Why I Like Being a Baker Books Blogger

I have to confess: I have an addiction. I…I accumulate books way faster than I read them.

There, I said it.

Kidding aside, this…this can sometimes be a problem, especially when my to-be-read “shelf” becomes an entire bookcase. I receive books as gifts, I find cheap ebooks for my Kindle, and the library–my goodness, the library!

But one of the best ways I have found to get access to books, especially books about theology and Christian life, is by becoming an online book reviewer. If you’ve been a reader of mine for a while, you know I will post book reviews from time to time that include the disclaimer that I was given a review copy of the book in exchange for my honest response.

Being an online book reviewer is the perfect way to get access to new books without breaking the bank (or sitting in the library “hold” queue for months!).

I’ve been a review blogger on and off for the last 5-6 years. I’ve written reviews for titles from Crossway, Zondervan, Tyndale, P&R Books, and even a few non-religious publishers (via Netgalley). However, my favorite publisher to review books for is Baker Books.

[Disclosure: Why am I writing about this now? Because this post is partially an entry into a contest put on by Baker for–you guessed it–free books. So I want to be upfront with you about that, reader. That said, every word of this post is true, and I stand by it even if this weren’t part of a contest entry. Okay, are we all clear on that? Cool. Thanks.]

Here are 3 reasons I enjoy being an official “Baker Books Blogger”:

  1. They publish books I actually want to read. Some Christian publishers send out their list of books for review, and as I glance over it, I find myself making a “disgusted Clint Eastwood” face. But Baker Books are often right in my wheelhouse, touching on issues that I find intriguing or areas I know I’d like to grow in understanding. Sometimes, if I’m in a busy season, I’ll just delete other reviewer emails unread, but I always open emails from Baker.
  2. They send actual physical books! Most online book review programs will send you a PDF or maybe an epub file that you have to figure out how to upload. There will be conversion and formatting errors, making the draft difficult to read. They often don’t integrate easily into the Kindle bookshelf. If you’re excited about the book, you just deal with it, of course, but most of the time, it’s a bit irritating. By contrast, when you review for Baker, you can request physical books. There are real, honest-to-goodness, paper-and-ink books on my shelf that I’ve received from and reviewed for Baker. The willingness to pay extra to print and ship books to reviewers puts Baker Books in a different class altogether.
  3. They are more relaxed about timelines. Okay, admitting this may not make the Baker folks happy, but: I’m sometimes pretty late on these reviews. With other publishers and platforms, that is a huge no-no. You can get locked out of the platform, or lose the ability to request any more review books. With Baker, it’s more relaxed, which I really appreciate, since there are times when you request a book and then run into a really busy patch at work or at home. Truth be told, I currently owe Baker a handful of reviews from books I’ve received but haven’t read yet. (Those are coming, y’all, trust me.) What I’m saying is, being a Baker Books Blogger doesn’t feel like a job or a chore. It’s sometime I enjoy doing, when I have the opportunity to do so. I appreciate that.

If you are interested in reviewing books on your website, Amazon reviews, or other social media outlets, I think you should check out the Baker Books Blogger program.

I’ve enjoyed being part of it, and hope to continue doing so for as long as they’ll have me. (As long as I catch up on my back-log of reviews, I guess!)

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Have you ever been part of an online book review program? I’d be interested to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

Friday Feed (6/21/2019)

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Happy weekend-eve, y’all! Here are some interesting links I’ve found over the last few weeks. Hope you enjoy!

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That’s all I’ve got for today. See you next week! 

 

If you’ve come across any interesting links lately, post them below!

52 Stories #14-15: Two Stories about the Problem with Utopia.

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[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

Whew! I’m a bit behind, aren’t I? Well, today we will be considering two stories about the underbelly of Utopia–“how the sausage is made” when it comes to “perfect” societies.

The first story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” was recommended to me more than 15 years ago by my friend Ben Doudt, and the second, “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” was a surprising discovery of mine as I hunted for new short reads.

Obligatory spoiler warning: If you haven’t read either of these stories, skip over the “Takeaways” sections to avoid plot details.

Okay, no more chatter–let’s go!

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#14: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula LeGuin

The Pitch

The writer presents an idyllic vision of a peaceful and advanced society, and then reveals why anyone would think of leaving.

