Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Welcome to the new "Spirit Blade Underground Weblog"! If you've kept up with the blog in the past, hopefully the transition was unnoticeable. But if you know of any broken links that lead to the old typepad location, please let me know.
I'm also open to feedback about features you'd like to see on this site. Anything you miss from the old version? Let me know! Any new ideas for the blog? I wanna here 'em!
For updates on current projects and the various "behind the scenes" goings-on at Spirit Blade Productions, this is the place to be. I also post a weekly study called "In Search Of Truth" that aims to take a fresh look at the Bible, chapter by chapter. We'll be back into the book of Romans next week!
You'll also notice that you can subscribe to this blog via feed or direct e-mail. So you never need to miss a single post again!
Thanks for stopping by!
Friday, December 17, 2010
Long before Neo entered the Matrix, "Tron" presented an action packed visual feast that took us inside the world of computers. Decades later, we finally return to this amazing digital world in "Tron: Legacy", which follows the story of Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) as he searches for his father, Kevin Flynn(Jeff Bridges).
Kevin Flynn discovered a hidden digital world that exists in all computer software. It is populated by programs that have personalities and emotions, much like humans. Humans are referred to as "Users" and take the role of deities for the programs they create. But Kevin Flynn disappeared into this computer world when his son was just a boy and has been missing ever since. Sam, now 27, goes in search of his Father on a journey that takes him into the computer world where he must survive gladiatorial games and the multitude of enemy programs he encounters.
Although the visual effects are not the breakthrough that the original Tron was, they are rich and beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. The attention given to even the glowing trails of the light-cycles is worth the effort. And since much of the action is digital, the camera is able to go places it normally could not, allowing for some "Matrix-like" moments that provide further candy for the eyes.
There is plenty of action to be had in this movie, and don't let the PG rating fool you. The tone is dark, the danger is serious and the stakes are lethal. I have to assume that since the nature of the violence is purely fantastical, rather than bloody or realistic, the film didn't warrant a PG-13.
There are also some "dramatic action shots" that just plain feel good, such as the first time Flynn enters the battlefield and showcases some "User Power" in an understated (maybe a little too understated) but effective manner. Much like the first Tron, the action is a little weighted toward the first half of the movie, but not so much that things ever become boring. The story continues to move forward with almost no wasted time.
Along with the darker, more emotionally realistic tone comes some questions that we expect more realistic films to have answers for. What exactly are the Flynns experiencing in this "computer world"? They aren't inside a virtual reality program, so why do things look the way they do? An opening monologue by Kevin Flynn potentially hints at the idea that what humans experience in the computer world is stimulus created by their brains to make sense of an existence so abstract they would otherwise have no reference for it. (Much like the spirit world in the "Spirit Blade" audio drama trilogy, if I may so shamelessly plug.) But if this is the case, the script never clearly spells it out. Despite the more serious tone of the film, we are still asked to suspend a ton of disbelief about what all of this is and just go along for the ride. If you can do that, you'll have a lot more fun.
Performances are handled very well by all involved, and Jeff Bridges brings brief but wonderful emotional gravity to the movie when he first sees his son again. The writing is also fairly clever, with Kevin Flynn frequently using outdated slang from the 80's. (He's been in the computer world since then.)
An otherwise fantastic movie experience is significantly marred by using digital effects to recreate a young Jeff Bridges for flashback sequences and the character "Clu". Based on the plastic look of the final product, I'm assuming they animated him from scratch, rather than digitally manipulating footage of Bridges, as done for Patrick Stewart in X-men 3. I shaved a little off of an almost perfect score every time "digital Bridges" (or maybe "Dig-Bridge"?) came on screen (which was quite often), because the weakness of the effect took me out of the story and distanced me from the characters being presented. A real shame. They would have been much better off having Clu age in appearance along with Flynn and using some cosmetic tape(to pull skin back) and airbrushing for the Kevin Flynn flashbacks.
This film is less likely to induce meaningful conversation than the first one, though there are still elements worth talking about as we contemplate important real world issues. The significance and uniqueness of Users as deities is emphasized much less, and interestingly reflects (intentionally or not) our general indifference to God today compared to the 1980's. If Kevin Flynn IS an analogue for God (and I don't know that he intentionally is), then the theology presented is one of a flawed God who needs to apologize to his creations for making mistakes.
Of more central significance is the life form Kevin Flynn has discovered in the computer world. "Isoes" are genuinely sentient beings (unlike normal programs who only seem to be sentient?) that "manifested" in the computer world because "the conditions were right" for their development.
