Just Ordered

I’ve been eyeing the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: A Reader’s Edition for a while now. I’ve been sitting on an Amazon gift card for a couple of weeks and I put the Bible in my shopping cart like a week ago but have been holding off on pulling the trigger in hopes that the price might drop by a buck or two. Well, I just had to order some stuff for the church, and I have Amazon Prime so I did it through my account, and I figured that while I was doing that I might as well go ahead and get the book too. Can’t wait to shelf it with the others!

B”H

Movie Notes

I haven’t done a Movie Notes post in a long time (since July 2013 by my count!) and I’ve seen a lot of flicks since the last time I did one. So many that I doubt I’ll be able to remember them all. But here’s some brief thoughts on those I do remember.

Foxcatcher – A biopic about Olympic gold medal winning wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz and eccentric billionaire John du Pont who commissions the brothers to help coach a wrestling team (Team Foxcatcher so named for the farm du Pont lives on in Pennsylvania) to Olympic Gold in the 1988 games. Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carrell all play their parts brilliantly. If the real du Pont was anything like Carrell portrayed him then he was a scary dude (I actually know a girl who worked for the du Pont family down in Delaware and she claimed to have been held hostage by them. I never believed her but after seeing this film her story was entirely plausible). This film shows how wealth fuels entitlement, which in turn feeds depravity. It also shows how crippling insecurity can truly be and how easy it is to take advantage of emotional cripples.

American Sniper – Another biopic; this one about U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (convincingly portrayed by Bradley Cooper) who was a cowboy turned SEAL after seeing the events of 1998 US Embassy bombings. Whatever one’s politics, Kyle was a man who saved countless American lives, both in and out of the theater of war, and this movie shows how complicated war can be. Complicated not just on the field of battle, but also when combatants return home and have to adjust to regular life, a process that was difficult for Kyle. Having known nothing about the real man the ending was a total shock.

The Interview – This was a slightly different twist on the buddy film. We’ve seen comedic teams pair up to do secretive spy stuff before (I Spy with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson comes to mind) but never, to my knowledge, was the team tasked with assassinating a character that exists in real life. Seth Rogen and James Franco have a certain chemistry on screen that’s hard to match. They were responsible for one of my top 3 funniest movies of all time (Pineapple Express), and while this one doesn’t live up to that hype, there were still plenty of funny moments. I think what I enjoyed most was the sheer ridiculousness of it all. There’s no way that any of the events depicted would or even could take place and they embrace that. It’s campy in all the right ways but it does surprisingly have an underlying message, namely that empowering people for democracy is the better alternative to assassinating dictators.

Chef – This film was written and directed by John Favreau who plays Chef Carl Casper, a once trendsetting chef who is still passionate and innovative but has been stifled creatively by the owner (played by Dustin Hoffman) of the restaurant whose kitchen he runs. Combine this with a devastating review from a blogging/tweeting food critic (Oliver Platt) and Chef Casper has a meltdown, which leads him to start up a food truck with the help of his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), son (Emjay Anthony), and former line cook (John Leguizamo). As someone who cooked for a living at one point in my life I greatly appreciated how authentic the portrayal of restaurant life and cooking was in this film. It doesn’t hurt that all of the actors turned in great performances as well.

Gimme Shelter – Yet another biopic. Vanessa Hudgens plays Agnes “Apple” Bailey, who was a teen that had been through the system and seen all of the worst abuses that it had to offer. After running away from her drug addicted and terribly abusive mother (Rosario Dawson) to search out her biological father (Brendan Fraser), Apple is met with hostility by her new found step-mother. She ends up encountering a priest (James Earl Jones) who sets her up in a shelter for young mothers (yes, Apple was pregnant). The story of the shelter and the woman (Ann Dowd) running it was familiar, reminding me of the story of how Teen Challenge was born from David Wilkerson’s ministry in New York City. The story is uplifting and hopeful, showing how Jesus’ ethics triumph when put into practice, but the film is marred by a over-acted performance by Hudgens. Dawson’s inspired performance helped to redeem the film a bit though.

