Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Family-Friendly" the New Orthodoxy?

Ok, I'll eat crow.

You see, I really believed the majority of Bible-believing evangelicals would be offended by the premise of the new movie, Evan Almighty. So imagine my surprise when I spotted the cover of the latest issue of Christianity Today. The new "Noah" is featured complete with about a dozen pairs of wild beasts and a giant ark of gopher wood. The headline reads "Evan Help Us: How a movie- and a movement- are partnering with the church to change the world." Also don't forget the little note at the bottom of the page reading "Popcorn in the Pews."

To be fair, this isn't the actual cover to the magazine on account of the fact that there isn't even any story about the movie in the issue. No, this apparent "cover" is actually just a special advertisement. But its a very blatant advertisement. Seeing as how the famous CT title is boldly in view, we can't assume anything but that the magazine's creative board went along with this marketing scheme with gung-ho gusto. The inside cover of this advertisement promotes a new parachurch evangelical benevolence ministry (http://www.arkalmighty/) officially licensed by the movie's brand name. Willow Creek Association, Youth Specialties, and International Bible Society have all joined hands with Hollywood to promote the "family-friendly comedy" and its inspired "ministry initiative that matches up the needs in your congregation with the talents and skills of the members of your church." In short, ArkALMIGHTY promotes church-based volunteer benevolence ministry.

Granted, I haven't seen Evan Almighty. Granted, I don't plan on spending the money for the movie ticket in the near future. And, granted, I didn't see the original Bruce Almighty (staring Jim Carrey) until it aired on cable last week (which I had mixed feelings about). If I may be granted all those grants, then (I'd be a rich man at least) let me assert that I think American evangelicals are in deep trouble if this recent development is any indication of Christian cultural engagement at large. Evan Almighty is a comedy that uses the Bible as the set-up joke for the punchline. I don't know whether or not it lampoons the Bible specifically. I'm sure that the film contains a mix of good and bad elements as regards morality and religious discussion. I don't even know whether or not the movie is any funny or not. [Believe it or not, the film's director is a professing Catholic and Augustine fan in this interview.]

But, what I do know is that making a movie about a "god" who decides to rehash "Noah & the Ark: Part 2" as a means to teach people how to better care for their environment and do good deeds for one another is a dangerous undertaking. Evan Almighty may be a decent movie with the usual mix spiritual strengths and weaknesses, but its fundamental premise about an actor playing God with dialogue written by Hollywood writers unsettles me. I feel this way when anyone (real or fictional) tries to speak words for God that we have no account of Him saying in Scriptural revelation. I am simply surprised that more evangelicals aren't exhibiting similar anxiety, but are actually standing behind the film as a triumph of evangelical-friendly values suitable for the whole family (here is at least one exception).

That said, let me acquit myself of three potential misunderstandings: (1) I really do like the environment. Green is my favorite color, for crying out loud! Although I'm not a tree-hugger, I believe personal stewardship is both biblical and ethically significant. (2) I'm all for churches getting involved with benevolent ministries, especially for needy people within our own churches. (3) I like family-friendly movies. All these things are fine and good in general.

But this present evangelical lobbying of movies that are high on family-friendly virtues (no violence, minimum intense thematic elements, mild language, no sex, etc.) but shallow on godly reverence disturbs me. Maybe I'm just being paranoid (wouldn't surprise me really, heh), but I think evangelicals' lack of second thoughts in promoting this particular movie is a symptom of a deeper problem. What's the problem? Christians have become so desperate for entertainment they can share with their families that they have thrown in the towel on the Gospel. The biblical account of Noah and the Ark is about man's sin against God, God's judgement of sin, and (most importantly) God's mercy and salvation of men. I'm pretty sure that Evan Almighty's story doesn't center around those themes.

I would appreciate reader input on this. I won't get mad if you disagree with me. I only hope I have made my point. Is "Family-Friendly" the new orthodoxy? I hope not.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"Want Forgiveness? Get Religion!"

Warning: NO major spoilers. This review will NOT ruin the movie if you've yet to have seen it [, that includes you, Joseph!].
Spiderman The Third.

Oh wait, sorry, I meant Spiderman: At World's End.

No, that's not right either! Uh... Spiderman 3, maybe? I think that's right. . . [checking guess with Wikipedia] . . . Yes, Spiderman 3! (With all these new sequels out, I get confused!)

After being the last person in America who planned on seeing the new movie that still hadn't seen it (except for maybe this fellow), I have to say I enjoyed it. I find all the harsh critical reception this movie has received a little harsh, though somewhat understandable. The most justified criticism I've heard is from a NY Times writer that "the three villains [Sandman, Green Goblin II, and Venom] here don’t add up to one Doc Ock." And I have no choice but to agree. Alfred Molina's portrayal of Doctor Octopus was simply masterful in Spiderman 2. Despite the film's 2 hour 36 minute running time (that's 28 minutes longer than the last one, and you can really feel the length if you're one of those people like me who is addicted to movie theatre soda drinks), the introduction of villains like Sandman feels rushed and cliche. Thus, Spiderman 3's biggest problem is that it doesn't quite live up to its own standard of excellent, at least in my opinion.

