The 2016 Summer Olympics have all eyes pointed to Rio as once again we send American athletes to compete with their counterparts from all over the world. The idea behind the modern Olympics is that through cooperative efforts between nations a period of peace can be experienced in our world. That was the thought when the games were brought back into prominence in 1896. 120 years later we realize the hope of world peace is much further off than was imagined.
The Olympics do, however, offer us a chance to imagine what the world would be like if countries were able to cooperate with one another consistently. There would be great accomplishments and advances in technology, art, and science. Unfortunately, the ultimate end would be destruction. In Genesis, there is an account of what happens when humanity is united together. You probably know it as the Tower of Babel. This is when the people chose to ignore the cultural mandate to fill the world and subdue it and instead built cities and a tower to their own glory.
The Tower of Babel account lets us know that when we work together we can accomplish great things, but because our nature is fallen, those great accomplishments are really great offences to our God. Real peace will only be experienced in our world when Christ returns and makes all things new. Until that time, we as the church, the bride of Christ, eagerly away the coming of our Lord and Savior. What a wonderful day that will be.
NES Classic has been announced and it is none too soon.
Quick on the heels of Pokémon Go’s ridiculously successful release comes the announcement bound to thrill old school gamers and leave their children wondering what all the fuss is about. The NES Classic is a mini version of the NES that introduced an entire generation to video gaming. This new old system will have none of the frustration caused by the original system (remember blowing into the cartridges?), but will also have a remarkably reduced library as it is being released with only thirty games. The bonus, however, is that it comes with a controller with the same look and feel as its now ancient counterpart.
This is a great decision by Nintendo as third parties have been producing emulators and secondary systems to play those old games for years. There’s something really nice about playing the games that were so exciting to us as children with our own kids. As I write this, my Anna, Dave, and Sarah are taking turns playing battle mode on Mario Kart 64 through the Wii (I was playing them for a while, but they are no competition). These games hold up. They are still fun and come November we’ll be able to wax nostalgic about killing Ganon for the first time or explain how building an Excite Bike track is way better than playing the canned courses. I can’t wait to get my hands on one.
Martin W. Bender
Today I took the kids up to Statesboro to watch Finding Dory. I hadn’t looked at any reviews or seen trailers for the film, but I knew the general story line: the gang from the first movie try to find Dory. Simple enough.
What I didn’t know was how much the story would develop the fairly one-dimensional character from the first film. Let’s face it, Finding Nemo is half coming of age story, half rescue mission. Imagine a Pixar produced mashup of Stand by Me and Taken. Dory does little more in the original than provide comic relief and an alternative perspective to nudge Marlin away from his tendency toward pessimism to a more optimistic view of the world. Finding Dory takes a decidedly different approach to storytelling, focusing almost solely on Dory with little help from Marlin and Nemo. In fact, Marlin and Nemo essentially become the damsel in distress to be rescued by Dory and her newly found friends. This significant difference keeps the story fresh and avoids the pitfalls of what could have easily been a simple rehash of the original.
Finding Dory feels more like a detective story than a rescue mission. Dory begins her search prompted by dreams of her parents and finds that her short term memory loss seems to be helped by having some family stability in her life. The journey she took between being lost and finding Marlin is exceptionally tragic and terrifying. The imagery of her being alone in the vast ocean is startlingly bleak, both in the scenes where she is a child and later as an adult. My sweet little daughter cried as Dory found herself alone in deep trying desperately to remember where she was and what she was doing. This makes her relationship with her parents and friends all the more important and real for the movie goer. There is a true sense of dread in the film that rivals many modern horror movies. In fact, if one were to remove the shells at the end of the second act it would be a horror film.
The film works so well because it plays on a different set of fears than the original. In Finding Nemo the great fear is the loss of family. This is seen in both the death of Nemo’s mother as well as the kidnapping. In Finding Dory the great fear is the loss of self, as Dory only understands who she is within the context of her relationships. This is why it is so satisfying to see her develop relationships wherever she goes. Certainly, she needs Hank, Destiny, and other’s help to get around the aquarium, but working with them helps her to remain on task to regain that sense of self she loses as a result of her condition. Her continual search for community reflects humanity’s innately social nature and forces consideration of the communal nature of human interaction.
