The Westminster Confession of Funk

Talking about theology, but keeping it funky

I am a husband and father and pastor of Trinity Covenant Church and teacher as St. Abraham’s Classical Christian Academy in Santa Cruz, CA.

I married my Indian Princess just before Y2K. I am an old fashioned Protestant Christian Humanist who lives where people vacation. I love music, love to surf, coach soccer for a hoard of minions, play the drums, and read actual flesh and blood books. I enjoy theology and literature and history and philosophy (if Sophie is serving beer) and Anglo-Saxon Poetry.

If I could have lunch with any three living people, I would have buffalo ribs with a butter, mushroom, cream sauce, Roxy Ray would be singing with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and I’d be at table with Tom Wolfe, ?uestlove, and Adam Schlesinger (and Brad Bird, because it’s my fantasy, and no one can count in my fantasy).

If I could have dinner with any three dead people (and the TARDIS was there with its universal language translation circuit) I’d have slow smoked dry ribs with the author of Beowulf, Herodotus, Martin Bucer, and Polycarp (see the previous paragraph if you have questions about my ability to count). And Janis Joplin would be singing with Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars backed up by Parliament Funkadelic of course.

My carefully crafted internet persona is also much cooler than my actual person, but I can live with that.

Filtering by Category: movie review

Chef - A Review

Every once in a while you hit a movie that is just plain beautiful. I mean, real life beautiful. The story is wonderful, the characters and acting are wonderful, and it moves you to want to do what you were made to do. Chef (written, produced, directed by and starring Jon Favreau) is the story of a successful chef that loves cooking because of the art and the human connection. Because of his selfishness he has lost the artistic vision that he once had. And he has lost sight of everything that is important to him. His visionless existence has dehumanized him. He is divorced, he is becoming a shlump of a father who makes promises that he doesn’t keep, and he is making passionless food.

Quick warning, Chef is rated R for language. And it goes over the top to earn that R rating. There is a bit of vulgarity and sensuality, but the rating is really about the triple digit use of the F-bomb. Consider yourself warned. With that out of the way, Chef is an excellent story, superbly told.

One of the great aspects of the storytelling in Chef is that, though when the story begins he is not a very good guy, Carl Caspar (Jon Favreau) is a guy that you root for, because you can tell that he once was a great guy. His best friend works for him and would do anything for him. His son wants to be with him. Even his ex-wife still likes him and wants him to succeed. It is obvious from the beginning that he is a good guy who has lost his way. Everyone is on his side but his boss and, seemingly, himself. He has traded in a calling for a job. He has traded in his desire to touch and connect with people with the hospitality of lovingly prepared food.

Because food is mystical. Food is magical. Food is mysterious. When you carefully and enthusiastically feed people something that you love, you are giving them a part of yourself. Food is art that can become a point of contact, a point of fellowship and communion between two humanities. Food is a deep and abiding mystery. It is not reducible to the scientifically observable. A bottle of wine and a homemade meal shared with joy and laughter is one of the places where we are at our most human.

Caspar is a chef that has experienced that, and with his friends and family, but he has lost it in the restaurant where he is the head chef. And when he gets a bad review and his confrontation of the reviewer and subsequent mental breakdown in his restaurant accidentally ends up a viral video he finds himself jobless.

And this is where the movie gets amazing. Because Carl Caspar’s problems begin to come to light. He has been blaming the reviewer and the restaurant owner and his own misunderstanding of twitter and anyone but himself. But the real problem that his food has quit connecting with people is that he has been a terrible father and a terrible husband. Because he was unable to connect with the people closest to him he has lost his ability to bless people through food.

And that is where the story kicks into radness squared mode. Because Carl is given a food truck and he begins to get a vision of returning to his first love of Cuban food. And his son jumps into help. But when his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) refuses to clean something, Carl responds terribly. And the lights come on and he repents to his son. And In his repentance knew life is born between him and his son. The simple confession and acknowledgment of the obvious reality of his sin to his son opens the way of wisdom. The mystery of the way of success for Carl as a human being begins to unravel in front of him. It was hidden to him all of this time. We could see it, but the scales did not fall off his eyes until he humbles himself before his own son. And as he begins to open himself to his son and win his son to his side, and as he begins to truly treat his own son as his son, passing his knowledge of the mysticality of food onto his son the world opens back up to him.

