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Rogue One:  Star Wars Episode 3.75

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” is every bit as good as the 7th installment of the Star Wars saga “The Force Awakens”. This is the first film set in the Star Wars universe that offers a deeper look at the story behind the story of the main saga. 

Specifically, we are given a rousing prequel to George Lucas’ 1977 original film “Episode IV – A New Hope.” (Which should be watched as soon as you get home from the theatre!)

The plot of “Rogue One” is driven by the fact that the evil Empire — served, most prominently, by Grand Moff Tarkin (a CGI of the late Peter Cushing) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) — is on the verge of deploying the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the Death Star.

The Death Star has the potential to wipe out entire planets and thus doom the efforts of the Rebel Alliance to resist subjugation by the Empire. 

The movie’s main character, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is drawn to the center stage because she is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the brilliant scientist who developed the technology behind the Death Star.  What we know that the Star Wars universe does  not is that he designed it under duress while being held captive. Jyn has reason to believe that the armament has been sabotaged by her father. 

To prove this, she enlists the help of Rebel Alliance officer Capt. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his mechanical sidekick, K-2SO (Alan Tidy). Kato is an amusingly straight-talking android, who provides most of the movie’s comic relief.

Director Gareth Edwards has crafted an exciting epic while keeping the violence inherent in his story of armed conflict virtually bloodless. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy have written a script that  celebrates altruism in the midst of the Rebellion. They also briefly tackle the morality of mindlessly obeying military orders.

“Rogue One” is old-fashioned entertainment in the best sense! We are treated to a showdown between spunky goodness and hisssble villainy with a bit of innocent romance thrown in to boot!  

This is a film for the whole family. Don’t miss it.

Addendum: The Force Of Star Wars

George Lucas is a fan of the writings of mythology scholar Joseph Campbell so not surprisingly ideas from world mythology are woven through the series. Episode IV itself is basically a reproduction of the archtypal story in Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Most of the mythic symbols Lucas weaves into the films may pass completely unnoticed except one: The Force.

According to the films, “the Force” is an energy field generated by all living beings that “binds the galaxy together.” For some gifted individuals, the Force provides both power and guidance.
The Force apparently is morally polarized, with a “light side” and a “dark side.” The light side (associated with good, peace, and self-defense) is the power of the Jedi, and the dark side (associated with evil, anger, and aggression) is the power of their enemies, the Sith.

What does George Lucas mean by The Force?   In interviews he has explained that the Force is a symbol for all that is unseen in the universe. The light side is essentially a symbol for God — the unseen Power of good — while the dark side is a symbol for the forces of evil.

According to Lucas, the Jedi exhortation to “Use the Force” essentially means “Make a leap of faith” (or “Trust God”). The phrase “May the Force be with you,” of course, is clearly evocative of “May God be with you.”

Lucas sees the Force (or the light side of the Force) then as only symbolic of God, not a direct allegory. Personally I see too many non-theistic elements to make the connection between God and the Force. 

I think the force bears a closer resemblance to a New-Age mystical energy field balanced between good and evil, similar to the yin-yang balance of Taoism than to God. (I do know The Force is fictional, but our fictional constructs are rooted in our perception of reality.) 

I love the Star Wars universe and when I see any of the movies I view “the Force” in essentially the same way I do the fantasy magic in The Wizard of Oz and similar stories. Let your children enjoy this fantasy universe and if they ask you if The Force is another name for God be prepared to give a reasonable “no” answer. 

The Plane Has Crashed

For months I have been playing the game of  “What if?” Not “What if I left the burner on, forgot to pay that bill, screwed up the tip?” Not even “What if that’s not a mole, or what if the brakes fail?” But what if he wins?

On Nov 8, He won.

No amount of pre-emptive fretting, phone banking, marching, petitioning, or magical thinking on any one person’s part would have prevented this. Even if I’d stayed up later on election night, or posted one more Facebook status, the outcome would have been the same. It’s not magic; it’s math. Electoral math to boot — antiquated, convoluted but the math that is the law.

