Monday, July 30, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 26:15-23

Paul is presenting his case to the Roman governor of the region, Festus, and his guest, the Jewish King Agrippa. Festus has already decided to send Paul to Rome for his appeal, but is hearing Paul again now in the presence of Agrippa to get the king's input on how to write up a description of the charges against Paul.

Paul is in the middle of describing his encounter with the post-resurrection Jesus, who appeared to Paul in the middle of his journey persecuting Christians.

Paul was obviously stunned and literally floored by this appearance, and asked who Jesus was. After identifying himself, Jesus told Paul why he was appearing to him and what Paul would spend the rest of his life doing. Paul would serve Jesus, providing eye-witness testimony about him to people. People who would not always be receptive and might even put Paul's life in danger. Yet Jesus also promised that he would "deliver" (meaning "rescue") Paul from them, and keep him safe for as long as required to carry out his purpose. (v.15-17)

Jesus was sending Paul to both Jews and non-Jews, to teach and communicate truth to them that would open their eyes regarding the truth about themselves and God. Paul uses the metaphor of going from "darkness to light", which he also uses elsewhere describing the life of a Christian. (Ephesian 5:8-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, Romans 13:12-13) There are several ideas wrapped up in this metaphor. The state of being in "darkness" is one of ignorance and concealed shame. Being "in the light" is about pursuing truth and applying it to our lives, and living transparently, with a clear conscience, not indulging in sin that no one else can see.

Living in darkness is living under the thumb of Satan. Those in this state are unknowingly, yet willingly, enslaving themselves to him.

By contrast, we are meant to live life experiencing the power of God, giving our time and efforts to things that reflect the new purpose and destiny we have because of Christ. God wants us to be forgiven, to have our relationship with him restored and to only be getting better.

In fact, he wants to "sanctify" us, which means here "to set apart for the purposes of God". He has a special plan and purpose for those who want it. Something far better than the agendas we create for ourselves when left to our own devices. And we enter into this special plan by choosing to trust in Jesus. It starts when we choose to trust him to deal with our sin problem so we can be in the presence of God forever. Then we continue to be set apart for God in other ways as we trust him with all the other facets of our ongoing lives.(v.18)

This message is what Jesus was equipping and sending Paul out into the world to convey. And when God shows up and gives you something to do, you do it. Paul explains this to the Jewish King Agrippa, knowing that he would respect Paul's desire to obey God.

Paul then implies the irony of the situation by reminding Agrippa that this mission from God is what the Jews were trying to get him executed for. Going further, Paul says that God has been protecting and helping him and that his message is consistant with what is taught in the Tanakh (the Hebrew scriptures, a.k.a "the Old Testament"). Namely, that God's special Anointed One would have to suffer, that he would rise from the dead (ultimately joined by his followers) and be the first to share the amazing truth of God's love and his plan to rescue humanity. (v.19-23)

Looking at this passage, there is a lot to think about. But this week my mind seemed pulled toward Paul's words about darkness and light, and what they mean for believers. Maybe even what they mean for geek believers like me in particular.

As a sometimes secluded geek (either physically or just mentally secluded), I find it easy to make "living in darkness" my default. Even though I've made the choice to trust Jesus for eternal life, I'm still content sometimes to indulge in harmful things that others either don't see, or wouldn't consider harmful.

When we talk about "hidden sins", I imagine pornography and visually stimulated lust come to mind pretty quickly, at least for us guy geeks. Even aside from actual pornography, there are many visuals found in sci-fi, fantasy and horror entertainment that promote thoughts of women as sexual objects.
But there are other "hidden sins" that cripple us as well. We can refuse to forgive and hold on to bitterness, replaying scenarios in which we were hurt or imagining new ones and how we would respond to them.

Our geeky imaginations are wonderful! They can do and create so much that's good! But I've also wondered recently if my thought life might be more vulnerable because of how active my imagination is. I can dream up all kinds of scenarios about people that have hurt me, inventing "what ifs" that attribute bad behavior to them that they haven't even done! My unleashed imagination run wild and get me worked up in a cycle of bitterness.

If you're a geek, you likely have a great imagination. As a result, you can probably think of some similar mentalities you can "sit in" for awhile that are unhealthy or harmful.

Lately I've been telling God how tired I am. Not in the sense of needing sleep, but just tired of life. Tired of judging others or feeling judged. Tired of failing in the same old ways over and over again. Tired of the grind. But I realized that my weariness is because I'm forgetting the undeserved yet ever-present favor of God. (What the Bible calls "grace".)

God's grace, provided through Jesus, means the failures of yesterday (or two minutes ago) are not on my record. I'm only "kicking against the goads" when I sit in those dark places and forget about God's grace that is calling me into truth, calling me into freedom, calling me into light.