Despite the fact that Kevin Flynn refers to their appearance as a "miracle" on a number of occasions, this spontaneous self-creation of life under the right conditions closely parallels the atheistic evolutionary worldview which has to rely on ultimately undefined "conditions" as being responsible for the emergence of life. This is nothing new in the sci-fi world. Machines are gaining sentience all the time through undefined or ludicrous means. Terminator, The Matrix, I Robot, Battlestar Galactica, even the "evolutionary lightning bolt" in Short Circuit! (So far, power surges only seem to hurt computers, not bring them to life. But maybe we should try a few billion more times.)
Whether these issues stand out to you or not, this movie seems much less interested in making any kind of philosophical parallels when compared to its predecessor.
"Tron: Legacy" is an incredible visual feast with a lot of fantastic sci-fi action and an interesting story that no fan of the genre should miss. And if you found yourself examining the theological themes in the original "Tron" there are still a few things to ponder in this movie.
Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.
Although I'll still be in my office for the next two weeks, blog posts here and at Paeter's Brain will be unscheduled until January 3rd, when I will resume my normal posting pattern of Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
After this weekend I will also be taking two weeks off from producing the podcast.
During the next couple of weeks, however, I do hope to transition this blog to a new host, giving it a new look as well. I anticipate a pretty seamless transition and I'll be sure to keep you in the loop.
Have a great Christmas, and be sure to come back in January to get a taste of all the great things coming from Spirit Blade Productions in 2011!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It's been a VERY busy week so far, and it doesn't look like I'll be relaxing for a while yet.
For the fifth year in a row I'm leading a caroling ministry I started at our church, collecting baked goods and money and coordinating volunteer carolers to visit people that our caring ministry has identified as needing some encouragement.
The response for baked goods has been pretty sparse compared to previous years, which means I'm doing a LOT more baking and also putting the gift baskets (gift bags, this year) together. 21 in total.
So Spirit Blade Productions is turning into a strictly part-time job this week as this personal ministry takes over. I'm answering e-mails and managing to get the blog posts out, but that's about it!
Ooh! Just remembered that I may have some driving to do right now to pick up some baked goods.
In preparation for watching "Tron: Legacy" this weekend, I sat down and watched the original Tron and tried, as much as possible, to see this classic with new eyes and evaluate how it holds up.
The story takes place in the early 80's, when the arcade video game craze was near its peak. Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a brilliant programmer, has developed a number of wildly popular video games, but the credit was stolen from him three years ago by a co-worker who is now the President of Encom, a large a successful software company. In an effort to find the evidence that will prove his rightful ownership of the games, Flynn and his fellow computer industry friends, Alan and Lora, break into Encom to hack the system.
But the newly self-aware Master Control Program running things at Encom fights back, using cutting edge teleportation technology to pull Flynn into the digital world of computers, where he is forced to fight and survive alongside apparently sentient yet mundane programs who struggle for freedom against the MCP.
For the most part, the script is well-written with interesting and thought provoking dialogue and only a few head-scratching lines now and then. Some of the technology references are obviously dated, and a few others seem out of touch even from the time in which they were written. But an interesting parallel world is created here that is worth exploring and trying to figure out, and the story is modeled after classic adventure quests, where heroes seek a distant land and a powerful enemy, passing through trials and tests along the way.
The standout performances belong to Jeff Bridges as Flynn and David Warner as the software thief, Ed Dillenger and the evil program, Sark. Bridges plays the everyman wonderfully and helps us to both enjoy and fear the strange world he has entered. Warner mainly helps us fear it. Leave it to the British to give us really great movie villains.
The special effects, though dated, are still a lot of fun to look at. And the fact that most of them occur in a completely artificial world helps us set aside the imperfections and suspend disbelief. This is a visually rich and imaginative world being presented, and almost 30 years later it's still creatively inspiring to look at. It's amazing to think that the Academy Awards passed over even nominating Tron for special effects, claiming at the time that they "cheated by using computers".
The shortcomings of this movie come in the pacing first, which places the best action in the first half rather than the second. The solar sailor sequence feels a little slow and uninteresting (apart from Flynn's "User Power" energy diversion trick) and the climax might have been served better by something like the earlier, fast-paced Lightcycle sequence, instead of the strange, lumbering "Giant Sark" that serves as the final obstacle.
Another downside is the musical score, which is hit or miss in effectiveness. Mostly electronic, the score mimics real instruments, as synthetic music of the 80's tended, rather than create sounds completely unique to electronic music. Rather than an energetic electronic sound, the music feels flat and robotic, which fits thematically with the material, but falls short in the moments where it needs to capture and propel emotions.
