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Written by: C. W. Booth

Saturday, April 01, 2006


Four Movie Reviews

My son’s Spring Break is here. And so are the typical break activities. Like watching movies. So here are some reviews.

Ice Age 2 -- The Meltdown (viewed in the theatre)

This CGI (computer-generated graphic images) animated feature length movie is intended for a pre-teen audience. Though it does have an occasional chuckle-evoking moment, the script relies largely on slapstick (illusory violence) as its comedic method, and that not always to desired outcome. A bright spot in the movie is a song parody by vultures, who view "food, glorious food" somewhat differently than did the writers of Oliver.

Its theme throughout is courage. Courage to face the truth, courage to risk one’s life for a friend, courage to live, courage to die if need be. Talking mammals of different species have herded together to attempt to escape an impending flood generated by melting glacial waters at the end of Earth’s ice age, punctuated by jokes about global warming. Religious references are easily spotted throughout the movie including Noah’s Ark and a literal heaven, though it might be argued that "nature" is portrayed as God.

A mediocre film, and only mildly amusing, it is probably suitable for most children. Violence and death are minimal, little or no coarse language is used, few sexual innuendos were noted, and it does have a good theme. Evolution is not much of a consideration in this movie, which is surprising given the setting of the ice age and the frequent references to extinction. There is little objectionable in this film, but neither is there much to highly recommend it.

Chicken Little (viewed on DVD)

Another CGI animated feature film, this one is from Disney. While the title is Chicken Little, it is NOT the Mother Goose fable version. Updated to modern times and situated in a fantasy world of high tech-savvy talking barnyard creatures, the animation style is intentionally and refreshingly reminiscent of 1960’s-1970’s cartoons.

This video was funny at times, though rarely as poignant as it obviously aspired to be. It plays off recent films like War of the Worlds to invoke the needed emotional investment from the audience, given it is incapable of inducing this from its own story and characters. Certainly I liked the message "talk to your parents." Overall, I would say this movie is a "fun to watch" for most family members with little or no objectionable material.

Wallace and Gromit--The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (viewed on DVD)

Our family members are long time Wallace and Gromit fans, the moon-is-cheese episode being our all-time favorite. This movie also appears to be entirely claymation (stop action imaging of actual props and characters molded from clay), and has the same look and charming feel of the other Wallace and Gromit shorts.

It is imaginative and silly, and generally achieves the humor it intends. Given the culture which spawns the film, one should not expect a laugh-fest. Most (if not all) of the content is child-friendly.

Wallace and Gromit are retained by the community to protect prize-winning garden vegetables from rabbits, and the rabbits from hunters. Rube Goldberg contraptions are the rule in all of Wallace’s exploits. Wallace’s constant inventing goes awry and results in a genetic aberration of a rabbit with a huge appetite for veggies. Capturing the rabbit, protecting the veggies, recovering a lost love, and recovering his own humanity are all at stake for Mr. Wallace.

Our entire family enjoyed watching this upbeat, charming, and humor-punctuated film.

THX 1138 (sci-fi classic viewed on DVD)

After the family went to bed, I watched George Lucas’ science fiction classic, THX 1138. I wish I too had simply gone to bed instead of watching this film.

This is a dark vision of a future where the government controls all elements of human life, including romance and mates (called roommates), through dictatorial robots and obligatory ingestion of mind altering drugs. At the center of the assumptions made in this film is the idea that human society (for some unknown reason) desires to become emotionless and imaginatively sterile. Hunh?????

Such similarly misguided and confusing accusations have long been leveled at the evangelical Christian church throughout the ages. Mistaking the godly qualities of self control and obedience for cold unemotionalism, contemporary religious philosophers holding to Christian Hedonism and extreme forms of charismaticism have charged the faithful with trying to become less than human robots with hearts of stone. Surely, the opposite is true, such men are passionate lovers of God in their hearts, substituting outwardly visible emotional excesses for less identifiable whole-hearted service to God and Christ-like love for others. Such committed loving service requires a man’s use of his entire reserve of emotions and imagination, and emotions ought not be judged as present or missing by others.

