Monday, June 28, 2010

Artistic Freedom Pt. 1

As an avid music listener-and a follower of Christ-I have a recurring struggle over what I should and should not listen to.
The criteria by which I judge the merit of music has evolved as I've grown older and has therefore effected the nature of my sonic diet.
Does the music contain:
Sexual content
Drug references
potential for growth
relevance (the best songs have appeal long after their release, aka Elvis).

Generally speaking, this is the mental checklist I use when evaluating music. Of course I don't actually whip out a pin and pad every time I listen to the radio or browse through but these give a good idea of what I'm milling over in my mind.

I tend to weed out songs with strong language, sexual innuendo or illicit drug references. As a follower of Christ, I don't think these songs are what I feel God would have me listen to.
If a song has this kind of content, I don't tend to bother with the other qualifications. Often times music like this sucks anyway, so it's no loss to me. Yet on occasion I'll find a great sounding song with 'inappropriate content.'

For example: "The Pursuit of Happiness' by Kidd Cudi. The song starts off with him describing getting high and driving around drunk. The 'F word' shows up once. Yet I feel like the song is showing an non Christian searching for the answer to true fulfillment in this life. I would call it a good piece of artwork but does the negative content negate the positive?

Philippians 4:8 Says:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ESV)

Well if the production quality is excellent the lyrics are commendable for their spiritual depth but there are sexy background dancers, is it something we should dwell on? Personally, I use two methods to judge things from here.

How does the art paint (pun intended) immorality? Does it flippantly embrace sin or does it give us a picture of reality? Ke$ha is without a doubt in the first category. Not only is her music irritating, it also promotes all kinds of negative things. A superb example of presenting reality can be found in K'NAAN (who's an artist at the world cup this year BTW).

K'NAAN is an African Reggae singer who grew up experiencing the sorts of things we Westerners tend to think of when we picture Africa: Disease, war and hunger. He will use profanity (and occasionally other content). However, K'NAAN using a few curse words and Eminem dropping the 'F bomb' in every other lyric are not the same thing.

The second criteria: Do you feel a conviction listening to it? As a Christian do I feel comfortable listening to this in light of my relationship with my heavenly Father?

Judging music in this fashion I tend to get a pretty varied and healthy musical diet. There will always be a morally gray area, an artist who doesn't quite fall easily into one camp. My struggle to find harmony in the vast array of music available is an ongoing quest. It's a journey and a thoroughly pleasing (and sometimes frustrating) one at that.

What motivates you to listen to the music you like? Or, in a broader sense how do you evaluate the media input you digest every single day?

Thanks for reading!


A Review of "The A-Team”

before I go anywhere, there is something I need to confess; I have never seen the original A-Team. In fact, it wasn't until they began the promos for this film adaption that I actually became aware of it's existence. Mr. T and the rest of you who HAVE seen the original show are invited to pity this fool.

Be that as it may, I think I can still judge the film fairly well.

If I where asked to sum of this movie in one word, it would be Why? Hollywood, why on earth did you feel the need to produce this trash? This movie was like cotton candy it tastes OK at first but too much will give you a stomach ache. There is no way on earth you're going to derive any nutritional value from cotton candy.

Perhaps I should have gone into this one with lower expectations.

Plot: Long Version
The plot is very easily summarized. The A-Team is double crossed and send to prison for a murder they didn't commit. They escape (surprised?) and go after the bad guys. Evidently the guy who was supposed to have been murdered was in on the whole thing (for a cut of the profits of course). However he is quickly disposed of in an airstrike and the A-Team sets out to settle their vendetta with the rest of the movie baddies.

Plot: Short Version
The A-Team shoot, blow-up, hit and pummel every bad guy they can find for two hours.

To it's credit, their were some laughable portions. This came more from absurdity than anything else.

As for objectionable content (outside of the fact it was terrible) there was a good deal of profanity, at least for a PG-13. I did appreciate that the sexual content was almost non-existent. “Face” the most debinere of the A-Team members has a couple of one night stands but the audience isn't shown anything.

The acting was just like the plot and special effects. Over done and not very good. Although, the crazy guy was funny. Rampage Jackson, the noteworthy UFC fighter took on Mr. T's role as B.A. Baracus. Visually, it was a great match. There where two gaping holes in this chose though. Jackson may be an impressive fighter but he's no actor and He's not Mr. T.
Jackson lost his most recent UFC fight. It has been speculated that filming for this movie caused him to lose focus on training. Perhaps he'll learn from this mistake and stick with beating up appoints in the octagon instead of the silver screen.