There is so much worth talking about after this movie regarding relevant theological and philosophical issues. I'm no mind reader, so I have no idea if writer/director Steven Lisberger was presenting his personal theological suggestions and musings in this film. But the themes are there, whether he is advocating them or not. If I were to take this film and construct a worldview based on the ideas it seems to suggest in metaphor, I would come up with something like this:
Being religious is not necessarily bad. In fact, God (or gods) truly exist, and those in positions of power and influence try to deny this for their own gain. God is limited in power and knowledge however, doing his best and stumbling along the way, despite having considerably more power and knowledge than us. We are more than simply made in God's image. We are made of his spirit in some sense and may even be a part of him. When we die, our being is dispersed and becomes a part of the world around us.
Despite these somewhat weighty themes, the movie is pretty lighthearted and does not take itself too seriously. For example, at the end of the movie, Flynn jokingly greets his friends in the real world by saying "Greetings, programs", as though he remembers his time spent in the digital world. Yet he shows no signs of emotional trauma at having gone through a radically alien experience. The sequel, which looks to be darker in tone, may explore these psychological issues, but this movie does not, which may work in its favor. If this material is taken too seriously, there are a ton of questions that need answers. How did the MCP gain self-awareness? How do simple accounting programs become sentient? Why does a single "bit" of information know the answer to dozens of questions posed by Flynn?
The technical inconsistencies linger for only as long as we try to put the story in any kind of realistic framework. So for the most part, we're better off just shrugging our shoulders and enjoying the ride.
Tron is a sci-fi classic that should not be missed by anyone planning to see "Tron: Legacy". It stands the test of time well and provides a number of opportunities to "wax philosophical" with your buddies.
Rated PG for fantasy violence.
Monday, December 13, 2010
This time of year it can be really easy to enjoy only the sentimentality of the season. And while there's nothing wrong with sentimentality, we miss a lot of great opportunities to reflect on the truth if we don't pause to consider what it is we say we're celebrating.
The last few years I've posted the results of some research and reflection on Christmas Carols. I've added notes for two more this year, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed learning!
Angels From The Realms Of Glory
Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth. Ye who sang creation’s story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth! Come and worship! Come and worship! Worship Christ the newborn king!
Shepherds in the fields abiding, watching o’er your flocks by night, God with man is now residing. Yonder shines the infant light. Come and worship! Come and worship! Worship Christ the newborn king!
Sages, leave your contemplations, brighter visions beam afar. Seek the great desire of nations. Ye have seen his natal star. Come and worship! Come and worship! Worship Christ the newborn king!
Saints before the altar bending, watching long in hope and fear, suddenly the Lord, descending, in His temple shall appear. Come and worship! Come and worship! Worship Christ the newborn king!
Although the title suggests a song focusing on the angels of Christmas, each verse focuses on a different group from the Christmas story, including present day believers who now anticipate Christ’s coming to judge the world. (Malachi 3:1)
The phrase “desire of nations” comes from Haggai 2:7, where God speaks of both the temple and the Messiah. This song reminds me that the truth of God becoming a man is for all. Cosmic angelic creatures, blue collar workers leading simple lives, philosophers who may think Christ or Christianity is beneath their complex contemplations, and believers, who place faith and hope in Christ’s promise to come and remake the world. All are called to come and worship Christ, the King of the Universe.
Angels We Have Heard On High
Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains, and the mountains, in reply, echo back their joyous strains. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? Say what may the tidings be which inspire your heavenly song? Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing. Come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
See within a manger laid Jesus, Lord of heav’n and earth! Mary, Joseph, lend your aid. With us sing our Savior’s birth. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
An ancient tradition of shepherds in southern France was to call to one another from the hilltops during the Christmas season, singing the angelic phrase “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”, which translated from Latin means, “Glory to God in the highest!” Although they used the same tune we now sing, the verses were added years after this tradition began.
The word Jubilee is commonly accepted today as a term for celebration. In Leviticus 25, it is a time during which property is given back to its original owner. Although probably unintentional in the author's writing of this text, it is interesting to note that Christ came to give us back the life we threw away by sinning.
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nations, rise! Join the triumph of the skies! With th’angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Christ, by highest heav’n adored. Christ, the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild, He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth. Born to give them second birth. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
This song is filled to the brim with wonderful truth. It is first helpful to understand the old English which can keep us from hearing the message of this song. Ironically, that is the exact opposite effect the author would prefer. The original first line read, "Hark how all the welkin rings", but as the language became dated, Charles Wesley, author of the text, made changes to modernize it and make it more understandable. A few other hands were involved in further modifications in keeping with the times. However at some point, despite previous efforts on the author's part, tradition locked it into its current state.