God wants to free us from sitting in those "dark places". He wants us to experience what it is to live in open, transparent relationships with others, free of shame or judgment. Eventually, all those who trust in Jesus will experience that way of living forever. In the meantime, as we trust Jesus more with how we use our minds and how we see ourselves, we can be "set apart" to experience right now, more and more of the life that's coming.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Watch Review And Summer Of Free Video Game Options! (SBU Podcast)

Friday, July 27, 2012 7:29 PM

A review of the movie "The Watch" and some free video game options you may have forgotten about.



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The Watch

Since I only review geek genre movies (like sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc.) it's rare I have a reason to review a comedy. I tend to avoid comedies anyway, since it takes a strange and rare breed of them to really make me produce any noise beyond a mild chuckle. So be aware from the start that you may find any given comedy more funny than I do.

"The Watch" is about a married Costco manager named Evan (Ben Stiller) who has busied his life with all kinds of social activities, but has no meaningful relationships and a marriage lacking crucial communication. When one of his employees is mysteriously murdered, he launches a neighborhood watch to hunt the killer down and prevent further murders.

For all the wrong reasons (mainly because they thought it would be fun, involve beating people up, or lead to sex), he is joined by three other men, each with their own oddities and dysfunctions. Bob (Vince Vaughn) is a father of a teenage daughter whom he is constantly frustrated by. He joins the watch to try and get a "guys night out" now and then. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a high school dropout who failed the written, physical and mental health exams for the police force, though he claims he was "too awesome for them anyway". And Jamarcus, a friendly, awkward sort of nerd, is possibly the strangest of all, despite his timid nature.

What you may have gathered from the trailers is that the murder suspect, they eventually learn, is an alien. This oddball group of new, dysfunctional friends has to cope with interacting with dangerous alien life and destructive alien technology. The result is a raunchy oddball comedy with a sci-fi backdrop, including some legitimate scares and non-comedic gore.

The jokes, or at least those I thought were intended to be jokes, were more widely spaced than they should have been in the first 45 minutes, though they pick up in frequency in the second half. I found many of them predictable or overstated enough to be spoiled, but I also enjoyed a chuckle every few minutes and almost a handful of "laugh out loud" moments in the last 30 minutes.

I would categorize the humor as being either "post-modern random" or "guys' bathroom/locker room humor" for most of the movie. The nature of the "locker room humor" usually centers on male biology and biological functions, as opposed to being mostly centered on the sexual act. I only mention this because I find for myself that frequent raunchy humor about sexual activity can be harmful to my perspective on sex, while raunchy humor focused only on male biology does not pose a problem for my spiritual life that I'm aware of. If you're in the same camp, and if you like raunchy and random humor, you may enjoy The Watch.

That said, I can only recommend this movie as a rental, when you have the ability to fast-forward.  Although the rest of the movie had no nudity, there is a brief scene (I'd estimate 30-45 seconds) involving a few brief seconds of very explicit nudity and sexuality as well as shallow and worthless sexual activity without nudity for the rest of that 30-45 seconds. If that sounds manageable to you, have at it. Just be forewarned going in to the experience.

I normally don't comment on potentially offensive content, as not everyone is harmed by language, gore, etc. But art intended to stimulate lust is another matter, and so I feel the need to forewarn when a movie has what I consider a significant amount. (At the end of the day, sites like and are much better tools for your "content screening" than my or anyone's subjective memory and reactions. Take advantage of them and use your own discernment.)

What surprised me in a way a comedy hasn't since "The 40-Year Old Virgin", was the strong themes valuing marriage and parenthood. In comedies like this, wives are usually obstacles, but in this movie they are partners and the marriage relationship is highly valued. Bob, despite being alone at home with his daughter much of the time while his wife travels for work, urges Evan to communicate with his wife about an issue that is keeping them apart as Evan remains silent about it. By the end of the movie there are not just one but two loving marriages represented in the story.

Additionally, Bob has no idea how to communicate with his teenage daughter without yelling at her, but by the end of the movie he has the opportunity to stand up for her and protect her, and she finally understands how much her father loves her, despite his difficulty in having a healthy relationship with her.

The Watch is a movie that I would only rarely recommend to someone, due to the potentially offensive or distasteful content, and I can only recommend it with some warning. (When Evan and Jamarcus head down the stairs of the neighbor's basement, just fast forward for two minutes. You won't miss a thing.) Even so, for a select group this movie will have some great laughs and also serve to remind them of the value of marriage and family. (Surprise, surprise!)

Rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images (and I would add brief, but strong nudity)

Quality: 7.5/10

Relevance: 8.0/10

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Black Earth: Dark Masquerade Review

Review by Nathan James Norman

As the Earth continues to fall into destruction the young Nathan Pierce and his allies race to rescue his sister Daisy from her immanent public execution. The president of what’s left of the United States is grabbing all the power she can, as the malevolent alien force Legion, along with their demonic allies, continue to transform the Earth into a violent, dark and frigid world.