He rediscovers what food is and what it can do, he reconnects with the world again, by teaching his son how to love people in the meticulous care of the food that you are putting onto their plate and the wisdom that is hidden in his son, in this case his knowledge about social media, is all added to his efforts because his son begins to work with him. And his lack of knowledge about social media is exactly what revealed his clownish foolishness to the world. So the only way for him to succeed in the world was to win his son to him. He finally makes it when he is too busy enjoying his son and passing on the things that he loves to worry about making it.

And the music is startlingly marvelous. Marvin Gaye, New Orleans marching band style: straight flippin’ amazing! (Can I write that? I’m not sure. But it is, so I will). Seeing the truck crew singing and cooking and cleaning together was one of the best scenes in the movie. The way that they become a little traveling community taking joy in the work of serving people by feeding them was magnificent. One of those touching moments that reminds you that you are glad to be alive and a human being, because being a human that is loving and enjoying and blessing other human beings is a first-rate thing.

And that is what Chef is about. A man with a gift for food that has forgotten how to care about the people around him and therefore has lost his soul. Any soul centered on itself shrivels. But when Carl remembers to love and serve and bless the people around him, when he remembers to consider others as more important than himself, he rediscovers the joy of his humanity.

9: A Review

I love animation. Since I was small I have always been thrilled by the ways that so much can be communicated with so little. Animation is like poetry. Minuscule changes and movement communicate depths of understanding. A slight twitch in the eyebrow, a shrug of the shoulder, all of it purposeful. From the amount that can be done with stick figure animation, to the depth and beauty of Hayao Miyazaki's films, to the perfect marriage of storytelling and quality in certain Pixar films, I find animation enthralling.

If you love animation, you should see 9. (Written and directed by Pamela Pettler and Shane Acher) It is well done and everything that I am about to say about the unsatisfying aspects of the story telling should not detract from the beauty, intricacy, subtlety, and talent more impressive than steroid era baseball records. There were a handful of scenes that I re-watched just to enjoy and be struck with wonder that someone could do that.

Now that I have laid my cards on the table, let me back up, and reswallow some of my participles and verbs. I like dystopian stories, and 9 was nothing if it wasn't dystopian. A good healthy dose of dystopian realism is good for the soul. I am not sure if anything pulled me back from communism as much as Lord of the Flies. And of course, Animal Farm should be required reading before anyone is allowed to put their name on a ballot. Brave New World shook my trust in science much deeper than any argument and Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins haunts me (in a good way) to this day. I can't see it on the shelf without getting goose-bumps. And what can be said about That Hideous Strength? That Hideous Strength is truly only approached by Till We Have Faces as possibly the greatest novel of the twentieth century. I appreciate the role of the dystopian story-teller that takes a current idea, especially a utopian ideal, and imagines what would happen if actual humans got ahold of the ideal and formed it into an -ism. In every case, if the author is telling the truth, you get a first order hell hole out of any utopian ideology. In fact, I believe that any ideology will lead to tyranny.

An ideology is when one idea, one ideal, is placed above every other. God didn't give us an ideal to rule us, he gave us a person, Jesus Christ. He didn't give us an idea, he gave us His Son. And so I revel in a good dystopian tale as much as the next guy, probably more, so the setting and the premise of 9 were right up my alley. The fights were great, the characters were instantly recognizable (which is of first importance to a well told dystopian story). The right things were made beautiful. Bravery vs. Cowardice, Selfishness vs. Loyalty, and the utopian ideology that went wrong to ruin the world was a desire for comfort above everything. But that is where things seem to clunk off of the rails.

The characters are a series of nine toys, brought to life by either magic, or technology (and really, what is the difference anyway?). These nine toys need to save the world from . .  . From what exactly I'm not sure, and for what, well I'm not sure about that either. There is not any overarching purpose besides survival (as far as I can tell). The people are gone, the machines are trying to round up the toys in order to use up their strength in order to survive. But when it comes down to it, neither the protagonists nor the antagonists can reproduce. Neither of their races can create new life, though the evil robot seems to come closer. The entire rivalry is based on the fact that there is a limited amount of life to be had, and both groups want it.