Hark comes from the word harken, which means “listen”. A herald is an announcement. So to “Hark the herald angels sing” means to “listen to the announcement” the angels sing. And in this song, the announcement is the Good News in a nutshell: God and sinners are being reconciled. The relationship between them is being repaired.
This is news worth getting excited about! It means that mankind, by the power of Christ, can have triumph over death, hence the “triumph of the skies” we are encouraged to join in celebrating. The second verse talks about the mystery and wonder of God becoming man. Christ, who is adored in heaven, who is the eternal, everlasting Lord, was born into flesh. As a man, Christ was still part of the Godhead, but “veiled in flesh”. He was content to live as a man among men; To be Emmanuel, “God with us”.
The last verse makes reference to Christ’s coming judgment by quoting Malachi 4:1-2. The Lord warns of the coming judgment where the wicked will be burned up and completely consumed. But for those who fear the name of the Lord, the “Sun of Righteousness” will rise “with healing in his wings”, and will set free those who believe in the Lord. How is this possible? It was Christ’s mission, as the rest of the verse explains. Paraphrased, it says:
Mildly, the eternal God laid down his infinite glory, and was born so that man would not have to die anymore. He was born to raise humanity (the sons of earth) from the dead, and give them a second birth. For this reason, listen to the announcement the angels sing, “Glory to the King of the Universe, who has just been born.”
Joy To The World! The Lord Is Come
Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns. Let men their songs employ while fields and floods, rocks hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.
Based on themes in Psalm 98, this is not really a “Christmas” song. Psalm 98 is in anticipation of Christ coming to rule the earth. My favorite verse is the third. When sin came into the world, death came with it, effecting not just people, but the world in which we live. One day, Christ will make a new earth, where there will be no sin and no corruption in nature, such as the thorns that infest the ground. He will make his blessings flow wherever the curse of sin is found, and death will be eradicated.
O Come, All Ye Faithful
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him, born the King of angels. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
God of God, and Light of Light begotten. Lo, He abhors not the virgin’s womb. Very God, begotten, not created. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
Sing, choirs of angels. Sing in exultation! O sing all ye citizens of heav’n above. Glory to God, all glory in the highest. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning. Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
If you are one of the faithful, or one “full of faith” in the Lord, you can come into the Christmas season full of Joy, because Christ has made it possible for you to know God personally. You can also celebrate the season with a sense of triumph, because you know that Christ has given you victory over death. For this reason, we begin this song singing “Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”
This song is a call to worship for all believers. We’re to come and “adore” Him. To worship and honor Him, recognizing that he is God. We’re to focus our minds on the baby who, amazingly, was born a King. And not just any king, but the King of angels. Angels.... terrifying, awe-inspiring cosmic creatures with power beyond our ability to imagine, trembled and worshiped in the presence of this baby Jesus.
The second verse attempts to describe the eternal nature of Christ, along with His complete humanity. He is God and He is Light, yet he was willing to sit inside a womb. Like us, He was “begotten” or “caused by an effect”. Unlike us, He was not created. Simply wrestling with that paradox reminds me of the incomprehensible nature of Christ’s being.
In the third verse, it is unclear exactly who is implied by the “citizens of heaven”, but is exciting to think that those we have lost that are now with Christ are worshiping Him with us whenever we express our love and adoration for Jesus. In that way, whenever we have a worship service, ALL believers are joined together.
In John 1, we are told that “The Word” created everything that is. Everything that exists anywhere was made by “The Word”. The final verse of this song reminds us that the creator of reality itself became flesh and bone. Even if He had done nothing else but that, He would deserve our unending praise. This song doesn’t even call attention to what He has done, but calls us to adore Him simply for who He is.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that morns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come Thou Rod of Jesse. Free Thine own from satan’s tyranny. From depths of hell Thy people save and give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here, and drive away the shades of night and pierce the clouds and bring us light! Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come Thou Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home. Make safe the way that leads on high and close the path to misery. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come, Desire of nations. Bind all peoples in one heart and mind. Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease. Fill all the world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come Thou Wisdom from on high and order all things far and nigh. To us the path of knowledge show and cause us in Thy way to go. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
This song finds its origins in medieval monasteries, where the numerous verses were originally sung by specific monks, during specific days before Christmas, without the refrain “Rejoice, rejoice…” which was added later. It highlights various prophecies about Jesus from the Old Testament:
The first verse remembers Israel's prayer that the Messiah would come and “ransom” them from their captivity to Babylon.
