Review: everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present by Jeremy Writebol

Back in my less contented days as a Junior College student, my uncle used to tell me to “bloom where you’re planted.”  Sort of a cheesy phrase, but true none the less.  As a not quite (or barely) 20-something, I was in a rut and wanted a change.  But rather than making the most of where I was, even while not wanting to be there, I moped and complained.  To usurp another gardening metaphor, that grass on the other side sure looked emeraldesque.  Fortunately, through no real workings of my own, but through divine pruning and care, I did eventually bloom.  Or I at least sprouted (I think of myself more like a vegetable than a flower).

I can’t help but think that if I’d read Jeremy Writebol’s debut book everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present, that sprouting process may have been sped up a bit.  It’s not everyday a good friend of your’s publishes a book; probably rarer still that it is actually worth reading.  But Jeremy’s book is a good and easy read on how the Gospel of Christ relocates the Christian where he or she needs to be, without having to move them at all.

It’s a fleshing out of that “bloom where you’re planted” philosophy.  It spells out what makes that possible; through focusing on the Gospel, not only how it relates to our spiritual location, but our physical one as well.  The Gospel is more than just about our spiritual salvation.  Clearly, that is a fundamental element of it, but there is more.

God is omnipresent, and Christians, as His ambassadors, are nearly so.  Wherever Christians are, they are to be the light to this world.  That includes in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools.  That is being ever present.  By doing so, we can “relocate” ourselves and those around us, as human beings, into the place where we were supposed to be all along; with God.  We were dislocated from that position after the Fall, but the Gospel puts us back where we belong; in the presence of the Father.

For the discontented 20-something to the satisfied 60-something, and beyond, being “ever present” wherever we are is not only a reassurance, but a duty.  Christians are called to go into all the world and make disciples.  This includes going to work, school, and next door.  It sounds intimidating, but it really doesn’t have to be.  As Jeremy says in the book, “The method is: be present, as a Christian, with lost people.”  We do that everyday.

I’d encourage anyone to read Jeremy’s book (and not just because I happen to be in it, briefly).  It’s a great wake up call, and a fresh look at what should be a well known truth.

Here is where you can get it:

ebook – http://store.gospelcentereddiscipleship.com/products/everpresent-how-the-gospel-relocates-us-in-the-present

paperback – http://www.amazon.com/everPresent-How-Gospel-Relocates-Present/dp/0615989020/

Wednesday Review: Star Trek, Taking Chance, Valkyrie

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This past three-day weekend I watched three pretty good movies.  They don’t really have anything in common, except the obvious.  One starred Tom Cruise and one starred Kevin Bacon, who once starred together in A Few Good Men, and Tom Cruise also stars in the Mission:  Impossible movies, which are based on the late 60’s early 70’s TV series which starred Leonard Nimoy (1969-1971) who also starred in the original Star Trek television series and the new Star Trek movie which was directed by J.J. Abrams, who also directed Tom Cruise in the third Mission:  Impossible movie, which also starred Lawerence Fishburne, who was in Mystic River with Kevin Bacon.  But that’s so obvious its barely even worth mentioning.

On Sunday afternoon Jen and I went to your our local movie house to see Star Trek.  Gotta say, not a Trekkie.  In fact of all the 57 Star Trek related movies that have been made, I’d have to say my favorite is Trekkies, which more or less makes fun of Trekkies, in a friendly my-big-brother-is-teasing-me sort of way.  I wasn’t too hip to see this new treatment at first, but heard some good things via word of mouth and Jen wanted to see it, mostly due to hunky Chris Pine as James T. Kirk I suspect, so I went for it.  Besides, I’m a fan of J.J. Abrams work.  I dug Cloverfield, was a late but now devoted Lost convert, and I even liked Alias.  And the aforementioned MI: 3, which felt a lot like a souped up episode of Alias except with Tom Cruise in the role of Sydney Bristow instead of Jennifer Garner, which seemed oddly appropriate.  I gotta say, I was impressed with this latest foray into the final frontier.  The action was great, the story was pretty good, and the characters and the actors who played them I thought were a good mix homage and originality.  I was just familiar enough with the Star Trek culture to catch most of the inside and self-referential gags.  It didn’t take itself too seriously, which in my estimation has always been a negative hallmark of the Star Trek world, but seriously enough not to be a parody.  All in all, well worth the time and money spent at the theater.  So if you’re a non-Trekkie (or Trekker, as I understand they prefer to be called) go without fear.  You will probably enjoy it.  If you are a Trekker, check out this review from Kludge for that perspective.

