Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ricky Bobby

Talladega Nights:  The Ballad of Ricky BobbyJust Watched:
Talladega Nights:
      The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Rating: 4½ Stars

Sometimes you wonder if a movie can't possibly live up to the hype. I mean, Will Ferrell was showing up to the Oscar's, Golden Globe's, & ESPY's in his Wonderbread race suit. The ESPY's ran a special comedic "SportsCentury" bit on Ricky Bobby. Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly even went and did an hour on Larry King Live acting like their persona's (Ricky Bobby & Cal Naughton, Jr. -- "SHAKE & BAKE!") for the entire episode! There's no way the movie can live up to this kind of hype, right?

Well, Will Ferrell delivered. Enjoy it folks, because he is absolutely in his prime. It's sad to say, but as the Sports Guy pointed out in his review, comedians don't have that long of a shelf life. Jim Carey just isn't as funny as he was when he was pumping out Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber. Adam Sandler still delivers funny moments now & then, but he hasn't really delivered since Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Well, we now have two certifiable, high-grade comedic hits from Ferrell -- Anchorman & Talladega Nights -- and even a mild hit with Elf. The guy is comedic gold right now. I hope he can keep it up.

I *totally* want one!
I'm seriously considering wasting $21.99 on this hat.
The movie did have some vulgar humor. Some of it was funny, and some of it was like, "Woah! A big line was crossed here. I'm not sure I can dignify that with a laugh." And yet, it probably won't keep me from seeing it again. In fact, I'll probably be buying this movie on video. Sometime soon, I'm going to give my treatise on Christians & secular media. Look for it. Also, there's a scene in the movie where Will Ferrell & company sort of make fun with prayer -- not necessarily of prayer, if you can recognize the difference. And yet, I know that there are going to be Christians who find that scene highly offensive. Yet I found it highly humorous -- right up there with the Meet the Parents prayer ("[...] Oh Lord, three things we ask of thee: to know thee more dearly, to see thee more clearly, and to walk with thee more nearly. Amen. Amen!").

Other random thoughts:

  • This is going to go down as one of the most quote-able movies of all time. Up there with Dumb & Dumber and Napolean Dynamite. It will be a cultural phenomenon for years to come.

  • I really want a Ricky Bobby #26 Wonderbread hat. And, yes, I do know that it is a complete waste of $21.99. But think of the laughs I'll get EVERYWHERE whenever I wear that hat!

  • Awesome soundtrack. Whether they wanted you to laugh or to get you pumped up, the music was well-placed.

  • Car racing & movies just go together. It works. The sound of the engines & the cars really gets your blood pumping. Good stuff.

  • The acting was PHENOMENAL. Will Ferrell really pulled off the cocky redneck (with a little embellishment, of course, for comedy's sake). John C. Reilly nailed the role of country bumpkin. And there's this excellent scene with Ferrell, Reilly, & Michael Clarke Duncan (the big black guy from The Green Mile) that had me ROLLING with laughter. Duncan didn't contribute a whole lot to the film comedy-wise, but his delivery in that scene is perfect. The kids who play Ricky Bobby's sons were good -- it's just that the younger one was funny while the older one seemed more perverse. And the guy who played Ricky Bobby's father (who was also the boss from Office Space .... "Yeahhhhhhhh ...") nailed his role. There wasn't any slacking in this film like there can be sometimes in comedies -- everyone's acting was on the mark.

All in all, you can probably tell that I enjoyed the experience. I highly recommend that you go enjoy Ricky Bobby.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Consumerism & Spiritual Warfare

The great thing about not being in school anymore is that I can read & research anything I want to my heart's content. I think that's part of what I got tired of once I made it to grad school: reading & researching everyone else's subjects and going through everyone else's book lists, which didn't always match with what I was interested in digging into.

Tonight, it was The Church Between Gospel & Culture. I was reading an article by Dr. Paul Hiebert. He talked about two subjects that I've thought some about but haven't read much in-depth about.

So anyway, the two subjects he mentioned that I'd really like to read & think more about: spiritual warfare, and consumerism. (If anyone knows of any book that ties the two together, let me know!) As for spiritual warfare, I'm not interested in the Peter Wagner "territorial spirits" version -- that's just wackiness. I'm interested more in the Walter Wink institutional principalities & powers version. I read Charles Campbell's The Word Before the Powers. It introduced me to a worldview that incorporates principalities and powers, not falling into the trap of what Hiebert calls "the flaw of the excluded middle." Wink seems to be the most seminal in writing about this subject, so I added some of his books to my wishlist.