The "Rod of Jesse" reference is from Isaiah 11:1. A rod or a shoot would grow from the line of Jesse, and He would be filled with the Holy Spirit and rule with fairness and righteousness.
"Dayspring" comes from Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:78-79. Zechariah said that because of God’s mercy, a light from heaven would come to show us the path to peace. Light from heaven is translated as Dayspring in the King James, a reference to the sunrise.
"Key of David" is first referenced in Isaiah 22:22. The Key was a symbol of authority, allowing you to grant or block access, and the one who had the Key of David had the highest authority. This verse reminds us that Christ has the power and authority to grant access to heaven.
The phrase “Desire of Nations” comes from Haggai 2:7, where God speaks of both the temple and the Messiah who would be present on earth with us.
In 1 Corinthians 1:30, it’s said that “For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and He gave Himself to purchase our freedom.”
As I sing this song, I think of Israel today, and how as a whole, they have rejected Christ and are still waiting for the Messiah. When we think of this song now, we can change the word “shall” to “has”, and pray that God’s chosen nation would recognize their Savior, and that He has ransomed their lives with His own.
Silent Night! Holy Night!
Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright ‘round yon virgin mother and Child. Holy Infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night! Holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight: Glories stream from heaven afar, heav’nly hosts sing “Alleluia! Christ the Savior is born!”
Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love pure light, radiant, beams from Thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
Silent night, holy night. All is dark, save the light shining where the mother mild watches over the holy child. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night. Shepherds first saw the sight, heard the angels song, “alleluia”, loud proclaiming near and far. “Christ our savior is here.”
Silent night, holy night, God's own son, oh, how bright shines the love in thy holy face, shines the light of redemption and grace. Christ the incarnate God.
This text is translated from the original German text of “Stille Nacht”. I believe this song has been misunderstood, as many Hymns have, because the musical phrasing does not lend itself to comprehension of the sentence structure. I have included another translation from the same German text. To better understand the traditional translation, I would also humbly offer this paraphrase, which will hopefully express what I believe to be the original meaning of the traditional translation.
Silent night, holy night. Everything is calm, and yet everything is bright around this virgin mother and her Child.
Tender, holy and mild Infant, Sleep. Sleep with a peace that is like the peace experienced in heaven.
Shepherds shake with fear at the sight of glorious beams of light from heaven. Meanwhile, angels sing “Alleluia! Christ the savior has been born!”
Son of God, the pure light of love is beaming radiantly from your holy face. It’s beaming with the beginning of grace that will be given to redeem the world. From the moment you were born, Jesus, You were Lord over everything.
What Child Is This?
1. What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping,
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds worship and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him praise,
The babe, the son of Mary!
2. Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Come, have no fear; God's son is here,
His love all loves exceeding:
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross he bore for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!
3. So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
All tongues and people own Him!
The King of Kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him!
Raise, raise the song on high!
While Mary sings a lullaby.
Joy! joy! for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!
Originally written in 1865, this carol has gone through multiple textual changes that continue to result in variant versions today. This song so wonderfully contrasts the beauty and simplicity of Christ’s entrance to earth with the wonder of who he is and the incredible destiny he came to fulfill.
Stitching together parts of the versions that have been most meaningful to me, and that I believe are more easily understood by the common listener, I’ve copied my “best of” version above.
It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise and cease your strife
And hear the angels sing.
And you, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The prince of Peace their King
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
This message of restoration is still floating around the world today, as verse 2 indicates. Despite our constant yacking and endless, meaningless activity, the message is still being communicated for those who will stop and listen to it.
For two thousand years, this message has been circulating the planet and still we haven't really changed. We continually wound each other because of our sin. We shut God's message out and busy ourselves with conflict. These words ask us to set aside the conflicts that consume us and listen to the amazing love song that God is sending out to us through the life of Jesus.
There is hope, in that message, for those who are beaten down by life. Who are tired and just barely crawling along, every step agony. A time is coming when God will finally put an end to all evil and pain. Take a moment, set aside your stress and discouragement, and hear the message the angels brought and continue to bring today.
