“God’s Dead” is a film worth seeing

I have this vague memory as a child of there being some kind of controversy about God being dead, but it didn’t connect to my pre-pubescent mind. If I recall correctly, there were books about it and they even could be found in the Lutheran church which I attended with my family.

This “God is dead” theology passed onto the scene in the mid 20th century and apparently didn’t last long. As I grew up, what replaced it for me was the campus Christian group and the Jesus movement.

So when I read about a new faith-based film called “God’s Not Dead”, I was intrigued. I didn’t even know  that the concept that God might be deceased was an issue these days, especially given the rampant, if erroneous, spirituality of our times.

I had another choice for the cheap matinee-a movie with Kevin Costner about the NFL draft. As a big football fan I was tempted, but Costner is at his best a B actor to me. I have never cared for his stuff.

Speaking of B actors, these populate the cast of “God’s Dead”. Most of them can be seen on television reruns.

For example, there’s Kevin Sorbo, who played Hercules on TV–a show I never watched. Sorbo is the antagonist philosophy professor Jeffery Radisson who decides to make his class hell for freshmen born-again Josh Wheaton. Josh has an appropriate name, as it is also the moniker for a major evangelical university. Billy Graham is an alumnus.

The atheist Radisson tells his students on the first day of class that he wants to skip over the drivel about God, since he doesn’t exist, and requires that they sign a sheet of paper that says God is dead. Josh refuses and Radisson tells him he will fail the course unless he proves that God is alive in three 20 minute lectures.

As Radisson’s Christian girlfriend Mina, tells him, the directive to Josh is rigged. There is no way a freshmen college student is going to outmaneuver an experienced platform teacher like Professor Radisson.

Despite objections from his parent’s and his girlfriend, a young woman he met at his church youth group six years before, Josh decides to accept Radisson’s challenge. He does this after much soul searching in a church, and the counsel of its minister, Pastor Dave. The pastor tells Josh that his lectures are probably the only opportunity these unchurched college students will ever have to hear the gospel.

Sorbo is excellent as Professor Radisson. The actor is himself a person of faith, but he projects an inner rage that lashes out at God in the form of his radical atheism and increasing hostility toward Josh.

Another “B” actor, Dean Cain, is a successful businessman named Mark who like Radisson is a self absorbed jerk. Mark is Mina’s brother. Although Mina is greatly concerned about their failing mother, a Christian woman with Alzheimer’s disease, Mark could care less about her or God.

He does care about his girlfriend Amy, a muckraking Internet blogger, that is until she announces over dinner that she has cancer. Mark’s response is telling. He is angry that Amy has ruined his own celebration that day. Mark has been named a partner at his business.

Amy’s not exactly a paragon of virtue herself. She goes after Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame in one of her unscripted, unannounced, man on the street style interviews. Willies’ testimony foreshadows Amy’s own journey to faith.

“God’s Not Dead” could have been called “Skeptics versus Believers”, as the story’s conflict comes from the battle between Radisson and Josh, and also from lesser fights over faith between other characters.

Amy battles with her own demons. Radisson does so as well, and also begins to have problems in his relationship with Mina, who tells him that she is beginning to feel “unequally yoked” (a biblical phrase which refers to a believer betrothed to an unbeliever).

As  teacher of internationals, I was especially drawn to the character of Ayisha, a Muslim student who comes to faith secretly. The film also portrays the spiritual journey of another international student, Martin Yip from China. Martin is attracted to the message of Joshua in their philosophy course.

Both  Ayisha and Martin alarm their fathers because of their interest in Jesus. In fact, the influence of parents on their children’s spiritual lives is a strong thread in “God’s Not Dead”.

The movie is worth seeing in this day and age of spiritual confusion. It does have its weaknesses. Joshua’s argument with a trained philosophy professor seems simplistic and the result contrived. In addition, Pastor Dave comes across as something of a stereotype and is prone to using the cliche “God is good all the time” with his missionary friend from Africa.

However, the film will encourage the believer in their faith because it does emphasize that although God does seem to be far away in a world of pain, He has not forgotten us and He is alive and well and active in our lives.

 

 

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April 17, 2014 · 3:27 am

The All Too Human Noah

Feeling a bit like someone peeking into a television show he shouldn’t be watching, I went to see the film “Noah” today. I gathered from brief glances at Facebook posts and other media that evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians especially would be none to happy with Hollywood’s portrayal of the patriarch.