     The saga of Black Earth continues on in the third and penultimate in the series, Dark Masquerade. Like the previous novels, Alderman has several story arcs that run alongside each other. Most of the characters in these storylines cross paths at some points, while other characters seem to be waiting to meet until the final story in the saga. Whereas many books that attempt this sort of divided attention have a difficult time maintaining either focus or interest in the story, Dark Masquerade (and indeed the entire series so far) does not. Alderman is very skilled at creating unique and engaging storylines through the world of his stories. The reader has no problems keeping these storylines and character separated, while keeping the overall story moving forward. This book was a little slow in the beginning, but picks up and explodes after the first few chapters.

     The characters of Dark Masquerade are equally engaging, and Alderman gives us a great variety of believable and relatable characters. From the chain-smoking ex-timeline cop Macayle, to the self-described sexual predator Cynthia Ruin (who in reality is a terribly broken person), the characters contain a great deal of depth and the reader readily identifies with them. There’s a few two-dimensional characters in the story, but most of them don’t stick around (or survive) for too long to really matter. The one exception to this generality is the president, Amanda Stone. She’s a “two-and-a-half-dimensional” character, that I wish was fleshed out a little better, but fortunately is the exception, not the rule.

     In summary, Black Earth: Dark Masquerade is a piece of well-written, enjoyable, and often profound story of science fiction art. Alderman writes as a Christian, and there are certainly Christian themes in his stories, but they are a part of the story, rather than a sermon unnaturally inserted into the story. Some of his characters are believers, some aren’t, but all of them are flawed in their own ways. And unlike so much of “Christian Fiction” (which I wouldn’t do the disservice of labeling this book as) Alderman presents life as it is. Amidst the towering demons, the vicious Legion force and systematic destruction of Earth, the characters curse, use sex to get what they want, smoke, fear, laugh, cry and make horrible choices . . . just like in real life . . . just like in the world most people live in. So, even though portals are opening, hulking beasts are consuming people by the truckloads, and the sun is all but blotted out from the face of the earth, David Alderman paints the picture of a world that all of us recognize as real.

     Dark Masquerade sets the stage for the final book and gives the reader a reasonable ending for a second-to-last series book. Any fan of science fiction, fantasy, supernatural drama or apocalyptic stories really ought to read this fast-pace, and engaging series.

Quality: 9/10

Relevance: 9/10

Releases Wednesday, July 25th

Read more about Nathan on his website!

Monday, July 23, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 26:2-14

As I mentioned last time, King Agrippa had a thorough understanding of Jewish teaching, and Paul was banking on that as he plead his case. (v.2-3)

Unlike so many today who express their beliefs without any supportive reasoning, Paul's entire presentation of his defense is a logical framework of evidence based on rational deduction. While conversations about faith today often go no further than strong expressions of sincerity and conviction, Paul takes the approach of presenting the facts and asking his listeners to use reason to come to a conclusion about the truth.

Paul appeals to the fact that his former lifestyle is known widely by the Jews opposing him. He was a strict and zealous Jew, as well as a Pharisee. (Pharisee's were known for heavy interpreting of religious law, and were also responsible for adding further restrictions and rules to pre-existing laws.) So Paul was among the strictest of the strict. An intensely devoted religious Jew. (v.4-5)

This was important for Paul to establish because the stronger he makes a case for how different he was before, the more reason and logic demand an extraordinary event to suddenly change Paul's entire way of living. (An extraordinary event like the resurrected Jesus appearing and speaking to him in broad daylight.)

Paul also points out that, despite this massive change in his life, he's not in opposition to God. Far from it! He still hopes for the same things that many (though not all) Jews hoped for at this time: God's restoration of Israel and her twelve tribes, preceded by the bodily resurrection of the dead. (v.6-7)

An influential segment of Jewish religious thinkers (the Saducees) did not subscribe to the idea of bodily resurrection. Paul knew that some of those listening (including King Agrippa) probably didn't believe in it either. But Paul appeals to reason in connecting the power of God to the controversial idea of resurrection.

