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Copyright © 2006, 2007 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

December 4, 2006

End of the Spear, One Christian’s Movie Review

This year a big budget motion picture was released that gives dramatic representation to the historical events surrounding the slaughter in Ecuador of missionaries Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian. As these young men attempted to extend a friendly presence to the indigenes Waodani people so as to present to them the message of Christian salvation and its attendant lifestyle of peace, one Waodani family clan ambushed and killed all the missionaries. All died at the sharp end of a spear.

Two major results of this killing make the historical events significant. One outcome is that the missionaries' widows, who had earlier befriended a Waodani refugee, returned to the jungle, to that tribe, to that family, and presented to them the gospel of Jesus Christ. The second major outcome was that after the clan converted to Christianity, they led the way to both ending the ongoing cycle of Waodani-on-Waodani violence and ending the Waodani violence against foreigners; such violence had characterized the culture of casual killing in which the Waodani people had been immersed. It marked the end of the use of the spear for the Waodani, hence the second meaning for the name of the film.

This movie focuses on the personal story of Steve Saint, young son of Nate Saint. Steve was a boy living with his missionary parents in Ecuador when his father died. Still a young boy, he went to visit the village in which the missionary widows had established a peaceful, if not stressful, presence among the Waodani after the massacre. This laid the foundation for his later return as an adult.

It would be hard to dislike this film, though it has some large story telling flaws. Chief among the flaws must be the murky manner in which the story unfolds, obscuring or leaving out important background elements that make the tale even more difficult to follow. My recently-turned-teen son did not know the story of the Jim Elliott massacre. He still did not really understand the story even after watching the motion picture.

Background information would have greatly helped the legibility of the plot, such as knowing early on that the Waodani peoples routinely hunted, and were being hunted by, the oil company laborers who were working in the region. Also worth knowing up front would have been that part of the missionaries' concerns were that the Waodani people might eradicate themselves with spears or be eradicated by the oil workers who used firearms to defend themselves against their frequent attacks.

Other missing details which had a deleterious effect on comprehending the movie were: the sect and beliefs of which the missionaries were representative (Catholicism, Mormonism, evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity, other?--what religion were they preaching?), dialogue in English (most of the dialogue is Waodani using English subtitles--making the story hard to read and watch at the same time), definition for idiomatic expressions (e.g. does "jump the boa" mean "go to heaven"?).At times, the action moves quite quickly and seemingly no explanation for the motives of the individuals initiating the action is given, constantly leaving one wondering, "what just happened, and, why?"

Yet, the film was likable, in an edgy sort of way. It captured an image of the ugly culture of casual killing in which the Waodani had chosen to live prior to their conversion. It seemed as normal and common for each male to carry a bundle of long heavy spears draped on their arm as they conducted daily business as it would be today for a commuter to carry a cell phone. Picturing the dramatic change to "living well" in a lifestyle of Christian peace made the movie appealing and meaningful.

Also, seeing a visual representation of the commitment and concern that the missionaries displayed (both those who died and those who lived with the Waodani) was inspiring and a bit convicting.It makes one realize that our lives are not supposed to be considered our own, for we were bought and paid for by Christ, who now owns us.

I would say that this movie is one that I appreciated seeing. No, technically it was not a great film, but certainly it was worth watching once, just to get the point of it.

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[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online December 4, 2006. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments, and perhaps my own responses to the comments, are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the December 4, 2006 post entitled: End of the Spear, One Christian’s Movie Review

Begin Comment 1:

Personally I loved this movie. It came out while I was in Canada so I bought it. I was staying with some friends and they have a mini home theater... big screen... so we all watched it together. I thought it was a great movie, but it would be hard for me to watch again. In the beginning an infant is killed and that was hard for me to watch. I liked the fact that it was in the Waodani language. It made it more real for me. I have read Jim Elliot's story many times therefore I was familiar with the goings-on of all the missionaries in this story so the movie was easy for me to understand. I think End of the Spear was made for people like me who were very familiar with the story and wanted a different take on it, or a more realistic picture. (my opinion) So yeah, just wanted to give my opinion of the movie. hehe. Overall I thought it was a great movie, i might watch it a few more times with friends who haven't seen it but for me it was so emotional that it will be put on the "classic's" shelf and probably never watched again. I am glad I have seen it though. It makes for a great point of discussion and a better understanding of the Waodani people, the missionaries, and the effects they had on each other. God bless.. sorry for the long comment!!

