Cry for Justice overall).  This letter begs the pastor to listen.  And he should.  But what the author basically is saying is, “I tried all the Christian stuff already, please grant me a divorce, now.”  Just as the pastor needs to understand that the wife (or whoever is the offended party in the marriage) is at the end of her rope, that person needs to understand that the church has only just now been apprised of the situation.  The church cannot jump straight to the end and just say, “I am sorry for you, here is your divorce.”  We can’t do that because ours is a “ministry of reconciliation.”  We can’t do that because Jesus Christ’s grace is real and can change lives.  It changed Saul into Paul.  It can change anyone.  We can’t jump to the end because, while the wife may have tried everything by herself, she has not tried anything with the backing and support of the church.  That fact is important.

The open letter makes clear that pain and suffering are real, and the husband in that case needs to repent.  He is acting sinfully.  However, the author’s efforts to change her husband are not the same as the church’s.  The church can add its voice to the call to repent, the call to recognize how much the husband’s behavior has hurt his wife and his kids, the call to turn to Jesus and away from sin.  One of the important lessons from Matthew 18 is that the one who refuses to listen is not to be treated as an unbeliever or a tax collector until after he has failed to listen to the church.  I do not see that attitude in the letter.  And that concerns me. 

Ultimately, what I am arguing for is to involve the church much, much earlier in the process.  Go to your church well before you reach the end of your rope.  If your spouse gives you the silent treatment at home, don’t endure it for months, involve the elders and pastor right then.  Is he yelling and screaming and blaming you for financial problems that are not your fault?  Call the pastor.  Did he kill a beloved family pet?  Tell it to the church.  Did he hit you or wave a gun at you or threaten to kill you?  Call the police.  The church understands and will support you.  Physical abuse is a crime and should be reported.  You and the church can work out the details of divorce later.
The open letter is right: pastors should listen.  The letter is right: the pastor was not aware.  But that is because he was never told.  And that is part of the problem.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Misunderstanding love and hate

Ben Mallicote writes about faith and politics at the group blog BenMallicote.com.  His newest piece is written in condemnation of the phrase: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  I dislike the phrase, as well (it comes from one of Augustine’s letters, not from the Bible); however, I strongly disagree with his post. 

1. Ben misunderstands hate. 

I assume that he was motivated to write this article to address the hate he sees in the world.  I wish he had given it some context, because it’s been my experience that people use that phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” in order to take sin less seriously, not in order to give freer rein to hate.  Unfortunately, Ben did not define what he means by hate.  He does assert that those with whom we have relationships (children, friends) are ineligible recipients of our hate.  So from the outset, he conflates “hating the sin” and “hating the sinner” without offering any justification for doing so.  I would wager that’s the point where he loses his argument with the people who are enamored of the phrase.  Then he writes that since we are categorically incapable of hating our children, we should also refrain from hating people groups such as gays or Muslims.  (I don’t see the thought progression, there.)  Then he abruptly switches to talking about love.

The problem Ben has is that he’s using a worldly definition of hate in which hate appears to be the opposite of love.  But this cannot be.  God is love.  Yet God hates (Psalm 5:4-6; 11:5; Romans 9:13).  He hates things like lying (Proverbs 12:22), idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25), and arrogance (Proverbs 16:6-9).  He also hates people such as idolaters, evildoers, and lovers of violence. (Psalm 5:4-6, 11:5)  So then, what can the Christian know of hate?  Hate is an emotion, and it is not sinful.  It is a God-given emotion.  There is a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8).  Hate is an emotional opposing and a standing against something or someone (Psalm 26:5).  Thus we are called to hate the enemies of God (Psalm 139:21).  It can be easily misused, and when we direct it wrongly, we do sin.  We ought not hate simply because we don’t like someone’s actions.  Hate is rightfully directed against the unholy actions of those who stand against God.  It is also directed against the unbeliever himself because the unbeliever stands against God, and that stand is disastrous for the unbeliever.  I agree with Ben that it’s hard to separate the sin and the sinner; apart from Christ, the two are inescapably connected.  In hell God won’t be punishing sin; He’ll be punishing sinners.  Jesus reminds us of the dire state of the unbeliever when he tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-44).  Hatred of the enemies of God does not rule out love.  It does not rule out pity.  It does not rule out prayer.  We are emotionally opposed to those who stand against God, but we are also desirous of seeing them switch sides and come to faith in Jesus Christ.  We are against the promotion of sin, but that does not mean we are against repentance unto life.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be marching in a parade with a sign that says, “God hates (fill in the blank with pet peeve).”  The people at Westboro Baptist Church misunderstand hate, too.  They use the world’s idea of hate and impute it to God.  They seek to belittle, curse, demean, and vilify others.  That is not Biblical.  Our speech is still always to be seasoned with grace.  We cannot condone or excuse sin, but that does not mean our language should be unkind.

