Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Avengers Trailer....

FINE FINE FINE! I will go see the new Avengers movie when it comes out. Stop harassing me. SPOILER: Captain America is crushed to goo when Thor uses his hammer to crush him. I'm sorry, but there's no way his shield is going to help him there.

Wonderful Wednesday: Superman: The Musical!

Yes, apparently there was a made-for-tv musical of Superman in the 70's which is so horrible it's wonderful.

 Poor, poor, Superman. It's such a bummer when you forget to change into your regular clothes, blow your secret identity and get confronted by a villain set on... REVENGE! Also, Superman in the 70's was pretty free with that X-Ray vision.

 

 In case you couldn't tell from the video, this video was originally posted on Everything is Terrible.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interview with comic artist M.S. Corley

M.S. Corley is the artist on a comic book mini-series called The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, which has just been released as a graphic novel/collection this week. The story, written by Cole Haddon, is about a Scotland Yard inspector named Thomas Adye who discovers someone is murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel... a certain "spring-heeled jack" whom no one can catch. Driven to find help in even the most unlikely places, Adye turns to a secretly incarcerated criminal, the infamous Mr. Hyde (from Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde story). What follows is a bloody, philosophically-oriented thriller as Adye and Hyde attempt to stop the murderer... and Hyde attempts to bring out Adye's darker side. 


RIGHT NOW, M.S. Corley is offering free marker drawings (subject of your choice) if you send him proof that you bought the graphic novel, which is a fun way to get some comics and some original art!


For those who are reading with small kids or are sensitive to language, violence or dark stories, I'd say this book certainly would earn an R rating as a movie, so keep that in mind if you're considering purchasing the book. It's not for kids. 


I asked Mr. Corley to answer a few questions about his work on the series and he graciously agreed:

Mikalatos: So I've heard that writer Cole Haddon chose you as artist based on your unique style. Who are some of your artistic influences?

Corley: I'd say my biggest influence is Mike Mignola, he’s the reason I started reading comics regularly, realizing there was something other than superhero stuff out there (which is a huge genre, but it just doesn’t appeal to me). Other than him I try to find a variety of artists I enjoy and catalog their work on my computer to reference back, be inspired by or just get sketch practice from. To name some names, Akihiko Yoshida, Sam Bosma, Duncan Fegredo, Asaf Hanuka and Tetsuya Nomura.

Mikalatos: Were you a fan of Hyde or supernatural stories in general before you started on this series? 

Corley: Absoultely! I've been a huge fan of supernatural fiction since as long as I can remember. Something about the unknown world of the supernatural has interested me since I was a kid, I remember even back in elementary school I would look up books on Big Foot or UFOs or Ghosts in the library. As I grew older I started reading a lot of the pulp era work, and turn of the century stuff. I love old classic English ghost stories by M.R. James. Other favorites being William Hope Hodgson, H.P. Lovecraft, and Algernon Blackwood. My favorite time of the year for books is right around Halloween as the stores always put out new anthologies of ghost or supernatural stories and I buy up the lot each year.

Mikalatos: You and I have talked a little bit about how we're both Christian, and some of the challenges you face as an artist in the Christian community. What has been your experience with Christians looking at your (pretty dark, pretty violent) comic book series, and how do those two worlds overlap?

Corley: Most of the time it’s negative unfortunately. I think a lot of (perhaps legalistic) Christians don't understand why I would spend my time working on such things. Why draw such worldly things? I imagine they think I should just be drawing pictures of doves and Jesus all day. But this stuff interests me, I like ghosts, I like monsters! That's the kind of guy I am, and I don't believe Jesus looks down on me for it. But I do have lines I don't want to cross, specifically I'm not interested in drawing nudity. Not because I believe the naked body is bad, or sex is bad or anything like that. I just think it’s a slippery slope in the industry. Comics and art can be great without having to constantly draw scantily clad big breasted women running around. That’s why I love Mignola books so much, they're about great stories and great art.

Mikalatos: I understand that Hyde was your first full length comic mini-series. What lessons did you learn along the way as an artist?


Corley's answer to this and other questions (including the concept art that got him the job on this series) are below the cut:

Monday, February 27, 2012

John Carter of Mars!



Coming to a theater near you on March 9th is John Carter of Mars. Lots of people are talking about how this movie is doomed to tank because of its huge price tag and odd marketing (in fact, I used a fan made trailer for the movie that I think is better than the ones produced by the filmmakers).