Locke – In the course of a drive from Birmingham to London, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) loses his job and family as he goes to be present for the birth of his child conceived during a one night stand. The entire film is Locke in the car making and receiving various phone calls from his employer, co-workers, wife, children, and the mother-to-be (while arguing with the ghost of his father). Hardy is genius. How he was able to play such a complex role basically by himself is beyond me. I was most taken by the inconsistency of his character though. Here is a man who decides to “do the right thing” and be there for the birth of his illegitimate child because he “caused it” and didn’t want it coming into the world without a father; a man who even after losing his job makes all the necessary arrangements to see that the job gets done the right way in his absence; and yet the same man pleads with his wife that this is the “only time” he’s made a “mistake” and he expects forgiveness because it’s not a regular thing.

And now to abbreviate things quite a bit…

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – Lame. Not nearly as funny as the first. When will they learn to leave classics alone?

American Hustle – Loved it. Amy Adams played her part so well that I never quite knew who exactly it was that was getting hustled. Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale were also perfect in their roles. Jennifer Lawrence? Meh.

The Wolf of Wall Street – Certain folks wondered how I, as a Christian, could watch this movie. Funnily enough, the whole point of the film was sympathetic to one of the chief realizations that direct people’s attention to Christ; namely that excess (all the money, women, and drugs one can handle in this case) is never enough. Satisfaction will never be found in material gain.

RoboCop – A surprisingly good remake. Well, not that surprising. Technology being what it is we’d expect to see some advancements on such a technologically driven movie.

The Drop – Flashes of brutality invade a seemingly mundane existence as a couple of cousins who tend bar at a mob owned bar are robbed and have to deal with the fallout. The ending blew my mind. Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini turned in great performances.

The Captive – A disturbing film about the kidnapping of a young girl who is abducted by an underground ring of pedophiles that broadcasts live streams of her on the internet and uses her as she gets older to recruit other young girls for their purposes. The film is not graphic (thank God!) but the reach that these monsters have and the lengths they go to to get their fix is terrifying.

Joe – Nicholas Cage plays Joe, a man who had a checkered past, who owns a tree killing business. He employs a troubled kid and serves as something of a mentor. It’s funny because Joe is depicted as a “good man” even though he sleeps with prostitutes, drinks excessively, and is violent.

The Expendables 3 – Not as good as the first; better than the second. All the great choreographed action you’ve come to expect from these flicks.

The Equalizer – Of the ex-CIA turned low key citizen type flicks I’ve seen, this one rates at the top. Good plot; great action; and who doesn’t love Denzel Washington?

Lucy – Incredibly stupid. Couldn’t make it through the whole thing. This was a lame attempt to make The Celestine Prophecy pseudoscientific and action packed.

Gone Girl – Boring. Really boring. Affleck and Pike play sociopaths, or so I gather. Their disdain for one another is palpable but the lengths they go to to hurt each other is ludicrous. And everyone in the movie is super-fake and really weird at pretty much all times.

A Walk Among the Tombstones  – Reminiscent of Suicide Kings only without good acting. Just another run-of-the-mill whodunnit.

22 Jump Street – Funny but not nearly as funny as the first one.

Afflicted – A different take on vampirism. I appreciate the idea but the execution could have been better (it was done camcorder documentary style).

Bad Words – Funny despite its weak plot.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Disappointing considering how good Rise of the Planet of the Apes was. I didn’t get the feeling that anyone actually wanted to be in this movie. Didn’t care for the plot and the acting was phoned in.

Dracula Untold – An interesting twist to the Count Dracula mythology. Can’t say that it was a great flick; but it’s not the worst I’ve seen. They definitely overdid it with the turning into a swarm of bats effect.

Draft Day – Surprisingly good. Kevin Costner managed not to bore me to tears as he navigated his way through a ton of negotiations on NFL draft day.

Godzilla – Very well done. They made Godzilla look like Godzilla and not some dumb dinosaur. Fans of the original films will appreciate this one.

Gravity – Not nearly as good as the trailer made it look. Sandra Bullock floating in space and at times hallucinating. It was what it was.

Night Crawler – A scary tale about how far a socially awkward yet highly intelligent and highly motivated creep will go to get ahead.