Every day brings us closer to this amazing future. And when we arrive, we'll see just how quickly the time before it passed. God's complete and perfect rule has been talked about and sung about for years in scripture, in sermons and in songs. What seems to be an endless cycle of years will culminate in a new earth. A new universe, in fact! Remade to be perfect and last forever, ruled by a God who is synonymous with peace. It will be so amazing that we won't be able to help but explode back to God a massive expression of love and thankfulness for the relationship he has allowed us to have with him.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
It’s been about 15 years since I read the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and about two since I listened to the audio drama versions produced by “Focus Radio Theater”. So I’m hardly a purist and if you’re looking for a review that will compare the books to the movies, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
However, I am a big fan of the fantasy genre and love examining movies for relevant philosophical/theological themes. So naturally I’ve been looking forward to seeing “The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader”.
The story picks up a couple of years after Edmund and Lucy return from their adventure in “Prince Caspian”. They are now in the care of their Uncle and are forced to spend time with their snobby cousin, Eustice, who naturally thinks that Narnia is make-believe nonsense. Soon, all three children are pulled into the magical world for another adventure and we get to watch them struggle with temptation and grow in character as the movie progresses.
This movie continues the standard of high quality production we’ve come to expect from the franchise and one wouldn’t even notice that the franchise has moved from Disney to Fox studios. The sets and props are wonderfully detailed. The world is very cool to look at and one I would love to spend time in. The visual effects are on par with most any other big budget movie of the same type. Overall, the visual presentation of this movie helps bring a slightly darker tone to the material, which could otherwise seem pretty non-threatening and a little too safe.
The movie has a slightly lighter feel to it than “Prince Caspian”, despite some spooky imagery now and then. Unlike Harry Potter, this franchise seems to be keeping a consistent tone rather than becoming progressively darker or more edgy. For many who hope to raise future fantasy fanatics, this movie, like those before it, will probably serve as a nice early step before moving on to “Harry Potter” and eventually “The Lord Of The Rings”. Fans of darker, more intense fantasy flicks will likely find this too “safe” most of the time.
Further comparisons to the Potter flicks are inevitable as we look at how the young actors portraying Lucy and Edmund progress as actors. In general, their skill as performers is growing less noticeably when compared to the leads in the Potter films. If they have been simply cooling their heels between these pictures, rather than taking classes and aiming to improve their craft, I would not be surprised. Still they turn out acceptable performances that don’t distract from the story, given the already lighter nature of this material.
The story is a bit of a letdown this time through. The first two movies clearly had all of Narnia at stake. This is more of an isolated quest movie with little immediate threat to all of Narnia clearly presented. So in general, the emotional intensity is much less than the first two films.
The story is also hindered by the “fetch quest” format. For those non-gamers out there, this basically means that the story is taken up by multiple mini-quests to collect 7 of the same item in various locations in order to advance the main plot. A single, central story is somewhat absent, instead making episodic quests the focus, and the moral lessons built into each one.
There are a few metaphors and morals in this story that may spark conversation if you’re looking for it. But they are not strongly pronounced and for the most part, easily missed.
Contentment with self-image and self-worth is certainly a theme. As is temptation in general. Near the end of the story, a metaphor for Heaven is strongly presented, though based on the dialogue, one could argue that entrance to this “heaven” is based on personal character, rather than loyalty to Aslan. (Something C.S. Lewis probably did not intend.) And though you might miss it if you zone out for a line or two, there is a great metaphor about being changed by Christ(Aslan). Jesus can take a life that is monstrous in appearance and character and drastically change it for the better. But this kind of transformation often comes with “a good kind of pain” (as Eustice says) as the monstrous layers are stripped away.
What I found very interesting was the inclusion of a few lines near the end that implicitly validate the truth claims of Christianity in the real world. When asked if they will see him again, Aslan tells the children that in their world he has another name, and that they were brought to Narnia so that, by knowing him a little their, they could know him even better in their world.
This leaves us with the question of what Aslan’s name is in the real world, requiring us to notice the numerous metaphors and parallels in these stories to find the answer. In the films alone, one need only look as far as “The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe” for the obvious answer.
A good, light, fantasy flick that young families will enjoy together and veteran genre fans will likely find a bit tame, with a few things worth talking about if you’re in the mood and looking for them.
Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.
Friday, December 10, 2010
I'm looking forward to reviewing "The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader" for the podcast this weekend! But so that I can enjoy it with my wonderful wife, I'm waiting to see it until tomorrow. So the podcast will come a little less than 24 hours later than usual.
In other news, I'm considering a significant change for this blog. Since 2006 I've been using Typepad for The Spirit Blade Underground Weblog. In fact, this blog has been around longer than our main website! (In the early days, in a sad sort of way, it WAS the main website.)