My main complaint prior to heading to the cinema was that every time Tinseltown does a “thing” on a biblical character, the actors always speak with something other than an American accent. (Wasn’t Jesus American?)

Sure enough, once I paid my five bucks for the matinee, I began to feel uneasy about the liberties the film was taking with the Bible. Minimally, the screenplay added events that were not included in Genesis or elsewhere in the Scriptures.

I had heard that “Noah” did not include God in the picture. This is not true. He is referred to repeatedly as the Creator. I just didn’t care for how the movie characterized Him,  at least in the beginning.

Giants, who looked like they could have come out of a Transformers flick, except these beings were made of stone, were shown to have stepped in to help mankind after the nasty Creator ditched man.  These rock heads were fallen angels.

Fallen angels in the Scriptures are demons. As I understand it, they aren’t exactly benevolent toward mankind. These massive creatures protect Noah and his family and do the bulk of building  the Ark.

Where the film began to really make me want to head for the exits was when Noah began to seemingly come apart at the seams. He leaves the new heart throb of his son Ham for dead in front of a raging mob and gets it in his head that God really meant the Flood as punishment for not only all of mankind, but for him and his family as well.

SEMI- SPOILER ALERT

Afloat, the wife of Shem discovers she is pregnant, and Noah states he will kill the child if it is female because obviously the Creator meant to wipe out the whole human race for good. Not only does Mrs. Shem have a girl, she has another one, too, i.e. twins.

Noah stands on the deck of the Ark, knife in hand, ready to plunge it into the girls as their mother holds them.  At this point I say to myself, “If he sticks those babies, I’m out of here.”

While the mother screams, Noah leans toward her and the children.  His action is the key scene  of the film. After that I warmed to “Noah” considerably.

The Bible says Noah was a righteous man. It doesn’t say he was perfect. Christians have gotten God wrong throughout history and done some stupid things along the way. Why couldn’t Noah have been a bit off in his theology as well?

The author of Hebrews does say that Noah built the Ark to save his family. God also speaks to Noah verbally in Genesis, but the Creator is shown as distant in the flick.  But who says Noah didn’t have some misconceptions of his role until things developed on the Ark?

“Noah” definitely does a great job of revealing the pressures, stresses and huge responsibility  put on the  family as they worked to  save themselves and other living beings. It’s no wonder Noah went on a bender after the Ark hit landfall. He had had a bad 40 days and 40 nights, and more.

If the viewer can look past the extra-biblical aspects–such as  a descendant of Cain stowing away on the Ark–and instead marvel at the cinematography of the film and the humanness of Noah, they will come away as impressed as I did.

 

 

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A Dad’s Wake-up Call

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David,the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…Matthan the father of Jacob,and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:1-2…15b-16).

Sunday was the first real day of spring after a brutal winter, so I did the normal thing. I took a long walk.

I am fairly new to my town and have done a lot of walking because I do not have a car. But I haven’t seen everything since the actual land area of the city is quite large. Thus, I took a slightly different route over to the college campus where I work in order to further explore. It took me past the high school. 

It’s a pretty large campus for a small city. The school and its fields sit next to the river which flows through the middle of town and divides the mundane downtown from the more lively university area.

As I strolled by the football stadium, boasting a sign giving tribute to state championships in the ’30s and ’40s, I meditated on whether my youngest son would fit in this place. I work 400 miles away from the town where he currently attends high school.

My thought processes made me reflect on my role as a Dad. I never grasped until this day that perhaps one reason God put the genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament was to emphasize the importance of fathers. Some were good and some were bad, but they all influenced  their sons.

To God, even stepdads are important. Joseph was not Jesus’s father. The Holy Spirit was. Yet, God entrusted Joseph, along with his mother, with raising him. However, Jesus also had a close relationship with His birth father, one which He also wants us to have.

Henri Nouwen writes,”Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarized in the words.’know that you are welcome.’  Jesus offers you his most intimate life with the Father. He wants you to know all he knows and to do all he does. He wants his home to be yours. Yes, he wants to prepare a place for you in his Father’s house.” 
 
Last Sunday was the fourth Sunday of Lent and is known in the UK as Mothering Sunday, a day to honor mothers. But for me, it was a day to emphasize the importance of my role as a father. 
 