You could almost restate Paul's argument today by saying, "This is God we're talking about! The one who created everything out of nothing! (Think of that for a second. There was nothing, no molecules, no atoms, no matter and then instantly...EVERYTHING!) Why in the world would you, who say you believe that God created everything from nothing, think that one man's resurrection or a billion resurrections is an outlandish idea?" (v.8)

Paul then returns to emphasizing his former life, further making the case that a supernatural event would be required to change him so suddenly and drastically. Paul was formerly convinced he should do everything in his power to oppose the followers of Jesus. He may have been a member of the Sanhedrin (Jewish council of religious rulers) but was likely too young to have been. However it at least appears that he was commissioned by them to hunt down Christians even in foreign countries, lock them up, and try to torture them into renouncing Christ or blaspheming and therefore be worthy of execution. (v.9-12)

After all of this setup, Paul describes the moment when Jesus appeared to him, and also includes the fact that others were with him when it happened. Further evidence that his accusers and judges could verify. A liar would say he was by himself and a lunatic would have been the only one to see the vision. (Not to mention that Paul had exactly zero to gain by making up the entire story of his vision. In fact he obviously had everything to lose!) (v.13)

As a rampant fan of fantasy and science fiction, I love exploring the ideas and "what ifs" of the universe. But if I'm not careful I forget to turn that switch off and dwell on what is real. Now and then I can have little thoughts enter my mind such as "what if my faith is a bunch of crap? What if I'm deluding myself?"

So awhile back I started constructing a document (that I'm still working on) called "The Theology Of Paeter". This document describes what I believe about God and why. It explores and eliminates inferior lines of reasoning until it arrives at the conclusions that make the best sense of the available evidence.

It's similar to what Paul is doing here. He's presenting a collection of data and asking his audience, by implication, to come up with a scenario that more logically fits the evidence. As I try to make alternative theories work (in this case for example, Luke inventing much of Paul's life story, Paul lying, being crazy or spontaneously becoming a big "Jesus Fan"), I see that the scenario I have to buy into in order for a given alternative to work is actually way more far-fetched than believing that Jesus really was and is God.

In Paul's account, Jesus, who so identifies with his followers that he himself experiences their pain and persecution, confronts Paul with what he had been doing, adding "it is hard for you to kick against the goads".

Now that's an odd phrase, isn't it?

A goad is a long stick with a pointed end used by ancient farmers to prod cattle and move them forward. When cattle resisted and kicked against it, they only ended up injuring themselves. Jesus was not simply confronting Paul with his sin. He was pointing out that the only thing his sin was accomplishing in the long run was injury to himself. (v.14)

When God wants to bring about change in our lives, and we resist that change, we aren't thwarting his plans or winning anything of substance for ourselves. God is not a cosmic killjoy. If he wants to change something in us that will involve discomfort on our part, it's because what we're already doing is far less good for us then what he has planned, and may even be doing us harm.

God loves us more than we can comprehend. He loves us just as we are, but too much to let us stay that way.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises and Amazing Spider-Man Reviews (SBU Podcast)

Friday, July 20, 2012 4:23 PM

Reviews for The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man. Who is king of the summer of superheroes?

Don't miss the 30% off download sale this month at



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The Dark Knight Rises (Movie Review)

"The Dark Knight Rises" takes place eight years after "The Dark Knight". Gotham is doing much better than it was and Bruce Wayne has effectively retired from being Batman. But when a dangerous mercenary leader named Bane threatens the safety of Gotham, Bruce Wayne has to find the dormant strength to once again confront and stop evil.

I have to warn you that this review may sound more negative than my final score reflects. The reason is that the numerous things The Dark Knight Rises does well were also done in the two previous Batman films, and so don't require as much comment here.

The cast is wonderful and performances are great without exception. Returning actors bring the same humanity to their roles as they did in the past, and Michael Caine delivers his most sympathetic, heart-wrenching performance yet as the loving and loyal Alfred Pennyworth.

Newcomers also bring great things to the table. Anne Hathaway surprised me by portraying a Catwoman that can believably take on beefy bad guys, thanks in large part to using her body weight as leverage in acrobatic combat. She also displays levels of complexity in her character that make her engaging and sometimes unpredictable.

Tom Hardy does a fine job as Bane, delivering dialogue with a nice range of expression, even though director Christopher Nolan strangely likes to make dialogue difficult to hear clearly at times. (An odd factor in all three of his Batman movies.) Despite the mask, Hardy is still able to create an interesting character.

In general, the greatest strength of the film is its drama. These characters and their stories and motivations are captivating and easy to invest in. I would love to see Christopher Nolan produce a weekly TV series called "Gotham City", a crime drama about Gotham and the people living there. Instead, Nolan chose to make this movie. Which brings me to my chief complaint.

This is not a "Batman movie". It's a movie about Gotham and some of the key people who live there. I walked into the theater still wondering why The Joker had to be left out of the movie. I left the theater wondering why Batman was left out of the movie.

Bruce Wayne does not appear onscreen as Batman until 60 minutes into the movie. (Forgivable in an "origin story". Not good for the climax of a superhero trilogy.) He then has two or three relatively short scenes as Batman over the next 60 minutes. It isn't until about the last 45 minutes that we stop seeing Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne and start seeing him as Batman regularly. And even during the last 45 minutes, Batman doesn't really shine in the way he should after the movie spends so much time hammering Bruce Wayne into the ground.