This kind of rivalry is more than just common in the real world. This is what is behind much of the modern economic rhetoric about overpopulation, limited resources, and Unfair or unequal distribution of resources. Much like the toys here, there is assumed to be a fixed amount of every resource, therefore either the consumption or the consumers need to be limited. Then, much like the dystopian vision of 9, wars over consumption rights begin.

But people are not only consumers, they are also producers, they are primarily worshippers, but they are also consumers and producers. What is not regularly taken into account is the fact that the consumption generally leads to a production. People eat food in order to go work at the aluminum plant to prepare sheets that are sent to the factory that makes tractors so that more food can get produced. This idea that consumption is the end of the line is what leads to all of the apocalyptic declarations of the mathematicians and sociologists that want to solve our problems by getting rid of some of the mouths that need feeding, but as P.J. O’Rourke points out, it always ends up that there are too many of you and just the right number of me. So the economic theory was unrealistic, but it was dystopian. Maybe that was the point? But the resolution of the story was the most unsatisfying part of the story.

At the end of the movie, the spirits of the devoured toys are released from their imprisonment to go up into the sky, and be immortal spirits. Completely unsatisfying! Everyone knows that a good story ends with resurrection. Disembodiment is boring and terribly unjust. "I sacrificed my life and now I am going to a better place where I won't care about the fact that my sacrifice did nothing and changed nothing in the world. I planted a bunch of seed, and that is what matters, not the fact that after planting the seed all you had were fewer seeds.

This story was just begging for a resurrection, just like the real world, the difference is that in 9, all they got was "I'll fly away, sweet darling, I’ll fly away."

Paul makes  this exact point.

“13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Cor.15:13–19).

A story that ends without any resurrection is a miserable story. Life without resurrection is a life of plowing and planting with no harvest. It is a life of stoicism. The ‘iron philosophy’ of Marcus Aurelius, patiently surviving the unmoving, unfeeling fates (whoa is he) all the while persecuting Christians on a massive scale.

The final resurrection and judgment of all things is what defines everything here in the present. Jesus promises to come and put things right by resurrection. A story that just ends with, “All that crazy brave sacrifice? Yeah. Totally for nothing. Cool to watch though. Very entertaining. Ok, scoot. Go to your better place.” Feels a little empty. Feels, in fact, hopeless. Like there is no actual hope for the actual world.

But there is. Because the world is aimed at resurrection, Christians can, and should, be people that bring the future resurrection into the present by faith. By faith, we look to put the world right with courage and bravery in the defense of our neighbor, honesty and mercy in our interactions with our neighbor, and love and faithfulness towards God and neighbor. And because of the coming resurrection, we can know that none of it is in vain.

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Dragon Hunters: A Review

There are times when I wish that fatherhood classes would have included some training as a referee. When my kids are playing imagination games together, we regularly find me grabbing for the whistle around my neck like the lady that had fallen but couldn't get up.

It works out great when they all are imagining the same game, like when my four year old declared “Ok, now I am the slimy turtle monster disguised in the skin of the dead seal that I found at the beach.” (we had recently helped in a failed attempt at a sea lion rescue on the beach near our house, at least I hope that is why he was imagining wearing dead seal skin as a disguise), but my 7 year old, just screamed, yelled, 'you'll never catch me' and took off running with the turtle monster in a seal suit giggling with delight hot on her trail.
Problems arise, however, when there are more than one game being imagined while they are trying to play together. While my girls were recently playing with the newly acquired 'farm animal hospital' that Grandma bought for the birthday of my well adjusted middle daughter, my son, who had shed both the seal skin and the slimy turtle act, arrived on the scene, watched just long enough to see the pig go in for his medicine, and declared himself to be their giant pet dog who was too wild, jumped into the miniature hospital and squished all of the animals in the waiting room, along with the nurse, and the waiting room itself.