In a world where sequels are so often an attempt to make a second pile of money using the success of the original film, Finding Dory stands soundly on its own as an exceptional character study. The use of 3D avoided the temptation of having random objects flying at the screen and instead simply adds a field of depth that gives the viewer the experience of looking into an actual aquarium. Generally, I don’t like 3D, but Pixar used the technology well to fully immerse the audience in its undersea landscape. The animation is stellar and the short, Piper, shown before the film shows just how incredible animation and 3D technology has become since Avatar made 3D viable.
Finding Dory is an exceptional film. I loved it. I may go see it again tomorrow.
Martin W. Bender
If you've listened to the podcast for any length of time you've probably heard Justin and I express our mutual love for Serial, a podcast created by the folks from This American Life. Season Two explored the situation and people surrounding the Bowe Bergdahl return, you can listen to our conversation about that here (while we disagreed fairly strongly we're still friends). Season One reviewed the murder trial of Adnan Syed, a young man convicted of the murder of his former girlfriend.
Most people who listen to podcasts are very familiar with season one. It is the starting point for the majority of people when they begin listening to podcasts and has set the standard for quality content generation. What's amazing is that the popularity of Serial is the likely reason for the recent decision to allow further appeals to be made by Adnan despite previous failures. It turns out if you can get enough people interested in your story you have greater opportunity for aquital.
I'm glad he's getting another shot. Not because I think justice has been perverted, but because it means additional episodes of Serial will almost definitely be aired as additional appeals are made. If you haven't listened to Serial season one yet I highly recommend it as it seems to be the gold standard for podcasting right after the Two Bearded Preachers.
Martin W. Bender
While Justin has made it abundantly clear that I am no gamer, I do enjoy the casual game from time to time. I play on my iPhone 6 Plus such games as Slither.io and Underworld Empire, but my current favorite is War Tortoise.
War Tortoise is essentially a tower defense game where a turtle is used as a weapons platform for destroying insects. The game opens on a green field with trees in the background and blue sky overhead. Bugs, determined to destroy you and your turtle for some reason begin to approach. As they do you shoot them, but the problem with bugs is that there are so many of them. If we’ve learned anything from Starship Troopers it’s that bugs are the worst and they deserve to die. There’s something oddly satisfying about bringing forth violent destruction upon wave after wave of irritating little critters while leveling up weapons and support units.
The best part of the game is auto aim, which allows the game to play without paying any attention at all. War Tortoise is truly a game for casual players like myself. The player has the option to aim at specific targets making it more of a shooter, or just let it go and level up. As I write this, I am in the top 1,500 players and I almost always just let it run. That probably says more about my devotion to gaming than it does about the game itself.
If you’re looking for a funny little game that encourages hatred of small, annoying animals this is the game for you.
Martin W. Bender
Recently, Leia and I watched Robert Egger’s “The Witch”, a period piece about a family exiled from their colony on the basis of a religious disagreement. It depicts the difficulty of life in the American wilderness as well as the challenges of isolation on the frontier. It also provides a window into the faith of a common Puritan family as they deal with the trials of the early settlers. Oh, yeah… there’s a witch too.
Spoilers follow, but not really bad ones.
Being a fan of horror, I was interested in the film. Many of the reviews described it as well made with good acting, sound, and lighting (if you’re a horror fan, I don’t have to tell you this is not always the case). What surprised me though, was the very polarizing affect the film had in several Christian social media groups in which I participate. One camp heartily argued no Christian should watch this film as it glorifies participation in Satan worship. The other says it is a solid horror film that in no way glorifies the occult, but points out the emptiness of faith in anything but Christ.
I tend to lean toward the view that the film is not glorifying to the occult. No doubt, the story is a tragedy in the classical sense, where the main characters meet horrible ends, but even those who succumb to temptation are no better off than those who remained steadfast in their faith. Ultimately, the conversion from Christianity to witchcraft results in the girl leading a life similar to that of the witch tormenting the family. It isn’t depicted as delicious living in the least.
As a horror film it does well. It has that slow shift from the natural to the supernatural all good horror stories embrace. The story slips from frontier living and religious dogmatism to frenzied hysteria as subtle plot points steer the family from the known world, a world of relative safety, into the perils of the unknown. This is perhaps why the film worked well for me. It didn’t follow the typical series of jump scares followed by a nice resolution, but instead surprised the audience with the failure of each and every character. It is an exploration of the darkness innate in each and every one of us.