As for consumerism, it's been an interest for several years. It is such a deep flaw in American culture, and so subversive that we can hardly detect it when it is completely infecting us. Among other things, I think that it helps foster an increasing individualism in our lives & hinders us from forming authentic communities of faith. I'd really love to read a good treatment of American consumerism from a Christian perspective. Does anyone know of a good one? Not really looking to read Karl Marx or Ralph Nader, here ...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Let Me Down Easy

And I comin' home to see you Jesus
Well it feels so close this time
Please take mercy on this soldier
From the Florida-Georgia line

When they find me they must kill me
Oh Jesus save my soul
I can't go back down to Raiford
I can't take that anymore

- Lynyrd Skynyrd

I heard this song the other day & quite enjoyed. And since I'm a preacher (and weird) I thought, "I wonder if the slave Onesimus thought sort of the same thoughts when he was escaping from his master." And then I thought, what a great candidate for this week's obscure Bible passage of the week.

You see, to the best of our knowledge, Onesimus was a runaway slave. And somewhere along the line, he encountered the Apostle Paul & became a disciple of Christ. And, as I'm sure it happened, one night Onesimus made a confession to his new brother & friend, Paul. Probably after dinner, sitting around a fire. "Paul, believe it or not, I'm a runaway slave." And as it would happen, Paul actually knew Onesimus' former master! What were the odds! Paul & Onesimus both knew that the life he was living wasn't right and that Onesimus needed to square himself with his old master. And I'm sure the prospect of this made Onesimus very nervous. In this day, you don't just runaway from a slave master, return, and hope everything goes back to normal like in the story of the Prodigal Son. No, No -- they make an example out of you! So Paul sent Onesimus, with a letter, back to his former master -- Philemon.

And I just love this letter. If there was ever a funnier case of someone saying, "You sure better do what I tell you to do," in a round-about way, I'd like to see it. Paul starts by pleading (even though he says he could order ;-D, v. 8) Philemon to accept Onesimus & release him. He talks about how "useful" Onesimus (which is what Onesimus means ... "useful") had been to him & how he wanted to keep him around. But Paul was too polite to do that without asking permission -- what a thoughtful person Paul is. ;-D And this Onesimus, he's no longer just a slave, you know, he's a brother in Christ. Just like Paul was to Philemon. What a pill that must have been for Philemon to swallow ...

And then Paul begins to really pull the strings (here in my very own "The Message"-like translation):

"And, so, BTW Philemon, if he owes you anything, just charge it to my account. (Hmmmm, even though not to mention that you owe me your very life ... but, you know ...)

"Yeah ... and even though I've asked this as a favor, I'm so confident in your 'obedience' that you will probably go the extra mile in doing this for me."

(HA! I love how Paul plants it in Philemon's head that he even EXPECTS Philemon to do MORE than he is asking of him.)

"Oh, and not that I'm trying to pressure you or hold you accountable or anything, buuuuuut I will be stopping through soon ... just to make sure everything is on the up & up, you know :)

"One final thing: Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, & Luke all say hello. Oh, and they know about Onesimus, too. :)

"See ya soon, buddy!"

Wow, he laid it on thick, huh?

So what do we learn from the epistle to Philemon? No, I'm asking you. Please tell me. Is it that overt manipulation is ok? Is it that you can use any kind of means to compel someone to do the right thing? I'm really unsure. Faithful readers, help me with the moral to this story.

I haven't been posting as regularly lately. Sorry. I've been a little uncomfortable with all the readers I've acquired recently. I know there aren't many of you, but still. Not sure how much this qualifies as voyeurism -- and I know I'm not comfortable with that at all.

This started out as a forum for me to get my thoughts out, and now it's a quasi- source of entertainment for some of you. I think I'm going to start a private blog to continue my personal thoughts. I'll still post ideas & other stuff here, though. It'll probably end up being stuff like this, though, (Bible passages, sermons, etc.) and other frivolous things like sports & pop culture. And maybe some philosophy or psychology or world events or anything else cool. We'll see.

Just found out that a good buddy of mine is getting married. He and I were room-mates for my first two years at UF. We've been good buddies since HS. I'm excited for him.

On a weird note, I also found that his parents just got divorced a few months ago. So strange. I think his Mom is living with another guy. I used to hang out with them all the time. I got to talk with him about it for a while, listen, & share some of my experiences and offer what little wisdom God granted me through a divorce (2nd Cor. 1:3-4).

Divorce stinks. Cherish your wives, boys.