I need to point out that we ARE capable of hating those with whom we have a close relationship, such as our children.  People practice the worldly definition of hate on close family members all the time.  Just think of the neglected children or the spousal abuse.  Most crimes are committed against people the criminals know, and those could all be called hate crimes because love never motivates violent crimes.  Turning back to the Biblical definition of hate, we see that people are capable of hating their children in that worldview, too.  Proverbs 13:24 states, “Whoever spares the rod, hates their children.”  From this, we understand that failing to discipline our children is being hateful to them.  It is standing against them because it fails to drive the folly from them.  Or, in other words, failing to hate the sins of your children leads to hating your children.

2. Ben misunderstands love.
In this article he writes, “love from a distance, love in the abstract, love without being in relationship with those we claim to love is no love at all.  It is love in theory only, or self-righteousness masquerading as love.”  But in a previous blog post, Ben tells us that love is the absolute core of Christ’s teaching, and he concludes, “If your reading of Scripture allows you to be unconcerned about the Syrian refugee, you’ve enshrined your own prejudices over God’s law.”  So, in one case, love of distant strangers is self-righteousness masquerading as love, but when it comes to Syrians, love from a distance without relationship is obedience to the law of love.  His definition seems a bit malleable.  .
For the record, I am closer to agreeing with the current article, not the previous one; you can’t show love to a distant person you’ve never met.  How can I be patient and kind to someone I do not know or see or who is not near?

At least as regards children, Ben says love is “pray[ing] that God would give them the deepest desires of their hearts, that God would prosper them and make their lives happy.”  This definition of love seems to come more from the American dream than the Bible.  Ben seems to have forgotten that Jesus does not pray for us in such a manner.  In fact, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).  This is not praying for the realization of our deepest desires or the satisfaction of our wills; this is praying for the accomplishment of God’s will.  In John 17, Jesus prays for us, but never for our deepest desires, nor for our prosperity.  Rather he prays, “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth,” (John 17:17).  He then goes on to pray for unity amongst the brethren and for their unity with Himself, but never for prosperity or happiness.  In fact, Jesus states that the world hates believers (v.14), and then he asks God to leave us in this world that hates us (v.15).  That was how Jesus prayed for his disciples, his spiritual children and friends.  And it was love that motivated him to pray such prayers.  I don’t ask God to give my children prosperity and happiness; I pray that God will save their souls and conform them to the likeness of His Son.  I pray that God will make the deepest desire of their hearts be to know and to love God.

The central proof text for this article is taken from the account in John about the woman caught in adultery.  Ben points out that Christ didn’t rebuke her sin until after he had publicly defended her and granted her mercy and after her accusers had left the two alone.  Ben asserts that our encounters with sinful people should also follow this pattern.  What about the time Jesus made the rich young ruler go away sad?  Mark 10:21 tells us that, out of love, Jesus brought that man to sadness by openly and publicly exposing his covetousness. Verse 23 makes it clear that conversation occurred in front of at least his disciples.  Or what of Matthew 23 where Jesus, speaking “to the crowds and to his disciples,” began to pronounce seven woes on the Pharisees?  He openly called them hypocrites, a brood of vipers, and white washed tombs.  There was no public support, mercy, or private rebuke there.  Even the Sermon on the Mount is a public correction (Matthew 5-7).  Take note of the phraseology: “It was said . . . but I say to you….”  Take note of all the warnings on how not to pray or how not to practice righteousness in front of others.  Jesus reminds his listeners, “Unless your righteousness does not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  And then, of course, there is the very public, very zealous, very merciless overthrowing of the money tables and the expulsion of the corrupt moneychangers from the temple.

Ben also references how Christ washed the feet of his betrayer, using that incident as a model for how we should always treat our enemies.  But that isn’t the whole of Jesus’ interactions with Judas.  Jesus also labelled him a devil in front of the other disciples (John 6:70), and there was neither mercy nor forgiveness nor brotherhood for Judas in the end.  When we pick one or two incidents from Christ’s life and say this is how to love, we get a stunted understanding of love.  If we’re looking for the Biblical definition of love, we must interpret the Bible using the whole Bible, not using cherry-picked bits that support our own definition.