Comment One Posted 12/5/2006 at 8:38 AM by girlonaMission24

Begin Comment 2:

To girlonamission24:  Thanks for sharing your observations and opinions.  I too am glad I saw the movie (flaws and all) because it gives a better context to the historical events than I previously enjoyed.  It is a tough film to view, knowing that the theatrical violence represents deaths that actually occurred (much like watching Schindler's List or The Passion).  My only lament is that the film makers did not bring to the storytelling element the level care that the greatness of the actual events deserved.

Blessings.

C. W. Booth

Comment Two Posted 12/5/2006 at 3:19 PM by C. W. Booth

December 9, 2006

Ho, Ho, Ho -- or -- Oh Boy…

Last night one of the television networks rebroadcast the claymation version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  I found the contrast between Rudolph and The Polar Express, also recently on television, quite intriguing.

Before I examine the differences, and the doctrinal implications between the two shows, allow me to state my biases up front.  Treating Santa as a cultural fairytale, just as one treats Tinkerbell or Larry the Cucumber, seems to pose no real scriptural difficulty.  Presenting Santa to children as a real being who possesses attributes such as omnipresence and omniscience does present genuine conflicts of interest with Scripture.  To read about Santa, the probable origin of the fairytales, and the appropriate use of the tale with children, you are invited to read "Celebrating Christmas and Celebrating Santa -- Testing Our Christian Liberties."

Rudolph is an old production, at least relative to television.  Produced in the 1960's it is filled with politically incorrect references to "man's work," protecting women, and pugilism.  Yet, much of the show is dedicated to demonstrating the strength of love and courage in overcoming prejudice.  Not bad.

Even more to appreciate about the old show is that Santa is portrayed as a fallible human being, who himself must verbally apologize for flagrantly exercising undue prejudices and treating Rudolph and his parents wrongly.  In the end, he learns humility.  That makes this a good morality play in the form of a fairytale.  And even better, Santa is portrayed as nothing more than a man with a fun job and some talented reindeer.

On the other hand, The Polar Express embodies the worst of what modern culture has done with Santa.  "You must believe in Santa" is the pervasive theme of the movie.  Convincing doubting children that they must renew their faith in Santa is the entire point.  Santa is depicted as all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. 

At the climatic end of the film, a massive throng of elves, children, reindeer, and adults anticipate the arrival of Santa.  Then the throng falls into a quiet hush and they begin slowly singing the strains of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" in hushed tones, as one would sing a holy hymn of reverence.  After a stanza or two, Santa is sighted, and the crush of assembled beings begins cheering, dancing, and jumping, everyone jockeying for a better view. 

Santa slowly works his way through the massive assembly, and stops beside the one doubter in the crowd as he tearfully cries, "I believe."  A soul has been saved unto Santa.  Immediately the crowd falls silent as Santa dispenses his words of wisdom to various individuals, chastising some for not being more righteous, and encouraging the less faithful to increase their faith. 

This film represents the worst of the Santa fairytale as it is expressed to Western children.  Santa is personified as a real being, perfect, and virtually all powerful, and in whom faith must be placed in order to receive his blessings. 

Whatever you decide to expose your own children to, Rudolph or The Polar Express, remember to explain to them that God alone is worthy of their worship and faith.  Faith in, and worship of, anyone else, anything else, or any fairytale is idolatry.  Santa is an image which we ourselves have formed with our pens, typewriters, word processors, paint brushes, modeling clay, stop motion cameras, and Computer Generated Images (CGI).  Is not that the very definition of a "graven" or "carved" image? 

Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, Who boast themselves of idols; Worship Him, all you gods. (Psalms 97:7)

December 18, 2006

"Expert" Opinions on the Validity of Jesus’ Birth

A few days ago I watched a television reporter interview some "experts" regarding the veracity (historical accuracy) of the biblical account of the birth of Jesus.  It is practically axiomatic that their opinions concluded that virtually everything in the Bible is incorrect, invented fiction, or a mistake.  In fact, the very existence of a man named Jesus was doubted.

One "expert" stated that what made her doubt the story was the lack of official contemporary documentation found recording the murder of the infants by King Herod during his attempt to prematurely end the life of Jesus.  She offered her opinion that a massive nationwide slaughter of all the children in Israel would have had to have been recorded, Israel being under Roman rule, and therefore the lack of such documentation is proof enough that the story is fiction.

Really?

Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. (Matthew Chapter 2, verse16)

Consider that King Herod, an actual king of Israel but also a puppet of the Roman state, was well known and well documented for his disregard for Roman authority.  He ordered the execution of uncounted prisoners, and even the assassination of his own children.  Such deeds exceeded his authority as "king" since all executions were supposed to be carried out by Roman soldiers only after a Roman governor had passed sentence during a Roman court hearing.  If there is no court hearing, there are no official documents.  So much for the lack of official documentation regarding the murder of the infants.

Also note that only the male children of Bethlehem were murdered.  And only those of age two or younger.  This was not a nationwide massacre of all children, as some erroneously suppose.

How many male infants under the age of two did Herod murder?  At the time of Jesus' birth, Bethlehem had a population of almost 4000 people.  Half of those were women.  Let us generously assume that 25% of the women were married mothers and had one child of age two or under.  That means about 500 infants lived in or around Bethlehem at the time.  Of the 500, half would have been male.  That means Herod murdered about 250 infants in the Bethlehem area.  One pastor I heard speak on the subject placed the estimate of the dead at only 30 infants.

While the death of between 30 and 250 male children is detestable to us, and would have been a heart crushing tragedy to the citizens of Bethlehem, it is barely a footnote in global human suffering.  It is also perfectly in step with Herod's known character to have murdered those infants.  And King Herod is simply unlikely to have asked the scribes, Jewish or Roman, to record the murders as a matter of public record.

Yes, the story of Jesus' birth is filled with miraculous occurrences.  And yes, the death of the 250 infants is unnerving.  Yet, the fact is that a supernatural God, creator of the world, on that night 2000 years ago decided to tangibly and physically enter into the human race, step onto the soil of Earth, and live with His creations.  Then He died as a sacrifice for His creations.  Now that is a miracle, expert opinions notwithstanding.

December 27, 2006

What a Mystery is this Faith

For me, perhaps the most perplexing thing in all the universe is the mode of salvation.  Faith.  How is it that a mere belief, a non-corporeal hope, an intangible conviction of heart and mind is the requirement for eternal life?

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; (Ephesians 2:8)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3)

And not merely faith, but faith implanted by simply hearing someone speak.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)

Faith is not something you can hold in your hand.  It is not even something that you can "do."  It is not something you can build or represent in a painting.  Faith is a set of thoughts in your mind.  It is an assumption based on hearing stories.   It is a concept of the heart.  These stories, these words that comprise these stories, are "able to save your souls."  And the consequences of not being convinced by these words and stories is eternal damnation.  

What a perplexing thing is this notion called "faith."  Faith in the subject of words, or rather, faith in the Word which existed before the world existed.  What a powerful thing faith is too!  It is life changing and is the means to eternal life.  And it is not whipped up by the person who hears the stories, it is a gift of God who bestows faith on whoever He chooses. 

Faith is almost the most perplexing thing in all the universe.  Second in perplexity only to the answer to the question, "Why did God choose to love me so much that He gave me this faith to believe in His son?"

So perplexing…


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