While playing with others, it matters what story you are telling about your self in your own head. Dragon Hunters has four characters telling different stories about their own world.

Zoe is a little girl that believes in fairy tales. In fact, the whole world is a fairy tale to her. And she loves every minute of it. She lives with her uncle, who also believes the world is a fairy tale, but is old, embittered and blind because he resents the fairy tale ways of the world.

Gwizdo is the small, worldly, and greedy partner of Lian-Chu. They are dragon hunters who kill dangerous and destructive beasts for money. Neither of them believe that the world is at all like a fairy tale. Gwizdo is quite happy with his disbelief and lives quite contentedly as a selfish little brick-a-brack. Lian-Chu wishes that the world that he believed in as a child, the fairy tale world, were true; but has been convinced that the pessimism and self-preservationist morality of Gwizdo is in fact true to the world. His hands drag at his sides whenever he's not fighting the beasts that threaten his neighbors, because he wishes that the nobility and righteousness and indignation of the world of fairy tales were true. He wears his disbelief like a backpack full of lead bricks, but he still doesn't believe.

Before I get into the actual story and what to learn from it, there are certain things that are important for you to know. You hear movie reviewers use phrases like, “visually stunning, a treat for the eyes.” By overusing phases such as these, it leaves less verbose reviewers such as myself without the vocabulary that we need to be able to get you, the reader of this review, to know that movies such as Dragon Hunters should actually receive high praise. It is really actually a visual masterpiece, and I am not just saying that. The entire movie was, . . . Well, it was like having little nymphs of joy dancing along the cones and rods of my retina while massaging bliss balm on my pupil and iris. The animation, characterizations, and scenes are all wonderful. It was simultaneously inventive and surprising, while remaining fun and even beautiful. They often communicated as much or more visually as they did through dialogue. It was first rate. Even if you see it just to watch lian-chu chase the dragons, your soul will be made broader and deeper (unless of course your soul is emptier than one on those chicks that got "loved on" by that twilight monster (if you known what I mean), (I think its 'name' was Edward).

Now, as the story develops, we learn that all of the knights of the Lord Arnold's Kingdom have been seared, broiled, and/or devoured by the myriad of dragons that are roaming the world unchecked. The problem is, the season of the world-gobbler is upon them. This giant dragon returns every 30 seasons and decimates everything in its path. Gwizdo and Lian Chu are dragon hunters for hire. Lian Chu being the slayer and Gwizdo being the business man. When Zoe sneeks out of her uncle's castle to go find a dragon slayer (like the ones in her fairy tales), she is attacked by two dragons and promptly rescued by Gwizdo and Lian Chu, who she takes home to Lord arnold's castle to slay the world gobbler.

There is, of course, adventures and dragon slayings aplenty while they search for the World Gobbler, but we also see Gwizdo and Lian Chu learning what the world is really like and each of them is reacting to it differently. Because Lian Chu has always wished that the world was like a fairy tale, when he learns that the world is actually like a fairy tale, he becomes a heroic knight of great courage and valor. But Gwizdo, upon learning that his vision of the world is all wrong, goes insane. He rejects the truth out of bitterness and resents Zoe for being right all along. He even imagines killing her in order to prove that she can't be right. Gwizdo's attempt to reject the world the way that he finds it in favor of a world that he has imagined leads to cowardice, selfishness, and evil, while Lian Chu's full embrace of the world the way that he finds it produces heroism, self-sacrifice, righteousness, and the salvation of the entire world.

And this is the very thing that we should learn from Dragon Hunters. This is what is powerfully displayed and made beautiful by the movie. The world, in all of its fairy tale oddness, can either be embraced as a good story, or it can be resented, but the world is the way that it is. This is actually the world that Jesus was incarnate in and Jesus was raised from the dead in and that Jesus ascended to the right hand of God to rule as the King of kings and Lord of lords. We dwell in the kingdom of the great dragon slayer, under the feet of the knight of God who grabbed hold of that great serpent that was in the garden in the beginning, then he held the worm by the face and plunged into the depths of hell in order to stomp upon his head until his skull cracked wide.