There is no doubt I have the power to affect my children just because I am their father.  I don’t have to do anything to have an impact in their lives because as their father I will change them in intangible and indirect ways. 
 
 If I actually take direct actions related to my children, my impact will be huge. I can either be a passive Dad and let the power I have just flow willy-nilly, which may result in chaos for them, or I can actually take actions to affect them in positive ways. It’s my choice. 
 
 
 

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Transportation Workers are Throwing Us Under the Bus

I’ve been meaning to write a rant on something for a long time, and it just took a television ad to get the juices flowing. In the commercial, a man is driving down the street in a car that is decorated in a similar fashion to one occupied by newlyweds.

The man is smiling. He looks over and sees two police officers in a squad car and continues to grin. They glare at him. The smile disappears from the man’s face.

It is not big news today that many cops are over-reaching. One infamous case was one in which police officers shot a California man’s dog while he was filming them.

Another more recent situation involved a woman who was arrested for jaywalking in Austin, Texas.  As Jonathan Turley points out, four police officers were involved in “apprehending” Amanda Jo Stephen , who had ear buds on and claimed to have not heard the police yell at her in the street.

A video of Stephen sitting on the ground and crying went viral.  Turley dismisses a pitiful and off-the-mark  apology from the Austin police chief, one in which the chief indicates that “it could have been worse” and that police in other jurisdictions were committing sexual assaults.   The chief called his reference to other police departments a  “poor analogy.”

Turley writes,” The problem with the apology is that it still misses part of the problem. Putting aside the basis for this arrest, everyday and casual abuses are a major problem of police misconduct. This woman was left cuffed and sitting on the ground in public and then arrested and charged.

Four officers participated in the arrest. Arbitrary and over-the-top police enforcement that creates fear of police and a sense of impunity for officers. Then when a chief of police shrugs it off as still better than a rape, it sends a chilling message to citizens and the wrong signal to officers. It is much much worse than a  ‘poor analogy’ in my view.”

While I have not experienced police misbehavior of late, I HAVE began to note a disturbing similar trend with transportation workers. I have had the occasion to fly several times in the last couple of years and I have found that flight attendants are overbearing and will take no guff from anyone.

The commercial produced by an insurance company which features a pig on an airplane being berated by two flight attendants is not too far fetched these days. The ad is supposed to be funny, and as with all humor, there is some truth in the situation portrayed in the ad.

The behavior of TSA employees at airports has been well publicized, also. I admit in my experience that my encounters with them have improved. One fellow at LAX greeted me in very friendly fashion at 6am. However, I did have another occasion in Denver during which a TSA worker made s nasty remark to me which I believe was unwarranted, especially since I was a paying customer.

Locally, I have had a couple of run ins with the bus company. When I called one night to complain about the lateness of a bus I was waiting for out in the freezing cold, my line went dead.  I called back and told the woman that we had been cut off.

“We weren’t cut off,” she said.”I hung up on you because you were arguing with me.”

As a former customer service trainer, I was appalled. “When did arguing become justification for a customer service rep to hang up on someone?”, I wondered at the time.

Last week I got on a bus while the bus driver was doing her security check. As she walked back, I flashed my ID. She tried to squeeze in between me and her seat, and then when I apologized for being in her way, she glared at me. This woman is grossly overweight and takes up the entire aisle. I had nowhere to go.

It wasn’t the first time this driver had been out of bounds. I went by her one morning, flashing my ID. About a minute later she questioned me about my status on the bus. She clearly was not even looking when I went by. This driver is routinely late on her route as well. Yet, she seems to feel entitled to be arrogant.

The conduct, or should I say misconduct, of the police and transportation worker today is a sign of the times. Government in general seems to have run amok and begun to trample on the rights of American citizens.

I trace this kind of comportment by agents of federal, state and local government officials and their contractors back to the events of September 11, 2001. In this respect, Osama Bin Laden has won a great victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five petty reasons why I want Seattle to win the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl this year is not an easy one to pick. As one of my friends likes to say, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Tom Brady said he could care less, and won’t watch the game.

I, on the other hand,  will watch and enjoy it because I love pro football and missed a lot of it while I was overseas. The two best teams this season are in it, and as a football aficionado I want to see them tee off. 