I'm actually excited about the movie and I'm planning to go! I've read several of the John Carter novels, including the first novel, A Princess of Mars, which you can get for free on your Kindle.

Anyway... I think you should join me and go see it, too. Assuming that it's awesome, which it just might be.

Part Two of the "gospel transformation" series is up at Trans*formed

Continuing over at the Trans*formed blog, part two of my "gospel translation" series went up yesterday, this time taking a look at the parable of the lost coin. Can you guess what's coming next week?

Here's part one, and the introduction to the series.

Also, bonus, my friend Shane Sebastian wrote a guest post at Trans*formed that posted today, about how our weaknesses can be used to serve God and lead well.

Leave a comment on either of these posts, and let us know what you think! I've disabled comments here so you can leave them on the original posts!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Big Break is coming! (Plus my talks from last year)

Hey everybody... Krista and I are flying home from Florida today, which means, of course, that I will be mostly incommunicado as we hurl ourselves through the air in a tin can.

But, not wanting you to be lonely and missing me, I thought I would put some of my talks from last year's "Big Break" outreaches up so you could listen to them if you would like:

Matt Mikalatos Sunday Night talk

Matt Mikalatos Monday Night talk

Matt Mikalatos Tuesday Night talk

Matt Mikalatos Thursday Night talk

We're headed to Big Break again this year, and looking forward to being with our friends and hanging out with students. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ridiculous Reviewers on Amazon: One Star Reviews for MOBY DICK!

When I was a high school literature teacher and taught Moby Dick, I rearranged the desks in my room to look like a whaler's ship and then would allow the students to play out the end of the novel (*SPOILER*) and would allow one lucky student ("Captain Ahab") to spear me with a harpoon (the long stick used to open the impossible-to-reach windows in my classroom). Good times, good times.

Moby Dick was not universally lauded at its release, or anytime since. Its strong story about a man seeking revenge on the whale which maimed him, coupled with long chapters about the intricate details of whaling life, confused and frustrated many... an attempt to blend romanticism and realism that many saw as a failure.

Regardless, it's an amazing book and has eventually risen to a place as a recognized classic. You can buy it electronically for as cheap as free! You can, of course, buy an inexpensive paper version or a gigantic, pricey, super version of it that is nearly whale size.

As we all know around here at BHR, though, being a classic or a work of genius doesn't protect you from bad reviews. And not just four star "it wasn't my favorite" sort of reviews, but one star "I wouldn't use this book for toilet paper because the pages are much too rough" kind of reviews. Which -- I know you're excited -- means that it's time for: RIDICULOUS REVIEWERS ON AMAZON: ONE STAR REVIEWS FOR MOBY DICK!

Hooray!



Perhaps my favorite review, which reveals the angst of the poor student who has been forced to read a book for class, from B. Morse of Boston, MA:

Let the whale live....and kill me instead!
Oh, B. Morse. Someone hasn't gotten to the end of the book yet! I think you're assuming the whale dies. And you know what assuming does. That's why I always "Assue."

And now, our constant companion on the one-star journey: A Customer, who says "Moby Ick's more like it. A PIECE-O-TRASH! SENSELESS!

Moby Dick is the most BORING book I have ever read! I think if you made it into a short comic strip, you would have liked it. But this 550 page account called a novel? No way, man. I implore you, do NOT read this book. If it's required, then do so. But if you have other options, turn to those. We were given a list of books in English class, and I chose to read this. After a week, I was just in page 103. It was needed the next day, so I panicked and switched books, and bought War and Peace. And I finished that book in 8 hours of straight reading.

Dear A Customer. You couldn't read Moby Dick in a week, but you read War and Peace in eight hours? I don't believe it. When I was a literature teacher, I had a name for people like you. I called them "Liars." Here's what really happened: you got the Classics Illustrated Moby Dick, but realized that the signature style of artist Bill Sienkiewicz, while beautiful, did not tell the story in sufficient detail to keep you from having to read the captions. Frustrated, you bought the War and Peace mini-series, which is eight hours. Well, it's a little longer but you did watch eight hours of it. Did I get it right? Well, did I?

I really love this next one from Gracie Lou Freebush of Tomahawk, Georgia:

This book is HORRIBLE! Classic, my eye! I would love to know what's so great about this book. I have seen better writing in a Hallmark card! Boring! Give me a good ole copy of Elvis and Me! A true story that really tugs at your heart strings! I sleep with that one under my pillow! Keep Moby Dick away from my bed! This is the WORST book ever written,
I would also like to point out the phrase "Keep Moby Dick away from my bed" and make fun of it, but I don't have the strength.