Monday morning, Memorial Day, I watched a timely and appropriate film called Taking Chance.  Made for HBO and based on a true story, Taking Chance stars Kevin Bacon as Marine lieutenant colonel Mike Strobl, who co-wrote the movie, who escorts the body of a Marine killed in Iraq back to his hometown.  That’s really it.  Its a simple and moving tale, not dressed up with phony emotion or preachiness, about a man stung by guilt for what he feels is his not doing enough.  His task is both simple and difficult, in a way merely tagging along with the remains as they pass from plane to plane to hearse, but burdensome in dealing with the emotions of what he is doing, both his own and those of the people he meets along the way, including the family of the deceased.  A perfect movie for Memorial Day, to remember those who have fallen and appreciate those who honor them by watching over them as they make the final trip home.

The movie weekend wrapped up Monday night with Valkyrie, the story of the attempt on Adolph Hitler’s life during WWII that nearly worked.  Being a WWII aficionado, I was aware of the story and thought it was definitely fodder for a thrilling motion picture.  And it still will.  Not to be too hard on it, I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t as thrilling as I had hoped.  Much has been said about Tom Cruise in the roll as Lt. Col. Karl Stauffenberg and his being the only character without an accent of some kind, but it wasn’t quite as distracting as I thought it’d be.  The movie is pretty accurate historically, as historical dramas go, which is a plus, and it is a fascinating story, but I don’t think it reached its full potential.  Worth watching, especially if you’re a WWII buff, but a better renter than go-to-theaterer.  Which is good, because it hasn’t been in the theater in months.

So there’s my first Wednesday review in quite a while.  What?  It’s Friday?  Fine, disregard everything I just wrote.

Wednesday Review: Fleet Foxes

fleet-foxesIn search of some new music recently, I was given a tip by an old high school acquaintance to check out the Fleet Foxes.  At first I wasn’t sure what I’d gotten myself into.  The first track on their debut self-titled album starts out with something that sounds like its out of an Appalaichian gospel service circa 1946.   Pitchy and nasaly, yes, but not without its charms.  However, you can only take that for so long, and certainly not a whole album’s worth.  Fortunately, that high and lonesome intro–apparently about a red squirrel–didn’t last too long and was a misleading precursor to what is a fantastic record.  It took me a few listens to figure this out, but now that I have Fleet Foxes have found themselves a willing follower.

I’ve read reviews that have described them as the Beach Boys of winter who sound nothing like the Beach Boys, or a baroque Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.  By their own account their songs are, “baroque harmonic pop jams.”  If I had to put it into words (which I do since this is my blog) I’d say that if The Byrds had been a band of roving minstrels during the Renaissance, they probably would’ve sounded something like Fleet Foxes.  Their influences are broad, from the aforementioned 60’s super groups to folk music, both foreign and domestic, to monastic choirs.  The vocals on just about every song have the echoy sound of being recorded in a cavernous cathedral.  This could be annoying after a while, but it works for Fleet Foxes, giving them a dreamy, almost melancholy sound.  They aren’t your standard guitar-guitar-bass-drums instrumentalists either.  While those are all present, they also weave in a heavy dose of organ, piano, tamporine, and a few other more exotic instruments.

They are fairly new to the music scene, releasing their first album and an EP in 2008.  Both are absolutely worth checking out.  They may not be for everybody, as it isn’t your typical radio-friendly vanilla pop.  But if you’re looking for a more mature sound, with high marks for musicianship, songwriting, and sing-alongibility check out Fleet Foxes.  I’ve put four of my favorite songs in the Box at the top of the left hand sidebar.