At the time, I went with Typepad (which costs $5 monthly) because they had some functionality I wanted that no free options could give me. Between then and now, the functionality of "Blogger"(where "Paeter's Brain" is hosted for free) has improved and a few of my desires for functionality have also diminished. So it looks like it may be time to transplant this blog to a blogger account and save myself $5 bucks a month. (That's kinda like being guarunteed that I'll sell at least one download of "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream" or a Song Bundle every month! In this little endeavor, every penny counts!)
The good news is that, if everything works as it's supposed to (wink, wink), the only thing you'll notice is a makeover to the blog. You'll still get there by going to spiritblade.net/blog and the posts will still be fed to both facebook and twitter. (If you subscribe directly to this blog, I will be notifying you of an easy alternative you can take advantage of to get these posts sent to your e-mail.) All previous posts should be there as well.
I'm planning to make the switch sometime this month. But if you have any words of wisdom before I do, the floor is now open for discussion!
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Decided to rent a movie the other night and remembered a trailer I had recently seen for "Southland Tales".
From the director of "Donnie Darko", I expected something weird. But I hoped it would at least make SOME sense.
The first trailers I saw for this movie made it look like just a modern drama. But a recent trailer I saw on another DVD promoted it as a "near-future" sci-fi flick. It looked like the kind of movie that would require some thinking and provoke some thought. Turns out it only provoked head scratching for me.
From beginning to end it's clear this movie has a social/philosophical/political message. But I honestly couldn't tell what it was. There was so much material that was either completely unnecessary or so covered in convoluted metaphor that the plot is almost completely missing.
I like movies that don't spoon-feed everything to you. I enjoyed Donnie Darko and other films like "Brazil". But this flick is so devoid of story that even the creativity of the remaining experience is totally unworthy of attention or emotional investment.
In verse 8, Paul says that "Christ died for us" and in verse 9 he explains the result of this act. Those who trust in Jesus for reconciliation with God are "justified" as a result of Christ's death. The meaning of this Greek word communicates that their moral record is given a clean slate in the eyes of God. Believers are also saved from God's eventual judgment of humanity. This is because Jesus not only died to pay the penalty for our sin, but lives again and intercedes for us, an eternal "reminder" to God that our sins have been paid for completely. (v.9-10) In other words, our justification is an ongoing effect sustained by Christ. We don't need to be "re-justified" again and again. Any who genuinely trust in Christ for justification are given a clean slate for all past and future sins.
In addition, God does not grudgingly withhold his wrath from believers. We are in a position to celebrate this reconciliation with God because of what Jesus has done. God doesn't enjoy punishing anyone (2 Peter 3:9) and celebrates our restored relationship to him! (v.11) Believers have no reason to ever fear God's judgment and should live lives in grateful celebration of what God has done for them!
In verse 12, Paul begins a statement that he picks up again in verses 18 and 19 after a bit of a rabbit trail.
Paul teaches that sin entered the world through Adam, the one given responsibility over the Garden Of Eden and the man from whom every other human comes. It is because of Adam's sin that every human is born a sinner and is also destined to die. (v.12)
Even before God's formal law had been given in the Torah, sin still existed in the world, although people were not held accountable to God to the same degree. (v.13) As it was, though, sin still brought about death as the consequence promised by God for disobedience. (Gen. 2:17) Everyone who came after Adam inherited a corrupted, sinful nature and mortality.
The all-encompassing effect that Adam's actions had on humanity was mirrored by Christ, but with some fundamental differences. Primarily, the gift of justification from Christ is vastly more effective in saving than Adam's sin was in corrupting. Adam's one sin sent humanity in a downward spiral and placed all under the condemnation of God. But even after thousands of years and countless sins, each as corrupt and infectious as the single sin that started it all, Christ's single act of obedience to death on the cross was enough to "clean the slate" of every human in history that will ever place their trust in him. (v.14-16 and 18-19)
As a result of Adam's sin, death has a powerful hold over humanity. But those who trust in Christ for their justification will experience the favor of God in an even more powerful way as they live and reign in cooperation and relationship with God in eternity. (v.17, 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 22:5)
Next Week- The purpose of the Old Testament law, and the "death" of Christians.
Coffee House Question- Currently, humans all have sinful tendencies and limited lifespans. What do you think the world might look like if all humans currently living were completely sinless and lived forever?
Monday, December 6, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Although this movie hasn’t been hyped much via TV and online marketing, it’s one I’ve had my eye on since I saw the first cool looking trailer a few months ago.