My decision to root for the Seattle Seahawks instead of the Denver Broncos was not that difficult. Here are a list of reasons I chose the team that shares a city with my favorite American coffee:

1) I cannot cheer for a quarterback who played for my an arch-enemy–the Indianapolis Colts. I grew up a Baltimore Colt fan, and have despised them ever since they fled my hometown in the middle of the night.  Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck wrote an article noting that it would be tough for Baltimoreans to choose a team this year, but some will root against the Broncos because Manning is their QB.

“That might seem a little petty after all this time, but some wounds never heal.” wrote Schmuck last week. Petty or not, Manning’s participating is one factor in my plan to pull for Seattle.


2) Denver basically stole John Elway from the Baltimore Colts. Elway refused to play for Baltimore. Most of my life I thought the West Coast surfer boy balked because he didn’t want to move to a gritty, blue collar place like Balmer. ESPN did a special involving the story of Elway’s drafting by Denver and noted that the main reason he did not want to play for Baltimore was he did not like the head coach. At the time, the Colts were coached by Frank Kush, kind of a 1980s Tom Coughlin, but worse. Even so, I have hated John Elway and to a lesser degree his team ever since.

 

3) I don’t want to see Bronco’s cornerback Champ Bailey get a ring. After the Colts left Baltimore I switched my allegiance to the Washington Redskins. Bailey was their star defender, but in typical inept fashion they traded him to Denver for running back Clinton Portis. The latter had some good years, but was hurt a lot. Bailey will end up in the Hall of Fame. If Denver wins, it will justify that trade. I don’t want that to happen.

4) While not high up on my list of reasons, I am cheering for the Seahawks because their coach Pete Carroll led the University of Southern California to  a national title. Pete and I are homies because we both lived in LA. 

5) I want a fifth reason, so I will go with the Seattle Starbucks connection to justify my choice of the Seahawks. I am a coffee addict and S-bucks brand is my favorite American java. It’s as good a reason to root for the Hawks as any. 

So as Sunday becomes Monday, I hope Richard Sherman is trash talking on late night television, having added to his fame when he clobbered a Broncos receiver to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy a few hours earlier. And I trust that Mr. Manning will not go gentle into that good night.

 

 

 

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Dr. King’s Dream for Us All is in Danger

As the weekend approached, I chose to introduce my international students to the Martin Luther King holiday. I told them that when I was overseas I had been annoyed by not understanding why I had a day off or why the national flag had gone up the pole. It was my intention to educate them on the reason why they could sleep late on Monday.

Thus, I dredged up some exercises meant to provide English practice for my students while at the same time immersing them in the achievements of Dr. King. The “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963 was a must for my presentation skills class. It’s a great example of public speaking of course.

As I listened to the speech, given by to a large throng on the sweltering Mall in Washington, D.C.,  I began to think of Dr. King’s theme of freedom and his reference to the  “promissory note” signed by our Founding Fathers . America, he said, had defaulted on that promise for the black man. Now, over 50 years later, we have an African-American president and our nation has begun to pay the debt the reverend so eloquently reminded our people of back in the raucous 60s.

The “I Have a Dream” speech, however,  produced surprising consequences for me. What was originally an educational exercise for my students provoked their teacher to reflect on the state of our freedoms in the United States today. When I did, I was inflicted by mixed emotions.

First, I thought it ironic that this same president who is symbolic of the racial diversity of America is now presiding over an increasingly overbearing government which is negating the promise of the American revolution for all of us. Unless you have had your head buried in computer games or cell phone texts, you have to be aware of the hubbub over the spying of the U.S. National Security Agency leaked by Edward Snowden.

The former NSA employee, now living under the “protection” of Vladmir Putin in Russia, is a descendant of such famous government whistleblowers as Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971. These documents, given to the New York Times, divulged secrets about our governments decisions on the Vietnam War. This week Mr. Ellsberg was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying that America was on the verge of becoming a police state. Like most Americans, this snooping by my government has me worried.

On the other hand, I can understand why the spying has to be done. There are surely people out there who would like to destroy America, as evidenced by the attacks on September 11. It was George W. Bush who got the massive surveillance started post-World Trade Center, not Barack Obama. Our current president is just continuing the work of his predecessor.