Then this Jesus was given the reigns of history, and made the king of every nation, and calls his people to be like him, and to trust him, and to see that he has ordered each of our lives to conform to his death and resurrection. Faith is believing the story that God is telling about our lives. Faith is telling the same story about our lives that God is telling with our lives. God orders our lives, and he sends dragons for us to vanquish. Sometimes they are small dragons, sometimes they are large ones, but he sends them to us so that we can be saved. When we get bitter and frustrated at what God gives us, we are telling a different story about our lives than he is. When he points out Job to the dragon and says, “Have you considered my servant Job” he wasn't attacking Job, he was setting him up to be a great hero of the faith. If we are attacked, it is not so God can condemn us, it is so that he can prove the steel of the sword that he has placed in our hands, to show the strength of the armor of God, and to show forth his great salvation in the earth. We tell the story of our lives like we are being attacked at the very points where we are being saved.

When children sin right in front of their parents and the parents get annoyed, they become another attacker at the very point where their children need someone to rescue them. One of the dragons that we each deal with is the dragon that raises its head within our hearts. But a child, who is helpless against his own dragon, has been given defenders called parents. It is a blessing when your children sin in the open, it gives you a chance to train your children, teaching them the truth about what kind of world we live in, helping them wield the sword of repentance. Holding the dragon by the nose so that they can take a whack at it with the sword that they often need help lifting. If you, instead, try and tell a different story about the world, where you are so important that you can't be bothered, then you are faithlessly telling a different story about your life than God is. You are refusing to plant your seed where God says that it will produce a harvest.

It is the same with temptations. It isn't a sin to be tempted, but we tell stoicism's story of our life. Jesus was tempted, yet was without sin, but we think that we need to be holier than Jesus. We think that we have lost the battle because we are tempted and so we give in at the very point that we are called to begin the fight.

We fail in battle because we are telling a different story about our lives than the story that God is telling with our lives.

We are called to embrace the actual world, believe the story that God is telling, and then to live in that story with Joy, knowing that Jesus has slain the dragon and is now conforming us to his dragon hunting image. Knowing that we are all called to be Dragon hunters.

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Hellboy - A Review

It has somehow gotten out that I enjoyed the movie Hellboy. Now being that I have, from time to time, been known to share an opinion of, perhaps, less that moderate restraint concerning the fact that most people writing and making movies are first class idiots, intellectual vagabonds, yappy lapdogs in the lifestyles of the rich and famous, weak-minded manipulables sporting the malleable souls of greedy-hearted reprobates with guilt-laden consciences, I feel the need to justify my appreciation of Hellboy.

In other words, people keep giving me a hard time for having gone to see Hellboy, let alone for having enjoyed, and even recommended it. There are, of course, two responses to people laughing at you. The first is to slink off in shame and disgrace, never to utter the name of the lovable, big-fisted, spawn of Satan again. The second is called, "swallowing the reductio." This is my attempt to get my jaw to hinge wide enough to get this particular reductio down the hatch, where the digestive juices of my lack of common sense can get to work, and you, the faithful reader, can begin to forget this particular review.

So here we are. Hellboy, written and directed by Guillermor Del Toro, based upon the comic of the same name created by Mike Minola.
Hellboy is the classic tale of the spawn of Satan being orphaned, adopted by a Christian Father, who becomes the undoing of the Hitler's chicaneries. Classic. The tale told a thousand times, to generations of innocent children needing bedtime . . . Wait. No. Nevermind. It isn't really actually the kind of story that you normally tell to children. . . . But it is the kind of story that needs to be told.

So here's the thing. It's a bit scary, and there are a few monsters. Nothing half as scary as the salt water crocodile, or the Giant Salamanders that live in the Japanese mountains. Just Hell-hounds, and evil sand-filled robot assassin scary. Sci-fi comic book action movie stuff. But it is a fairly wholesome, with a few crass words here and there. Check one of those helpful christian websites that counts out the obscenities and use discretion, It is rated PG-13, so take that into account.

The story is fairly straight forward. Hitler attempts to co-opt the dark arts to the cause of the Reich, but American soldiers foil his plot by destroying the machine that created a portal to the underworld.