Wednesday Review: Hole In The Wall

The other night I watched perhaps the dumbest TV show ever to become an international sensation.  Twice.  It’s called Hole In The Wall and if you haven’t heard of it you must live in Turkmenistan, the one country where it hasn’t caught on yet.  Or you just don’t watch enough TV.  Or you read books.

 I guess you’d call it a game show.  The idea is for the contestants, three to a team, to fit through odd shaped holes in a wall that moves toward them, and not break it or get pushed into a pool of water.  That’s it.  Sounds pretty stupid, and it is, but I still watched back-to-back episodes the other night and found myself laughing and enjoying myself with alarming ease.  There’s just something about other people looking ridiculous and getting hit in the head.  I should mention that I routinely laugh to the point of tears at America’s Funniest Home Videos, as long as Tom Bergeron isn’t speaking.  So that should give you some idea as to my level of sophistication.  But apparently I’m not alone.  HITW, as all the cool kids are calling it, originated in Japan (where else) and has spread like Jiffy all over the globe.  So for all those snobby Euros that are constantly bemoaning the USA’s lowest common denominator entertainment migrating across the pond and infecting their wine and cheese “culture”, you can just stick this one up your turned up shnaz.  It went West across the Atlantic.  So there!

Anyway, it is pretty silly.  Here’s a couple clips.

Wednesday Review: Wall-E

walleI’m home from work today taking care of dual ear infectioned Lily and I passed the morning watching Wall-E.  I’d just talked to a few friend who had seen it recently and they were all mostly underwhelmed.  Then just last night I read that it had been nominated for best picture, not best animated picture, by the LA Film Critics.  Just before writing this post I did a quick scan of some movie blogs I frequent and found that apparently Walll-E has generated quite a bit of controversy.  Especially for a movie ostensibly made for children.  I could drone on about these–whether its a liberal polemic on environmentalisma and anti-capitalism or a conservative appeal to self-reliance and think-for-yourselfedness– but I don’t have the energy and besides, most of them are overreactions based on assumptions made on the filmmakers.  I’m not saying they, the filmmakers, didn’t have something to say about unbridled consummerism or environmental stewardship (or lack there of), but to boil Wall-E down to that is to miss out on what I thought was  a really sweet love story and a flat out great movie.

That’s what Wall-E is, a love story told within a cauntionary tale.  When the B n’ L (Buy n’ Large) Corporation-run earth is trashed to the point of uninhabitibility, an army of  trash compacting robots is left to clean it up while the humans left on a five year space cruise…700 years ago.  For one reason or another Wall-E appears to be the only one of these robots to have survived.  With his cockroach companion by his side, he goes about doing what he was programmed to do but also collects all sorts of interesting knick knacks the humans left behind; Rubix cubes, bobble head dolls, and light bulbs.  One day he discovers something he’s never seen before on planet earth, a plant, sprouting inside an old refrigerator.  Little does he know, this discovery will change the very course of not only his existence but mankinds as well.  Soon after the discover a probe called the Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, or EVE, arrives on earth and the two lonely robotic souls form an unlikely bond.  That is until it is interupted when EVE discovers the plant and her prime directive programming takes over.  The rest is a perilous and visually stunning adventure for Wall-E and EVE to reconnect and complete EVE’s mission, goals that were destined to become intertwined.

Film is a visual medium and a truly great film can be recognized by its ability to tell its story using only images.  While Wall-E doesn’t use only images–the sound design is incredible and a character all its own–there is very little proper dialogue in the movie as a whole and none to speak of through the films first act.  Yet the story is clear, and we’re compelled to feel for these two little robots trapped in their distopian world.  That’s where the movie really succeeds.  That’s not to say it doesn’t have its share of brevity, hyjinx, and adventure, because it does in scads, and as I mentioned earlier it is visually stunning.  There is the underlying warning message of the dangers of rampant consummerism, a message that is clear but also appropriate and not at all preachy.  Its really just the backdrop for the real story of Wall-E and EVE.  (In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that I watched it on my brand new HDTV.  And it looked AWESOME.)