The Payoff

This isn’t a story so much as a fable or vignette (much like Bradbury’s “August 2026”). There isn’t a plot in the story proper; it’s all description and one-sided dialogue, as the narrator escorts the reader through the scene, providing commentary and clarification. In the end, when the final twist is revealed, the reader is left to question whether they would want to live in Omelas themselves–and whether they currently do.

The Takeaways

I first read this story about 15 years ago and then again this spring, and to be honest, then as now it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. The descriptions are beautiful, vivid and full of color. The reader can “see” the scene quite clearly. But it’s little more than a moving painting. The narrator is openly non-committal on details of their societal advancement, which is smart if you’re trying to make a story timeless; however, it also becomes more abstract, like a parable. It almost feels as if she’s making it all up on the fly, more than describing something with a history and weight to it.

LeGuin paints the picture of a humanist utopia, without king or creed, where the sun is always shining and everything is perfect–but that’s the problem. It’s too perfect. (My mind went immediately to the plot of “The Matrix”–we naturally reject a dream world that is too perfect.) So she introduces the child–a “feeble-minded” child, locked away–“born defective…or become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect.” A child whose pleas are ignored. “They all know it’s there, all the people of Omelas.” All the perfection of their utopia relies on keeping the broken child suffering. “Those are the terms.”

Here, LeGuin pulls her final trick. She presents “the terms” and leaves the reader to grapple with the question: can such a society be considered good, just, or perfect? Can the suffering of a single child be tolerated in exchange for a utopia in which everyone else thrives?

But here’s my problem with the climax of the story: these “terms” are utterly arbitrary. LeGuin never seems to clarify why these are the terms: is it that all children born with disabilities are “put away”? She only mentions the one child–she specifically describes him/her as “the” child, one single child. It’s the knowledge of this one child that drives some citizens to abandon this utopia in pursuit of something else, something that provides more peace of mind, perhaps.

I don’t know. This story is hailed as a classic, but it just doesn’t land for me. An interesting concept, but if it’s trying to be a morality tale, the premise is stretched to a breaking point.

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#15: “The Ones Who Stay and Fight” by N.K. Jemison

The Pitch

The writer presents an idyllic vision of a peaceful and advanced society, along with the hard choices required to protect it.

The Pay-off

I decided to read this story as soon as I found out it was written as a kind of response to LeGuin’s, but I have to admit I was not quite prepared for what awaited me. Jemison’s story is a counterpoint, a challenge, a provocation. While it could be read as a stand-alone story, I think it’s best taken in concert with LeGuin’s original. “The Ones Who Stay and Fight” is a well-written tale that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. It was unclear as I read it if it was meant to be satire or straight-forward, cautionary or aspirational. And there’s the rub.

The Takeaways

There is a LOT to unpack here.

“It’s the Day of the Good Birds in Um-helat!” NKJ opens with this line and unspools a beautiful description of this African jewel of a city. The name of the city is an obvious wink at Omelas, but NKJ exceeds LeGuin in terms of vivid descriptions. My imagination was transported. For a little while.

The author emulates the narrative voice of ULG’s story, but takes it to the next level. There is also a great deal of fourth-wall breaking, making the narrator another character in the story. However, rather than the narrator being a guide for the reader, the narrator quickly becomes an antagonist to the reader. There is frustration in the narration, anger, resentment. When describing the disparity of pale-skinned executives and dark-skinned workers and the policies implemented to address that, the narrator says this is not to promote diversity, “a grudging pittance of respect.” The narrator disdains such passive change. The narrator describes “the treason of free speech” by saying “We hesitate to admit some people are [expletive] evil and need to be stopped.” (Yet, the narrator never clarify who defines what is evil.) Later: “This is Um-helat after all, and not that barbaric America. This is not Omelas, a tick of a city, fat and happy with its head buried in a tortured child.” Yowsa.

At this point, the narrator turns her attention to the reader, declaring any feelings of recoil or provocation as evidence that the reader actually approves of the evil of Omelas, or even our own world. The narrator assumes the reader is responding, “How dare you…”

And this is where I actually got annoyed–not at the society being described (as the narrator suggests), not at all–rather, what irritated me was the unbearable condescension and accusations of the narrator.

According to the narrator, our world is a “benighted hellscape” compared with the bright and shining Um-helat. And just how is the utopia of Um-helat preserved? Essentially, there are “caretakers” who look for people consuming or spreading hateful or wrong ideas, and then the caretakers murder them. Yep, that’s it. “They will bury him in a beautiful garden…[that] holds all the Um-helatians who broke the law. Just because they died as a deterrence doesn’t mean they can’t be honored for the sacrifice.” So, a mass grave of social dissidents executed by the agents of the state? Cool.