Additionally, Ben says love must be “demonstrate[d] in a way [fellow sinners] feel and understand; and it requires us to treat them not as the ‘other,’ but as beloved brothers and sisters.”  Truly we are to show love to our enemies and to everyone as God makes the rain fall upon the just and the unjust.  As I’ve mentioned, this love includes pity, prayer, and patience.  But loving someone as a brother and sister in Christ is reserved for actual believers in Christ.  The only people groups Ben mentions in his post are "gays", who may claim to be Christians, and Muslims, who by definition are not.  It seems that he thinks we ought to make homosexuals feel totally accepted before we ever mention repentance and forgiveness.  But it is definitely not loving to let someone remain in a state of sin that will result in eternal damnation (Revelation 22:15, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5).  It seems that Ben thinks we should treat Muslims as those who are going to heaven despite their belief that God has no son (1 John 2:23, John 17:3).  Again, it is a denial of reality to treat Muslims as beloved brothers and sisters when they are not.

I wonder what Ben would say if his example were changed to a people group whose sin he doesn’t dispute.  What if we were talking about slave holders?  In Ben’s view of love and hate, he advocates first publicly defending the slave holder, speaking out against anyone who would dare call the slave holder a sinner, and then, only after demonstrating love in a way the slaver can feel and understand and treating him as a brother would Ben dare to privately point out the abomination that owning another human being truly is.  Does that seem right to you?

3. Conclusion
For Ben, love seems to be some sort of unconditional acceptance, maybe even support, of all things.  But I can tell you this is wrong.  Love does not mean the acceptance of everything.  I love my children, but I hate it when they fight with one another.  I hate it when they are selfish.  I want them to hate it in themselves, too, so they can “mortify the deeds of their flesh.”  After all, I hate sin in myself and seek to put it to death (Romans 8:13
, Colossians 3:5).  It does not mean I do not love my kids, nor do I dislike them.  In fact, it is unloving for me to accept such sin in my kids or in myself.  It is indeed love that leads to an unbroken relationship with my children, forgiveness when they sin, and it is love that prompts and empowers my children, and myself, to change and put off the sinful old man and put on the new.

This different view of love and hate leads to a different view on life.  I can love the people groups Ben mentions (Muslims and gays) by treating them as people made in the image of God, showing respect, granting charity, mercy, and kindness.  But, love also brings with it the biblical hate or standing against.  I cannot accept those things that are sin, for the person’s own good. I must share the gospel of grace because they stand in need of it.  I cannot be close or intimate with them because two cannot walk together lest they be agreed (Amos 3:3).  What fellowship does light have with darkness or Christ with Belial (or, in this case, with Mohommed)?  The answer is: none (2 Corinthians 6:14).  Christian love cannot approve of that which God has not approved.  And this Christian love changes the world.  It is Christian “hate” that has chased out (or nearly out) of the world such things as slavery, human sacrifices, and bigamy.

I deviate greatly, not only from Ben, but from the “love the sinner, hate the sin” phraseology.  It reinterprets the gospel by lessening sin.  God is not just displeased with what you do, but with you!  With me!  What should strike us about our sins is not how awful they are, but that we’re the kind of people that do such awful things.  I don’t need my actions changed; I need my heart changed.  “And rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness,” (Joel 2:13
).  If the problem were only my sin, then tearing my garments might be enough.  But the problem is I am a sinner, so my heart is what needs to be torn apart and built anew by the power of the Spirit.  This is the beauty of the gospel.  We are reconciled to God in Christ.  While we are children of the world and sons of disobedience, God must stand opposed to (hate) us and our sin.  But He sent His Son to die for our sins AND to change our sinful nature (redeeming the sin and the sinner), so that we might be received into fellowship with Him.  No longer opposed, we are reconciled to God through the blood of Christ.  No longer are we enemies, but instead we are citizens of the kingdom and sons of the King, eating forever at His table.  It is this love that we must show, the divine love that reconciles through changing the sinner and paying for the sin.  Everything else is just whistling in the wind.


Disclaimer: I know Ben.  We attended school together until college.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Lacking Hope

There is a great need for the comfort and hope of the gospel today.  We can see it in the culture around us. And no I don’t mean politics.  Politics is downstream of culture.  I think it is most obvious in young adult literature and movies. 