Maybe the fact that its a bit of a departure, philosophically anyway, for a Pixar cartoon threw some folks, but in my humble opinion its at least in the top three Pixar movies (maybe the best) and is definitely one of the best movies of 2008 I have seen so far.  Here’s a trailer.

Wednesday Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

I’ve seen four Stanley Kubrick films and they’ve pretty much covered the gamut on my ratings scale:  Loved It; Liked It; It Was OK; Hated It Oh Why Did I Watch This Please Cleanse My Mind With Holy Fire.  The latest of these was 2001:  A Space Odyssey, which I watched in two parts this past weekend (I’ll let you determine which of the above ratings I give it).  If its possible for something to be simultaneously mezmerizing and dull, than 2001 is it.  To try to explain what the movie is about is pointless really, because it isn’t really about its story or its characters, but about images and the ideas they are meant to convey.  There isn’t a word of dialog that isn’t the grunt of an ape spoken for the first twenty minutes and the plot doesn’t become clear until nearly a full hour into the running time.  Though to say the plot is clear is a misnomer because it isn’t really.  I’ll just try to sum it up by saying a big black rectangle is discovered, first by prehistoric apes then again on the moon by people millions of years in the future.  This second time it is found transmitting a signal in the direction of Jupiter which, of course, must be explored.  On the way to Jupiter however, the ship’s crew end up having problems with their super intelligent computer, the HAL 9000 and man and machine are pitted against each other.  After the man vs. machine episode, the story jumps ahead in time about a year and a half and possibly alligorical weirdness ensues.  I’d explain the alligorical weirdness in more detail, but I honestly can’t. That’s basically it for the story, but like I said it isn’t really about the story.

Its about images, and there are some stunning visuals to be sure.  They’re perhaps less stunning to our eyes now then they would’ve been in 1968 when the film was released, but by and large they hold up alright.  As I watched the space scenes, particularly the ships involved, I found myself comparing it to Star Wars, which came out nine years later.  Or maybe contrasting is a better word.  Unlike Star Wars, 2001 has an air of reality about it.  The ships aren’t sleek Buck Rogers types, but they aren’t the fantastic looking “lived-in” craft of Lucas’ universe either.  They’re from our universe; sterile and institutional, like something NASA would actually design.  The way everything moves about space in Kubrick’s (and our) universe is also much different than in Lucas’s.  There are no hyperdrives or nimble speeders darting every which way.  The movements are slow and deliberate, again like the kind of thing you’d see on a NASA broadcast from space.  This was an interesting concept to see on screen–and shockingly prophetic given its release just prior to the moon landing and nearly a full decade before the space shuttle–and at times made for some mezmerizing, almost hypnotic, visuals.  But it also served to make the movie reallllly, reallllly long and a little dull.  There were times I felt myself just sort of, if I may pun, spacing out, kind of like you might if you were watching the visualizations on your media player on your computer.  In fact, that’s quite literally what is was like for the last forty minutes or so.

I’m sure those last forty minutes are loaded with all sorts of important symbolism and deeper meaning, but either I’m not deep enough to really get it, or in order to fully appreciate it you have to be high.  In reading other reviews, by people who are actually paid to analyze this kind of thing, I was relieved to find I was not the only one to not totally grasp what was supposed to be being said.  I’m not a total blockhead, I think it had something to do with man and technology and humanity’s future, but needless to say it was pretty freaking weird.  There’s something to be said for a film that doesn’t answer all its questions and leaves the viewer with their own thoughts on what it all means, but there is a point where the abstraction can become too abstract and leave the viewer feeling frustrated and confused rather than thoughtful and satisfied.

I watched 2001 because it is widely regarded as a masterpiece and so I naturally, as a novice film enthusiast, wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  While I can appreciate what it is cinematically and can recognize its achievments, in my estimation its repuation is propped up by the belief that it is strange and beautiful and not easily understood and therefore must be important.  For me, it is not without its merits, but too abstract (and long) to be truly great.