An interesting note, the writers for this movie made a halfhearted attempt at character development with 'B.A.' Apparently, his time in prison caused him to rethink his; 'shoot and then pity the fool,' style of business. Alas, by the end of the film B.A. Decides he's OK with snapping the arc baddies' neck by slamming him head first into the ground.
So much for all those months spent reading Gandhi.

I was upset that Liam Neeson would lower himself to this sort of action flick. To me he will always be Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Aside from a few cheep laughs and a some crazy action sequences, this film has nothing to offer. Don't waste your time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Karate Kid (A Review)

Recently I had the opportunity to see both the Karate Kid and the A-Team.

I'll start by reviewing the better of the two, The Karate Kid. I'll post my review for the A-Team in a couple of days.

Because this is such a popular movie franchise I'm going to assume you already know the plot (or can easily look it up). I'm going to get right into what I thought of it.

Jaden Smith (Will Smith's son), did a pretty good with his role. It was a believable and humorous character. I appreciated the fact that he didn't have that annoying 'Disney channel vibe' about him.

Jackie Chan played a more subtle role than he traditionally does. He quiet and introspective, showing a side we don't often see. Unlike the roster of films where Chan is constantly fighting baddies, he only has one fight scene in this movie.

The other actors did a reasonably good job, although there is one blond haired kid I found irritating.

If you know anything about remakes, then you're aware that they always feel a need to be bigger and better than their predictors. Although it often just amounts to more sugar and less substance. Personally, I felt this movie did a standup job of avoiding this fatal flaw. The action was more stylized and fast paced, however it made the movie more fun to watch.
Also on a positive note, this adaption did have less objectionable content than the original. There are several minor profanities in this version as a opposed to the classic, which contains a number of strong words.

My two biggest problems with the movie where: length and lack of heart. I believe the two are somewhat related.

At 2 hours 6 minutes, this movie was simply too long. There were also a number of scenes which dragged on and really caused me to lose interest in the movie. In fact, I actually left the theater to make a call during a rather pivotal scene and didn't feel upset that I'd missed anything. As director, Will Smith could have really done some fat trimming on this one.

When it comes to heart, this film certainly had a god portion, I found myself cheering quietly for Jaden as the final showdown takes place. Alas, this will never really be the true Karate Kid no matter how good it is. The is no way it can match the charm of the original, even if it is a good movie.

If you plan on seeing this one, I'd advise you to wait until the DVD is released.

Thanks for reading!


Friday, June 18, 2010

The Fame Monster

Miley Cyrus. Just her name elicits a strong reaction.

If I were to say, “Hey, did you hear what Miley Cyrus did?”
You would probably assume I was going to say something negative. And why shouldn’t you?
After all, it seems like every time she pops up in the news, Miley is in hot water for something. Or, as much hot water as ET can cook up.

I’ve noticed something though, poor Miley isn’t alone. It seems as if young celebrities are continually making the news for all the wrong reasons.
Many of my friends would tell you they can’t stand Justine Bieber, Miley, Selena Gomez or the Jones Brothers.

Yet when I see one of these stars. I can’t help but feel a sense of pity. Because if history proves true, most of them are in for a tough adulthood.

Two tragic examples of this are Michael Jackson and Garry Coleman.

Michael Jackson’s life is really a very sad story. As a child he was physically abused by his father and all the fame in the world couldn’t heal him. As an adult, his mental health was never fully assured. After spending years in a questionable mental state, Jackson finally died because of a drug overdose.

Gary Coleman couldn’t even begin to compete with Jackson, however the two men were not so very different. Coleman became famous in the late 70’s as a TV star. After which, he faded out of the limelight. Over the years Coleman suffered from drug addiction and depression. It is known that he attempted suicide at least once.
Just this past month in Coleman died of a brain hemorrhage.

There is a great Christian artist named Bebo Norman who wrote a song which deals with this topic. Here is an excerpt from an interview he gave about the song:

I was up late, couldn’t sleep, watching some news channel, when yet another story about Britney Spears came on. My first instinct was to scoff and write it off, but then there was this freeze-frame shot of a look on her face of utter and absolute despair and confusion and brokenness—a look that I recognized. And I remember thinking “This girl is a child of God.”