All that negative stuff out of the way, let me proceed with the point of this essay. I am not seeking to review the quality of Spidey 3 but simply to offer a reflection on the movie's moral theme from the lens of a Christian worldview.
For context's sake, let's review the moral theme of the previous 2 movies:
Spiderman: "With great power, comes great responsibility."= Uncle Ben's motto that Peter Parker learns to appreciate as he grows from boy to man.
Spiderman 2: "Sometimes in order to do what is right, we have to give up what we want the most." = Parker learns that moral absolutes do exist in this crazy mixed up world, and they should take priority over the selfish hedonism of the 'Hakuna Matata' philosophy (ok, I made that last part up).
Honorable mention: "Intelligence is gift (not a privilege) to be used for the good of mankind."

And now, the motto of Spiderman 3:
"If you find a black alien goo that wants to bond with you, don't let it!"
Ha, just kidding! Actually, I got the sense that the central theme of this movie was that we all have to learn how to forgive one another, as we are all capable of great evil under the right circumstances. Or as director Sam Raimi stated.

"He considers himself a hero and a sinless person versus these villains that he nabs. We felt it would be a great thing for him to learn a little less black and white view of life and that's he not above these people. He's not just the hero and they're not just the villains. They were all human beings and that he himself might have some sin within him and that other human beings, the ones he calls criminals, have some humanity within them and that the best we can do in this world is to not strive for vengeance, but for forgiveness."

Forgiveness. The best thing we can strive for in this world, according to the director. I was profoundly struck by the sobriety of this third installment in the Spidey series. Yes, it had plenty of action and special effects. Yes, it had some well executed sprinklings of humor. And, yes, it had plenty of angst and frustration that were so common to the first 2 films. What sets this sequel apart from its predecessors, however, is that the hero becomes the true villain of the story. Peter Parker's obsession with power and responsibility bring trouble upon himself. No longer is he just a poor, misunderstood kid who always tries to do the right thing. Rather, he has allowed himself to become a slave to power and a glutton for fame and pleasure.

Spiderman learns that even his soul is not above that of the villains he seeks to bring to justice. In the course of the movie, he betrays the trust of his would-be fiance, gloats his power over everyone else, and nearly commits murder with a sense of vindication. All these sins lead him to a sense of brokenness and he retreats to the sanctuary of a cathedral to ponder the shambles his life has become. As Spiderman despairs of himself, he realizes that he must choose to begin making amends with those he has hurt. Thus, begins his long road back to redemption.

Not everything in this movie is compatible with the Christian worldview, of course. For instance, Aunt May tells Peter he must "forgive himself." Even though I know what she meant, I think forgiveness is something that can only take place when there are 2 or more parties involved. Forgiveness (humanly speaking) is the admission of wrongdoing on the part of one party against another. With the admission, the guilty party seeks reconciliation with the victim and promises to do whatever is necessary to make restitution for damages done. It is a lot more than saying "I'm sorry." This movie isn't so much an illustration of Christian soteriology as it is a lesson in Christian anthropology. All men have sinned (indeed all men are wicked in nature) and fall short of the glory of God, the only Holy One who alone is worthy to judge the hearts of men.

In conclusion, I think Spiderman 3 has a great message that Christians can appreciate, even if it doesn't quite succeed in its character development. For Spidey fans, I think the movie wraps up the loose ends from the previous movies nicely. If nothing else, it is a heck of a lot better resolution to the series than X-Men: The Last Stand's blood crazy martyr-fest of iconic characters. I recommend this movie to a mature audience, but just use some discretion about buying a soda pop at the concession stand.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Women and Weeds

Neil Jackson is a third-year Southern Seminary student with a bachelor's degree in Chemistry from Union University. He likes British and Scottish Church history, J. C. Ryle, Orange Crush sodas, John Wayne movies, good preaching, and a hard day's work. Most importantly, he's been my roommate for the last 2 years.

I did not come up with the following statement. It was repeated to me by one, Neil Jackson, who heard it from his grandfather who said he heard it from a preacher (and preacher stories are notorious for being recycled over and over). I now pass it onto to you, and beg your mercy that in the future you refrain from throwing objects in my general direction in light of the fact that I didn't say it. Still, its just too funny not to tell.

The two hardest things to do in life:

(1) Climb a fence that is leaning towards you.
(2) Kiss a girl who is leaning away from you.

Neil is such a great roommate with a mix of wisdom and wit.

But sometimes I wonder about that boy...

For instance, a couple of years back when I first started rooming with Neil, he came in one afternoon from doing yardwork with a handful of weeds. Later, he proceeded to put those weeds into a pot and boil them on the stove. The whole purpose was to preserve the weeds for tea-making purposes, which he then drank for the following week.