The narrator justifies this behavior as being a necessary “blood sacrifice to keep true evil at bay.” The story ends with the narrator calling the reader to join the dream and build Um-Helat in our world, even if that means war and the “purging scourge.” And that’s it.

There’s part of me that really, really hopes this is just masterful satire of a totalitarian progressivism…but I doubt it is. While some reviewers and readers online rightly call this a cautionary tale, others defend it, saying that a just society must be fought for by any means necessary. Yeesh.

My 3 biggest takeaways from this story (and to a lesser degree from “Omelas”) are as follows:

  • The problem with Utopian visions is that they are built on a faulty understanding of human nature. To the humanist/materialist mind, man is perfectable with the right social settings and the right information. This is a flawed premise. Mankind is by nature corrupt, selfish, sinful. We need new hearts, not new societies.
  • Utopia requires conformity at all costs. No outside voices are tolerated, no dissenting views are allowed. Thought and speech must be policed and controlled in the name of freedom, tolerance, inclusiveness, and justice. Utopia is a prison without bars and locks, but a prison nevertheless.
  • A very astute observation from my beloved, as I was discussing both stories with her: In order for man to create his perfect humanist society, someone always has to die for “sin.” This statement gobsmacked me. See the wicked parodies of the Passion in the death of the innocent in Omelas, the slaying of the subversive in Um-helat. See in our own “hellscape” as the Molech of Freedom and Autonomy fed day and night by the broken bodies of the unborn. Whenever mankind seeks to build a perfect world, they always lay their bricks upon the bones of those who stand against them or get in their way.

The evidence of good writing is sometimes that it evokes strong responses, either positive or negative. If that’s the measure, then N.K. Jemison is a talented writer.

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Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

Policy shift.

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I was in the middle of writing a different blog post when I realized it was probably a waste of your time, so I deleted the whole thing.

It was an anecdote about how a passing acquaintance whose writing and ministry I appreciate didn’t recognize me in the airport, and how that disappointed me until I realized it had been 5+ years since our paths last crossed. I had planned on stretching that weak premise into a 500-word post about the illusion of relationship that social media fosters and how we undervalue being known by God, until I realized that I’ve probably written that post 3 or 4 times over and even I’m bored of it.

As a matter of principle, I don’t want to create content just to chase your clicks, but I also don’t want to waste your time. Moving forward, if I realize I’m basically writing a filler post, I’ll toss it rather than cluttering your reader or email box. Scout’s honor.

My hope is that some of the regular features I’ve been posting lately (book reviews, #52Stories, #FridayFive, and the Friday feed) are actually beneficial to you, or at least entertaining. Aside from your likes and occasional comments, I can’t really be sure. I could put in the work to find out, but during this season of my life, that time is better spent elsewhere. (We’re having a baby in 2 weeks and a few days. That puts things in perspective.)

Here’s my bottom line, and then I’ll shut up and leave you to go about your evening: This blog isn’t just for me. It’s for you, too. And I’ll keep that front-of-mind as I create content for you to enjoy.

And if you have suggestions for new posts, I’m all ears. (Yes, I’m still percolating a few of your past suggestions, just you wait!) Even if I don’t take your advice, I will appreciate the fact that you cared enough to send me feedback. That’s a really cool thing.

Happy Monday to ya. I’ll have a #52Stories post up on Wednesday, and either a personal #FridayFive or an entertaining #FridayFeed at the end of the week.

#FridayFive: 5 Takeaways from #SBC19

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Happy Friday, readers! I am back from 3 days in balmy Birmingham, Alabama, where I (along with 3 friends) represented our church in the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention.

This year, there were several serious issues to address, and some contentious dust-ups online, leading up to the 2-day convention. What were my thoughts on the affair?

