Friday, July 20, 2018

Keep It Secular

Do you want freedom of religion? Then keep religion out of our governmental system.

I am secular, but I would protect your religious freedoms more than most religious people you know.

See, I don't care if you beseech Thor or Yahweh. Whether you follow the teachings of Joseph Smith or the Dalai Lama is all the same to me.

The only thing I ask is that you do not make me join you in this.

You would have trouble getting some of your fellow theists to grant you such liberties.

They want the schools to pray their way. Read their scriptures.

They want laws to reflect their pious predilections.

They want taxes to fund their projects, their evangelistic efforts.

If you really want religious freedom, keep our system secular.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Why Empathy Will Not Work

A good number of people were surprised at the lack of feeling many Americans seemed to have regarding ripping children from their mother’s arms at the border.  Some felt this maneuver by Trump and his administration would finally activate the empathy of their fellow citizens.

I knew it would do no such thing.

I regularly hear pundits talk about our need for conversation with those with whom we disagree.  We need to hear them.  We need to find common ground.

Nice sentiments.  Reasonable sentiments.

But it won’t work.

The bulk of Trump support comes from Christian Evangelicals… and people who have never traveled in those circles cannot imagine how far gone these folks really are.

Because people hear the word Christian before Evangelical, they assume Evangelicals have at least some concern for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast.

That assumption is wrong.

I spent most of my life as an Evangelical.  Evangelicals have one goal… turn them into us.  Everything is about conversion.

Jesus went to the poor, downtrodden, and the outcast because they were poor, downtrodden, and outcast.  Evangelicals go there because they are the easiest to convert.

Behind every bit of Evangelical help is a sales pitch.  And the pictures taken while helping play great at fundraisers.

But surely, they must have some empathy.  How can any mother watch children ripped from their parents and not feel something?

Again, we are dealing with Evangelicals.  They are taught that everyone outside their group is an enemy.  Enemies who deserve what is coming to them.

I was on a thread at John Piper’s Facebook page.  He is a prominent conservative evangelical preacher and author.  There was a debate going on about John Piper’s comment that if his kids turned from God, God would be justified in sending them to Hell.

One woman in the conversation said (I paraphrase from memory),

“My son became an atheist.  He has this life to turn back to Jesus.  I don’t resent God if He sends my son to Hell, I blame my son for leaving God!”

When pressed further on this point, she said,

“On the day God condemns my son to Hell, I will stand up and declare God righteous in His judgment!”

Don’t be surprised if you can’t get a woman like this to shed a tear for a child at the border.

Evangelicals have been trained since their youth to look for someone to save them.  They do not blink at the thought that everyone outside their group will be tortured for eternity.  Others are the enemy.  Others deserve this.

So, no, what has been going on at the border has not affected them.  Listen to Evangelicals talk.  They will say that those crossing the border deserve this.

And if you think taking children at the border is as bad as it is going to get, buckle up.

There is no reasoning with an Evangelical Trump supporter.  There is no argument that will work.  There is no empathy string to pull.  They have been waiting for this moment their whole lives, nothing will dissuade them.

Our only hope is to get out there in record numbers and stir up the vote.

Monday, July 02, 2018

June's Movie Picks!

Summer is here!  So, I saw a fair number of movies this month.  Here are my grades-

First Reformed:  D+

This story involves a priest who is wrestling with the environmental issues of our day; as well as various levels of faith crisis.  It is slow.  It is plodding.  It meanders.

I can usually deal with all of that if there is some good dialog sprinkled in (there wasn’t) or if there is a satisfying conclusion (there REALLY wasn’t).

I don’t consider too many movies a waste of my time, but this one was.  Too bad, because it posed some good questions.

Upgrade:  B+

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.  I hadn’t heard much about it and it just quietly dropped into our local theater.  I assumed it was going to be some late night, SyFy channel quality future flick.  Instead, it was a well-done combo of The Crow and Robocop with the tone of a Black Mirror episode.

Hereditary:  B+

I haven’t had a movie creep me out this much since The Babadook.   So many horror flicks go for the cheap pop-outs to make you jump.  Hereditary takes time through story and character development to unnerve and unsettle you before it goes to the real work of scaring you.