Take a look at what is popular and for the most part is dystopian futures and zombies.  Both have been around for a long time, but never were they so popular.  You have your “1983” and “Fahrenheit 451”, but they did not start a rage in dystopian writings.  Even 1993’s “The Giver” did not jump start the idea, although Lois Lowery’s book did have the main character as a teenager, which is what future dystopian writings would capitalize upon.  Enter “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins in 2008 and we have our beginning.  This series of books not only sold millions of copies, but launched a film franchise that made big time bucks.  Also, it was followed by books like “Divergent” (2011) by Veronica Roth, and then the “Maze Runner” (2009) by James Dashner.  Each selling millions and spawning movie franchises although not quite to the same level of success as Hunger Games.  Those are just the big massive successes.  We could also count “Uglies” (2006) by Scott Westerfield, “Across the Universe” by Beth Revis, and “The Knife of Never Letting Go” (2008) by Patrick Ness just to name a few. 

All of those books have teenage heroes, fight against a corrupt system, everything is already ruined and will not get better even when the protagonist wins, and is easily comparable to aspects of high school (I am not the first to state such similarities). 

Now add in the popularity of zombies.  Again “Night of the Living Dead” has been around for sometime, but the genre has really taken off thanks mostly to “The Walking Dead” (2003) comic book, which is still on-going, and its resulting TV series, and “Resident Evil” (1996) video game, which has since become a film franchise as well.  This has helped spawn both movies and books such as “I am Legend” and “World War Z”.  The genre is popular enough that it also has some comedy books such as “Pride Prejudice and Zombies” (2009), which is now coming to a theater near you and “Shaun of the Dead” (2004). 

The majority of these books, movies, and games have little to no real hope and often the real threat is not the zombies, who seem to be more of the setting than the problem, but other non-zombie survivors.  “The Walking Dead” particularly dives into the idea of living in a world without morals because it is without structure.  What does civilization look like in such a world and is it even possible are regular themes. 

This is a change in what young adults have traditionally read.  In times past people read “The Chronicles of Narnia”, which is full of hope and goes from disorder to order, or they read “Little House on the Prairie”, which is about hard work and finding a good life without things, or “A Wrinkle in Time” which is a good vs. evil fight.  The difference in themes is stark and obvious.
It is not hard to see that this change reflects something lacking in our culture and something that speaks to young adults.  They are hopeless.  Just look at the ending of the Hunger Games Trilogy.  They have fought this profound evil of making kids fight to the death for sport to keep people in line, and when the “good guys” win, they want to re-instituted the same thing.  So, the heroine kills the new leader rather than the old one.  They are both the same.  No real hope.  Even the brief glimpse of her future she and her husband suffer from the scars of their life mentally.  Yes they have kids, but we learn nothing of the outside world then.  There is no real hope in it.

Or if you want more proof look at what has happened to a beloved movie trilogy in Star Wars.  “The Force Awakens” takes the original trilogy and makes it all for nothing.  The original ends with the Emperor defeated, Anakin redeemed, and the Empire crumbling.  Now we join in some 20 years later and what do we see?  The Dark Side has once again ravaged the galaxy.  Even Luke Skywalker could not stop the killing of Younglings again.  The Empire appears fine in the guise of the First Order, which whatever government or Republic was put in place could not stop and indeed it was so bad that there is a group called the Resistance in this government.  Han and Leia could not stay together, Luke no longer comes to the aid of his friends, and we are left to wonder how is the galaxy better off thanks to the Rebellion?  This is the culture we live in. 

Previous generations of both writers and readers have faced their share of hardships and toil, but produced far different literature, and literature with very different themes were popular.  Tolkien, Lewis, and Milne (creator of Winnie the Pooh) all fought in World War I, all got seriously ill, and yet they created beloved children’s and young adult literature.  Laura Engels Wilder lived life on a prairie, survived harsh winters, threat of Native American attacks, and illness without doctors, yet she wrote young adult literature that looked back on her life not with gloom, but with a sense of family, optimism, and hope.  One could argue that this generation of writers and readers has had a much easier life, yet they have created and enjoy a much bleaker style or writing.


What does this tell us as the church?  It should tell us that kids seem to believe they are in a hopeless situation.  That young adults don’t trust the system (probably including church), and they seem in desperate search for meaning.  Thankfully, Christ is the answer.  We just don't seem to be communicating this truth the young very well.  It is the young who are growing up for the first time in a post-Christian world.  Their parents remember the vestiges of Christian civilization, but this new generation has been taught there is no truth in school, won't remember marriage before its redefinition, and live in a world that is hostile to the Christian faith.  The challenge for the church is how do we communicate meaning and truth in Jesus to this generation of people who are floundering without hope in the world today?  There is hope for the hopeless, and a name for the condition they rightly see the world suffers from: sin.  But we must make sure we are communicating to young people as well as adults.  This literature is telling us we had better not wait until they are adults to start communicating the gospel.  They are in need now.  They need Christ now.