This was a terrible movie, and not at all suitable for children. It was dark, espoused a mistaken strawman premise of human society which it therefore needlessly attacked, moved slowly, and smacks of the disjointed visuals employed by the purist "experimentation" mentality of art films from decades past. Worse, however, it committed the ultimate and unforgivable error of story telling, it was dull and boring.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


The "Judas Gospel"

Recently an ancient book, written in Coptic (a now defunct language which was a derivative of ancient Egyptian utilizing the Greek alphabet) has been published. The ancient book, dated to about 200a.d.-300a.d., contains rewritten copies of several extra-biblical religious writings which have long been regarded as works of fiction, or counterfeits, by biblical scholars.

One of these works of fiction, referred to as the "Judas Gospel," apparently originated from the pens of the Gnostics between 130a.d. and 170a.d. The sect of the Gnostics believed that there is a secret knowledge, and once one attained a certain level of secret and mysterious religious enlightenment, more secret knowledge would be revealed allowing one to reach ever higher levels of religious significance (equivalent to salvation, though in general, Gnosticism does not adhere to the need for a literal salvation from sin).

Keeping in step with the Gnostic doctrinal/philosophical tradition, the "Judas Gospel," according to National Geographic (http://www9.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/timeline_07.html, March 8, 2006), purports to claim that Judas was Jesus’ most beloved apostle, the only one who understood that Jesus was divine, and that Jesus’ death was not necessary for humanity’s salvation but rather was necessary only to free Jesus’ divine essence from his physical body so it could go on to a higher spiritual existence.

On the evening news a few nights ago, and in a follow-up television "special," a reporter kept referring to the "Judas Gospel" as having been "authenticated." Her definition of authenticated, as it turns out, was strictly limited to meaning that the copybook was "old," having dated the age of the recopied Coptic book to between 200a.d. and 300a.d. As most Christians readily know, to be an "authentic gospel of Jesus Christ" requires that the document have a known author (the author of the "Judas Gospel" fictional work is entirely anonymous), claims for itself to be an historical account of what Jesus did and said (the "Judas Gospel" appears to be predominantly concerned with Judas and Gnosticism, not Jesus), the content must not contradict known Scripture (the "Judas Gospel" espouses the religion of Gnosticism along with elements of Christianity, contradicting both Old and New Testament Scriptures), and an authentic gospel document must have been written or attested to by eyewitnesses of the actual accounts.

Since Judas killed himself immediately after betraying Jesus, he could not have written anything, so he is clearly not the author of this fiction, though I might add that even if he had been the author of any alleged gospel I would find it difficult to accept his account as either truthful or credible. Further, since the document records "secret" conversations between Judas and Jesus, the account could never have been verified or attested to by eyewitnesses, since, as the document itself states, there were no witnesses.

Given that the "Judas Gospel" espouses a variant religion (Gnosticism) quite different from the religion attested to in the "Four Gospels" (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), it must be understood as a work of fiction, or worse, a counterfeit. Perhaps it was created by sincere followers of Gnosticism as a means to bolster their own beliefs and credibility, nonetheless, it remains not an accurate portrayal of eyewitness accounts of what Jesus accomplished, but rather a retelling of stories invented by those who found the genuine gospels to be unacceptable and out-of-alignment with their personal and private beliefs.

What should sincere Christians do with the "Judas Gospel"? Nothing. It was never a part of true Christianity, nor has it become a part of it now. The story it contains is a work of fiction which does not deserve to be taken as serious doctrine or accurate history. It is an apologetic for the religion of Gnosticism and adds nothing to the Christian’s faith.

O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called "knowledge" [the ‘gnosis’] -- which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you. (1 Timothy 6:20-21)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; (2 Peter 2:1-2)


Two More Movie Reviews -- Spring Break Continues

Having remained at home over Spring Break (due to a change in employment situations and a bout with the cold virus), we watched two more movies as a family. Below are the reviews for Flight Plan and the 2006 remake of King Kong.