Finally, I will end with this beautiful review from Cary of Yahoo, California.

 I hate Moby Dick. I hate Captain Ahab. I especially hate Herman Melville for writing this novel.
Yes, but how much do you hate them, Cary? Enough to leave your family and friends and possibly your sanity behind? Enough to take a shipload of men out into the briny deeps to try and find and kill Herman Melville? Are you willing to risk life and three limbs for it? WELL? ARE YOU?

I didn't think so. And that's why Herman Melville continues to haunt our literary oceans, unfettered and free, his whale song wafting to us across the centuries.

I have included this picture of the spirit of Herman Melville, for the sake of Cary and Gracie Lou Freebush:



That's it, folks. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy Moby Dick, or, if your heart can stand the pounding, more episodes of Ridiculous One Star Reviews on Amazon.








Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why I Don't Care About the News

The 24 hour cycling of constant news need not be full of nonsensical and constant retreading of unimportant information. They could, for instance, do in-depth reporting on actually important things.

Today, I'm living in a hotel in Florida. I walked by two televisions, both on mute, one showing CNN and the other showing FOX news.

Here were the breaking headlines, which, admittedly, I only saw the ticker tape for:

On CNN: Rick Santorum believes in good and evil.

On FOX: Student's homemade lunch confiscated by school officials.

Really, news people? And you wonder why I prefer the Colbert Report?

If you want the context of these BURNING ISSUES THAT YOU MUST KNOW MORE ABOUT, here's CNN about Santorum. Where it turns out that not only does he believe in good and evil, he actually believes in Satan. Wow. Thanks for the tip, CNN. In other news, I hope that you cover "Matt Mikalatos deeply concerned about CNN being deeply concerned that a public figure believes in good and evil." I'd hate for them to, I don't know, denounce the Holocaust or something.

I couldn't find a video clip from whatever show Fox was showing (I'm sure it will surface eventually), but here's the kind of quality reporting coming on this issue. And here's a response from the school officials on what happened, which didn't appear to be part of the Fox coverage, apparently because it doesn't fit in with their preferred way of looking at things.

And, lastly, in other news, I'm a little cranky today, which makes me say what I'm thinking instead of being diplomatic.

Now, to make myself feel better, I will look for actual news that people should care about. Like this escaped emu. Thank you, MSNBC.


How is any of this more important than Colbert's report on Ultimate Taser Ball? I don't know:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Current Events - Ultimate Taser Ball
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Wonderful Wednesday: Watermelons!

As you no doubt remember, Japan is often featured here at BHR on Wonderful Wednesday, and today is no exception.



Today I thought I would mention the wonderful square watermelon. It's not here in the United States because of the price, but maybe Krista and I will grow some here at our house next year.


Next week:

AND THEN:

Help! I can't stop!


No, really. I'm trying to stop, but I can't allow you to miss this:



Alright... I'm out of here.

Meetings start a little earlier today at the National Leadership Conference


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Our meetings are over for the day

Many worthy things were accomplished!

I find your lack of enthusiastic engagement in our meetings disturbing, Admiral.

At the National Leadership Conference

I'm at Cru's National Leadership Conference today. Once a year we come together to hear from our leadership, connect with one another and make plans for the future. I love seeing all my friends from around the country. Hopefully we don't miss any of the more important questions, like this one:


Okay, the meeting is about to begin. Bye, internet! I need to pay attention!

Guest Post from Author Renee Fisher: DEAL BREAKERS!

My friend Renee Fisher has a new book out called Not Another Dating Book: A Devotional Guide to All Your Relationships. I asked her if she would be willing to share a little excerpt from the book here to give you all an idea of what the book is like, and she graciously sent this along:


Deal Breakers

People who wink at wrong cause trouble,
but a bold reproof promotes peace.

PROVERBS 10:10

Do you just hate it when a guy blasts the music too loud when you’re in his car? Or when a girl can’t seem to tear herself away from her cell phone long enough to say hello? Maybe you’d never date someone who has a tattoo, doesn’t laugh at your jokes, or has a lot of baggage from a previous relationship—beliefs we’re not willing to compromise. But what does the Bible say our deal breakers should be?