In this Internet age it is difficult to keep one’s privacy. It’s not just the government doing the prying. The appropriately named discount retailer Target was put in the crosshairs of cyber criminals who absconded with the personal data of scores of millions of customers over the holidays.  One glance of the advertisers posted on your personal Facebook account will tell you that Big Brother knows your personal “likes”.

What is worrisome to me is that we live in a period of American history where trust in our nation’s leaders has hit rock bottom. Former defense secretary Robert Gates most likely represented the opinions of millions of Americans when he took special aim at Congress in his recently published memoir. “Uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, often putting self (and reelection) before country — this was my view of the majority of the United States Congress,” he wrote.

On  a personal and local  level, I am concerned about the behavior of police officers, flight attendants and bus employees these days. The threat of terrorism seems to have given these people the ability to become petty despots in their spheres of influence.

I once respected the police and thanked them for their service. No longer. Dr. King complained about their brutality in his speech, and it seems to have revived in the 21st century. Some police officers are  just as likely to shoot your dog as help a little old lady across the street.

So while African-Americans have made great progress within our system since August of 1963, the entire American experiment appears to be under threat. Fascism has its foot  in the nation’s door. It seeks to deprive us of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness   which the Declaration of Independence and Dr. King reminded us belonged to all of us from the Creator. Potential dictators are ready to take as much as they can get at all levels of society, and you know this power grab isn’t meant for our benefit.

I’m convinced that the only hope we have to maintain the freedoms men like Martin Luther King died for is for our people to return to the God who gave us our rights and seek His help. After all, he had dealt with self aggrandizing leaders before. The prophet Isaiah wrote of them:

For the leaders of my people—
the Lord’s watchmen, his shepherds—
are blind and ignorant.
They are like silent watchdogs
that give no warning when danger comes.
They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.
Like greedy dogs, they are never satisfied.
They are ignorant shepherds,
all following their own path
and intent on personal gain.
“Come,” they say, “let’s get some wine and have a party.
Let’s all get drunk.
Then tomorrow we’ll do it again
and have an even bigger party!”

The prophets words could describe the Washington party circuit in our own day. Isaiah noted a little later that God was “amazed that no one intervened to help the oppressed.” As a result, wrote Isaiah, the Lord stepped in to save them. I don’t think I would have wanted to be the leaders of ancient Israel when that happened.

I wouldn’t want to be America’s leaders either.

 

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All Hail Andy Reid

As the NFL playoffs begin this weekend, the weather is supposed to play a big part. It won’t matter in the state I live in because the Indianapolis Colts do their thing in a dome. Even if their game against the Kansas City Chiefs was played outdoors, the weather on Saturday will still be better than the oncoming blizzard and -10 temps expected Sunday and Monday.

That same night, the Philadelphia Eagles play in a cold Lincoln Field, where it’s supposed to be 24 degrees and feel like 18. The New Orleans Saints are another dome team, and they do not perform well on the road.

On Sunday they’re calling for sleet in Cincy, two hours south of me, where the Bengals take on the warm-weather San Diego Chargers. In addition, Lambeau Field in Green Bay will host the San Francisco 49ers in perhaps the coldest game on record, even eclipsing the famous Ice Bowl it hosted in 1967.

As for who will win the whole shebang, I am going with the Kansas City Chiefs. I have been waiting for this talented team to fulfill expectations since I predicted they would win their division in 2012. They didn’t win it this year either, but they began the season 9-0 under new coach Andy Reid.

SInce then their performance has been up and down. But their talent hasn’t gone anywhere. Furthermore, I was heartened from an unlikely source about Alex Smith, the enigmatic quarterback of the Chiefs. 

Richard Sherman, the gifted cornerback of the Seattle Seahawks who tends to be over the top with his trash talk, can be astute when he writes for Sports Illustrated. He wrote on the SI website today in an oped about quarterbacks that he thought Smith was the most conservative. I took that as a positive:the less turnovers in the playoffs, the better your team’s chances.

Here’s how their Super Bowl victory will play out.

AFC

 
Bengals over Chargers
Chiefs over Colts
 
Bengals over Denver
Chiefs over Patriots
 
Chiefs over Bengals
 
AFC Champs-Chiefs
 
NFC
 
Eagles over Saints
Packers over 49ers
 
Seahwawks over Packers
Panthers over Eagles
 
Seahawks over Panthers
 
 
Super Bowl
 
Chiefs over Seahawks
 
 

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