I'm in a great mood today. I know what you're thinking and, NO, it's not a girl! I'm in a music-y mood -- I've just been especially enjoying a lot of music today. Especially Bebo Norman.

Right now I'm listening to my Pandora. I've really fine-tuned my station well. Right now some Lisa Loeb just came on. Man, she's so stinkin' hot. I wish she was a Christian -- she would be just like Jennifer Knapp with a more girly, less raspy, voice.

If you're interested in my Pandora station, lemme know & I'll share it with you.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Coming to an Xbox Near You

When it comes to conservatives' outrage over the violence in contemporary video games, some Christians have decided to fight fire with fire. The latest video game to be unleashed on the market is called "Left Behind: Eternal Forces." Among the highlights, from the web site:

  • Conduct physical & spiritual warfare, using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world.(Do you get to bomb abortion clinics?)

  • Recover ancient scriptures (Joseph Smith?) and witness spectacular Angelic and Demonic activity as a direct consequence of your choices.

  • Control more than 30 units types - from Prayer Warrior and Hellraiser to Spies, Special Forces, and Battle Tanks! (What about Bible Thumpers?)

Sometimes, I guess all you can do is shake your head.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Rest of the Story

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of the Prodigal Son. It's such a delightfully simple story that describes what it is like to walk away from God, and it so universally applies to everyone who has ever lived. However, when we recount the story, very often we leave half the story out. So for this week's lesser known Bible passage, I bring you "the rest of the story" of the Prodigal Son. The following is an edited version of a sermon I heard Dr. Mark Love present (cool name, right? "Dr. Love." He's a professor at Abilene Christian).

Colossians 3:12-17

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Well. These are familiar words. We are on familiar ground here. These are like smooth stones, these words. Our lives have passed over them so often that they've become polished and smooth. And they fit comfortably in our hands.

"Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus."

These words don't get lost somewhere in the back pages of Scripture, nor do we have to hunt and hunt to find them. We know these words. These are words to us like, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Or, "We are more than conquerors through Christ." Or, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son."

These are the kinds of words we needlepoint and hang on our walls -- right next to our family pictures, and our Norman Rockwell paintings, and our ceramic crosses, and our guardian angels. These are words that we could put on a T-shirt.

There is no doubt. These are words with which we are familiar. We know these words.

These are words that we could make our life slogan. "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus." And that's exactly what Rick did.

Rick printed out this verse and tacked it on his bathroom mirror and shaved under the words every morning. "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus."

And so in the name of the Lord he went to church. And not just Sunday morning, but Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. And if anything was happening at church, Rick was there. He even gathered with a select group of disciples on Saturday evening to pray over the worship service the next day.

And in the name of the Lord he conducted his business. And Rick didn't just care about the bottom line; he was concerned about customers. And he treated everyone with respect, in the name of the Lord. And he didn't make a lot of money, but he made enough to feel blessed by God. And he made sure that he gave more than a tithe to the work of the church in the name of the Lord.

And in the name of the Lord he cared for his family. He cherished his wife, and showed it quite often, publicly and privately. And he adored his children in the name of the Lord. And with them, he didn't just spend quality time, but quantity time. And he loved his mother and father in the name of the Lord. He even loved his brother, Roger.

Roger had not lived as charmed a life as his brother, Rick. Roger had gotten his college girlfriend pregnant, and married her. They couldn't make it work, though, and they separated three years later. And the divorce devastated Roger -- the dream was over and he was separated from his young boy, as well. That is when he began his drug use. But when he was arrested for possession of illegal narcotics, Roger even lost the ability to visit with his son un-chaparoned.

So when Roger asked his brother Rick if he would be a host one weekend a month so that he could visit with his son, Rick obliged in the name of the Lord. However when Roger's ex-wife showed up to drop of their son, Roger would spend only a short amount of time with his son. He would then take off for God-knows-where for the weekend while Rick & his wife babysat his child. Whenever he decided to stick around, it became evident that Roger was doing drugs in his brother Rick's home.

Well, Rick had to confront him. He told him, "Listen, Roger, if this is going to happen, we're going to need some groundrules so that we understand each other. First, on the weekend your son shows up, you will be here with him. If you are going to be a parent, then you are going to be a father. And second, you will never, EVER do drugs in this house again." After a few more months of Roger not being able to live up to the ground rules, Rick put his foot down & refused to assist his brother.