Here are my 5 key takeaways from #SBC19:

  1. The main thing needs to stay the main thing. One of the most important moments of the convention was the International Mission Board’s commissioning/sending ceremony. Twenty-six people shared some of their testimony and why they were leaving the US to become international missionaries. Some of them had already spent 2 years as part of the SBC “Journeyman” program and were going back for full-time mission work, while others grew up in missionary families or went on trips as a teenager and felt the call then. Several of the missionaries are going to dangerous or challenging parts of the world, so their faces weren’t shown as they spoke. Then, after a time of recognition for their stories, they carried lighted banners with their region of service into the crowd, and groups of people prayed over each one of them. Standing there in that darkened arena, I was reminded that this is what the SBC Annual Meeting is really about. Not the squabbles, not the posturing–reminding ourselves that we have a mission to fulfill, and then honoring and being inspired by those who are ready to risk all to fulfill it.
  2. We need to learn how to disagree well. This theme kept cropping up, both in the mouths of people in my theological “sub-tribe” and people who get the side-eye on my Twitter feed. Mark Dever, during the “State of the SBC” discussion at a 9 Marks at 9 event said, “You younger folks do a lot of things well, but you just don’t know how to disagree.” Al Mohler agreed, adding that the younger generation of Baptists online need to learn how to do theological triage and distinguish between differences of practice and disagreements on what characterizes our denomination. Russell Moore, during the Baptist 21 panel, quipped, “There needs to be more than just ‘I would do that differently’ and ‘Die, heretic!'” This repeated exhortation to learn how to argue and disagree well, how to represent your rhetorical opponents fairly, and how to treat brothers and sisters as such–it struck home with me. This is something I still need to grow in.
  3. True diversity begins at the dinner table. Something Dhati Lewis said during the racial reconciliation panel caught me up. I’m going to mangle the quote, but: the question was about representation of people of color in conferences, panels, church leadership, etc. Lewis said the way you achieve real diversity on a conference stage or in an elder room was to start at your dinner table–who do you know, who do you have a real relationship with. But that caught my attention and made me think about my typical dinner guests, and how often they look like me. Now, I know, you may scoff at the thought, but it’s something I have started thinking about. One of the ways I can teach my daughters to love and honor all people equally is to model that before them, both in the weekly gatherings of the church and, as we have opportunity, in our home. This isn’t about diversity quotas in my friendships; it’s about widening my circle and learning from my brothers and sisters in Christ whose experiences are different than mine.
  4. The sexual abuse crisis is urgent and must be addressed wisely and decisively. This is the deep dark shadow that has hung over the SBC for even longer than the last 4 months. We were reminded that a group was commissioned last year at the annual meeting to address this issue. However, in recent months, as more and more survivors of abuse within Baptist churches have come forward, it has only emphasized that this is a moment of unique challenge, a valley of decision, in which this ragtag network of cooperating churches must decide if we truly believe that our God is a God of righteousness, justice, and holiness. I was glad to be part of the first big steps toward dealing with this terrible sin in the camp, as we voted to amend our constitution to make way for churches that do nothing about abuse or cover up abuse to be removed from fellowship with us. This is essentially church discipline on the macro level, and I think it is an appropriate step. Furthermore, the realities of sexual abuse and its destructiveness were addressed head-on, and survivors were given opportunities to speak and to challenge the denomination to listen. There is much work to do, but there is a clear passion from the executive leadership down, to press in and fight for those who have been abused.
  5. There are still some big questions to work through. One of the major discussion points involves how churches can encourage, equip, and support women to use their gifts and serve in every way the Bible allows them to. What that looks like is still being wrestled through, and there are going to be a lot more discussions and debates as we decide as a denomination where we draw clear lines and where we show grace. Another flashpoint of debate is over the SBC’s stance on specific elements of the social justice conversation, like Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. Some say that these are useful frameworks for understanding secular perspectives and that they can be considered while still submitting them to the authority of Scripture. Others argue that these frameworks are built on secular and anti-Biblical worldview assumptions that render them counter-productive or even harmful when trying to address justice concerns. This debate will continue, as the implications and after-shocks of Resolution #9 play out (if any). Suffice it to say, #SBC2020 will be a wild ride.

There you go: my five key takeaways from this year’s Southern Baptist Convention.

…But I have so many more thoughts! So here’s a rapid-fire list of observations from my first SBC experience!