Tag:  B

A very fun comedy (based on true events) about a group of middle age friends who are continuing a game of tag started in childhood.  A lot of funny moments and worthwhile laughs.  It did seem to struggle with how seriously it wanted to take itself and I found that occasional indecision distracting.  Overall though, they landed the story well.

Hotel Artemis:  B-

I was probably affected by all of the bad press I saw about this movie before seeing it.  I had low expectations walking in but I ended up rather liking it.

I can understand some of the complaints.  There were a number of absurd and/or contradictory plot points.  The story sometimes lacked flow.

However, I really like a lot of the actors in this movie and I found I enjoyed their characters as they worked through the story.

When I zoom out, I see the problems.  When I zoom in, I enjoy the performances.

Incredibles 2:  A-

A worthy successor to the first movie.  It was enjoyable from beginning to end.

It only needed one more element to really push it to the top tier – an engaging villain.  The villain in this movie was not bad… but was bland.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor:  A-

Thoroughly enjoyable documentary about Fred Roger’s PBS show.  The man was the Gandhi of children’s television.  I was inspired, I cried, and was shocked to find out that he had critics.

Jurassic World- Fallen Kingdom: C-

In an earlier review, I described Death Wish as cinematic fast food – sometimes you want something quick and satisfying.  Fallen Kingdom is like fast food… that you have had for the past five days in a row.  There was nothing new or original in this movie.  Jurassic Park has hit its Pirates of the Caribbean stride.  They will churn these out as long as people keep buying tickets but don’t expect any story effort from here on in.

Also, be aware that this one is more gruesome than previous Jurassic offerings.

Uncle Drew:  C

Well… I wasn’t bored.  It just rarely made me laugh.  If you saw the preview, that is the movie.  It was the Blues Brothers for old basketball players.  They spent most of the movie getting the team back together, but with none of the memorable one-liners.

This article first appeared at Salt Lake Film Review.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Prayer in School

In America, some people of faith experience frustration because they believe religion is not allowed in our schools. This is because they do not understand that there is a difference between allowed in and promoted by.

My students talk about religion frequently. They sometimes pray over their snacks. They occasionally read their holy books.

Nevertheless, some people desire for me, as a teacher, to lead my students in prayers and scripture readings. More specifically, prayers and scriptures from their tradition.

Reasonable people from every faith tradition understand why this would be problematic. I have students who come from a variety of faith traditions and some from no tradition.

I support every student in my classroom. When people of faith ask that I promote their faith tradition in class, they are asking me to break the neutrality that allows each student to feel supported by me.

I had a number of traditions represented in my class this year. None of the children knew where I stood. They all felt equally supported by me. Please do not ask me to take sides.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Christianity in America

I wrote an article back in 2012 about a conversation where I found myself defending the teachings of Jesus to a bunch of Christians.  I had recently started identifying as an atheist so this was a surprising turnabout.

Nowadays, I am no longer surprised. American Christianity is drowning in members who have little interest in the Way of Jesus. They want the team membership that comes with name association, they want an imparted sense of morality (while eschewing the work of adhering to an ethical code), they want a Hell escape route; but they find the actual Way of Jesus (if they even know it) to lack the control they desire, the power they crave, or the practicality they believe they need.

I watch Christian after Christian defend taking screaming children from their mothers. When asked if they could really picture Jesus doing that, they happily admit that Jesus wouldn't... but Jesus lives in heaven and we live here. If we follow the Way of Jesus, we'll be taken advantage of. Let's leave Jesus at the church building and Bible study so WE can get done what needs to be done.

These Christians have taken their walk in the desert and were offered the same bargain as the Nazarene.
The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
I don't believe in the supernatural. There is no Devil. However, this is a poignant allegory for our time.

Christians have weighed the offer and have chosen the kingdoms of the world.  They rally behind the name of Jesus but want nothing to do with his Way.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Disc Golf and Church

Summer is a time of almost daily disc golf for me.  Whether by myself or with friends, it is the exercise my body desperately needs and the Zen my soul craves.

However, when I approached Valley Regional Park the other day, the lot was overflowing.  Valley is a multi-purpose park, so it is not unusual to see it jam-packed due to sports tournaments, fairs, or other community happenings.

As I pulled in to meet a friend for a round, I saw a sign at the entrance -"Free Event!"  I knew instantly what the temp stage and bouncy houses in the distance meant.  Such vague signage could mean only one thing: Church Event.