So, should a Christian watch it? Well, if they are fans of horror it will take them on a journey most other films lack the bravery to explore, but some might be upset by the nature of the content. It is, after all, a tragic tale about witchcraft. What I want to know is whether or not the girl was the witch the whole time. Dun dun dun!
Martin W. Bender
Justin and I have a standing disagreement as to which super hero ought to have our support in the Marvel Civil War. I have intelligently defended Captain America as being the obvious choice, while Justin, in his foolishness, has thrown in his hat toward Iron Man. Below you will find definitive photographic proof that every bearded man ought to choose Cap.
As you can see, Robert Downing Jr. is lacking a manly mane while Chis Evans has much beard. Discussion closed.
Martin W. Bender
With all the hype surrounding Captain America: Civil War and the exceptionally polarizing Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice I thought I’d join the fray and voice my partially informed position on Marvel and DC movies.
People seem to either love or hate this movie. There isn’t a whole lot in between. It’s a lot of fun, but like most Batman films, it is darker in tone than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don’t mind the darker film, but it does mean my elementary aged son will not be seeing his favorite superheroes on the big screen any time soon. Batman is extra murdery and Superman is all angsty making the movie very different than previous films. It is Superman’s doubt that brought the movie down.
My experience of Superman is that he is the idealized man. Superman was supposed to be about truth, justice, and the American way, but in DoJ he is lacking conviction. It seems that Superman is a much less mature hero here, taunting Batman, allowing Lex to easily manipulate him, and seemingly flaunting his power. Christopher Reeves would never do it. It is Clark’s lack of experience that makes Batman’s successes possible, something that seems terribly ridiculous as Superman can simply throw him into the sun.
Superman in both DoJ and Man of Steel is not a super man, but a powerful alien trying to understand how he can live in a society of people lacking his remarkable power. Doubt is his most distinguishing characteristic, which makes him the flawed hero our culture currently loves. Captain America, on the other hand, does fill the role of the idealized man.
Ok, Cap isn’t the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe. Far from it, in fact. But while he lacks the brute power of the Hulk and the technical knowledge of Tony Stark, he does have a very clear sense of morality which makes him the ideal leader of the Avengers. Captain America does a better job of maintaining a sense of right and wrong over the course of his character arc that seems to come to a head in his next upcoming film.
Cap, like Superman, is trying to figure out how he fits in the modern world. He also wonders whether or not he should maintain his position as a government agent when he sees the corruption innate within the government he serves. When Superman gets bogged down by the plans of evil men, Cap continually focuses on his moral stance of promoting freedom over security. This will be the basis of his war with Ironman, whose lack of a moral compass leads to his repeated tragic decisions.
Because Captain America has a solid understanding of who he is as a moral agent he is able to identify evil more clearly. Having a hero like Cap is becoming increasingly rare as Western society continually degrades into moral relativism. A relativistic culture has no need of heroes as there is no clear understanding of right and wrong. Captain America is one of those few characters that bucks moral ambiguity and works to promote his ideals in the world.
Cap today is what Superman was when I was growing up. He is the hero who understands ethics and applies them consistently. He has taken the place of Superman as the idealized man and I look forward to the upcoming story.
Martin W. Bender
I was texting with a church member and made a joke about evangelicals needing their own headgear, you know, like the Catholics, Coptics, or Orthodox. She responded that we needed to have a talk about how being evangelical isn’t cool anymore. I couldn’t help but think of Rachel Held Evans.
Evans made waves in 2015 when she publically left “evangelicalism” for the Episcopal Church. Doing so caused many to declare the failure of evangelicalism and predict its downfall. After all, if the voice of western millennial Christianity says something it has to be true, right?
The funny thing is, “leaving evangelicalism” it turns out, is a very evangelical thing to do. “The critiques of the church and a call for renewal have been central features of evangelical-type movements for almost five hundred years.” Placing Evans in the odd position of advocating for the very thing she claims to be abandoning.
Evangelicalism is rooted in the Protestant Reformation, European Puritan and Pietist movements, American revivalism, and the modernist/fundamentalist controversies of the twentieth century. All of these movements have a common theme: the attempt to better apply scripture to the contemporary context. The word evangelical comes from the Latin evangelium or “gospel” and it is upon the gospel evangelicalism has been historically defined. Since the 1970’s, however, evangelicals in the US have been popularly understood in terms of social issues rather than religious.