  • I love free stuff, but man, I really had to check myself on this trip. There were so many freebies that, even being selective, I still added about 10-15 pounds to my luggage–and that’s just free stuff; I didn’t buy anything. Most of what I brought home was (big surprise) books. I told my wife that I’m making a challenge to myself: I’m going to read all the books I got from the 2019 SBC before I (Lord-willing) go to the 2020 SBC. (Considering I’m still not done with many of the books I received at the 2012 T4G, this may be a tough task!)
  • Picking up free stuff from exhibit hall booths is like an advanced-level version of grabbing a grocery-store snack sample. Feigning interest, awkward small talk, names and handshakes exchanged. I’m going to be really honest here, folks, and I know I sound plain mercenary, but sometimes I just would like a free coffee or book. That’s probably wrong of me, but there it is.
  • Getting to see old friends is a joy. I got to talk for a few minutes with a dear brother I served with at a previous church for 8 or 9 years. I hadn’t seen him in 4 years, so it was a sweet thing to get to catch up.
  • That said, seeing old acquaintances who apparently didn’t recognize you: less joy, more awkwardness. More on that some other time.
  • The exhibit hall floor is a roaming multitude of people, and it became overwhelming really quickly.
  • One of the ways the in-person experience of the meeting is so different from watching it online is that I found myself caring about all the reports a whole lot more (for the most part). And I have to admit, when people streamed for the exits during some of the prayers or presentations, I became a bit judgmental in my heart. (I’m sorry, y’all.) Watching these conventions from home, I can dip in and out while on Twitter or working, but being there in person is such a cool experience, because you’re reminded that you’re part of something bigger. All these believers around you, representing tens of thousands of churches, all together working toward our singular mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to all people. It’s thrilling in a way you just can’t appreciate from a distance.
  • I think my favorite part of the convention activities was the “9 Marks at 9” event. The vibe was very relaxed and familial, and the panelists (Mark Dever, Danny Akin, Al Mohler, and HB Charles) were relaxed and open. They were able to speak off-the-cuff and joke with each other, and at one point Mark Dever even opened up a can of worms that left Dr. Mohler flustered and caught off-guard, but he was able to take it in stride. It was just refreshing to hear these faithful men speak candidly about the issues of the denomination, disagree with each other, and still demonstrate respect and friendship. I’m thankful I was there to witness that.
  • One of the things that frustrated me greatly was that some of the people who beat the drum against misrepresenting your opponents on social media were more than happy to make straw-man arguments in their talks. I’m not going to name any names, because I don’t want to rustle up any more controversy. But it was irritating.
  • JD Greear repeatedly making the “deep state…of unity” joke got old. That said, as I noted on Twitter, evidence of the so-called “SBC Deep State” came out when Dr. Mohler accidentally claimed during the seminary report to have been president of the Southern Baptist Convention for the last 27 years. (I, for one, welcome our bow-tied overlords.)
  • Birmingham was NOT ready for us. Long lines, crazy waits. At least 4 of the 6 restaurants in Terminals A, B, and C of the Birmingham airport ran out of food on Wednesday night, before 7:30pm. That said, Birmingham was a neat town, and I’m sorry I didn’t schedule an extra day or two to experience more of it than the four square blocks or so of downtown where we stayed and convened.
  • Eugene’s Hot Chicken in Birmingham, y’all. Don’t sleep on it. It’s gooooooood.
  • I spent almost all my time with my fellow elder Travis. Two and a half days of fellowship with a brother I admire and am encouraged by was one of the biggest blessings of the week.
  • You never appreciate your own bed so much as your first night back from a trip.

I’ll stop there for now, but may have more to say later. If you have specific questions (for example, about the B21 panel and Matt Chandler’s interview), let me know in the comments.

Suffice to say, it was a great experience and I look forward to going back in the future!

If you were at #SBC19 as well–first of all, why didn’t you TELL me?!? We could have hung out!!!–or you watched it online, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

If you have questions about the SBC in general, I can try to answer those as well. 

Have a great weekend, and I’ll be back next week with new content!

The4thDave Reviews: “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”

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(I couldn’t find any “official” social media promotion photos, Legendary Pictures, so please don’t sue me.)

“History shows again and again / How nature points out the folly of man…”

Godzilla: King of the Monsters stomped into theaters 2 weeks ago. (Goodness, how many reviews start with *that* cliche?) If you listen to the legacy media and “professional” movie critics, the film was a disappointment and deserving of reproach. To which I say:

…It’s a Godzilla movie. You want high art? The “Fathom Events” broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera is two screens over.