In this movie, Batman relies on his gadgets when I wanted to see him being physical, and brawling when I thought he should be using gadgets. In his last fight with Bane I kept asking myself why he wasn't using those razors that shoot out of his gauntlets, as we saw in his final fight with the Joker in "The Dark Knight". And the climax involves him leaning too heavily on his flying vehicle for my taste. Lots of people could fly that vehicle. For me, Batman action scenes mean more "cape and cowl" activity and outsmarting the bad guys with ingenious foresight. Very little of either in this movie, relative to the nearly three hour run time.

Batman Begins had to grow on me. I wasn't expecting it to be as grounded as it was. The Dark Knight had to grow on me some, too, but not near as much. The Dark Knight Rises likely will not improve as much with age for me. It just strays too far from Batman for too long. Including a final fate for Bruce Wayne that, while cathartic, is very out of character with the Batman of the comics. The time spent straying from Batman is well done and still good movie making in general, but seeing a great drama that was marketed as a comedy will still be disappointing if you were expecting two hours of laughs.

The movie also lacks some of the focus of the previous two films and doesn't always make sense. We're to understand that Bruce Wayne's entire body is a wreck from years of being Batman. But after putting on a leg brace he's back to swooping down from above and traversing the field of battle with supernatural ease.

In another scene, Jonathan Crane (The Scarecrow) makes a cameo, but doesn't behave at all according to his previously established character or scarecrow persona.

Although the film does very well within the limitations needlessly imposed on itself, I still sensed that the entire experience was "plan B". I believe a more satisfying climax to the trilogy would have featured the Joker or at least Two Face. (Batman survived that fall and was jogging away soon after. Why couldn't Two Face have pulled through in critical condition and been kept hidden away somewhere as part of Jim Gordan's lie?) Chris Nolan squeezed nearly all the potential he could out of Bane's character, but Bane just isn't near the catalyst for storytelling that The Joker or Two Face are.

There are a number of scattered themes worth talking about in this movie. Lying, self-sacrifice, human depravity, and probably a few more that don't come to mind. But none of these themes were consistently given enough of the spotlight to stay with me beyond the scenes in which they were present.

"The Dark Knight Rises" is a very good film, and the drama and story alone may make it a great one for you. But if you are hoping for a "Batman movie" to close out a "Batman trilogy", prepare for this one to fall short of its potential in noticeable ways.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language

Quality: 8.5/10

Relevance: 6.0/10

Listen to this review this weekend on The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why The Joker Is Not Featured In "The Dark Knight Rises"

As the Joker hung upside-down at the end of The Dark Knight, he told Batman "I think we're destined to do this forever". The implication was that the writers expected to bring him back for the next Batman movie. After all, he is the ultimate villain for Batman. How could they not bring him front and center for the climax of this trilogy? And yet, Bane and Catwoman take his slot in The Dark Knight Rises instead. Why?

I should say, first off, that what follows is an attempt to read Christopher Nolan's mind. Mental telepathy is not a spiritual gift, and so my attempts at deducing Nolan's thoughts are just that. So give all of this as little or as much weight as you like.

That said, I'm going to tell you why I think Christopher Nolan is leaving (to the best of my knowledge before seeing the movie) Batman's ultimate nemesis, the Joker, out of the climax of this Batman trilogy. (And while I'm at it, why don't I try to read the minds of The Academy and determine in part why it was that Heath Ledger won the Oscar after he died.)

It may seem obvious why the Joker isn't the featured villain in The Dark Knight Rises. Heath Ledger passed away shortly after filming The Dark Knight. His performance in the film won the Oscar that year. The common sentiment seemed to be that any Joker performance by any actor in the universe would fall short of Ledger's performance, or that not re-casting was in some way "respectful" to Heath Ledger and his passing.

Hold that thought and rewind a bit to Batman Begins.

In Batman Begins Rachael Dawes tells Bruce Wayne, "It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you." Bruce later returns these words to her before jumping from a roof to engage in some major Batman awesomeness. These words become something of a philosophical slogan for the first movie.

But this idea, as presented in the movie, is about more than just differentiating one person from another. It has a moral context. A value-laden context. Rachael first says these words to Bruce after he tries to explain that he is more than the shallow playboy he appears to be. He doesn't want Rachael to think he is lacking in virtue. He wants to be valuable to her, and this is why he tries to defend his character.

"I am more", he says to her. The implication being that she thinks he is "less". Bruce is not trying to convince Rachael that he is an apple instead of an orange. He wants her to think he is better than she thinks he is. Why? For the same reason we all want to be thought well of. We want our lives to be significant in some way and to be recognized for their significance. More than that, we attach great value to significance. We fall into the trap of believing that greater significance equals greater worth.