I know my anxiety is unhealthy but I
can’t stop feeling like I have been in a plane crash. All I can do is stumble around in the wreckage looking for survivors. I know they’re out there, bruised and bleeding worse than me. One survivor is in his neighborhood bar, being told to go back to his own country although he was born here. Another survivor is smacked with an ethnic slur as he’s helping a man cross the street near Trump Tower, near where he works. One survivor fled Somalia at age 7, and 23 years later is afraid she will be forced to return there because she’s trying to cobble together money for her legal paperwork.  The worst that happens to me is that a former student called me a leftist and questioned my Faith on G+. But even though I have no personal threat I know that none of us are going to be OK until all of us are — but won’t someone please tell my body that?

So this is where I’m at, screaming at my heart, lungs, brain, stomach, and skin to calm down.  Eating sweets and hiding under the covers until the bad man goes away doesn’t help.  What helps me (a little, but better than anything else) is breathing.

It’s so easy to forget to breathe. Not in the autonomic sense — we’d all just be passing out in heaps on the street and behind the wheel if that weren’t the case — but in a deliberate way. Standing up, inhaling deeply through my nose, holding it in, releasing it. It’s such a simple thing, and it’s free of charge, and I have my lungs with me all day, but I forget to do it.

I have to remind myself to stop reading my Twitter feed. I have to remind myself to stand up, breathe, reclaim my body from my mind as best I can. It works — some of the time, but way better than nothing.
There’s so, SO much work ahead and so many people whose need for safety is greater than mine. So much has changed, that it can feel overwhelming.  STOP. Breathe. Focus. I can’t do it all, no one can — and that’s OK — but I have to start with something.

I will take a breath. I will pick my battle. I will not consider this election results as normal. It signaled that fear is now the main motivator in my country. The wings of freedom and equality have come off the plane

The plane has crashed. We survivors need to stick together.

Suicide Squad – a review

suicide-squadI am a comic book movie fan so I looked forward to DC’s Super Villain comic book movie “Suicide Squad”. It is made up mostly of second-tier bad guys from the DC Universe who are drawn together because of the fear that a future “metahuman” like Superman (now supposedly dead) could choose to use his or her powers for evil instead of good. The driving force is government clandestine operations organizer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). She proposes to put together a team of Super Villains to fight evil metahumans. The squad she assembles features sharpshooter Deadshot (Will Smith), psychotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fire starter Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Aussie thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney). The Joker (Jared Leto) is committed to helping his girlfriend Harley Quinn break free, first from prison then from the Suicide Squad.

Their main threat, however, is a demon named Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and her demonic brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine) who plan to kill all humanity and take over the world.

Deadshot, Diablo, Waller, and the soldier that Waller tasks to lead the Suicide Squad Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) are well-written emotionally layered characters, with credible backstories. The other characters not so much. Humor and jokes work mostly thanks to Smith’s Deadshot who brings a fun swagger to the squad.

The Joker and Harley Quinn, arguably the biggest draws to the movie – are laughable, overblown caricatures that work at first but get tiresome after a while. Harley’s psycho-sexpot act is sexy fun at first but finally is just obnoxious, and the Joker’s insanity is all style and no depth. Leto’s Joker portrayal lacks the ominous, formidable layers that Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger each brought to their portrayal of the iconic Joker). The evil Enchantress turns humans into grotesque zombie-like faceless creatures whom the Suicide Squad battles while destroying yet another major DC city.  The special effects save the day for this movie that is big on action and small on plot.

For me as a Christian, the demonic activity was the most problematic element of the movie. The Enchantress is a demonic sorceress, who emerges from captivity by means of demonic possession of an innocent woman. The Enchantress and Incubus, her evil demon brother, create a dark and spiritually oppressive atmosphere. Fortunately, the Suicide Squad super villains become “heroes” and their transformation brings a spiritual and idealistic light to shine in the darkness.

Overall the movie was entertaining and a change of pace for DC comic book movies.

X-Men Apocalypse

apocalypse-header

Call it an occupational hazard but when I watch a movie, I often try to connect the spiritual aspects and life messages advocated by the filmmakers.. The X-Men movies all are obvious allegories on the virtue of celebrating diversity.  The newest film in the franchise, X-Men Apocalypseexpands on that theme through multiple spiritual references throughout the film. The question is, “Is there an underlined meaning or connection to all of them?” Maybe, maybe not.. At the very least it is an allegory on the classic battle between good and evil. (Watch this very well produced film for its exceptional cinematography then watch it again for its theology).

Some of the spiritual references:

  • Apocalypse (the original mutant) states the names of many false gods that he has gone by.
  • Magneto yells at God about why his life is so full of tragedy.
  • Nightcrawler constantly prays and genuflects.
  • A military leader says on the phone, “Our prayers have been answered.”
  • Even the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from Revelation 6 are referenced.

