Monthly Archives: January 2008

Rambo, 2/5

Rated R. Click here to view the trailer.

You’re either a Rocky man, or a Rambo man. I’ve always considered myself a Rocky man and the new film Rambo confirms it. Rocky Balboa (Rocky VI) was a surprisingly well-done and well-acted comeback story that made your heart swell. Rambo, the fourth in the series that began 25 years ago with First Blood, is a bloody gorefest with more dead Burmese rebels than you can shake a severed leg at. It makes your heart swell, but only because 50-cal rounds are bursting through it. Heck, the MPAA rated it R because of “strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults and grisly images.” Judging from this movie alone, its star, director and writer, Sly Stallone, has some serious issue. I’m guessing his daddy never hugged him.

John Rambo is an aging-but-still-ripped ex-Green Beret who, after fighting injustice in the U.S., Vietnam and Afghanistan (back when the Afghani rebels were still the good guys), has forgone the stereotypical retirement villa in Boca and instead has settled into the quiet, secluded life of a cobra wrangler/blacksmith in the jungles of Thailand. There’s a brutal (real life) civil war up stream in Burma (actually, it’s called Myanmar now, but who’s keeping track?). But, his killing days over, Rambo keeps his boat well south of the fighting and is content to scowl silently as he spends his days fishing with his bow and arrow.

He reluctantly agrees to use his boat (complete with its impossibly tiny, hand-forged propeller) to drop off some ill-prepared, inept NON-BAPTIST missionaries in the war zone, but only after Pretty Blond (Julie Benz) begs him and gives him her cross necklace. Aww. Rambo done gone and got religion! Too bad he has to get back to snake wrangling (“I don’t need any more cobras! I want pythons! I have enough cobras!”) and can’t play missionary.

All is going hunky dory until – GASP! – the genocidal Burmese guerrillas attack Pretty Blond & Co. and then the movie turns into Viscera City. Heads are shot (with bullets, bazookas AND hand-made arrows), torsos blown apart and limbs fly like confetti while buckets of blood explode towards the camera in qualities that put Kill Bill to shame. Remember the scenes in Saving Private Ryan where the D-Day soldiers are getting mowed down as they storm the beaches at Normandy? You ain’t seen nothing yet. In the words of Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder: is it possible this movie is more gruesome than dating in New York – umm… I meant “more gruesome than actual genocidal civil war”?

The baddies take Pretty Blond’s God Squad hostage. After they aren’t heard from, their pastor from Colorado flies to Thailand and hires Rambo to ferry a group of ethnically diverse mercenaries to rescue PB. (I wanted to know why the big pansy didn’t go on the trip in the first place. It’s called “leadership,” Rev!) One ‘Nam flashback later, Rambo agrees and tags along on the rescue, but only after forging his own special Ultimate Machete of Justice and Pain (at least that’s what I called it… see the poster above). Hilarity ensues.

I won’t spoil the ending by telling you whether or not Rambo succeeds in rescuing Pretty Blond and personally gutting the pedophile guerrilla General. Yes, I will. He does. I’d love to be at the “afterglow” service when the mission team and PB get back to Colorado. Thankfully, Stallone spared us and did not write a May-December romance between him and Pretty Blond, although there is a vague feeling that he wanted too and decided Rambo was just too tough for love. Or is he? The ending credits show Rambo lumbering down the driveway to say hi to his estranged father in New Mexico. I hope I didn’t ruin anything for you.

Here are two questions you can ponder:

  1. Is it against the Geneva Convention to physically rip a man’s trachea from his throat with your bare hands?
  2. After Rambo single-handedly disembowels an saws an entire regiment of the army in half with the .50 cal. and saves one small village, what is the fate of the rest of the nation which is now facing the rest of the army, only this time sans a geriatric superhero?

No one has ever accused Stallone of being cerebral, but after the touching and engaging Rocky Balboa, Rambo and its mindless fight-violence-with-violence ethic (not to mention its mindless dialog) feels utterly… well, useless. Stallone supposedly hopes the film will generate awareness of the brutal carnage that truly is going on in Burma. Either he has no sense of irony or he is going senile in his old age.