This is why Rachael's response could be argued to express a philosophy that breeds hopelessness when applied to our lives. She essentially says, "You have to behave better if you want to have greater significance. You have to accomplish more if you want to have more value."

But are we defined by what we do? Is it our actions that give us worth? If this is true, than those with healthy minds but completely paralyzed bodies are of no worth and no significance, since they are unable to "do" anything. Infants, the unborn and the mentally disabled or insane are likewise "worthless" in this view.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that "what we do is one indicator of who we are", rather than being the creator of who we are.

What does this have to do with Heath Ledger and the absence of the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises?

Given that Christopher Nolan helped write the script for Batman Begins, I wouldn't be surprised if he agreed with the statement "It's what we do that defines us". And this belief on his part would explain why the Joker was not re-cast for the third Nolan Batman movie.

When people die, we feel a strong desire to acknowledge their worth. If Heath Ledger's worth was based on his accomplishments, it's possible some of his worth would be diminished or made relatively smaller if another actor played the part of the Joker in the next movie and did just as well or better.

You may disagree with me, and I can't prove this, but I believe we want to assign worth to people who die so that we can comfort ourselves with the belief that "whoever is in charge of judging us after we die, they will surely judge so-and-so well because of what they accomplished in life". And since the deceased no longer have any way of performing actions that will establish their worth, we magnify and draw attention to the things they accomplished before they died. This is why eulogies highlight the good and leave out the bad. This is also what, I believe, tipped the scales in Heath Ledger's favor as the academy determined who would win the Oscar that year.

I believe that Christopher Nolan and others want to honor and assign significance to Heath Ledger, but they try to do so the wrong way. It is not Heath Ledger's wonderful performance as The Joker that makes his life significant. It's not the sum of all of his creative work that gives his life meaning or worth. It's not even the love he had for those closest to him that affirms his value in the cosmic economy.

Heath Ledger is immensely valuable because he was created to bear the image of the infinite and perfect God of the universe. He was made, not to serve his own small purposes, but to serve the purposes of God, which are higher and better and of more significance than any other epic quests we can invent to occupy our time. Heath Ledger was made to live forever, joined to the unfathomable creator of everything that ever was, is or will be. He is loved by the most incomprehensibly wonderful being in existence, and countless millenia from now I believe that will still be what he is most known and recognized for.

It is not what we DO that defines us. It is not our EFFORTS that give us value. We are valuable because, for reasons we may never understand, God values us. The most profound, mysterious and wonderful truth can be summed up in childish song. "Jesus loves me. This I know. (How? Why? Truth be told I have no idea. But I believe it...) For the Bible tells me so."

Monday, July 16, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 25:13-26:1

The verses we looked at last time reminded me that when God says something will happen, we don't have to wonder if it will or not.

Even so, the wheels weren't turning too quickly for Paul. He had plenty of time cooling his heels under house arrest while Festus entertained the young Jewish king, Agrippa (son of the Herod Agrippa who died in Acts chapter 12) and his sister, Bernice. Although the Sanhedrin were the religious leaders of Israel, they still answered to a national king of their own (who himself answered to Rome). And it was common for fellow rulers to visit each other when someone took office.

Festus took the opportunity to explain the situation to Agrippa and get his input, since he was having trouble figuring out exactly how to present this case in writing to Caesar. After hearing some of the details, Agrippa decided that he would like to hear Paul himself, which he did the next day. (25:13-22)

Festus held a formal gathering, though not a trial, for the Jewish King Agrippa to hear Paul's case first-hand.

Jewish kings at this time controlled the temple treasury and could even appoint a high priest. Agrippa would have had a thorough understanding of both Jewish and Roman culture and law. So he was ideal as an advisor to Festus in this case. Festus hoped that by the end of it all, Agrippa would be able to help him clarify exactly what the charges against Paul were that Caesar was to make a judgment on. (25:23-27)

Rather than launch into a complete look at Paul's defense this time, I want to save that for next week and focus briefly on a small detail that caught my attention and ended up speaking very strongly to me.

Paul stretches out his hand as he begins his defense, a common rhetorical gesture of his time and culture. One small example of the way Paul endeavored to speak to people in ways that were the most meaningful to them. Once again, Paul brings all of his strengths and sensitivites to the table as he presents his case. He is not simply spouting off about what he believes. Nor is he watering down his beliefs to avoid offending others. He is communicating in a way that is truthful, respectful and that takes into account the way his listeners think. (v.1)

We see it again in verse 14 when Paul mentions a Greek expression Jesus used when speaking to him, (which wasn't mentioned in previous accounts of this story but would be relevant to Paul's Roman audience here). We also see it in the general apologetic tone of his defense, which focuses on logic and reason, elements valued by ancient Roman courts even more than reliable witness testimony.