G:KOTM picks up 5 years after Legendary Pictures’ 2014 reboot of the franchise. The story begins with the Russell family, who were devastated when their son was killed during the events depicted in the previous film. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is now working with the Monarch Corporation, tasked with locating and containing the “Titans” *cough*kaiju*cough* that are buried deep in the earth, all around the world. Her estranged husband, Mark (played by Coach Taylor–I mean, Kyle Chandler) is off studying the pack-behavior of wolves (conveniently!) and apparently staying in Tony Stark’s post-Snap cabin (?). Their tech-savvy teenaged daughter (Eleven from Stranger Things) is living with Emma but concerned about her.

But, blah blah blah, who cares because we FINALLY get to the monsters! And BOY HOWDY, do we get to the monsters.

AAAAAAAAAAND that’s where I’m going to stop and put up the spoiler warning. Because pretty much anything beyond this point is dipping into spoiler territory.

Unspoilery Review: Okay, I have to admit, I’m a mark for a good Godzilla movie–but I also know the difference between a good Godzilla movie (Godzilla: Final Wars or Shin Godzilla) and a bad one (the one from 1998 that we don’t speak of, EVER). That said: Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a really good Godzilla movie, y’all. The special effects are pretty good on the whole. The human cast is decent to good (some much more than others). The story is convoluted but why wouldn’t it be? And the studio has set itself for more monster-smashing action. (Not a spoiler, but Godzilla Vs. Kong is already in production, and I’m here for it.)

So yes, if you have any inclination to see a movie like this, go see it. You’ll have a good time. I’ll even say, go see it while it’s still in the theater. You need to experience it on the big screen.

Okay, spoilery observations commencing now…

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Onto the radioactive hail of bullets!!!

  • I love the Easter eggs and references to the Toho Pictures Gojira filmography–stuff like the “oxygen-destroying bomb” or the 4 generations of twins in Dr. Chen’s family. (Were her grandmother/great-aunt the actresses from the original Mothra movie? Because that would be money.)
  • The villain seemed right out of central casting (hailing from the Thanos school of Malthusian ecoterrorism). It’s interesting to me how many movies in the last 20+ years feature ecoterrorism–almost like it’s a reaction to the ecology movement of the nineties. Obviously, the idea of human ecological destruction is nothing new to the Godzilla franchise.
  • That said, I thought Vera Farmiga and Charles Dance (the human villain) gave the weakest performances of the main cast. Dance was a bit too mustache twirly without be fun to watch. Farmiga seemed to be sleep-walking through the role, to be honest. Her first turn, I could buy. The second turn and “redemption arc” was a much harder sell for me, though I figured out as soon as her daughter ran off that she would sacrifice herself to save her daughter.
  • The other actors were good. Chandler is always great, I don’t care what material you give him. Ken Watanabe was great as usual. Bradley Whitford’s comic relief character was fine; I would have dialed some of the humor back just a bit, because it was hit or miss there in the middle. Sally Hawkins and the rest of the main cast were serviceable but not notable. To the filmmaker’s credit, G:KOTM does a good job balancing the monster destruction with the human toll that such destruction is having. That’s something that was always missing from many of the old films (due to technological limitations, obviously). The 2014 film did it well, and I think this one did too.
  • One more critique: The visuals were pretty muddy throughout. Granted, I was on the second-row corner of an IMAX screening, so it wasn’t the greatest view, but others have confirmed this. Small quibble, but still.
  • The spiritual references throughout the film were intriguing, but having only seen it once, I couldn’t quite tell if there was a cohesive theme or if the director was just throwing in visual and dialogue references without more to it than that. Some interesting juxtapositions: the idea that dragons are considered divine in Eastern myth but that this one was feared; the shot of Ghidorah on the mountain with the church steeple/cross in the foreground (twice, I believe); the fact that the dragon was not of this world but fell to earth and then tried to rule before being thrown down; the dragon’s head being struck, crushed, and eventually removed. I don’t know, y’all; there seems to be a lot of Christian imagery that doesn’t seem accidental.
  • So, is Monarch an evil corporation, or just ridiculously naive? Are we talking Umbrella Corporation here, or just a really clumsy version of SHIELD?
  • I liked the contrasting themes of self-sacrifice for the greater good vs. faceless murder of millions for the greater good. (Would it be inappropriate to make a joke about communism here? Yeah? Okay, I’ll leave it alone.)
  • Hooray for leaving the ending open, and setting up the potential for many films. Let’s keep supporting them, y’all. I want to see more of these!
  • Does Godzilla live in Atlantis, y’all? That looked like Atlantis.
  • Something else to ponder regarding both the plot of the film and the actual making of it: Man’s natural tendency to worship, and our inherent desire to feel awe at something greater than ourselves. If I were writing a thinkpiece for C&PC or TGC, that would probably be my theme. “Searching for God in Godzilla.” “King of the Monsters, or King of Kings?” Something like that.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Common Bond.

