Archive for July, 2012

It is a gross understatement to say that the Harry Potter story is popular.  The books and films are a worldwide fantasy craze.  The magical world of Harry Potter has its own theme park and has even become part of the fabulous Lego video game series.  Although Harry Potter mania may have begun to die down a bit recently, the story has become a cultural icon that is here to stay.  The series has had such an impact on the world that J.K Rowling and Lord Voldemort were included in the opening ceremonies of this year’s Summer Olympics in London along side stories like Peter Pan and Mary Poppins.

Since the release of the first book (1997), Christian reactions have run the gamut of perspectives.  Some Christians have welcomed this coming of age story of an underprivileged wizard as nothing more than an innocent children’s fantasy tale.  (I know one family who reads the series every year.)  Other followers of Christ have taken the opposite extreme – condemning the books because they involve witchcraft and wizardry. (I talked to one person who believes that Harry Potter is “from the pit of Hell!”)  It is obvious that there is some disagreement on the subject.

As a pastor, I am often asked for my (hopefully biblical) perspective on controversial cultural issues.  I read the first book as the story began to gain popularity, shared some of my concerns, and personally lost interest in the series.  I wasn’t a fan.  I notice some troubling ideas in the narrative (I will share these in another post) and quickly boarded the “Anti-Harry Potter Express” – cased closed.

As the books gained momentum and led to the making of the motion pictures, my interest was piqued again.  Harry Potter mania was in full swing at the time.  While I didn’t want to spend my time reading all the books, I figured I could at least watch the films and try to figure out why this story was such a cultural hit.  So over the years, I have watched all the movies and even now have read the books.  As I watched the story unfold, I found that my perspective on Harry Potter began to change.

It was not that some of the troubling themes were no longer a concern for me.  They still are, as you will see.  Rather, what happened was that I began to see the series as a whole, instead of just a mere collection of individual stories.  I began to  notice the “meta-narrative” (big story) that Rowling was telling.  While there are themes that need to be addressed (as with any story), I have come to a place of repentance concerning the saga of Harry Potter.  I have disembarked from the “Anti-HP Express,” developed a much deeper appreciation for the story and would now even consider myself a fan of the series.

While I am sure that the Christian debate over Harry Potter will continue to rage on (I am under no illusion that I will stop it with a couple posts), I think that my personal experience with the series may help to illustrate the way in which Christians should approach cultural critique.  Let’s call it the “The Baby and the Bathwater” approach.  Over the next two Tuesday posts…I will consider each of these themes in relationship to the Harry Potter Series.  It is my desire that this approach will be helpful for Christians watching any film.

Next Week – “The Bathwater”

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snap·shot – a brief appraisal, summary, or profile.

Every Monday we hope to provide our readers with snapshots of films being released for the upcoming weekend. This will be a brief summary of films that will assist our readers in the area of discernment. Instead of searching other sites and reading lengthy articles, it’s our hope to provide a concise list of all the films of the weekend in one consolidated post. If you wonder why we don’t list the MPAA ratings, please click here.

Assassin’s Bullet – The fact that it stars Christian Slater should tell you a lot. Genre – It stars Christian Slater; content – are you still reading this?

Total Recall – A man suspects he’s a spy after visiting a company that plants fake memories in your mind. Genre – action, sci-fi, thriller; content – violence, language, brief nudity, and sexual content.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days – Greg has great plans for the summer, but when those plans get changed his summer won’t be the same. Genre – comedy, family; content – slapstick violence, rude humor & language.

When you read the synopsis of an alien invasion threatening to wipe out planet earth, one may assume the next Will Smith film is being released in theaters. However, when it’s Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill teaming up against the aliens the film goes in a different direction.

Not only does the film take a comedic approach to fighting aliens, it also adds a bunch of reluctant heroes doing the fighting. Some may think that Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill aren’t all that reluctant since they proactively organized the neighborhood watch to protect their fellow suburbanites, but their motivation isn’t that heroic. Their motivation actually stems from a lack of motivation, and, sadly, it’s all too common among men these days.