These aspects of Paul's speaking here shouldn't be overlooked. Many of us geeks are very used to living in our own worlds, absorbed in our own thoughts rather than considering how others may view things. One of my guilty pleasures is to see what kinds of reactions I can get by not conforming to normal expectations and even being a little unexpectedly "weird" just to see what kinds of strange looks I can get. And there's nothing wrong with letting your geek flag fly now and then. But I have to ask myself how often I try to meet people closer to where they're coming from.

Even if it means doing things that are brain-numbingly mundane now and then (like the game of Rummy I played at a game night a few months ago, despite the awesome stack of zombie-killing, orc-slaying, alien-blasting board games I brought along for the night), taking time to consider where others are coming from, how they think about things, can mean the difference between real, meaningful, helpful relationships, and brief and pointless interactions that serve only our momentary interests. Paul was a master of "meeting people where they were at", and we can learn a lot from his example.

My wife heard the expression once, "be interestED, not interestING", and it's one that I've found to be challenging and helpful as I learn to connect with others better.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Brave Review, Listener-Created Episode (SBU Podcast)

Friday, July 13, 2012 2:26 PM

A special Listener-Created Episode, featuring a review of the animated fantasy movie, "Brave"!



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Direct Download-

Spirit Blade Special Edition Commentary, Part Three!


Part 3 of my commentary for "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" is available now!

Is Spirit Blade "preachy"? Why does it present the Gospel so strongly and how do I feel about the potential "preachiness" of Spirit Blade? Plus, a look at how I choose and utilize musical scoring!

Direct Download-

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

30% Off Downloads!

Now through July 31st, don't miss out on the big summer download sale happening at!

Our premiere audio dramas, Spirit Blade and Spirit Blade: Dark Ritual are just $6.99 each!
Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream is only $3.49! You can also get our song bundles for just $3.49 each!

But the sale only lasts until the end of this month, so don't put it off! Visit our online store right now!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Seeking Producer For SBUA Audio Dramas

This summer I'm taking time to adjust my schedule and leverage my future work hours better. Part of that involves looking for a Producer to take over much of what my role has been in The Spirit Blade Underground Alliance as it pertains to audio dramas.

The role of Producer that I am looking to fill mostly involves being in regular contact with the directors of any audio dramas in production, getting progress reports, encouraging them and asking about how they can help.

This role doesn't require any knowledge of audio mixing. It's primarily about keeping people motivated and moving forward. It requires a weekly e-mail to project directors (there are currently 3 projects in production, which is more than usual) as well as follow-up e-mails to any responses.

The role of Producer is strongly supported by me. A Producer can e-mail, call, or text me with questions any time. Any questions or topics a Producer doesn't feel equipped to address can be forwarded to me.

Again, this isn't a role requiring audio mixing knowledge of any kind. It needs someone who is humble, good with people (via e-mail anyway) and who can be organized and consistent about contacting people in a project, or coordinating connections between people involved in a project. (Such as CCing both a director and a new actor and "introducing them" to each other, or other similar "social/organizational" e-mails.)

For more information, please e-mail me at:

I'd love to get this position filled as soon as possible so that the audio dramas in production now (which have slowed a bit due to my time budgeting) can get back on track and out into everyone's ears!



Friday, July 6, 2012

Sound Design Session For SBUA Audio Drama

Check out this video made by Jaron Belboda as he works on mixing audio for The Spirit Blade Underground Alliance audio drama "Voyages Of The USS Sasquatch"!

Go check out the audio dramas produced already by The Spirit Blade Underground Alliance, or find out how you can get involved!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (Movie Review)

I'm a big comic book nerd. I loved the original Spider-Man trilogy (even most of the third one) and own almost all of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic books in either trade paperback or single issue format. When I heard Sam Raimi and company were done making their Spider-Man flicks, I figured the property would eventually be re-launched. But I didn't think it would happen so soon. And even though the trailers I saw looked very promising, I sat down to watch The Amazing Spider-Man ready to be disappointed, but still hopeful.

The movie re-tells Spider-Man's origin story, but with a few details re-worked to keep things fresh. Additionally, a mystery involving Peter Parker's parents (say that five times fast) lies at the foundation of this new movie franchise. The movie pulls a number of concepts from Marvel's "Ultimate" version of Spider-Man. (The Marvel "Ultimate" universe is an alternate version of their main universe that has been in publication for over 10 years.) Gwen Stacy is Peter's love interest, with no signs of Mary Jane anywhere. And instead of J. Jonah Jameson barking at Peter, Gwen's father, a police Captain, serves as an antagonist for both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Peter is also a science wiz and uses mechanical web-shooters that he designed himself, rather than shooting organic webbing from out of his body.