A time to be born, a time to die… A time to mourn, a time to laugh

To everything
Turn turn turn
There is a season
Turn turn turn
A time for every purpose, under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die.
The Byrds

Call me a heathen or a heretic, but I think I prefer The Byrds to Ecclesiastes.

It is appropriate that after writing about the joy and beauty of life, I write about the ashes of death.

My step-grandfather, Don, died yesterday.

It’s hard to deal with death (and I’m by no means an expert), and it’s hard to appreciate a man’s life without interjecting your own and making the story revolve around you. It’s even harder to say something worthwhile about death. That being the case, I’m just going to free-associate a little bit.

I’m sad and am allowing myself to grieve/cry, but there’s not much room for self-pity as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life. Aside from two highschool friends, I’ve never had anyone close to me die, and certainly not a family member. Some of my friends have lost their parents and many never even knew their grandparents. I’m so very, very fortunate. It sounds so cliche (but I’m finding out death is nothing but cliches), but I think we are much better off being grateful for the time we spent with Don (or any loved one) than dwelling their loss. Both The Byrds and Ecclesiastes go on to say there while there is time to weep, there is also a time to laugh.

He’d been in a special nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients for over a year now and he hasn’t known anyone, including my grandma, for at least two years. He really declined quickly.

When we visited him at Christmas, he didn’t say anything. It may sound cold hearted to say, but it’s almost a relief that he’s gone home (that sounds so cliche… gone home). Again, it sounds horrible, but it has been a real strain on my grandma (she’s gone to feed him his meals three times a day for over a year) and we all pretty much said goodbye to him in our hearts when his mind left. It sounds absolutely hackneyed to say it, but at least now he’s in Heaven and he recognizes Jesus. Wow, I’m starting to sound like a bad country western song.

I’m closer to my grandparents than a lot of people. The summers of 2002, ‘03 and ‘04, I lived with them and worked in Oklahoma City. In my down time, I would help Don has he worked on the duplexes they owned. If I’m handy at all, it’s because of him. I learned the theory of “handy-man-nery” from my Dad, but I got to practice it by trial and error (mostly error) with Don. I was always getting hurt or messing something up, but Don was always patient with me (and even let me drive the truck across town when I was just 14!). One time I was cleaning out an attic and fell through the ceiling. Another time, I was painting a garage door, knocked the paint bucket off the ladder and splashed the tenant’s brand new car with semi-gloss eggshell. While cutting siding to size with a circular saw, I cut through the power cord (twice). I stepped on my fair share of rusty nails and on one occasion, was thrown off a steel ladder in the rain after the drill I was using shorted out and gave me a good shock. Don hit his thumb with the hammer a few times too, but we both survived it and had a good time.

That drill/semi-elloctrocution thing happened on his daughter’s farm about an hour outside the city. Almost exactly five years to the day before he died, we were working on the roof of second floor of the barn. Don was lifting a piece of sheet aluminum when a gust of wind caught it like a sail. He fell off the 10-foot ladder and then tumbled down a 16-foot tall flight of stairs before slamming into the pickup parked below. There is still a dent in door where is head hit. I watched him fall in slow motion and stupidly jumped from my ladder straight to the ground. I was in the air before he even hit. It’s a miracle I didn’t break a leg or worse. When I got to him, he wasn’t moving, there was blood all over his face and his teeth (I later figured out they were just his dentures) were shattered. After screaming at him and trying to find a pulse, I tried CPR, but nothing happened. It seemed like hours went by, but I sure it was only seconds until he started breathing on his own. It was raspy and he was moaning, but he was alive! He was no doubt paralyzed and would never walk again, but at least I didn’t have to tell my grandmother I saw him die.