Evan (Stiller), Bob (Vaughn), and Franklin (Hill) organize a neighborhood watch as a way to get out of their responsibilities at home. They are tired of the work that families require, so they decide to create some work to get them out of work. It isn’t until they create this neighborhood watch that they stumble upon an alien plan to destroy earth.

This film sounds like an R-rated Ghostbusters if you ask me. Both are stories of four guys fighting against supernatural forces, plus one of them (Richard Ayoade) has hair like Egon. I’ve seen the work of Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill and I have to say, those main characters are hilarious. I know they are talented, but I’m not so sure I’m going to watch The Watch. Stiller was quoted in the USA Today saying that the original script for this film wasn’t nasty enough. It was PG and he wanted an edgy R. With these three well-known actors you can rest assured there will be laughs, but the laughs-to-filth ratio will be something you need to wrestle with.

What I wanted to consider today is the premise of the film. As I said, we have the main characters shirking their responsibilities, which is all-too-common among men these days.

Even though some may disagree, if we say that these main characters take up a hobby that pulls them away from their family one may see this more easily. Instead of starting a neighborhood watch, some surf the Internet, play golf, watch football, go hunting, play video games, blog (ouch) or just sit and watch television, but we know men can often ‘check-out’ of their calling to their family.

Again, I have not seen the film, but the premise states that these men started ‘the watch’ to get out of responsibility. These characters are affirming what we know to be true – it is hard to be a family-man. Our work is not our profession. Our work begins when we pull back into the driveway sometime after 5 p.m. Our home is the place we want to let our guard down and just have some peace, but our home is the place where we must get our game-face on. Our calling is clearly laid out for us in Deuteronomy 6:5-9:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

We could basically sum this up as Christ does by saying, “Love God and love others.” (Matt. 22:34-40) We are to be enamored with Jesus Christ, first, and then tell others about him. Applying this as the work for fathers, be in love with Jesus and tell your family about Him. Since we know this is our primary role, we can rest assured that the world, our flesh and the devil will be making war on this, therefore, we must live out the authority Christ places on us. That authority? Die to self and serve others. Wasn’t this what Christ did with the authority His Father gave Him? “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you (Father) will.” (Matt. 26:39b)

As Kevin DeYoung states in his book, Just Do Something (I don’t have the book in front of me so I don’t have the direct quote and page), Women don’t just want a man that’s willing to die for them, but one who is willing to live for them. DeYoung is not saying that we are to make our wives or families an idol, he is saying that we must put them before ourselves. The death we are called to die is a daily death to self-desire. That is, what I want comes after the needs of my wife and children. They come before me.

So maybe the foursome heroes of The Watch learn their primary responsibilities through self-preservation, we’ll have to see. Whether or not, it does illustrate the truth that men have a high calling and and we must be watchful that we don’t neglect it.

On A Personal Note

Posted: July 25, 2012 by jperritt in Uncategorized

Hello Reel Thinkers! As you may have noticed, this week has been a bit unique. Our posts have been late and today’s usual post (Wednesday’s Weekend Poll) did not occur. Reason being, is because of the funeral of my wife’s grandfather. We have been on the roads between Mississippi and Pennsylvania since last Friday and we won’t get home until tomorrow. All of this to say, my posts for tomorrow and Friday will be delayed. I hope to make up for it by possibly posting on Saturday or having some extra posts next week, but we’ll have to see. I love blogging at Reel Thinking and have been encouraged by so many of you who check out the blog, therefore, I felt it was important to notify you of the loss. However, I also knew you’d understand that my family comes before this blog (way before), so I appreciate your understanding.

The Sunset Limited

Posted: July 24, 2012 by jperritt in Drama
Tags: , ,

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I’m somewhat baffled that I haven’t heard more talk about The Sunset Limited, especially in Christian circles. Maybe there has been talk about this film and I’ve just missed out on it. It could be that since it was an HBO film this kept it under the radar, however, the fact that Cormac McCarthy wrote the play should keep the spotlight on it a bit more.