Wolf Creek 2 – Stupid. Should have quit after the first one.

Willow Creek – A couple in search of Big Foot end up finding him, or rather he finds them. It doesn’t end well. Short movie. Not quite sure it was worth 80 minutes of my life.

Step Up: All In – I like dancing movies. Sue me. I thought it was choreographed very well. The stories are never anything to write home about but that’s not why we watch movies like this.

Like I said, I know I’ve seen more, but I can’t remember them all. When I do I’ll offer some further notes.

B”H

In the Mail

I walked outside yesterday morning and saw a box that had been sitting on the porch since presumably Friday night. Inside were copies of Peter Leithart’s Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience from Brazos Press and the Khaled Anatolios edited The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church from Baker Academic. Leithart is one of my favorite authors. His insights are always valuable. The edited volume has chapters from some of my other favorites writing on the Trinity and patristic theology like Brian Daley, John Behr, Nonna Verna Harrison, and John Anthony McGuckin to name a few.

From the titles and subtitles of these volumes I’m hoping that the authors address the question of what exactly we “do” with the Trinity. I have my own answer for that but many believers think it’s nothing more than an irrelevant doctrine; something to believe so that they’re not excommunicated and branded a heretic. But the Trinity is so much more and I’m guessing that the authors communicate that as they discuss the Trinity in human experience and the life of the church.

B”H

Out of Practice

I taught last night’s Bible study at my church. It went well. At least I think it did. But then I stopped by a friend’s house to drop something off and he invited me in to show me his home studio. He’s got a really nice setup. Acoustic foam as far as the eye can see. A keyboard that he’s got connected to ProTools on his iMac. Electric drum kit; really nice microphone sitting in a moveable/adjustable mic booth he made himself. A high quality audio interface and honestly the nicest set of headphones I’ve ever seen or worn.

IMG_1671 IMG_1672

I was really impressed with what he’s got going on down there. He had a friend of his over there engineering some stuff that they were sending off to be mastered. As I was getting ready to leave he kept talking about throwing on a beat and getting me to freestyle. I kept declining. Then he said he wanted to just get me in the booth so he could snap a pic on put it on Instagram saying I came out of retirement. Anyway, to make a long story short, I did come out of retirement and I spit one of the first raps I wrote as a Christian (it was the only one I could remember).

It was fun to do it but man, I’m out of practice! I completely ran out of breath at the end (honestly, I was searching for breath after the first 4 bars) and I felt like I was behind the beat for almost the whole thing. It’s crazy to realize how important rapping regularly and consistently is if you want to do it well. There’s a reason that Lil’ Wayne got good when he was doing a dozen mix tapes a month. Practice makes much better than no practice (it doesn’t make perfect; only God is perfect and nothing makes God). In any event, I wouldn’t say that I’ve got the bug to pick up rapping again, but I’d like to at least be able to breathe right if and when I do!

B”H

The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God

I’ve just tweeted that the first person to pick a topic would receive a blog post on said topic from yours truly. I did this a couple of weeks ago and it was a fun exercise. I hope to make it a semi-regular thing. In any event, my brother-from-another-mother Esteban was the first to tweet and he chose “The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God.”

In the above clip of the Season 2 finale of The West Wing, President Bartlett curses God, quoting a line from Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. While the quotation comes early in his rant it becomes clear by the end of the tirade that the President truly cannot conceive the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.

Just look at the manner in which he raises his accomplishments before the Lord as faux sacrifices; incensed at the thought that they’re not “good” or not “enough” to “buy [him] out of the doghouse.” He goes on the question God’s righteousness, justice, and wisdom based on his own lack of merit, never once realizing that it’s precisely God’s righteousness, justice, and wisdom that make his mercy so appallingly strange.

A crude definition of justice is getting exactly what one deserves. President Bartlett, fictional as he is, deserves the death and punishment that sin brings. That’s justice. Sin is offense against a righteous God. Conventional wisdom should say give the sinner what they deserve; God’s wisdom says otherwise. St. Paul tells us that

“the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

It is precisely because God is righteous and just that all humans have an innate desire for justice. The problem is that this desire is marred by sin. It’s the reason we root for the jilted lover to get even or the surviving family member to exact revenge when we watch movies. But vengeance is the Lord’s; not ours. God’s mercy is so appalling to us because it’s so strange. The idea that someone isn’t getting what they deserve runs counter to that effaced sense of justice that we all harbor deep within our beings.

