Monday, February 18, 2019

Oscar Cynicism

This Sunday will be the 91st Academy Awards. The hype has been going on for weeks. I even went to see a movie because it was nominated for Best Picture. (The Green Book is really a great movie. I'm amazed that Aragorn could grow up like that.)

The Academy sometimes looks like a huge mutual admiration society, as they fawn over one another. They created this Academy and the awards themselves, generations ago. It began as a quiet ceremony of recognition among peers. And then once it was televised, the whole world could watch the festivities. The ceremony and its build up has become a boon for Hollywood. They hype up their own industry and the public willingly goes along for the ride. TV networks sell ads, and box office sales jump with Oscar nods.

But sometimes it feels like the little people get way too excited about these celebrities. Do we really want to watch a bunch of pretenders congratulate each other for being great pretenders?

Apparently we do.

In our entertainment-driven society, we feed on this stuff. And the celebrities laugh all the way to the bank.

I can appreciate good acting. I just think that our culture values entertainment more than it should.

Image result for academy awards

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Open Your Mind

After Jesus rose from the dead, he taught his disciples. There was so much they needed to know. According to Luke (24:45), Jesus "opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures."

Apparently the disciples' minds were "closed." There was something inhibiting their comprehension of the truth in the Old Testament. They could read it, but they couldn't "get" it. They had probably been reading the books of the Old Testament all their lives. They may have thought that they understood it all. But they didn't. It took Jesus himself to open their minds.

Jesus has the power to open minds. He can open our minds to understand the Scriptures. He can also open our minds in any area where we need better understanding. A.W. Tozer said that he would read Shakespeare on his knees. We need understanding. We need Jesus to open our minds.

Where do you need Jesus to open your mind?
  • that difficult relationship
  • that important decision
  • that grudge
  • that addiction
  • your attitude
  • understanding those idiots who keep annoying you

Your mind is closed. So is mine. We don't know that our minds are closed about those things until Jesus opens them. What we do know is that our minds are closed somewhere. It takes the power of Jesus to reveal it.

Lord, Open our minds!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Waste Not

After Jesus fed the 5000, he instructed his disciples to collect the leftover food. He had so multiplied the five loaves and two fish, that there were 12 basketfuls of uneaten food. Jesus wanted to make sure that it was all gathered. "Let nothing be wasted," he says (John 6:12).

That's one detail I had never noticed before. I wonder why that mattered. Why is Jesus concerned about waste?
Did Jesus want to make sure they knew how abundantly he provided in the miracle?
Did Jesus plan to share the food with people in a nearby village?
Did the disciples need to save the food for their own consumption?
Was Jesus teaching an indirect lesson on stewardship?

We never learn what happened to the 12 baskets. Maybe Jesus sent them home with needy families. Maybe they gave the food away in a neighboring town. Maybe the disciples kept the food for their own use.

When Jesus does something significant, he wants us to recognize his work. His work is never wasted, but sometimes we forget to look around and see the details of his goodness. We shouldn't let the details of his work go unnoticed, be wasted.

Gather it all up. Let nothing be wasted.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Scary Headline

I just saw a headline saying that China is ahead of the U.S. in developing artificial intelligence weapons.


I imagine some computer deciding how to use weapons to kill people and destroy things. This sounds way too much like The Matrix. Computer driven tanks or planes could engage each other in battle, and we could just watch it all play out.

This also sounds like Robo-Cop. Some artificial intelligence machine could be used to take out enemies, both military and political. How can you survive interrogation by a computer? How could we let military decisions be made by any non-human entity?

Maybe I'm exaggerating the threat of these weapons. Or maybe these kinds of weapons should be banned like chemical weapons. It seems like the risks are far too great for us to start heading down this path.

If the Chinese are ahead of the U.S. in developing these weapons, then that means we are developing them too. Maybe we should rethink that.

Monday, January 28, 2019

What Are Borders For?

It seems like everyone can agree that we need immigration reform. We need to control our borders somehow. But what are borders for?