It’s easy to see that this film was designed as a play, since there are two characters who remain in a single room throughout. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed) and Samuel L. Jackson. We find out that White (Jones) has attempted suicide and Black (Jackson) saved him. We also find out that White didn’t want to be rescued.

White is a man who sees humanity through very pessimistic eyes. So much so, he has come to the conclusion that his own life isn’t worthy anything. What’s the point? There’s nothing he believes in, except for the Sunset Limited (the subway train that was to take his life).

Black, on the other hand, does see much to live for. Although he agrees about the state of mankind, God’s grace bestowed in his life has led him to bestow it to others. He believes in God, the Bible (except for his thoughts on original sin), and Jesus. He is a former inmate who went to prison for murder.

Part-way into the film White, who Black often refers to as the ‘Professor’, continues to ask Black for a prison story. He wants to hear about the gritty life that Black once lived. When White agrees to listen to more of Black’s evangelistic conversation, as long as the prison story is told, Black finally concedes. Black then tells a very graphic inmate quarrel, where he beat a fellow-inmate to the point of blinding him and leaving him mentally handicapped. Black was attacked by this inmate, so he was also brutally stabbed multiple times – 280 stitches to be exact. As he laid in the hospital bed in prison, he heard a voice that said, “If it were not for the grace of God, you wouldn’t be here.” This was the point of his conversion.

White, in his typical cynical tone, said, “[This is a story] about a fellow inmate that became a crippled, one-eyed, half-wit so you could find God.” White is not only suspicious about his story, but suspicious about a God who could curse one man to bring salvation to another.

However, I mention this story because this is exactly what God did for me. I was a murderer. I was a criminal, a criminal who, ‘still likes the music’ of his past, as Black says. And God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become a cripple for me. His Son was beaten until He couldn’t walk, was mocked, the punishment my sins deserved where laid on Him. In White’s cynicism he hit the nail on the head. Salvation is about one Man being cursed, so the guilty could be redeemed.

Although The Sunset Limited has some very rough language, it is one I would recommend. It is a film that may require multiple viewings. So much theology is mixed with rapid-fire banter, that I sometimes found myself missing some excellent lines. It will cause you to think and will challenge you in many ways and raises many difficult questions of life in a fallen world. Watching films like The Sunset Limited will assist to sharpen us in the theology we cling to.

Snapshots

Posted: July 23, 2012 by jperritt in Snapshots
Tags: ,

snap·shot – a brief appraisal, summary, or profile.

Every Monday we hope to provide our readers with snapshots of films being released for the upcoming weekend. This will be a brief summary of films that will assist our readers in the area of discernment. Instead of searching other sites and reading lengthy articles, it’s our hope to provide a concise list of all the films of the weekend in one consolidated post. If you wonder why we don’t list the MPAA ratings, please click here.

The Watch – In order to shirk their responsibilities as fathers, a group of men start a neighborhood watch and find themselves in the middle of an alien invasion. Genre – action, sci-fi, comedy; content – sexual content, language, and violence.

Step Up Revolution – When a neighborhood is threatened by a new development, Sean, the leader of a dance gang, knows what he must do to stop it…dance!! Genre – dance; content – very bad acting, aggressive gyrations & a lack of story.

Hype for The Dark Knight Rises began when the credits rolled for its predecessor, The Dark Knight. Critics and fans agreed that The Dark Knight was not only the best comic book movie ever made, but one of the greatest sequels for any genre of film. It has been the most anticipated film of 2012 and already has the record for a midnight showing (I think).

The success of this film, without a doubt, played a factor in director Christopher Nolan’s recent hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. It looks like it is on its way to shattering many more records at the box office, however, the question is, did it live up to the hype? Yes!