Same spiritual beliefs. “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3). If a couple’s beliefs are lopsided or unequal, they will never be able to grow together. Similarly, Paul warns us not to “team up with those who are unbelievers” (2Corinthians 6:14).

Accepts authority. The Roman officer whose story is told in two gospels had soldiers and slaves under his authority. He was a powerful man, and yet he accepted Christ’s authority (Matthew 8:5-13). Does your date accept the roles God gave all of us? Does he respect those in authority? Does she accept God’s authority over her life?

Hygiene habits. This isn’t about how often your date flosses or what kind of deodorant he wears. It’s about the state of his heart. Does he or she care more about the outward appearance than the inside? Beauty only scratches the surface of the skin. If your date’s daily spiritual habits are as regular as a shower, you’ll be able to see the fruit in his daily life.

Financially free. Can your date manage his or her pocketbook? Did she spend her rent money on a new pair of shoes? Did he blow his next paycheck on the latest GPS? Scripture tells us to “Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them…Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another” (Romans 13:7-8).

All our deal breakers are different. Some of them won’t really matter in the long run (he’ll probably turn down his stereo when he has a baby in the backseat!), but don’t compromise on a life partner whose heart isn’t full of Christ.


Adapted from: Not Another Dating Book © 2012 by Renee Fisher. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My first re-telling of a Gospel story on the Western Seminary blog, and some secret insights into the names in the story

When I was in high school I had two friends named Andy Johnson and Roger Hom. I loved acting and theater, and for some reason (I can't remember if it was self-generated or if one of the guys made a throw away comment or what) I made a tradition my freshman year to always try to work their names into every play. Usually it would be in a crowd scene or something like that, where people were yelling and I could say, "ANDY JOHNSON ROGER HOM ANDY JOHNSON ROGER HOM!" So, when I was writing this re-telling of a familiar Bible story, I thought it would be fun to throw their names into the mix.

Now you now my deep, secret, arcane writing rituals.

Concept art for The Sword of Six Worlds!

Some of you may have heard the occasional rumor about the fantasy novel I wrote for my kids, The Sword of Six Worlds. It's being shopped around right now, looking for a publisher.

And I'm sure you remember M.S. Corley, whose blog I've linked to before as part of Wonderful Wednesday.

Well, I asked Mr. Corley a while back to give me an idea of what he might do if he were to make a cover for the book, and he's been working up a few things.

Here are a few of them.






If you'd like to see more, you can go to his sketch blog.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My guest posts at the Western Seminary blog the next few weeks...

You may or may not already know that I graduated from Western Seminary with a Masters in Biblical Theology. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about the Bible, myself, and God during my time there and I am an enormous fan of the school and the staff there.

Recently, Marc Cortez (Western's Academic Dean and professor of theology and church history) asked if I would be willing to do a couple of guest posts for the new Western Seminary blog, Trans*Formed, and I gladly agreed. So, for the next few weeks, I'll be guest posting over there, sharing some new writing I've been working on, trying to create a new look at some familiar stories about Jesus.

Tonight my first, introductory post went up, about why I'm attempting a "translation" of Bible stories for today's audiences (especially those who are familiar with the Bible).

Here are the first couple of paragraphs...


I grew up in church, and frankly, I love it. I know that’s not cool right now, and I don’t care. Don’t worry, it will come back into style. 
One side effect of growing up in Christian culture can be a certain contemptuous familiarity with the Bible. I remember impatiently tapping my feet when we trotted out the Christmas story, begging for it to end so we could tear into the presents. I remember playing “Bible Trivial Pursuit” in sixth grade and thinking to myself, “I know everything there is to know about the Bible, except how to pronounce some of the names.” I knew all the answers because they had been provided for me, like an answer key at the back of the book (or, more likely, in the margins and footnotes). There weren’t questions I needed to wrestle with or even consider.


You can read the rest here. I'm disabling comments on this post so please leave comments on the Trans*Formed blog!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sleep Paralysis, spiritual attacks and human biology

I read this article last weekend and forgot to share it with you. It's a really fascinating look at biology, religion, the placebo effect and the "nocebo" effect, which I had never heard of before this article. It's also about how some Hmong men died as a result of sleep paralysis, which should be completely non-fatal (although terrifying). It's food for thought, for sure.

So... what do you think?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hasta La Vista. Baby.