I called 911 on my cell phone, but couldn’t tell them where the farm was (nobody was home on the farm). It was just one of those places where you knew how to get there but there was no way I could give directions. I ended up having to tell them to meet me at a restaurant about five miles away, the nearest landmark we both knew the location of. I said a prayer, and begged the delirious Don to stay still and that I’d be right back. Then I got in my Camaro and floored it through the rough, bumpy field (I don’t recommend going 65 in a grassy field). I finally made it to the blacktop highway and after a few minutes saw the ambulance coming. I flashed my lights and honked my horn and literally did a skidding 180 like they do in the movies and led them back to the farm. We finally made it back to Don. He was still moaning, but the two farm dogs my step-aunt kept were licking his face. For some reason, it struck me as funny and I started laughing.

He had horrible arthritis and couldn’t even stand to sleep on his back because of the pain, and that was on a good day. Now, he was very confused and fought the paramedics as they tried to wrestle him onto the backboard. Despite his moaning and fighting, they eventually got him to the ambulance. Then they asked me which hospital to take him to. “I don’t care!” I shouted, “You’re the experts! Which ever is closer and has the best food I guess.” The paramedic said they were about the same. Before I could get really angry, Don, who hadn’t said anything coherent yet, and wouldn’t say anything coherent after this for a day or so, suddenly piped up and wheezed, “Take me to the one with the prettiest nurses.” It was totally out of character for him, but at least I knew he was alive and would probably survive.

I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden in an ambulance, but when this baby got on the Interstate, it flew. We made the hour plus trip in less than half the normal time. Their big, boxy ambulance out ran my Camaro.

To make a long story, well, long, he somehow survived with not much more than a broken set of dentures. Since he couldn’t tell the doctors what happened, I had to follow him into the ER exam to tell the doctors what happened. They didn’t believe me because none of his 76-year-old old, arthritic and brittle bones were broken. He didn’t even have major bruises. Except for a bump on the noggin, some cuts on his arms and his broken dentures and glasses, he was fine. If it wasn’t for the paramedics having seen the blood on the stairs and the bloody dent on the truck door, they still wouldn’t have believed me. I’m convinced that nobody, not even Don or my grandmother, knows how horrible his fall was except for me. He was in the hospital for just one day. Even though he wasn’t severely injured and he had shown some early signs of Alzheimer’s before then, everyone in our family agrees he started going down hill slowly from there.

All that to say I feel like I saw him die once, and everything from that day on, even if he didn’t know who we were, was a blessing. I still have brief flashes where I see him falling and I hear the sickening thuds at he rolls down the staircase. It’s definitely my worst memory. I don’t want to imagine how messed up I’d be if I hadn’t been able to find the ambulance or if he had died. If ever I need therapy, that’ll probably be one of the first topics the therapist and I hash out.

Like I said, I feel like I saw him die five years ago and so now that it’s real, it doesn’t feel near as sad. It’s like I’ve already dealt with it. Does that make any sense at all? Even though I’ll definitely cry this weekend and at his funeral on Monday, and even though it will break my heart to see my grandmother crying at Don’s casket, my season of mourning and sorrow has more or less passed, and I think I’ll be better able to understand it when the preacher says another cliche, that we should celebrate Don’s life. Hopefully, I will be able to help my grandmother see that God has a season of laughter in store for her and that Don is now in an eternal season of peace and joy.

Don was a good, kind, clever, handy, patient, Godly man. I’m sorry I only knew him for 17 years.

Maybe the Ecclesiastes version isn’t so bad, even though you can’t hum to it:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Beauty from Ashes

“To all who mourn in Israel, [The LORD] will give beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair…” Isaiah 61:3

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we recognize that each life has inherent dignity and matchless value, and we reaffirm our steadfast determination to defend the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.

America was founded on the belief that all men are created equal and have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and our country remains committed to upholding that founding principle. Since taking office, I have signed legislation to help protect life at all stages, and my Administration will continue to encourage adoption, fund abstinence education and crisis pregnancy programs, and support faith-based groups. Today, as our society searches for new ways to ease human suffering, we must pursue the possibilities of science in a manner that respects the sacred gift of life and upholds our moral values.