My mind is still processing the two hours and forty-five minutes of Bat-action, but it was a well done film and a great ending to the series. While I have some criticisms and disappointments, I really enjoyed it. Check out some random comments/thoughts below, as well as, a theme I enjoyed. I hope to have a second post up on another theme as well – THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

Bane: I was a bit disappointed with this character. I really like Tom Hardy and his acting, but had high hopes for this villain, especially after the Joker. You can’t beat the Joker. Overall Bane was okay, but won’t be viewed as a timeless villain.

The Joker: Christopher Nolan is such an excellent writer/director, I had hoped he would mention something about the Joker in this film. Maybe this was out of respect for the passing of Heath Ledger, but I felt that they could have given this character some closure in the last film.

Catwoman: Selina Kyle/Catwoman didn’t bother me that much. I didn’t see Ann Hathaway pulling this character off, but she did a good job. She provided some great scenes and was able to fight well in high heels.

John Blake: I really liked this character a lot. Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to be an up-and-coming actor and I’ve really enjoyed his other roles. (In case you didn’t mind the spoiler warning, you might want to) I also wasn’t bothered that he was Robin. I thought I would hate Robin and laughed at the idea of bringing Robin into the films, but I think Levitt could pull it off. Some of that will be contingent on the costume. We also need to realize that Robin is part of the Batman series and accept him.

The Ending: I really liked the ending. Like I said, the film was a bit different from what I thought it would be and it was slow at some parts, but the ending switched it into high gear pretty fast. I liked the closure they gave between Alfred and Bruce, as well as, the great action sequences with Batman’s newest toy ‘The Bat’.

One theme I enjoyed came from one of the film’s most emotional scenes. However, I must digress a bit in order to discuss. One aspect that bothered me about The Dark Knight was the constant concealing of the truth. Batman’s true identity was concealed, so was Harvey Dent’s, and Alfred burns the letter from Rachel Dawes – there may have been a few other moments of concealed truth. However, The Dark Knight Rises brings the truth to the surface, which is another aspect of the film I enjoyed.

Not only does TDKR bring the truth to the surface, it also shows the effects of concealing the truth. The powerful scene between Alfred and Bruce is Alfred’s confession to destroying the letter from Rachel. Alfred knows the truth of this letter will destroy Bruce, but he also knows this truth can bring him life. He also knows that the truth will most likely destroy their relationship, one that Alfred had since Bruce’s birth, but is willing to sacrifice that if it means it will save his life.

This made me think about the Truth of the gospel. There have been many times in my life when I knew speaking the truth in love meant making people angry. I have lost friends in my life and moved people to hate me, because I knew the truth must be revealed. I guess that’s why this scene resonated with me.

The truth is a powerful thing. And when we speak about the ultimate Truth of the gospel, it’s an offensive thing, it always will be. And I’m convicted that far too often I protect my relationships with people by avoiding the disclosure of Truth. In other words, I don’t show true love to people.

Alfred showed that he truly loved Bruce by his willingness to sacrifice their relationship in order to speak the truth. We must follow that example. Each of us currently have people in our lives who don’t know the Truth of the gospel. Why aren’t we telling it to them? What’s the fear that’s keeping us from doing so? Let’s lay this earthly life on the altar in order that those we love may know the life that’s truly life.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [John 14:6]

Batman Marathon

Posted: July 19, 2012 by jperritt in Action, Drama
Tags: , ,

As The Dark Knight Rises opens at local theaters, the hype will soon descend. Now that all the movie-goers have a chance to see the Capped-Crusader, the mystery and hype over the last several years will soon be disappearing, but not yet!

Today, along with many of the youth at Pear Orchard, I will be participating in something many across the world will be doing – a Batman marathon. We will be gathering in our youth room watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, prior to seeing the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. I have heard of various theaters hosting Batman marathons, which affirms we won’t be alone in this unique form of fellowship.