I'm off today to speak at a retreat in Texas for the Weslyan student union. Should be fun. From there I'm off to Florida for our National Leadership Conference for national directors in Cru. Yes, I'm a national director for Cru. Which is why I'm going to Florida for the NLC. Feel free to pray for my time in Texas and Florida, if you're the praying type.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

POTATO CHIPS!!!!

I haven't been keeping up with Old Spice related developments,so I was surprised to discover that the new Old Spice Guy is all about POWER! Old Spice would like to remind you not to punch a glass or yell too loudly or create a Pharaoh or ever do anything.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oscar parody posters

Okay, these made me laugh.
It's funny because it's true. 

It's funny because George Clooney thinks it's really, really so obviously true.

It's funny because: "Even if it's just, like, best make up." Ha!

It's funny because... "fetlocks"... ha ha ha! Horses have dumb names for everything!


These are by far my favorites from the posters. If you're offended by language, references to disturbing things in some of the movies or spoilers, proceed with caution (Rated R), but there's a whole bunch of them here.

Wonderful Wednesday: Kids can't answer basic questions. Providing us with the laughter that comes from feeling superior. Like watching reality television!


Monday, February 13, 2012

IMAGINARY JESUS NO MORE!

Saying goodbye can be so difficult....

Back in April of 2010 my first book, Imaginary Jesus, hit the bookstores. It's hard to express how cool that was, and how much I love this book... it's sort of like (in a less significant way) having a kid. I'm proud of this book, even if it never grows up and graduates college and, say, earns me an honorary doctorate. And I'm enormously happy that this book found a publisher and has so many fans.

I love the cover, which has the perfect blend of humor and slapstick graffiti, with the defacing of this poor Aloha-shirted man to make him look like Jesus. I love the design. Some great authors and reviewers said a lot of amazing things about this book (some of them like the book more than I do!).


One of the challenges with the book, however, has been getting it into the right people's hands. We discovered soon after the book came out that a lot of people -- particularly Christian readers -- were a little intimidated by the title and cover. We got questions pretty often from people about whether the book is saying that Jesus is imaginary (Ummm... no. It is, after all, published by Tyndale House, a respected Christian publishing house). It seems that the majority of people who read the book love it, but let's face it, if you're browsing the Christian fiction section of the bookstore, you are probably looking for a thriller or a romance.



I'm not sure that standing next to an Amish romance and a Christian thriller has put Imaginary Jesus into lots of people's shopping carts (yes, I realize that most of you don't use shopping carts at the bookstore but I really like books).

All that to say, some people looked at the book and thought, well, maybe it was too big a risk (I assure you it isn't). Maybe it was disrespectful (it's not). Maybe it's making fun of God (NO WAY! Do you think I'm dumb or sumpthin?).

So. My beloved publisher approached me and said, "You know, let's try again. Your book isn't getting to as many people as we would like. Let's give it another shot. Sort of like how they are completely re-launching the Spider-Man movies." Technically, they did not mention Spider-Man. Of course I was up for that. Here are some of the NEW AND IMPROVED bits you'll notice in the re-release.

One, a new cover:


As you can see, the new cover is designed to reflect the cover from Night of the Living Dead Christian, which should make these books look lovely on the shelf together.


Two, a new, more possessive title: My Imaginary Jesus. This should help clarify that the book is not saying that "Jesus is imaginary" but rather "we all have some misconceptions about who Jesus is." Likewise the new tagline, "The spiritual adventures of one man searching for the real God" should make it clear that the book endorses belief in God.

Third, an introduction by David Kinnaman, author of You Lost MeunChristian and president of the Barna Group. I just recently read the intro, and it's a lot of fun. I think you'll like it. This should set some minds at ease, too. David is a trusted voice in much of the Christian community and he likes numbers and stuff, which shows that he is smart and a voice of reason.

We've also added in a small group discussion guide (something that I get asked about with astonishing regularity) as well as QR codes that will allow you to be guided through the discussions by YOURS TRULY in a series of videos. That's right people, QR codes. The future is now. I had to go into the computer like in Tron to make this all happen, but that's the sort of dedication I bring to the table in making the new and improved My Imaginary Jesus newer and more improveder.

All of this in an effort to help people see that this book is not only sidesplittingly hilarious, but also a book to be taken seriously... that it has some (hopefully) deep things to say about what it means to be in a relationship with a relationally present but physically absent Christ. Hopefully the new packaging and cover will make it easier for people to give it to a friend, suggest it to their pastor, get it as the church book-club book of the month and so on.