There is still plenty of room for, and even foreshadowing of, the Daily Bugle, Norman Osborne and other characters and ideas that movie fans would recognize, but the producers seem to be holding those things on the back burner for now. The changes and alternate ideas all still work, and are just as faithful to Spider-Man's comic book roots as the original trilogy. This film simply emphasizes different portions of Spider-Man lore.

The story is also much more grounded in emotional drama than any of the previous films. And in general, the performances are stronger, and taken more seriously. It's not that the movie is emotionally "dark", even though it is often more dark visually. But it does give time and effort to presenting characters worth caring about. As a result I found myself welling up with tears more than once. The film offers far more quality drama than we have a right to expect from this film genre, and hopefully it will raise the bar in this area for future superhero movies.

The downside of grounding the movie so well is ending up with a literally "grounded" Spider-Man movie. Although the CGI Spider-Man looks better than ever, the acrobatic action never really opens up and cuts loose when compared to any of the previous films. Make no mistake, there is some great action in this movie. But after three movies of crazy, impossibly wild Spider-Man action, this Spider-Man doesn't seem to jump as high or dodge as skillfully as the Spider-Man we're used to at the movies.

We also don't see Spider-Man in full costume until nearly an hour into this two hour and fifteen minute flick. And even in the second half there are multiple "Spider-Man scenes" in which Peter is not in costume. So be prepared to see the suit less than you're used to, and know that the action will also not be as big as it has been previously.

In terms of worthwhile spiritual or moral themes, you of course have the classic "responsibility" theme. Uncle Ben tells Peter that his father believed everyone has a moral responsibility to help others if they are able to. And we see Peter switch from an attitude seeking revenge to one seeking to help those in need. It's more subtle than it could or maybe should have been, but the theme is there.

Another moment that blipped on my philosophical radar was when Aunt May, in an effort to encourage Peter to go after a girl he doesn't think he's "good for", tells Peter that "if there is one thing you are, it's good." While relatively speaking this may be true, Peter also selfishly ignores responsibility several times, takes his anger out on others, and rolls his eyes at his authorities at school. If I had to pick someone in the Marvel universe to call "good", I'd go with Captain America. This Spider-Man, though well-meaning, is a bit self-absorbed.

Now before I get hate mail for sounding like a judgmental prude, my point isn't that Peter Parker isn't a "good" person. My point is that there really are no "good" people, and I think it's kind of odd and presumptuous that we so often tell each other and ourselves that we are "good" or even "basically good". None of us really have the objective perspective from which to make that determination. Technically speaking, we ought to leave that kind of labeling for God to do.

Of course all of this is likely over-analysis, given that the spiritual and moral themes of the movie never really stand out more than the characters themselves. This is not a movie trying to say anything. It's a movie about characters that aims to make us care about them.

If this had been the first Spider-Man movie I'd ever seen, I'd be blown away. (The effects are leaps and bounds above those first CGI shots of the original Spider-Man movie.) But all entertainment art is graded based on what we've experienced before. And while this movie would have been an easy 10 a decade ago, I've come to expect a larger visual experience when it comes to Spider-Man. Maybe my opinion of it will improve over time as those expectations fade. (That was certainly the case for me with Batman Begins.) At the very least I think it is a great movie to start a new franchise with, and viewers will be grateful so much time was spent on character development in this movie when they are watching its sequel. But for now I'd have to say a better title for this flick would be "The Very Good Spider-Man". It falls a bit short of "Amazing".

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence

Quality: 8.5/10

Relevance: 7.0/10

What Do These Scores Mean?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Website Design Meeting/No Podcast

Looks like my "Super-size Board Game Episode" of the podcast last weekend was a little too super-sized. I'm all out of server space with Libsyn until the 10th of this month.

The good news is, I'm having my first website design meeting tonight, getting us ever closer to a new website, which will include its own hosting for the podcast! That means no more issues with Libsyn's limited service packages, increased audio quality for the podcast and decreased costs for my overall web hosting needs.

No time estimate on any of that yet, but changing our hosting will be step one, meaning that we can get the podcast switched over and given a face-lift as soon as possible.

Honestly, this little hiccup is a great excuse for me to not have to put a show together this week. I could really use the break right now. But for those who were really looking forward to my Amazing Spider-man review, have no fear! The written version will go up this week, as soon as possible, at The Spirit Blade Undergound! (I'm seeing it with my wife tomorrow!)

Next week, be sure to come back to the podcast for our special Listener Created Episode! I've been really excited about the idea since it was suggested to me, and have gotten even more excited as I've received the content for the episode. Don't miss out! This one is made by and for you guys!

Finally, the weekend of July 20th I plan to be back in the monitor room with a review of The Dark Knight Rises. I also plan to share the audio version of my Amazing Spider-man review on that show and pit the two movies against each other. (Even though in truth, I think The Avengers will remain super-hero king of the summer.)

So stay tuned for my Amazing Spider-man written review, and then have a great 4th of July!