Not just any church... these were obviously evangelicals.  No one else could be so gauche.  I know the Evangelical playbook well.  "Church in the Park" is one way that a completely insular group can convince themselves they are a vital part of the community.

I have been out of church life for about 6 years.  I have returned on occasion for a few Catholic Christmas services and a Mormon baptism or two.  In that time though, I had forgotten how truly awful Evangelical services really are.

First, there was the music.  What a cluster @#$% of mind control.  Chorus lines repeated over and over and over reminding everyone how terrible they are... and how lucky they are to have a God who condescends to love them in spite of how terrible they are.  After a few dozen cycles of that message, we moved on to various choruses of "Our God is so much better than everyone else's god!"

I was having a noticeably more visceral reaction to this than my ex-Mormon buddy, but he did agree it was pretty tacky.  Though annoyed by the triggering cult music of my past, I was still on par by hole 3.

We were out of earshot on holes 5-7.  I was grateful for the brief respite.

Somewhere along the eighth fairway, we came back into audio range.  The service had moved on to the sermon and the pastor was dutifully hitting every trope - the "world" thinks it is enjoying life, but they aren't.  Other religions think they know God, but they don't.  Meaning can only be found in our faith.

He wrapped up the sermon with an emotional appeal to Jesus.  I was grateful to be heading out to the back nine before he could build to the ol' sinner's prayer.

When I got home, I looked up the church to take a peek at their event calendar.  I now know which days this summer to visit another course.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

May Was A Little Thin

You may be used to my monthly sum-ups by now, but I will tell you that May was a little thin.  I only have 3 new movies to comment on.  I went to the movies a grand total of 5 times, but two of those were repeats.

On the topic of repeats, Moviepass has now declared that a no-no.  Overall, not a big deal to me, but I do take it as one more indication that they are not long for this world.

I did slip in one more repeat before the hammer fell.  I woke early one Saturday morning to see folks bemoaning the fact on Facebook that their Moviepass had updated overnight and now was informing them on their listings that, "You have already seen this movie." 

I don't auto-update, but I figured it was just a matter of time before they forced the issue.  So I grabbed a quick shower and headed out to the first showing of Avengers.  They forced the update just after I bought my ticket.


But I have already reviewed Avengers, so let's get to the few new offerings I did view in the month of May.

Overboard:  C+

I like the storyline of this movie overall and it had a few good laughs - but not nearly as many as one needs to make a comedy work.  In many ways, I feel this would have fit better as a family movie on the Hallmark channel.

Anna Faris is just darling in this movie and she carried it for me.  However, Eugenio Derbez's character as the rich brat with amnesia, duped into thinking he was her husband, was disjointed to the point of distraction.  Sometimes the role seemed to fit him like a glove; at other times it could not have felt more awkward.

Faris's daughters in the movie were charming.  I think the movie would have been better served by giving them more screen time with Derbez.

I can't give it high marks, but it was worth a view.

Deadpool 2:  A-

I love it when a sequel comes together.  DP2 built on everything that was successful in the original.  Reynolds dry, sarcastic humor is non-stop in this movie - and for me, that just works.  I laughed more in any given 15 minutes of DP2 than I did in all of Overboard.

In addition, the movie has the potential for a broader appeal than I thought.  My wife decided to join my son and I on our Deadpool run.  She is not much into movies, fuzzy on most pop culture, and clueless on comic/nerd references.  Yet, she loved this movie.

Maybe she just digs Ryan Reynolds.

Solo:  B-

At this point, seeing Star Wars movies is a bit like homework.  I am a fan from the old days, so I gotta see it.  However, nothing since the original 3 has been satisfying.  Solo proved to be no different.

It is... ok.  There wasn't anything I disliked about it per se, but there was nothing all that engaging either.  It felt at times that the writers had a checklist of things they dutifully needed to hit and did so.  Donald Glover as Lando was probably the highlight.

Kevin Feige is in charge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  He has given direction to the arc of their (presently) 19 movies.  I feel Star Wars needs that kind of oversight.

I plan to hit more movies in the month of June, so hopefully, my commentary will be more plentiful next month.

This article was originally posted at Salt Lake Film Review.
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