I think that night I saw her through the eyes of Jesus for the first time. I imagined what Jesus would say to me in my darkest hour and realized that those are the words we should speak to this world, to this culture, and even to Britney Spears in their darkest hour. “I’m sorry. Hope is here.” –Bebo Norman

Britney I’m sorry for the lies we told

We took you into our arms then left you cold

Britney, I’m sorry for this cruel, cruel world

We sell the beauty but destroy the girl,3,4,6,7,

Sometimes when I see a child star make headlines, it irritates me. More often than not, I look at the sad lives of young celebrities in the past and shake my head. All that wealth and fame will soon be gravel in their mouths.
I love what Lady Gaga named her recent album: “The Fame Monster.” How appropriate.

Thanks for reading


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Unbounded Now

Hey guys! I know its been some time since I posted. I've got several excuses as to why, but I won't go into those since I know none of you lost any sleep over my brief sabbatical : ). I see that during the break I've gained another follower. Score! Thank you Bethany, I hope you enjoy what you find here.

This has been one heck of a summer so far. Perhaps I'll write about it sometime. I find myself struggling to find topics which I want to write about on this blog. If anyone has suggestions or preferences I'd be more than happy to listen.

Now on to another marathon post:

In school this past year we read a book called, The Screwtape Letters, by the ever popular C.S. Lewis. Yes I enjoyed it and yes I would probably read this sort of material anyway.

For anyone isn't aware of the plot I'll lay out the basics. The story is a collection of letters written from one demon to another. Screwtape, is the 'uncle' writing to his young nephew Wormwood. The junior demon has been given his first job trying to corrupt a young man's soul. Entirely from Screwtape's perceptive, the book details demonic strategies to tempt humans into sin. Lewis' genius here, is his ability to help people view things from a radically different angle.

Though I agreed with most of what he said, I wanted to bring up one issue. Predestination. What a controversial subject! I'm neither qualified nor willing to address this issue properly, but I want to bring something which struck me while I was reading.

This entire subject (or at least the one I'm addressing) is based around Protestant Christian theology. If you are unfamiliar with this subject then this post might be hard to follow, if not, you're probably smarter than I am.

First off, let me give a very basic definition of predestination:

Predestination: that God has divided humanity into two groups. One group is "the elected." It includes all those whom God has chosen to make knowledgeable about himself. The rest will remain ignorant of God, and the Gospel. They are damned and will spend eternity in Hell without any hope of mercy or cessation of the extreme tortures. God made this selection before the universe was created, and thus before any humans existed.

Different sources might word it differently or debate semantics but that covers the concept in a nutshell.

I also want to include a list of scriptures which are used to back up this belief. I'll write out one or two here, but if you're interested in finding out more you can look up the rest. Keep in mind these are by no means the only verses on the subject.

Ephesians 2:8-10
Romans 8:29-30
Acts 4:27-28

(Eph 1:3-5 [ESV])
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

It may sound a bit harsh, but the thought behind it is this. Man cannot accept God of his own free will. Ever since sin was induced in Genesis, human nature has been irrevocably altered. Of our own 'free will' we are only capable of sin because that has become our nature. It is only through God, and his son Christ Jesus that we can experience freedom from sin.
Therefore God in his infinite wisdom chose a given number of people.

Of course a central objection to is this philosophy is the issue of free will. If God has determined the future before hand then where (if anywhere) does free will factor in?

C.S. Lewis addresses things in this manner. Because we humans are limited by time and space we cannot fully comprehend how God could exist outside of their grasp. We have a difficult time conceiving of a place where time does not exist.
But since God does 'live' outside of time then he's not limited by the past present or future as we understand them. C.S. Lewis says that God sees all of history as one big eternal now. God doesn't look ahead to the future, everything is spread out in front of him.

Here is a excerpt from the book about it:

If you tried to explain to[the human] that men's prayers today are one of innumerable co-ordinates with which [God] harmonises the weather of tomorrow, he would reply that then [God] always knew men were going to make those prayers and, if so, they did not pray freely but were predestined to do so.....For [God] does not foresee the humans making their free contributions in a future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now. And obviously to watch a man do something is not the same as making him do it.”

So then, the question must be raised; what about salvation? If God operates without a time-line then does He still choose whom He will save, or do we as humans make that decision?

I tend to believe that God still makes the final call. Lewis' belief in an 'unbounded now' is perfectly logical to me when applied to anything but the question of salvation. I think my belief in predestination is backed up by scripture.

But, as a 16 year old I've still got time to live and learn. This is one concept I don't think I'll have nailed down anytime soon.

Thanks for reading!