Anyway, to the details:

MY IMAGINARY JESUS releases on April 1st! This is not a joke, and there will not be a post on April first saying, HA HA, FOOLED YOU. No. It is for real.

Also, if you, like me, love the bearded graffiti edition of Imaginary Jesus (soon to be called the Collector's Edition), then now is your chance. You need to stockpile them as soon as possible, because soon the Collector's Edition run of books will be gone!

Goodbye, Collector's Edition Imaginary Jesus, with your hilarious cover and silly antics. We shall miss you! Hopefully your new and improved incarnation will bring us comfort.


The limitations of a Masculine Christianity, as presented by a romance comic in 1974

Given the recent brouhaha* over John Piper's comments about how Christianity should be "masculine," I thought you might enjoy the comic below. Especially if you're holding a cigar in one hand and a brew in the other with ESPN playing in the background and you're wondering what all them girls are upset about.

Just pretend that Liz says "church" instead of school below. She just wants to live out a masculine Christianity! But now all her friends think she is a "strange girl." You can click on the comic to see it larger.

This comic totally stolen from ComicsAlliance and Young Romance #197.
This comic is from 1974, the year of my birth, nearly 40 years ago. But it's still relevant for comments made in the church last week. Yay.

Responses to Piper's speech came from just about everyone who has a blog**, including but not limited to Brian LePort, John Stackhouse, Scot McKnight,  and Rachel Held Evans, who invited MEN to write in and share their thoughts on the topic and had over 150 responses!

No response, as near as I can tell, from Dr. Piper, either defending or clarifying his view.



*Or was it a BROhaha
** What did people in the church talk about/argue about before the Internet? They must have been really bored.

Guest Post from Author Anna Broadway: Is Change Possible?

My friend Anna Broadway sent me a note the other day about an upcoming prayer event called "Pray for the Johns Day"... a prayer time specifically set aside to pray for the men who pay for sex, that God would intervene in their lives. I thought it was an interesting idea, and I asked her to write a blog post for us, which she graciously agreed to do! So, here it is. If you would like to know more about Anna, check out her website or her book, Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity.

I knew from the moment I read about Jesus getting punched in the face in a Portland coffee shop that Matt Mikalatos is not one to write cautiously. No, both in his wonderfully zany narratives and his choice of themes, he avoids the easy path. I especially appreciated him taking on transformation in his latest book, Night of the Living Dead Christian, because I think it’s one of the thornier issues of the faith.

Sometimes people change behaviors in conjunction with coming to Jesus, but their underlying motives and heart postures remain the same.

Other times, there’s a genuine repentance and change of heart, but behavior shifts are more gradual and slow to happen.

Or in some cases, a few major things happen in the beginning, then the drama quiets down and sometimes things are so quiet behind the window shades, you’re not sure Jesus is even in there working, aside from his initial improvements.

Of course, that’s not a question we like to admit to, but when you’ve been in the church a while, you can start to wonder. I was born into this, which means I’ve spent more than 30 years around Jesus’ followers, but I can probably count on one hand the conversions I’ve seen from before to after. Maybe even one finger.

Sometimes that’s left me doubtful God is really real or makes much difference. But then I always come back to the example of my father, who became a Christian at 19, when he was in Tennessee for boot camp, and went on to become a person who, by the reports of his own siblings, is completely different from the troubled adolescent he was before Jesus.

One time I got to sit there with him at a meal, while he explained to a colleague how he used to live. The man’s disbelief was visible as my responsible, clean-cut father described his former self. “You were like that?!! How did you change?”

Others who’ve heard me tell Dad’s story have suggested that maybe the reason for his transformation was not so much Jesus as him figuring out that certain behaviors worked out much better than his old ways.

Certainly, the discipline and self-control that the Christian life encouraged in him have proven beneficial. After he married my mom at 25, Dad went on to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering, to which he recently added a Ph.D. If you count their happy, 34-year marriage, that’s at least four major accomplishment that all require significant, short-term self-denial in service of long-term goals.

But in some ways I think of my dad as weak man who’s done many things requiring strength not because he was or thought himself to be strong, but because he went out every day and tried to be obedient to God and his responsibilities that day.

Maybe it’s like he’s a man who’s been walking a tight rope across a river for several decades. The people who come to see him might ooh and ah at his experience and surefootedness, but if they stood close enough to watch him get on the rope each day, they’d hear the words of someone attempting it for the first time.