Our Nation has made progress in its efforts to protect human life, and we will strive to change hearts and minds with compassion and decency. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day and throughout the year, we help strengthen the culture of life in America and work for the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 20, 2008, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second.

GEORGE W. BUSH

Amen, George.

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. 2008 marks the 35th anniversary (dare I say, “birthday”?) of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. It’s estimated more than 50,000 million babies have been aborted in this country alone since 1972.

At church this morning, Life was the topic. We could have dwelt on abortion statistics (which are moving), focused on the tragedy of losing an innocent life (which it is), denounced Planned Parenthood as murderers (they are), bemoaned the trauma it can cause women (I’ve interviewed some personally) or highlighted the fact that even though we hate the sin, we should love the sinner (I can’t stress that last part enough). We could have, but we didn’t.

Instead, the pastor made a wise choice and used the service to celebrate Life. A good portion of the service was dedicated to a video interview of a church member who, pregnant at 17, decided against abortion and gave her child up for adoption. The now-26-year-old woman some urged her to terminate joined her in the video. They discussed the joy in both their lives, joy that stemmed from one woman making the right decision in a difficult situation. As the pastor said in his introduction, it was “two-tissue morning.” But he also said this: “God gives beauty out of ashes.”

Truly, this woman’s biological daughter was beauty out of ashes. Literally, this chick was hot. But back to the point.

I’ve known probably a dozen or so adopted children in my life and whether or not they came “from ashes,” I can testify that they are full of God’s beauty. My best friend’s biological mother gave her up for adoption, despite a society that pressured her to abort. It is very selfish of me to say it, but my life would simply not be near as rich nor fun if that woman I don’t even know had made the easy choice. And yet, the spice her daughter brings to my life is nothing compared to the joy her life brings the Lord.

In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that. However, here are two more Stories of Life: This is an article I wrote that was picked up by Baptist Press (in my circle, that’s a great honor), not to mention the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission. It’s about an abortion clinic in Springfield, MO. The second story, below, is from the most recent issue of World Magazine. In my review of Juno on A Rough Cut, I briefly noted that both Juno and Allison of Knocked Up, for one reason or another, chose Life over death. This article takes it a few steps further. You’ll have to click on each page to open up the larger file. It’s a good article and is worth your time.




Atonement, 4/5

Rated R. Click to view the trailer.

Atonement just won the Golden Globe for best drama. Good for it. I can honestly say it deserved it. However, I can also honestly say it isn’t a film I need to see again any time soon.

Based on the beautifully written novel of the same name by Ian McEwan, Atonement hinges upon three key misunderstandings on the part of young, confused, would-be writer Briony Tallis (played so well it’s creepy by Saoirse Ronan). Her confused perception (dramatization) of reality threatens to break apart her older sister, Cecilia (Keira Knightly) and the family’s groundskeeper, Robbie (James McAvoy). The audience is forced to ask a question. Is it truly possible to atone for a sin? Is regret enough? Toss in a bar tending chocolate magnate (“here, try my choc-tail”), a red-haired Lolita, the evacuation at Dunkirk during WWII, and the mother of all plot twists, and you’ve got yourself a movie.

I hate to pigeon-hole Ms. Knightly into typecasting, but she was born to play pre-war, headstrong, rich British women. It blows me away that she is only 22 years old. I have significantly less of a crush on James McAvoy, but I must say the man has amazing eyes and can act.

Each actor does a superb job in their role and the film is so well done and well written that I can’t figure out why I don’t like it. I had minor problems following the timeline of the movie, and director Joe Wright chose to shoot with a handheld camera at odd times, but those are only minor quibbles. Also, the audience (and I) laughed at moment’s I’m not sure were supposed to be funny (“choc-tail” being one of them). The movie also feels a tad long, clocking in at 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Quibbles aside, Atonement is a very well-put-together piece of work. In fact, it feels very Shakespearean. Briony’s writing ambition translates into a motif (from the opening credits to the subtitles telling us the scene and date to the very font used in the movie’s poster above) that I only appreciate now in retrospect. The confusing timeline is probably a necessity as we see the pivotal events between Cecilia and Robbie from two points of view. They also make more sense when we hit the plot twist.