And, yes, it looked just as nasty as the picture suggests.

Neil tells his story as such:

"I was working for this old gentlemen, Mel Greer, and the task of the hour was pulling weeds in his flowerbeds. He wanted some varieties of flowers to be pulled up so I got to this one type and it reminded me of a minty weed that I had encountered in my youth. When you crush the weeds you can smell a minty flavor I wasn't sure if it was peppermint or spearment. I pulled a few of these weeds and when he wasn't looking I stuffed them in my left front pocket. There they remained for the rest of the afternon during my employment. When I got back to the room, I placed them on a paper towel and let them dry until the next morning. I then put them in a pot of boiling water, thus making some tea out of the organic extraction from the leaves."

"It's legal, I reckon!"

And as a bonus feature, I thought I might include this neat little undead zombie-fied version of Neil's picture above. I like it!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Boris Said at Southern Seminary?

Said at Southern officially begins today

What's that? Is road racing expert and NASCAR moonlighter Boris Said answering a dramatic call to the Christian ministry? Afraid not, dear friends. Said at Southern is just the new communal blog site that hosts the blogs of various students and alumni at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As for Boris, I guess he'll just have to keep on trying to qualify for those NASCAR races. Had he indeed put in his application for SBTS, he would have joined Brian Vickers as the second NASCAR name to be associated with both racing and theological education. Boris Said is staying put for now. Which, I expect, will keep this fellow happy.

Boris' decision to stay in racing will also be good news to his sponser, SoBe. That's the company that makes the SoBe No Fear energy drinks.

Speaking of energy drinks, I tried the new Mountain Dew amp Overdrive for the first time today. It's Pepsi Co.'s answer to Red Bull, and the can promises to provide an "intense cherry hit" so that I can "live life louder!" What did I think? Well, it tasted fine (better than Code Red Dew but not quite as good as regular Dew IMO). It actually tasted pleasant and relaxing, something I don't think the marketers of the drink are aiming for. For pete's sake, the can has a warning label on the back that says, "Not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine. THIS PRODUCT IS NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSIS, TREAT, CURE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE." And make sure you note that last sentence (as if ALL CAPS weren't enough), because anytime something sooo00OOO out there in left field is printed on products you can bet that some ignoramous has already done it and sued the company over it.

Anywho, the real question is will MD amp Overdrive replace my habitual craving for original recipe Mountain Dew. Well, let's compare the stat sheet:

Mountain Dew
Price: 75 cents - $1.00 per can
Calories: 170 per serving
Carbs: 46 grams
Sugar: 46 grams
MD amp Overdrive
Price: $2.00 -$2.25+ per "Tall Boy" can
Calories: 110 per serving
Carbs: 29 grams
Sugar: 29 grams

Okay, hold the phone! Something that sells itself as an "energy drink" has no business getting out preformed by plain soda pop in the sugar count (granted Overdrive does win nearly 2-1 in the caffeine ratio). The taste seems more sour than sweet to me. Imagine putting Sour Punch Straws in your Dew and you'll get my impression.

In fact, these statistics might lead you to assume MD amp Overdrive is actually a healthy beverage alternative to soda. That is, until, you check the rest of the ingrediants on the can. For instance, the label promotes itself as containing: B vitamins (sounds good, right?), Guarana Extract (doesn't sound so good, does it?), Taurine, Ginseng (isn't that what we use to clean the sink?), and Maltodextrin (I don't even want to know). Now if you bother to read the "Supplement Facts" on the back of the can, you will see that the Food and Drug Administration has no idea how much Guarane, Maltodextrin, Taurine, etc. is needed for a daily diet value. Thus, the good people at Mountain Dew are making us into the FDA's test subjects to see what this stuff actually does to the human body. Sounds fun, right? Maybe that's what the "Intense Cherry Hit" is supposed to mean!

In the end, I found MD amp Overdrive to be a pleasant drink to accompany my turkey sandwich down my digestive track. it gets a B+ for taste. It fails, however, to deliver on its promise of allowing me to "live life loud!" Red Bull doesn't taste as good as amp, but it actually alters my sensory functions for a short time. False advertising is a major deficiency, so amp Overdrive gets a C- in its purpose. I think Pepsi Co. needs to drop the gimmicky approach and just promote amp as a Mountain Dew soda like Code Red. Amp needs a reasonable price and a new packaging to fulfill its potential. Final grade (not an average score): B.

So, in conclusion, all I'm really trying to say is visit Said at Southern to see some of the finest young minds express themselves on the internet. is an alternative to the oft-malfunctioning, which essentially deletes people from the main page if they upgrade from old blogger formating to new blogger formating. Strange, isn't it?

For more reviews of Energy drinks, check out Energy Drink Ratings blog (its the place where I got the picture of the amp Overdrive can).