It is hard to miss the underlying theme that the “ruler of this world” (Apocalypse) and the Christian soldiers (X-Men)are at war. Satan wants to destroy the world and the good in it. He claims to be a god and even tried to get Jesus (God the Son) to bow down to him. In the movie, Apocalypse has one goal; to destroy the world in order to create a world he can rule. He can only do this by using others who have the power to tear the world apart. This is exactly the strategy Satan employs: he convinces people that following him will make them powerful and promises people whatever it takes without regard for telling the truth..

The counter to Apocalypse is Professor Xavier. He stands against Apocalypse by giving his followers a way out. He tells the Horsemen that there is a better way. However, Xavier, who has the power to control any and all people with his mind and to bend them to his will, chooses to allow free will. This is a picture of exactly the way Our Heavenly Father has chosen to deal with us – He grants us free will rather than imposing His will on us. God does not have to give us free will, He can force us to follow Him, but he does not want slaves but willing followers. So He sent His Son to provide a way out and then gives us the freedom to choose whether to follow Him or not.

Choosing to follow God makes us enlisted soldiers engaged in spiritual warfare against the god of this world.  Christians stand for truth, expose Satan’s lies and deception, and stand strong against the destroyer of lives.

Another spiritual aspect in the film, focuses on Magneto. He symbolizes the internal battle that wages within each of us; doing what is easy vs doing what is right. Magneto is living a good life, loving his family and choosing to do no harm. He is doing what is right: which is difficult, not easy.  Then tragedy strikes, he loses his family and this breaks him. He gives up and does what is easy – lash out with his power to destroy humans. The easy way often leads to our destruction: selfishness is easy, selflessness is hard.

No matter how bad things seem or how hopeless and trapped we feel there’s always an escape, always.  But we have to make the choice to allow God to forgive us. We have to choose to do what is right instead of what is easy.  Magneto brings this internal turmoil to the screen. I think it’s why so many of us connect to him as a character. He’s struggles with his choices of right and wrong just as many of us do.

X-Men Apocalypse is a great Bryan Singer film. I enjoyed it visually. I enjoyed the story line. I appreciated seeing the X-Men being portrayed as more grounded characters. The spiritual allegory and helpful life lessons were just icing on the cake!

TRUMP: KING OF TWEETS

7de7c0aa10e9f514e1a15dc44c5d0144When I was growing up, media meant network TV. Its voice was the network news broadcaster: a man who  read the news in an authoritative voice devoid of
any discernible accent, personal belief or visible emotion.  How old am I? Old enough to have watched the evening news  on a black and white TV that received only 3 channels. Old enough to remember actually reading the daily newspapers. Old enough to remember when the Net existed only in Science Fiction. In those bygone days the TV network news broadcaster was the voice of authenticity (admittedly he was the only game in town).  No one spoke more authoritatively and appeared more authentic than Walter Cronkite.  Today media means the Net. The internet has given everyone a voice, hence blogs like mine where I make no attempt to hide either my personal belief or emotion. The internet has given everyone the ability to become one of the media. Along the way authenticity has been reimaged.  In social media people who speak from a set perspective as themselves are seen as authentic, even professional media bloggers are expected to speak with all their idiosyncrasies and imperfections intact.

I believe one of the keys to understanding Donald Trump’s political success is that his media voice sounds authentic to modern sensibilities. Read his tweets and there is little doubt that he writes them himself, making him the first major candidate for the presidency to do so. Hillary Clinton’s (whom I don’t support either) tweets are carefully prepared talking points that  obviously are written by her staff — obviously unless she can be two places at once because sometimes she tweets when she is onstage in a live debate. On the other hand Trump apparently just tweets whatever is on his mind at that moment, no matter how nasty, degrading or untrue. He tweets like he speaks, without a filter. He uses the weird spelling and punctuation common on Tweeter which, ironically, makes Trump seem much more authentic than Clinton.

I am not saying that Trump is authentic, just that he appears authentic by social media standards. Authenticity is the quality of being true to yourself. I truly hope that Trump’s internet self is not his true self because if it is then he may be the perfect narcissist, empty and desperate to fill himself with the cheers of others.