Ah, the plot twist. My gut tells me this is the movie’s weakness. If not the twist itself, then the way it is handled. From what I’ve been told of the way it is addressed in the book (I’m only one third of the way through it myself), it works much better there. It isn’t quite as gimmicky as an M. Night Shammalamma-ding-dong movie, but the twist near the end hit me just as hard as learning Bruce Willis was a ghost in The Sixth Sense. Instead of being blown away, however, I was pissed off. “What the hell?” were my exact words, I believe. It makes it a far better movie from a literary sense, yeah, I get it. Still. What the hell?

If you’re into dramas, you can’t do better than Atonement. If you’re not, at least you get to ogle Keira Knightly in a wet, clingy slip for a few seconds. That’s worth something.

Better than a Toe-Jam Smoothie

It’s 11:42 p.m., I’m driving home from the late showing of Walk Hard, and all I can think about is a nice, piping hot order of McDonald’s french fries.

OK, so it’s really 12:54 p.m. and I’m just killing time on my lunch break, but man I would have given anything for a few fries this weekend. Today marks the one-week anniversary of me and my diet. So far I’m actually doing OK. I was able to resist the fry episode and other than that, I really haven’t had any powerful cravings.

This is my first diet, and so far it’s not too bad. My only complaint is that it flat out sucks. It surprises me that no one has come to this conclusion before. I genuinely LOVE food. The physical act of eating gives me pleasure so the concept of a diet just seems horribly wrong to me. I’ve always had a “positive” body image and didn’t really care what I looked like, but I saw some pictures of me over the holiday. It’s amazing how different I looked just a few years ago. Couple that with some people I really respect telling me they’re concerned for my health, and I guess I’ve decided it’s time to do something. We’ll see how it goes. I’m hoping for the best. It does annoy me, however, that we don’t have a magic pill by now. It also annoys me to walk into a huge grocery story and only be able to eat grapes and roasted almonds.

But, I’m a big boy, and I can see that the life-long benefits of good health, more energy, the ability to fit into my old Army uniform, blah blah blah outweigh the temporal pleasures of a chili-covered bacon double cheeseburger. My mother and I worked out a pretty tasty weekly menu comprised of meals that are surprisingly filling.

The worst thing isn’t opting for 39 low-fat pretzel sticks once a day instead of downing a sack of Lays or having a turkey wrap instead of going to Pizza Hut for the buffet. The torture is in giving up Dr Pepper.

No, the real cruelty is in taking up Diet Dr Pepper.

“Tastes more like real Dr Pepper,” my foot! Yeah, this bubbly, brown liquid tastes more like real Dr Pepper than a toe-jam smoothie, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to defile the sacred DP label. I don’t know what they put in here to replace the sugar, but it’s not good enough.

Give me good ole H2O.

On second thought, I need something with a bite to it. I’ll take a Route 44 Diet Dr Pepper, please, easy on the ice.

Success!

I’ve written nine checks since Jan. 1, and I have written “o8” on every single one on the first try. This has got to be some kind of record. Someone call Guinness!

Fancy city-folk talk

The best thing about starting seminary (other than the bettering myself, learning more about my faith, blah blah blah) is that I’m learning big new fancy words. How many of the following do you know?

  • polemics
  • soteriology
  • epistemology
  • sola scriptura
  • hypotastic union
  • bibilolatry
  • syncretism (OK, you might know that one)
  • sacerdotalism
  • homiletics
  • eschatology
  • hermeneutics
  • ecclesiology
  • reprobation
  • antinomy
  • supralapsarianism
  • Tetragrammaton
  • heterodoxy
  • modalism
  • adoptionism
  • Apollinarianism
  • apostasy
  • Arianism (no, it has nothing to do with the Nazis.