When civilizations were small pockets of people separated by vast wilderness or bodies of water, borders were not necessary. After these pockets grew large enough to bump into each other, borders naturally developed. 

Borders indicate which population group has claim to a given piece of land. That claim allows them to farm the land, mine the land, use its water, and live there. When two or more peoples claim the same piece of land, the dispute often is settled by war. The stronger group typically wins.

Borders, then, separate neighboring peoples. Borders identify by location "us" and "them." Many times the different people groups look different, and can be identified by personal appearance as well as location.

Borders serve as a way of sorting out the world's population, a kind of filing system to know who belongs with whom.

Historically many borders have been marked by barriers. Hadrian's Wall and the Great Wall of China were both built to keep out troublemakers who were "them." 

In modern times we think of the Berlin Wall, which was designed to keep people in, not out. 

The people in power, the ones with authority, and guns, bricks and masons get to decide where the walls go and whether the walls keep people in or out. Either way, the walls are used for restricting the movement of some people. Certain people are prevented from going where the people in power don't want them to go.

It's easy to get all self-righteous and say that all these walls should be dismantled. But I live in a house with walls. The walls help keep me warm and cool at appropriate times. But the walls also keep the wrong people away from my stuff and my family. These walls are a kind of border for me.

I bet you live in a house with walls, too.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Instant Replay and Life

I remember football commentators singing the praises of a marvelous new technology: instant replay. Right after the ref's whistle, TV viewers could see the play that just happened. Of course back in the '70s, the picture was grainy, and the refs themselves couldn't see the replay, and we were just happy that we could see that amazing play again.

Today instant replay is high def, from countless angles, and can be used to reverse a call. (Unfortunately for Saints fans, it can't be used to reverse a no-call, at least not yet.) The replay is instant, and can be slowed down, reversed, and zoomed. Analysts can study that play every way imaginable. In many cases viewers can know exactly when the ball hit the ground, whether the ball has broken the plane, and when the player is down-by-contact. We feel omniscient. We get to second-guess the refs, and call them appropriate names.

We don't have instant replay for our daily lives, but we can take time to think about and reflect on life's experiences. Sometimes you can't understand a football play until you see it again. Sometimes you can't understand life until you think about it. It's like slow motion for your life.

Obviously you can get too introspective. But, as Plato says, "An unexamined life is not worth living."

You can also use scripture to get different "camera angles" on your life. Different Bible passages look at the same concept from different perspectives. For example, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all talk about the marriage relationship. They all speak the truth about marriage, but from different points of view. When you put all the angles together and look at your life,  you get a more clear picture of the truth.

We can learn from life when we think about it. Reflection from the scripture can really help us see the truth.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Teenage Smirks, American Indians, and Viral Conspiracy

What makes a video go viral? Any web content can "go viral" when people see it and can't help but share it. Then their followers agree, and they also share it. The item becomes well known because lots of people agree that it's worth seeing or hearing. 

But some content reaches the attention of the masses in spite of its lameness. Such content may be boring, confusing, or pointless. Yet somehow, everyone is posting about it. When you see this stuff, you wonder, "Did I miss something?"

For example, imagine a video of a teenager standing in a crowd while a native American bangs on a drum while invading the teen's personal space. The teen smirks. The Indian bangs and chants. And then...nothing. That's it. The most compelling element of the encounter is awkwardness. 

How can something so dull go viral? Well, throw in some MAGA hats, and preface the encounter with jeers from some Black Hebrew Israelites, and you have...well you still don't have much.

It turns out that there are some Twitter accounts that work together to make certain posts appear to be blowing up the internet. These accounts create a feedback loop that grows larger and larger, until their chosen posts account for significant internet traffic. People look because it appears that everyone else is looking. Then "real news" reports on it because it has so much traction.

So, who is creating these fake virus conditions? How do they choose to which stories to promote? How are they spinning these stories?

Here's another question: How gullible are we? When we see/hear/read something on the internet, do we come to our own conclusions, or believe "everyone else" who says it is shocking, or enraging, or whatever?

If we are this gullible, then Russians could take advantage of it, stir up American rage, and divide us bitterly. Sound familiar?