But guess what, the offspring of the Devil, you know, the beast who is supposed to bring in the Apocalypse, well, he is a new born who just happens to be out wandering, and he accidentally slipped through the portal. One of the men is a Christian, so he adopts the spawn of Satan and raises the little guy as his own son.

The problem is, he is a huge, red, Demonic looking monster, horns, tail, and all, that has one overlarge adamantine stone hand. This setup is really wonderful. There are so many places that you could go from here.

And the makers of this fine story go the most obviously appealing route in a society drenched with fatherlessness. Hellboy is put in a situation of having to decide between the faith of his biological father (if you can call it biology) and the faith of his adopted father.
I am torn on whether to go the route of spoiling such a wonderful set up, but then again, that is what I do. Here's the warning, and warnings, like bow-ties, are cool. Spoilers.

The movie begins with the question, “What is it that makes a man a man? Is it his origins? The way things start? Or is it something else? Something harder to describe?” I know, right, what a great opening.

So the story opens with Hitler trying to get control of supernatural powers through the occult magic of Rasputin. He is going to release the seven gods of chaos, and out of the chaos, a new Eden will arise. A pretty accurate description of the insanity of modern revolutionary politics. Thankfully, the American army arrives, the plot is thwarted, Hitler is stopped, and the portal to the gods of chaos is closed. But Satan's newborn snuck through. Since there is a Christian on the scene, someone knows what to do with an orphaned demon. You adopt him, rename him, and have him hunt monsters for the FBI, Bureau for Paranormal research and defense division. On the front desk it reads “in absentia luci tenebrae vincunt.' In the absence of light, darkness prevails.

Every morning, Hellboy wakes up and files off the horns given to him by his old father, and sets out to make his new father proud. He loves his father and wants to be like him, so he goes out and fights monsters for the light. There is a wonderful scene, that is the turning point of the movie, where Rasputin comes to Hellboy's father and explains to him that Hellboy was born for the purposes of his father, namely, the apocalyptic destruction of the world. Rasputin says, “If only you had had him destroyed 60 years ago, none of this would have come to pass. But then, how could you have known. Your God chooses to remain silent.” Rasputin says that Satan has revealed to him the child's true name and asks if he would like to know it. And his father's response is, “I know what to call him. I call him son, and nothing you can do or say can change that.”and then he clutches the cross that he carries with him as he is killed. He dies trusting that his own Father in heaven will take care of his son.

Then comes the big final temptation. The name given him by his first father grows back Hellboy's horns and transforms him into the key to unlock the gods of Chaos, but his friend reminds him who his true father is by throwing him his father's cross, which is emblazoned onto his hand. At which point, he breaks the regrown horns from off of his head, kills Rasputin, and finds himself face to face with the ultimate evil god-monster. He fights him with a sword that he pulls from the hands of a gargoyle statue that sits in front of a cross. Until he goes into the tomb of the monsters mouth with a bomb, and destroys the death monster from the inside, thereby saving his Isha, his Eve, his fire-bride from the death that held her. Death has lost it's sting. And they kiss.

What a story. I still get chills every time I see it. But here is the reason that it is such an important story arc for Christians to be familiar with. It is the story line that daily plays out in our lives. Are we going to believe that our adoption into the family of God, our justification as the children of God, united to Christ, or are we not going to believe in our adoption, and follow after our biological Father. We have been removed from the line of Adam, though, like Hellboy, our flesh still reflects our old father. Our adoption was sealed, our sonship was cemented, when the only eternally begotten son of God died as our brother.

This is the temptation we face. Whose son are we going to believe we are are. We are sanctified by faith. We finish the same way that we started. By believing what God says about us. God tells us that he looks at us and says, "My Child. You are mine. Trust in your Father, follow your older brother Jesus. I am well pleased in him and I am well pleased in you. Leave behind the old dead man and his old dead works. Come and live. You are my son.

And just as Hellboy's realization that his adoption defined him led him to be like his father and lay down his life as an act of love, so should your realization lead to you taking up your cross so that you can bear in your body, the family resemblance of your true family.

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