Today’s evangelicalism is largely thought of in terms of its political action, but ought to be considered a “grassroots, gospel-focused, warm-hearted ecumenism.” Four positions have traditionally defined it: the centrality of the gospel, conversion, scripture, and service, but even these criteria are frequently elaborated upon. Leaving the very word “evangelical” vague at best and meaningless at worst.
This fuzzy definition is likely the reason for criticism of evangelicalism. It has yet to adequately be defined for the millennial generation. Instead, the word serves as a catch all for politically conservative New Testament adherents. Such a loose understanding is inconsistent with how evangelicals have been identified historically and is insufficient as an identifier of a particular movement.
In light of this, those of us who identify as evangelicals in the historical sense must be deliberate in stating how we are evangelical. Yes. We are evangelicals. As such we have a responsibility to communicate the gospel, call for conversion, focus upon the Scriptures, and serve one another in love.
 Rachel Held Evans, “On ‘Outgrowing’ American Christianity,” Rachel Held Evans, http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/outgrowing-american-christianity (accessed April 14, 2016).
 David S. Dockery, “Evangelicalism: Past, Present, and Future,” Trinity Journal 36:1 (Spring, 2015): 12.
 Dockery, 4.
 Wheaton College, “Defining Evangelicalism,” Wheaton College, http://www.wheaton.edu/isae/defining-evangelicalism (accessed April 13, 2016).
 Dockery, 16.
 Ibid., 6.
Martin W. Bender
This will of course have spoilers.
In the Season Six Finale of The Walking Dead the mysterious Negan finally made his way into the lives of the group from Alexandria. This isn’t a spoiler. If anything, Negan is a long awaited member of the cast as the show has lacked a significant antagonist since the Governor’s psychotic episode in season three. Seasons four, five, and most of six placed the group in a variety of challenging situations, but the show does best when those challenges are personified. Enter Negan.
The ninety-minute episode followed the cast driving a Winnebago to another settlement. As they went their path was blocked and they were corralled to an inevitable meeting with John Winchester Negan. It’s the same plot as RV only you hope the people in the camper survive. When they get to where they’re going the inevitable happens: an unnecessary, drawn out monologue.
Dialogue fleshes out characters, but in the zombie apocalypse why is it so many people drone on endlessly? With the constant threat of death, who has the time to establish such forceful speeches when a simple “You work for me” and a swing of the bat will do? Where are the strong, silent characters who survive simply because they keep their mouths shut? Maybe it’s just me, but the show could certainly use a character like Clint Eastwood from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Don’t think the finale isn’t great. It is. The tension continually rises as the group meets road block after road block. The only reprieve is Morgan’s search for Carol. It reminds the viewer of Rick’s first season search for his family. This subplot in many ways outshines the obvious outcome of the main group’s journey. Carol comes to terms with the inevitability of death, Morgan is forced into a change of heart regarding pacifism, another group with similar values is discovered. Their journey maintains the hopefulness Rick loses as he comes head to head with a more determined version of himself.
The loss of hope seems to be the theme of the entire season. Daryl regrets not killing Dwight. Carol tries to leave. Glenn kills people for the first time. Many of the more hopeful characters are killed, go off to gather supplies, or find themselves facing Lucille’s fury. The final holdout for hope is Morgan who will undoubtedly regret violating his mantra “all life is precious”.
As a Christian fan of the show and comic there is a temptation to find elements of the Gospel underlying the story. While there are times when one character will die for another this is certainly not the case in Last Day on Earth. In fact, the characters who are most clearly identified with Christian morality are typically killed off, shown to be failures, or renounce their faith. There are some episodes in which Christian overtones are prevalent, but these are few and far between. The overall tone of the show indicates any spirituality as a crutch with which one makes sense of the world rather than a tangible reality. Maybe this is realistic given the lifestyle of crisis in which these characters live.
More and more western society seems to view the world in this way. Hyper materialism pervades our thinking as a culture and we routinely deny the reality of the spiritual. Like Rick has said, “we are the walking dead”. Meaning there is nothing more to this life than what is tangible from a material perspective. As a Christian, such an idea seems ridiculous, but practically that is how many of us live our lives. Certainly what we do in our flesh matters, but it is not the only thing that matters. We have been created both material and spiritual beings and as such must recognize and embrace both elements of our nature. We are more than just matter randomly walking around. Act like it.