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I was recently enjoying an overnight hotel stay with my very pregnant wife–a combination anniversary and “baby-moon” getaway. After breakfast, she went back up to the room to sleep a bit longer, while I stayed down in the lobby, drinking coffee and finishing up my day’s reading from the #SamePageSummer reading plan.

(Are you participating in this challenge? We’re reading through the New Testament this summer. It’s not too late to start–we’ve only read the Gospel of John so far!)

I had just finished reading John 19, the account of the Crucifixion, and was meditating on the commentary notes from Charles Spurgeon about the “ocean of meaning in a drop of text” (the word tetelestai). Suddenly, I noticed a gentleman approached me, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Hey, brother, what’s the word?”

The term “brother” tipped me off, so I hesitated just a moment and then said, “The word is ‘It is finished’.”

He broke into a wide grin. “Amen to that!”

This sparked a ten-minute conversation about the interplay between trusting in the finished work of Jesus and taking up the active obedience of His disciples, and how Christians use the “done-ness” of our salvation as an excuse not to walk as Jesus walked.

The man then told me a bit about himself: his name is Daniel and he’s the pastor of a local non-denominational church, married with older kids, and he previously worked with Chuck Colson’s prison ministry. I shared a bit about myself as well, including the fact that I recently became an elder and that my wife and I are expecting our second daughter very soon.

Then he said, “I know you’re busy, and I hate to interrupt your study, but can I pray for you?” We took turns praying over each other, praying for each other’s walk, family, and ministry. We then shared a warm handshake, and he left to join his family. We didn’t exchange info or anything. We just got to share a moment of fellowship and encouragement in a hotel lobby.

I share this as a reminder: Christian, you’re part of a big, big family. And you don’t agree with all your brothers and sisters on every point of theology. I’m sure there are probably things I would disagree about with my brother in the hotel lobby. But we shared the same Lord and the same faith, and that binds us together in a way that I will never be connected to my unsaved family members or friends, no matter how close we may feel. Because as far as I can discern, Daniel and I will both be there in that glorious throng on the Last Day, praising our King together.

So, even as we believers wrestle with doctrinal distinctions and rightly guard against error, we should also be quick to recognize that even among those with whom we disagree, there is still a bond of brotherhood and fellowship that gives us family and welcome, no matter where we are, all over the world.

Be encouraged, believer: we are a large and rambunctious family, but we are a family nevertheless. Amen and amen.

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Request: Please keep this week’s Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in prayer. This year, our denomination is wrestling with some big issues, such as how to deal with sexual abuse and cover-up in a way that is transparent and light-filled, and how to understand and promote a Biblical understanding of gender roles as it relates to church practice. Pray for wisdom, clear thought, and a deep sense of our brotherhood and common bond as believers.

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Your Turn: If you’re a Christian, have you experienced unexpected fellowship in an encounter with a fellow believer you’d never met? Tell us about it!

And if you’re not a follower of Jesus, I’m actually curious as to why, if you’re willing to discuss that–either in the comments or via email, if you prefer.  Hit me up.

Fearfully and wonderfully.

I have to admit, I’m taking the national debate over abortion pretty personally.

I have been pro-life (or anti-abortion, if you prefer) all my life. I was a child when my parents were able to adopt a little girl who was scheduled to be aborted in George Tiller’s mill, but God’s providence intervened. She is now my sister, and I can’t imagine my childhood without her in it.

I’ve participated in peaceful protests. I’ve educated myself on alternatives and support services for pregnant women, and supported such services with my time and money in the past. And while I haven’t had the opportunity yet to take a more active role, my wife and I have talked about and are still talking about foster care in the future. (We were actually in the midst of foster-care training when we found out about Baby #1, a few years ago.)

I have seen lots of discussion on social media about “women’s rights” and “women’s bodies,” and whether or not “blobs of cells” or “blobs of tissue” have the same rights. I’ve read comments of prominent politicians arguing about how a 6-week-old embryo can be destroyed because it’s hard for women to know whether or not they are just “two weeks late on [their] period”–as if the living being within the womb is an after-thought. I saw recently that national newspapers referred to a fetal heartbeat as mere “embryonic pulsing” (what an perfect example of Orwellian newspeak).