However, our marathon might somewhat differ from others taking place. I will be highlighting some of the biblical parallels in the two previous films, as well as, raising some possible parallels in The Dark Knight Rises. Now most of those parallels from TDKR will be speculation, because I intentionally didn’t read anything about it (I hardly watched the trailers). Below I have highlighted some possible talking points, be sure and check out my other two posts on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, that will speak in a bit more detail.

One last thing; I hope to post on The Dark Knight Rises Friday or Saturday. Since I’ll be seeing the movie at midnight, I will be pretty tired so the post may be somewhat late. However, be sure to check back at the blog or via twitter/Facebook to be notified of the post.

Here are some themes to watch for:

The Will of the Father – Most everyone knows that Thomas & Martha Wayne (Bruce’s parents) were murdered in Batman Begins. Their death motivates Bruce to fight against corruption. Similar to Jesus’ primary focus being on the fulfillment of his Father’s will, Bruce often mentions his father’s will when speaking of Gotham and its restoration.

The Trinity – I’m not saying this is perfect by any means, but I’ve often noticed that Christian Bale’s acting is overlooked, because he’s basically playing three roles. He plays the Bruce Wayne we see behind closed doors, the arrogant Bruce Wayne the public sees, and Batman. Batman is clearly the savior of the film and he’s three persons…it may be a stretch but something I’ve noticed.

Sacrifice – Bruce Wayne sacrifices his riches and reputation for Gotham. If you remember, his house is burned and he acts like a jerk to his guests at his party in order to save their lives. Christ left his throne of infinite riches and hung on a cross in between two criminals.

Choosing Poverty – Bruce Wayne chooses poverty, leaving Wayne Manor and his possessions. Jesus Christ entered into poverty by choosing a body that could bleed and a life of pain and brokenness.

Becoming a Curse – Although Batman is a hero attempting to save Gotham from destruction, he is misunderstood and labeled a villain. Christ, too, was a hero people misunderstood. He became a curse for His people to redeem them from the curse.

Harvey Dent/Two-Face – This character could represent the warfare inside all believers. As Christians, our old self, or flesh, has been crucified with Christ, but it still makes war within us.

Resurrection – I don’t know much about The Dark Knight Rises, but I know that the story takes place 8 years after the second film, and I believe Batman has been in hiding since then. One could say that Gotham city crucified their Savior, but now he is resurrecting (hence the title of the third film) to fight crime.

Darkness – The theme of darkness and corruption runs through each of these films. This concerns many Christians, and rightly so. However, this is an accurate depiction of the world we live in. Since we live in a broken, fallen, dark world, we must not be afraid of accurate portrayals of that darkness. Darkness can actually assist us to better understand holiness. Please read this quote from Dr. Russell Moore:

But just as dangerous as darkness-reveling, I think, are novels that are darkness-avoiding. Flannery O’Connor’s writing is quite dark, but it is so because she believes in the Devil, and in the Fall, and in humanity as it is. Novels that avoid the horror of human existence in this time between Eden and New Jerusalem can reinforce a Christian’s tendency to Pelagianism. The Christian gospel isn’t “clean” and “safe” and “family-friendly.” It comes to its narrative climax at a bloody Place of the Skull and in a borrowed grave.

Again, here are some themes I can remember from the film. It’s been some time since I’ve seen these films, so I may repost some other thoughts after watching them again. Enjoy all the hype this movie has to offer, but don’t forget to watch it through the lens of Scripture.

Our super-hero week continues with thoughts about The Dark Knight Rises.  Most everyone is anxiously anticipating the midnight showing tomorrow (or Friday depending on how you look at it).  With the third, and final, installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman being released, this caused me to reflect on all the previous Batmans.  I loved the 1966 Batman when I was young…very young.  I also loved Tim Burton’s first take on the Capped Crusader, so I wondered what each of you think.  Is Nolan’s Batman the best?  Take some time and let us hear from you.

