Monday, November 24, 2014

Mockingjay, Part 1

If you are my friend or a regular reader, it will not surprise you to learn that I went to see the new movie Mockingjay, Part 1 the first night it was out. The movie was the penultimate installment of a series of four movies, telling the the story of The Hunger Games books on the big screen.

I love the books because of the great storytelling, the characters, and most of all because the themes addressed which go to the essence of who we are. For more about what I think the books are telling us and why they are so popular, check out this post:

The Hunger Games...what's all the fuss about?

So how did I like the latest movie?

First, I thought it was riveting. The acting was fantastic, the story moved fast, and frankly it did not seem like nearly two hours. Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing as Plutarch, and it was sad to think we will see him act anymore. The moment where Katniss is overcome with emotion because of the cruelty of the Capitol and vows to bring them down ("If we burn, you burn with us!"), gave me chill bumps and may be one of my favorite movie moments ever. Overall it was faithful the original direction of the story, although....well, more on that below. The bottom line is that it was a very entertaining and thought-provoking movie. If I had not read the book, I would have considered it almost perfect cinema. It was so good that I can't wait to see the final installment next year.

But, I have read the book.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not one of the book fans who think that a movie should match the story in a book exactly. I am keenly aware of the fact that telling the story in a book like this exactly would probably require a ten-hour movie, and it would probably drag. Your mind gives a book pace that you don't get in a really long movie. And - let me be clear on this - the Hunger Games movies, including this one, have been more faithful to their source material than most such attempts. And I've been very pleased with that.

NOTE: If you have not seen the movie or read the book, a lot of what follows may not make much sense. Also, CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

An example of a difference that I think was unavoidable: in the book series Katniss develops relationships with the Capitol staff who are in charge of her appearance, and so when they are mistreated in District 13 it is part of what drives her experience there, and helps show us that District 13 is not 100% the good guys. But I understand that since those relationships were not developed in the first two movies, it would be confusing to suddenly make a big deal of their treatment.

But here's the thing I didn't see that I wish I would have: a sense of ambivalence as to the motives of the District 13 leadership. The mistreatment of the former Capitol makeover people, the strict diet and schedule required of all District 13 residents, the extreme pressure put on Katniss to perform, and a President Coin much more intimidating than the one played by Julianne Moore so far...all these things make the reader wonder if the new regime is really that much better than the old. We think it is, but we're not sure. And that, friends, is so important to the theme of the book, and to the place where the story is headed. 

So I missed those things, and I wonder a little bit about where Part 2 is headed. Is it a simple good vs. evil battle? Or is a more complex picture, as portrayed in the original story?

All that aside, I did love the movie. I will probably see it again in the theater and will definitely look forward to owning a copy.

And I can't wait to see the conclusion. November 2015...I'm waiting on you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


In the zombie apocalypse world of The Walking Dead, we see characters dealing with some of the most important issues in life: survival, freedom of choice, hope, family, community, forgiveness. I see so much in the bleak world that speaks of how important hope is in the midst of our fallen creation. So you can imagine how fascinated I was to see the wall sign in this picture during the recent episode "Four Walls and a Roof":

For those of you who did not grow up in a small church, let me assure you this style of sign is very common. It usually has statistics such as attendance and offering amounts on it. But in this church, where the priest Gabriel has holed himself up to escape the "walkers," it has a list of Bible verses. Needless to say, I had to look them up. Surely there is no detail from these talented writers that is there by accident. So what do they say?

Romans 6:4 - Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death; so that as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Ezekiel 37:7 - So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

Matthew 27:52 - The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.

Revelation 9:6 - And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.

Luke 24:5 - (A)nd as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"

Yes, there does seem to be a thread of a theme, doesn't there? Each verse has some sort of reference to death and/or a renewing of life. One speaks of attaining life by dying to yourself. Another speaks of the impossible, dead bones coming back to life. Out of context, the verses are very strange - maybe that's part of the point.

The last two are the most interesting to me in the context of the show: 
  • Clearly, the show's zombie apocalypse is a world where many people despair of whether life is even worth living. And in a way the show's premise is a representation of this verse: People don't really die, they just become walking, shallow shells of themselves.
  • And the question "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" lurks in every corner of this world. And perhaps our world, as so many people live empty lives.
Anyway, a very interesting group of verses, clearly displayed for a reason. While I've shared a few thoughts, I'm not sure what they're getting at.

So what about you? Do you see a theme? Or do you think it was just a random collection, a meaningless prop?

What do you think?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Being different

What makes someone stand out in a crowd?

Back in 2010, my nieces and I went the Alabama-Kentucky game in Lexington. Because we are all such big football fans, we decided to do something crazy. Our game ended at around 3:30, and we did the math. Auburn and Tennessee would be playing in Knoxville about 4 hours later, and there was time to make it. So we jumped in the car, drove south, and watched our second SEC football game in one day. It was awesome!

The interesting thing is that we did not pack for this plan. So there we were, walking into a stadium where the orange and white clad Volunteers were playing the orange and blue clad Tigers. Needless to say, we stood out in our crimson. And yeah, we got a lot of, um, feedback that I can't repeat.

So, as followers of Jesus in a culture where that isn't the norm, what is our crimson? What is it about us that marks us as part of the kingdom of God?

The post referenced below by Michael Kruger makes the case that for the early church, other than their refusal to worship other gods it was one thing: their sexual ethic. Please take the time to read it, as I will make just a couple of points afterwards:

One Trait That Set Apart the Earliest Christians

As Kruger mentions, this is quite an encouragement. As we lived in an oversexed culture that emphasizes freedom of choice and acceptance of all lifestyles, it is not the first time that has been the case. Do you get the feeling that our culture thinks we have suddenly discovered premarital sex, homosexuality, etc? Not true. As the article documents, these lifestyles were rampant in the Roman Empire during the days of the early church, and it was the difference in this area of life that marked disciples of Christ as being different from those around them.

So I don't mind getting ridiculed over the fact that with God's help I am reserving sex for the day if/when I get married. God has designed me for fellowship with him, and if marriage is not his plan for me, neither is the physical aspect that is designed for marriage. I don't mind that people think I'm narrow minded in my views on other forms of sexual expression - sex without a marriage covenant, homosexual behavior, etc. Jesus offers something different, and it's not always popular. It wasn't in the 2nd century (can you imagine if they had Facebook?), and it's not today.

If we are going to offer the world anything, it has to be something different from what they can experience outside of Christ. The fulfillment of a life that practices sex the way God intended is just such a difference-maker. The world tells us to treat other people as things to give us pleasure. Jesus offers us a life where sex is a gift to physically represent the union between Christ and his bride the church in the context of marriage. And he offers a full life of loving God and others for those who have not reached that stage of life.

(Note: This is never a ship that has already sailed. God's grace allows us to turn from our past and begin afresh, reflecting his image from today forward. What you've done in the past doesn't matter.)

If we go along with the culture, we don't have anything different to offer. As Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." (Matthew 5:13a, NASB)

Let's stay salty.