Whenever I see those comments thrown around, I can’t help but think back to this:

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That’s my second daughter, at 12 1/2 weeks of development. A human being, with a head, limbs, a speedy little heartbeat–and at that point, no human rights, as she was still legal to abort in more than 40 states.

Even now, at 33 weeks along, my wife could travel to New York or Illinois or several other states, and our daughter (currently around 4-5 pounds, full of energy, doing flips and kicks, lungs expanding and contracting, mouth swallowing, heart still pumping away) could be medically disassembled, ripped literally limb from limb, brain matter sucked out, skull crushed, in the name of “choice.” This is “health care,” after all.

Those who oppose my views talk about the rights of women. Scroll up and take another look at that picture. Take another look at that little girl.

What about her rights? What about her bodily autonomy? When do we grant her humanity?

See, that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s about acknowledging her humanity. It’s about recognizing that that little “blob of cells” that had an “embryonic pulsation” as early as 6 weeks into development is a human being, endowed by her Creator with inalienable rights. It’s about believing and defending the truth that this little girl–my daughter–is fearfully and wonderfully made.

For me, this national discussion isn’t about controlling women’s choices or women’s bodies. It’s not even about political power plays or left-vs-right bickering.

It’s about demanding the recognition that my daughter, like all unborn children, is still a human being.

And when you refuse to do that, I take that very personally.

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(Baby #2, back in February, at 19 weeks development. Babies at this stage are still able to be murdered legally in Texas.)

Giving and Taking.

dirty dishes on the sink
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

In my experience, the interactions with people that frustrate me the most tend to reveal or reflect my own sinful habits.

I was given a few opportunities in recent months for this kind of hypocrisy to be revealed. In one case, a friend who needed help moving made a few decisions during the course of the move that I thought were pretty inconsiderate of those who were volunteering to help. In another case, people who were invited over for a potluck dinner brought little and ate much. (This happens a lot, actually.)

In both instances, I felt slighted. Taken advantage of. Wronged.

James writes that the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. As one preacher put it, our sinful anger is sometimes motivated by a desire for justice or setting-things-right. But we are not God, and our wrath is just as often corrupted by self-interest.

My frustration in these events wasn’t simply that the people involved made these decisions, but that I felt personally slighted by them. I felt like I was being used or disregarded.

Yet, to paraphrase Nathan the prophet, “I am that man.” 

I can think of instances when my own self-interest has motivated me to contribute little and take much more (sometimes specifically when it comes to food, an area of personal struggle for me). My own pursuit of preference and convenience has inconvenienced others.

The greatest example of this is, of course, the Cross. I had nothing to offer except guilt and just condemnation, and Jesus took these things from me and gave me His righteousness and inheritance. And yet, even now, I still treat this great exchange as an after-thought, something to be taken for granted.  Sure, I appreciate the promise of resurrection and of abundant life and a source of joy and peace that cannot be quenched by the worst of life’s tragedies–but what have you done for me lately?

So after I left my friend’s new home, and after my guests made their exit and left my wife and I to sweep up and wash the dishes, once my grumbling had come to an end, I was forced to consider the fact that I’m no better than anyone else in this regard. Truth be told, I’m often tempted to take more than I give, to consider myself more highly than others, to pursue my own agenda.

I’m in danger of becoming the ungrateful and unforgiving servant, forgiven a fortune yet demanding a pittance to be repaid–the result of not spending enough time contemplating how great a debt I owed in the first place.

Do you also struggle with this tendency toward double-standards? If so, let me encourage you, as one sometimes-hypocrite to another: remember that there’s nothing we have that we have not been given by God, nothing we build or create that we aren’t graciously enabled to do so by the gifts and kindnesses that God bestows.

And whenever we are “blessed” with the opportunity to bear with what we see as the failings of others, may we both remember to take a breath, release the frustration, and thank our Savior that He is infinitely more patient and gracious than we are.

 

5/24/19 — Still Alive.

This week has been challenging. I am doing my best to take care of my various obligations. Blog writing got bumped again. Look for some content next week.

In the meantime, if you’re the praying sort, pray that our air conditioning gets fixed (temps in the 90s around here this week). Thanks.