Like most of the film critics out there, I too questioned the need for another reboot of the Spiderman franchise just ten years after the 2002 Tobey Maguire latest rendition.  And, I really didn’t think I needed to watch the story of how Peter Parker became Spiderman all over again either.  So, if it wasn’t for a visit from grandpa over the July 4th holiday, our family probably would have had to wait for the DVD.  But, as a lifelong Spider-Man devotee, I can honestly say, I was very glad to see The Amazing Spider-Man in the theater.  It was well worth it.

Before we delve into one of the major worldview themes, here’s a few of my random observations:  I definitely liked this “origin” story better than the 2002 film.  Andrew Garfield was a darker, less whiny Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire–even if he reminded me too much of the positively dreadful Hayden Christensen in Star Wars II.  I also liked Emma Stone better than Kristen Dunst, as well as the relationship between Peter and Gwen.  Denis Leary always plays a great cop.  Rhys Ifans was a fairly dull bad guy.  I teared up (and possibly even cried) four different times– I don’t remember doing that in 2002.  The Amazing Spider-Man was definitely more emotionally intense than its predecessor.  Overall, I would have to say it was a better Spider-Man film.

As is the case with most superhero movies, there are plenty of political and social issues we could talk about.  Scientific research is used and abused to try to heal people from disease.  The evolution of the species is put forth as truth, with man needing to actually evolve more to become as strong and virulent as the animals.  The themes of revenge and justice are also present.  And, there is even the question of should we keep promises or is it better to break them.  You can definitely have plenty of good discussions with your children on these items alone.

But the best theme in The Amazing Spider-Man has to do with calling and responsibility.  In the film, we are re-introduced to a Peter Parker who is truly a lost soul–an orphan, an outsider, an apathetic high schooler, a loser.   The death of his parents is later compounded by the death of his Uncle Ben.  His uncle’s death is the last straw, turning Peter’s deep-seated anger into rage and revenge.  His newly found superpowers now give him the opportuntity to fight back against bullies and seek the man who killed his uncle.  It actually takes the saving a young boy (who was a picture of himself) for Peter to grab hold of his calling to rescue and protect people from the evil of this world.

The pivotal scene in the movie is when Peter decides he needs to go after the evil mutant Lizard to essentially save all the citizens of New York City.  While in the arms of his Gwen his girlfriend, she tells Peter: “That isn’t your job!” (to defeat the Lizard).  Peter asks her a rhetorical question in response: “What if it is?”  Peter now possesses the strong sense of calling and responsibility that his Uncle Ben tried to teach him before he died.  In a world where most people think “it’s not my job,” Peter knew that it was his job to save others from certain death and destruction.  [By the way, even Gwen’s dad, a New York City police captain, also tries to convince Peter that it wasn’t Spider-Man’s job.  Thankfully, Peter doesn’t listen to him either!]

And so, we have a picture of Christ in The Amazing Spider-Man.  Jesus knew His job, His calling, and his responsibility.  He fully and wholeheartedly embraced it–recognizing and understanding the ultimate violence, pain, and shame.  And, He perfectly completed His job as Savior of His people on the cross.  No one else could have done His job for mankind!

But we also have a picture of the Christian in The Amazing Spider-Man.  All Christians are called to be used by God to save those who are lost and under the control of the Kingdom of Darkness.  It’s tempting to think that this is the work of the “superhero” Christians–the pastors, evangelists, missionaries, authors, etc.  But these full-time gospel ministers are not the only ones called to the job of sharing the only gospel that delivers from evil.  Every believer must embrace his or her call to save the lost by the power of the Spirit.

Now, we’re not given spidey-senses, super spidey-strength, or sticky spidey-hands for wall-walking. Thankfully, we are given something much, much better–the gifts of the Spirit and the armor of God!  These powerful tools given by the Spirit must not be used for selfish gain or just stowed away to avoid trouble.  Gwen’s fearful words (“That’s not your job!”) are not to be bouncing around in our heads as believers.  It is our job!  We are all called to action!  Evil is on the loose all the time, and we are to stand against it.  Praise God that he equips us and is gracious to use us to destroy the works of Satan and advance the Kingdom of God!