Flight Plan (viewed on DVD)

This Jody Foster drama is a whodunit in the style reminiscent of Hitchcock. Though "theme" is not strongly relevant to this film, it might be appropriate to identify this flick’s theme as "biases." Bias against the emotionally distressed, distrust toward people of mid-East descent, and the impetus to be unquestioning toward authority figures.

Containing few swear words, no sex, and minimal violence, this film was both inoffensive to our family and entertaining. Though not a great film, especially given the weak premise driving the conflict and the anti-climatic ending, the ongoing tension did hold our attention and cause us to support the motherly intents of Jody Foster’s character.

King Kong (2006 remake viewed on DVD)

ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz…oh excuse me, I was just watching King Kong 2006. This three hour snoozer lacks the innocence, charm, pithy dialogue, and snappy direction of the original. Relying almost entirely upon CGI (Computer-generated Graphic Images) to "update" this film as a remake, it seems that the primary intent was to make the images more realistic, not to improve on the storytelling. As a result, an inordinate amount of time was spent showing in excruciating detail the CGI fight scenes and lengthy shots of the statue-like responses on the faces of the actors to the supposed dangers. "More and longer is an improvement" seemed to be the key principle; if Kong fought one T-Rex in the original classic, then fighting three in 2006 must be better, sigh, or not. This passion for drawing out the viewing of the graphics had the same tedious impact on the viewer as did watching the camera panning the exterior of the Enterprise, plate by painful plate, in the first Star Trek movie.

The remake added characters, but why? The new characters do not really improve or advance the plot or the story, in fact, they dilute it, spreading aspirations and motives across multiple characters turning each one into single-dimensional caricatures. The original classic portrayed a plucky leading lady who was in love with adventure and plausibly fearful of Kong, sadly, those charming aspects were lost in the remake. Even the final line of the film lacks poignancy when uttered by the main character, who is little more than a con man in the remake.

When I asked the 5th and 6th grade Sunday School classes if they had seen the movie, many said they had. When I asked them if they understood the final line of the film, all of them said, "I did not see it, I fell asleep." ZZZZzzzzzzz…

Be wary of adventure films that think the adventure lies in the realism of the graphics instead of the story and meaning behind the graphics. Friend, it was not beauty that killed this beast, it was poor direction and editing.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Happy Voskresenie!!!

What a wonderful, and terrifying, week!

Thursday we celebrated Passover with a home Seder service in the company of several families from our Sunday School class. What a blessing! I will write more on that at a later date, and will post the actual "representative" Seder (order of service) which we used. I love the question, "Father, why is this night different from all other nights?"


This past week has also been terrifying because of a series of violent storms, which continue even now. So many people have lost so much.


On Saturday, a family came to dinner; though only recently acquainted with us, they have become dear friends of ours. They now live in the US, but they originally came from the Ukraine about four years ago. As we exchanged understandings of religious traditions (icons, praying to saints, etc.) we came to the topic of "why the Sabbath changed from Saturday to Sunday."

I explained that we worship on Sunday because the disciples found the empty tomb on the first day of the week proving that Jesus had resurrected from the dead, so they chose to worship on that day to commemorate the resurrection event on a weekly basis. They smiled knowingly at my explanation. I had forgotten myself, and my history, for Christianity had made its way to Asia, and the Ukraine, thousands of years before it reached America.

They patiently explained that in the Ukraine, Sunday is not named for a false god as it is in America. The first day of the week is named: Voskresenie (the spelling is anglicized). It means, Resurrection. Of course, the peoples of Asia named the first day of the week "Resurrection Day" because of their proximity to the actual events! What a much more fitting name for the first day of the week. Then they told us that Saturday is actually called "Subbota"--the Sabbath.

So, happily, today is Voskresenie (the weekly Resurrection Day) and Easter, the traditional annual celebration of the Resurrection! Happy Easter to you, and, Happy Voskresenie!!!!