Something doesn’t seem quite fair about it, and we can all testify (especially those of us with children) that from very early on we learn to say “that’s not fair” quite often. God’s mercy is also strange in the fact that it’s wholly unnecessary. God shows mercy out of his sheer desire and pleasure in doing so. He’s absolutely free to do otherwise and yet he chooses mercy when justice would suffice.

In speaking of election Paul cites a scene from the Exodus in which God announces that he will be gracious to whom he will be gracious and show mercy on whom he will show mercy; and Paul does this to defend God’s justice! He wants the Romans to know that what seems unfair to them (God’s freedom in election) is anything but! It’s not by works (contra President Bartlett) but by him who calls.

But what of those who have been foolish enough to believe the message of the cross? For those whom God has elected and shown mercy? Does it really make any more sense for God to have sent his Son into the world to live sinlessly, be rejected by his own people, die in the place of sinners, and be raised to life in order to defeat death? Is this message any less appalling or strange? Not really; in some ways even more so.

Once we’ve come to know God’s love and we’ve been convicted of our sin, realizing (even if only in part) the depths of our wickedness, it makes one wonder why he’d do it at all. Why save a people who didn’t deserve it? Why satisfy justice via a righteous sufferer? When I watch the flogging scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ I’m not appalled by the violence; I’m appalled that it was suffered on my behalf. It’s strange to think that I deserve that and much worse and yet the Son of God who didn’t deserve any of it took it for me anyway.

At the end of the day God’s mercy doesn’t make sense, and to steal a line from my black Pentecostal roots, favor ain’t fair. But great is the mystery of God, and greatly to be praised is his name! Gloria in excelcis Deo! 

B”H

Many are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood

Hahn, Scott. Many are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood. New York: Doubleday, 2010. Pp. 155. Hardcover. $14.99.

Many are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood is a slim volume in which Catholic scholar Scott Hahn shows his admiration and appreciation for this ancient and venerable ministry. Over the course of 12 chapters Hahn examines the priesthood in Scripture and history while highlighting the many roles that a priest plays: namely father, mediator, provider, teacher, warrior, judge, bridegroom, and brother.

He presents a redemptive-historical narrative in which the father was originally the priest of the family who passed down the role to his sons. Israel, then, was a nation of priests. But after the golden calf incident God stripped the nation of the priesthood and appointed a single tribe to serve the function.

Fast forward to the New Testament and we find Christ as our heavenly high priest; the one to whom the priesthood has always pointed. His body, the church, is an extension of himself and as such we are once again a nation of priests. But there are a sect of priests who serve the nation. They are the fathers to the fatherless; mediators (as extensions of Christ himself) between God and man; teachers of the laity; spiritual warriors charged with defending the faith and battling spiritual wickedness through prayer and fasting; and so much more.

Hahn does a great job of showing just how multifaceted the priesthood is while setting up a plausible foundation for the office based on Scripture. Where he doesn’t succeed, in my opinion, is in his case for celibacy. Sure, the Apostle Paul says that one can devote himself wholly to Christ if he does not marry, but he also says it’s better to marry than burn with desire. History is full of tales of priests who have carried on affairs with women and have even sired secret families. Had they been allowed to marry, as for example, the priests in the Orthodox Church, then there would be nothing scandalous about this. Add to this the fact that Peter, whom Catholics consider to have been the first pope, was married and it becomes hard to see a reason for making this a necessary vow for priests to make.

I was also somewhat disappointed with Hahn’s closing remarks about the frailty of priests. Of course we recognize that they’re human and on this side of eternity they’ll make mistakes and fall short of perfection. But the manner in which these remarks are presented seem like a thinly veiled defense of those caught up in the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals. This volume would have been stronger had this material been omitted. But there is plenty to be gleaned from Hahn’s focused treatment and the positive features outweigh the negative.

B”H