This is a fantasy flick in the same way that “300” is. Based in real historical culture, but exaggerated well beyond realism.
The story is about an assassin-warrior from China (or was it Japan?) who is on the run from his own clan for not completing a mission. He finds refuge across the world in the wild west of America, but not for long. The troubles of this small ghost town and the warrior’s own catch up with him and the inevitable action begins.
Within the first five minutes of this movie, I said to myself “I’m totally buying this on BluRay”. But after another 45 minutes I wasn’t so sure. I’m still not.
This movie has some incredibly cool action sequences that fans of Zack Snyder’s (“300”, “Watchmen”) visual action style will enjoy. I almost wonder if Snyder was involved somehow, given the similarities. This movie is very stylized, using lots of green screen backgrounds (even for normal settings) and slow motion. From the beginning, the movie promises to give you a wild visual ride. And almost fully delivers.
A movie that spends as much creativity and money on action sequences as this one should not have the downtime this movie has in the middle. Although less than 2 hours long, this flick has about 10 minutes of fat that should have been trimmed from the waistline. Mostly it’s a case of scenes being longer than they need to be.
Kate Bosworth is essentially a place-holder for “female heroine”, not bringing anything compelling to the role and even going a bit too over the top in her comedic relief to be truly funny and unexpected. But her story is interesting enough and was satisfying to see play out.
Geoffrey Rush is an interesting character to watch. He plays the town drunk, but has one or two more layers that come into play later.
Danny Huston makes a wonderful villain, and boy his he bad! His level of depravity makes the desire for justice (or revenge) almost tangible. You want him to pay and it’s very satisfying when he does. His storyline(connected to Bosworth’s) is a pretty large part of the movie and goes a long way to keep things interesting and emotionally involving. It’s only a shame that he was not the “ultimate villain” in the film, who proved to be anti-climactic by comparison.
In the center of the story is Dong-gun Jang, who plays the Warrior, though mostly in silence, uttering a few English phrases here and there. The effectiveness of his “strong and silent” characterization varies and he mostly blends into the background, despite being the central character.
The action is the real star. This movie has some amazing visuals including a variety of camera speed manipulations and even a resurrection of the sadly underused “bullet-time” effect made popular by The Matrix. Action fans will not be let down by the extremely cool and epic fights, and Matrix and 300 fans will get a nasty itch scratched.
This movie is highly unlikely to stimulate meaningful conversation, but one theme that might be brought out is that of leaving everything you know and even making yourself the enemy of your entire social circle for the sake of doing what is right.
As I think of broken religious systems and philosophical worldviews, I can’t help but see similarities, as friends and family members lash out, ostracize or in other ways mistreat someone who is making the decision to break away from the same mold. It is this pattern that can make seeking truth in life so difficult for so many.
Ultimately, this is a very cool looking action movie with some compelling elements but too much fat in the middle and a slightly fizzled out ending.
Rated R for strong bloody violence.
Forgot to mention this on Wednesday here, but I've once again made my dark, electronic version of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" available for download at www.spiritblade.net/freestuff ! Available only in the month of December, so don't miss out!
If you have enjoyed the Christian sci-fi/fantasy author interviews I've had on the podcast in the past but have wondered where they've been lately, you won't have to wait much longer!
After posting an invitation online, my interview slots have been rapidly filling up with an avalanche of new authors!
I'll be doing most of the interviews in January and February, but will be pacing them out on the show for a longer stretch of time so I can still bring you guys the reviews and other content you've come to expect on the show.
If you have any recommendations for authors I should contact to interview, my ears are wide open! The author's I've scheduled interviews with so far represent a wide variety of genres and stories within the realm of Christian sci-fi/fantasy, so there will hopefully be at least one new author for everyone to try out in 2011!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
It's actually a pretty good one. As I've started to organize my strategy for a renewed general marketing effort for Spirit Blade Productions, I've thought about how busy I am with other things going on as a result of the holiday season. Both work related and personal.
Then suddenly I realized that this is actually the situation for a LOT of people. (I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one celebrating or selling product during Christmas these days.) And there are already some things I've decided to put off until January. What are the chances that an e-mail I send to someone telling them about our company will be put off or maybe even deleted and forgotton? Pretty good.
So I've decided to hold off on really diving into new marketing strategies until mid-January, giving me and those I interact with time to play catch-up and see the world with fresh eyes again. Since marketing is about my least favorite part of what I do, this delay is not bumming me out, either. And as an added bonus, this means I get to give nearly my full creative attention to outlining and writing the script for Spirit Blade 3!