A few more months passed when Roger called up his father to chat. After catching up on the latest events, Rick's father spoke up. "Son, there's something you need to know. Your brother, Roger, came home." Rick was speechless. "He was in bad shape, and so we've taken him in here. And all his credit cards were maxed out, so your mother & I paid them off. And his van was on the out's, so we've given the BMW."

The BMW ... ... ... ... ... the CHERRY RED BMW! They gave him the BMW!

All of this troubled Rick. So in the name of the Lord, he passionately reasoned with his father. "Dad, this is wrong. You're aiding his lifestyle! You're enabling him. It's time to show some tough love here. What he needs is some good, old-fashioned discipline. He's going to end up right back where he was a couple months ago. Why don't you grow a backbone and take a stand here?"

But his father was taking a stand. He listened to everything Rick had to say, and then said, "Son, I respect what you have to say, but I'm willing to stand up for mercy here. And you may be right -- everything you're saying may be exactly right. But I'm willing to go to Judgment Day standing on the ground of mercy, rejoicing that our son has come home."

And as he hung up the phone, it hit Rick like a ton of bricks. He had become the Older Brother!

Not just biologically, or chronologically. He realized that he had become the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. While everyone else was lavishly celebrating the younger son's return, the older brother is standing outside -- resentful & angry. "You never killed so much as goat for ME, and you gave him the ring and the robe and the fatted calf."

"You gave him the cherry red BMW!"

Rick became angry. How could this happen? How could Mark go from "doing everything in the name of the Lord" to being the older brother? How does that happen? How does one go from "doing everything in the name of the Lord" to being the one on the outside of the celebration of his younger sibling's return home?

If there's anything we notice about the story of the prodigal son, it's the extravagance of the party. The robe. The ring. The fatted calf. The friends invited over. The great celebration in the text over one who was lost is now found. How do you stand on the outside of that, looking in? How do you get yourself to a place where you can no longer celebrate with the angels in Heaven?

(Remember, this is M. Love speaking ...) And you should know right now that even though I've changed a couple of the details of this story, this is my story. I was the older brother. My brother really got the BMW. All I ever got was a used Isuzu -- he got the cherry red BMW!

And here's the point. I've had to realize that it's possible to perform religiously and cut yourself off from the joy of the Kingdom of God. I've realized that it's possible to do everything in the name of the Lord and sentamentalize faith. To make it needle-stitch and hang it on a wall. To turn it into a Hallmark card, and let it run only around the perimeter of your life. So that Scripture becomes ornamental.

And it's possible that such religious performance can trick us into thinking that we're privileged, even superior, to those around us. It's possible -- it's frighteningly likely -- that our long record of religious uprightness can leave us with the Pharisees -- on the outside looking in. Embarassed by a father's extravagant love for wayward sinners. It's possible to go from doing everything in the name of the Lord to being the Older Brother.

But let's not blame Colossians 3 fo this. Because this is a text that wants to celebrate, too! And it would be good for us to find out how this text can take us beyond do-gooding and to a place of genuine joy. I want to pick out just three things that Paul says here:
  1. "Forgive each other." Paul says, "Forgive as Christ forgave you." Forgive each other. Look, I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I've been doing this long enough to know that there are people in this room who haven't forgiven. That there is something big hanging over you. Someone in your life that has wronged you and you have yet to let it go.

    And let's not pretend that ignoring that today isn't a shortcut to older brother status. If there is outstanding forgiveness in your life, GO ... take care of it. And when you do, don't be surprised if a party breaks out and you find yourself in the middle of one of the greatest celebrations you've ever experienced.

  2. "Clothe yourselves with love." Put the purple robe on someone else. Put the ring on their finger. Kill the fatted calf. Live for the sake of someone else. Clothe yourselves with love.

    And if you can find that place -- if you can get to the point where love reigns over everything that you do & love defines how you treat everyone you meet -- don't be surprised if a party breaks out and one of the greatest celebrations you've ever known happens.

  3. "And be thankful." Can you be thankful? Can you live a grateful life? Thankful lives are lived as if everything is a gift -- there is nothing we have that we have not received. In the Kingdom of God, thankfulness casts out the idea of anything being deserved. So the business of the cherry red BMW goes away.

    And if you can live thankfully, don't be surprised if a party breaks out and if one of the greatest celebrations you've ever known happens. And don't be shocked when your life gets filled with joy, in and out. And you no longer find yourself on the outside looking in at the party for wayward sinners that your Father is throwing.
Because then, we'll have more than praise. We'll ... have ... JOY.

Can the older brothers and sisters, those who do everything in word or deed in the name of the Lord, can they join this celebration & praise God today?