I believe that Trump sounds authentic to many of his supporters because he explicitly disavows political correctness. Let me elaborate.

Political correctness began on University campuses in the 1980s in the wake of the sweeping moral re-evaluation of our society’s traditional assumptions about the role of women, people of color and other marginalized people taking place in Academia. A suspicion of ideas that we have inherited from earlier generations is healthy. Academia became sensitive to the fact that language perpetuates assumptions, especially negative assumptions.

PC was ridiculed from the start for two main reasons: First, the “PC police” enforce a mindless and empty adherence to the PC vocabulary, a criticism that is sometimes justified. Second, PC is cowardly, afraid to state the truth for fear someone will be offended. This is why some believe Obama won’t refer to jihadists as “radical Islamic terrorists.” Republican leaders went so far as to label him “cowardly”.  They chose to disbelieve his explanation that he didn’t want to legitimize the idea that these extremists represent Islam (anymore than the KKK represents Christianity).

Trump’s popularity has risen in direct proportion to his claims becoming more outrageous and hateful: his supporters apparently take that as a sign of his bravery. They believe that Trump is speaking truth to power.  As one who believes that “PC” actually is a means to granting basic respect and dignity to all I see his speech quite differently.  I fear that his “speaking truth to power” is really just hateful bullying.

The unparalleled freedom of speech afforded by the Web gave me hope that it would facilitate an appreciation of our differences more than ever. But instead I see a power broker like Trump being lauded as authentic because he “says it like it is”. Apparently what “it is” includes trumpeting his power and wealth and ridiculing anyone who disagrees with him. Rather than his speech producing dignity, respect and compassion, in Trump world the hard truths that only he is authentic enough to acknowledge produce xenophobia, sexism, Islamophobia, racism, and anti-intellectualism.

Trump’s tweets have turned one of the Internet’s greatest virtues into a weapon in the war to keep the marginalized right where they belong. At least until a final solution for them is found.

Worthy – a reblog from Join the Movement blog

CCF%2520Logo%2520%25282%2529During Tim’s talk last Thursday, one of his main points was that Jesus doesn’t give up on anyone, and he used Paul as a great example of this truth.  As he made this very important point, he talked about how Satan tries to make us think less of ourselves, how Satan tries to convince us that we have been given up on – by people, Jesus, ourselves, whoever.  Tim summed this idea up by saying, “Satan plants seeds of unworthiness”    This is so, so true.  Satan absolutely loves making us think that we are unworthy of so many things and in so many ways.

I think a man named Aeneas who we meet near the end of Acts 9 understood what it was like to feel unworthy.  We are told that Aeneas had been “bedridden for eight years” because he was paralyzed.  This is a man who had to question his worth.  He had not been paralyzed his entire life, so I would think knowing what his life was like before the paralysis made it that much more difficult for him to handle being bedridden.  Add to that the common belief in his day that physical ailments were a punishment from God, and we have a powerful combination of factors that contributed to this man questioning his worth.

Then he meets Peter.  We read about their brief encounter in Acts 9:34, “And Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.’ And immediately he rose.”  For the first time in 8 years (for perspective, think about where you were 8 years ago), Aeneas stood up and walked.

This is a big deal.  Obviously, the man is physically healed and that’s important.  But there is so much more going on.  First of all, Peter called Aeneas by name.  Don’t miss that.  He called him by name.  Chances are that Aeneas didn’t hear his name called very often, and that is dehumanizing.  He no doubt questioned his worth as a person.  Peter gives that back to him simply by calling him by name.  (This is a huge point.  Advocates for people who are journeying through homelessness frequently talk about the importance of asking someone’s name when you give them some money or food.  That way they’re not a cause; they’re a person.  Remember Joe?)

Satan had been planting seeds of unworthiness in Aeneas’ life for at least 8 years, but in one moment Jesus through Peter weeded out anything that had grown from those seeds.  He helped Aeneas see his worth.

So often our worth is tied up in our identity.  This is so dangerous.  If your identity is being a good student and you have a rough semester, then you begin to question your worth.  If your identity is being wealthy and you lose your money, then you question your worth.  So to keep this from happening to keep from questioning our worth, you have to find your identity in something that won’t leave you.

That’s Jesus, and Jesus alone.  He’s not going anywhere.  He loves you no matter who you are and what you’ve done.  Find your identity in being someone that Jesus loves and you will never have to question your worth.