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Flower Illustration Does Not Smell Right

On a video taped lesson I recently viewed (one of the NOOMA series produced by Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids), the speaker attempted to illustrate the inferiority of serving God by way of obedient duty as opposed to the superiority of serving God out of passion. The specific illustration he used was an old, tired, strawman story about giving flowers to one’s wife out of romantic passion, not duty.

A "strawman" is an argument that attempts to discredit someone else’s viewpoint by inventing an invalid viewpoint (that no one actually holds), claims that the invalid viewpoint is the one the opposition holds, then exposes the invalid position as invalid. The illustrative story on the tape is a strawman because it argues against a position in which no one actually believes.

The strawman story goes something like this: A man always brings home flowers to his wife out of romantic passion, not duty. If he said to his wife, "I only brought you flowers out of duty" his wife would hate him, and the gesture of giving flowers is wasted. So a man may only bring home flowers out of romantic passion, never out of duty. Similarly, a man may only serve God out of passion and never out of duty.

This silly illustration is so very flawed on a great many levels. In real life, no man would ever tell his wife, "I only brought you flowers out of duty," for it is never only out of duty that he buys the flowers; so the illustration itself is a strawman. A man buys flowers because he is in a committed relationship (the duty part) and wishes to bestow a compliment on his wife, desires to please her, or intends to show his appreciation to her (the love part). [Note: Of course, some truly hedonistic types give flowers not so much to give their wife a little taste of joy, but to leverage her joy for their own pleasure--an end so selfish we will not further consider it here.] The purchase of flowers for a wife is always a combination of duty and love.

Now for the flip side, turning the story on its head.

A man loves his wife more than any other person on Earth. Yet, he never once brings home flowers: not for Valentines Day, not for their wedding anniversary, and not for her birthday. Is there any woman in America who actually believes that this man loves his wife? Possibly not even one. And why do they feel this way? Because giving flowers is an expected duty, a normal part of romance, in America.

Over the course of my 28 years of marriage to my wife, I have always brought home one red flower on Valentine’s Day (symbolic of the one red flower she carried in lieu of a bouquet at our wedding). Except this past Valentine’s Day. This past February 14th I worked late, preparing for an anticipated coming upheaval in our family life, and simply did not make the effort to stop by the store on the way home. Though she knows I love her more than any woman on the planet, she was hurt that I had not bought the flower, for the expectation of the flower had become, in her mind, a duty, albeit a duty born of love.

The final flaw in the flower illustration is that our relationship with God is not romantic in nature (in fact "eros" is never used in the Greek New Testament, much to the chagrin of hedonists). It is not an eros-laced relationship we have with God as are our Earthly relationships. We love God (agape, phileo, etc.) as a father, as a brother, as a savior, as God; so we do not give God flowers to win His heart. Rather, we work to please Him, we serve Him, we practice dutiful obedience.

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. (2 John 1:6a)

It is a strawman argument and a fool’s errand to try to separate duty and love, or worse, to imply that duty and love must combat each other.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Our Chief Pursuit

We seek many things in life. We pursue happiness, we chase after fame, we worship money, we desire pleasure. We seek many things, mostly because we are greedy, and greed is essentially idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

Seek first. More literally this command says, "Make your chief priority (the pursuit that is first in line before all other pursuits) to worship God as King over all." And is not worshipping God as King over all what it means to love God with all my strength, mind, body, spirit, and heart?

But there is a second part of the command to pursue something as our chief priority. In addition to seeking to worship God as King over all, we are to pursue holiness in our hearts and bodies equal to God’s own holiness--His righteousness.

Whenever I get confused about my priorities in life, I hope to recall what God has said is my real priority in life, my chief pursuit. Then all these other pursuits and desires I have should assemble themselves as lesser priorities in line behind worshipping and loving God as King over all and striving to advance in righteousness.

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Page Originally Posted: May 20, 2006
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