“I want to cross,” he’d say. “I believe I can, and I hope I will, but I can’t say for certain I shall, so I’m just going to do my best and move my feet one step at a time.”

I think it’s the faithful power of Jesus in him that’s produced a life of such consistency, but that has prevailed because of Dad’s humble, constant acknowledgment of his own frailty and need for God. A man more confident in his own strength and resolve would be too proud to depend so greatly on his savior … and would have probably taken a lot more dunks in the river.

But it isn’t just my dad’s life that gives me hope in the power of God to make a difference. I can think of other friends I’ve known who are now quite different people than when I first met them. The cause was not always conversion, exactly; sometimes they just started to take God more seriously.

There are things that happen only when you give up your right to say, “yes, but” and start just saying “yes” to God. I can think of many moments past where everything hung on my willingness to give up what He was calling me to sacrifice. It was often something quite small in an objective sense, but because of what I truly worshiped, that small thing had become ultimate.

More recently, though, I’ve had chances to say “yes” not to a sacrifice but an opportunity. One night last November, I got an idea to organize a Valentine’s day of prayer for the men who buy sex: Pray for the Johns Day. The main work to be done was clearly pretty quickly. But would I do it?

A part of me was hesitant. I’ve had ideas before, some of which I even pursued, but often those attempts came to nothing. To pray for the johns is to ask for transformation on a very large scale indeed. We’re asking not just that God turn men from their sin and bring repentance, but that He transform them into men who take up what good works God may yet have for them to do.

At the very least, to ask that risks disappointment. And yet, I think such a prayer is to take the heart of the gospel seriously. The Bible says sin cut off man’s life-sustaining connection to God, without which we become increasingly monstrous (as Matt describes so creatively in his book), and the world around us overgrown and menacing. Jesus came so that we could be rehumanized and the whole creation restored to God’s good purpose for it. If that’s true, then transforming lives is a central part of the plan. That change may not come easily or quickly — as in the case of Matt’s friend, the vampire — but it’s possible.

So if you have five minutes or ten or even a lunch break free this Valentine’s Day, would you consider praying for the johns with me? 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Big Bad Wolf

I was pretty sure that the wolves in The Grey were Hollywood-ized gigantic exaggerations. The only wolf I ever saw in the wild looked like a half-starved tiny coyote.

Then my friend Ralph sent me this picture.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Movie Review: The Grey

Okay, here's the short of it: this is one of the best, most powerful movies I've seen in the theatre in a while. It's the sort of movie that sticks with you whether you like it or not, haunts you, makes you think and keeps coming back to you long after the last moment of the film. I can also say with complete honesty that I haven't been this terrified by a movie,maybe ever. My dad said the last time he had been this frightened by a movie was when he saw Jaws when it was first released.

The Grey is the story of John Ottway (Liam Neeson), a specialist hired by an oil drilling company in Alaska to keep their crews safe from wolves. On the way home from a remote location via plane, a hard-boiled crew from the company crash land in the Alaskan wilderness. The survivors of the crash find themselves in the "kill zone" of a pack of gigantic wolves and must brave the elements, the wolves and each other as they try to survive and make it back to civilization. I heard that this movie was intense. I thought, yeah, I've seen a couple of "Man vs. Nature" movies, I know what to expect. I was wrong.

This Tuesday my dad and I trekked off to the theatre to watch The Grey and it was everything you would want in a thriller: exciting, lots of action, clever moments of innovation from our heroes, chase scenes and people working together to overcome the worst sort of odds. But it was also scary. There weren't a lot of cheap scares, either (i.e. s guy is just talking and SUDDENLY A WOLF BITES HIS FACE OFF ACCOMPANIED BY LOUD MUSIC). In fact, a lot of times the subtlety of the filmmaking, implication and suggestion made it even more frightening, like in one moment where the wolves are just outside the light of the campfire, but when they howl you see their breath rise up into the light. The sound, too... I couldn't believe how much of the tension in this movie comes from the sound of the wolves howling.

Honestly, my dad and I stood in the parking lot for a while after the movie between our two cars, trying to figure out when we should walk away from each other and toward our cars. Because, you know, there could be wolves here in the city parking lot. It's totally possible.

 The amazing thing about this movie, though, is that while it would have been a complete success purely as an action film, it's a great deal more than that. The philosophical underpinnings of the movie are extremely well done, entertaining and thought provoking. It's not a movie about surviving the elements, or wolves, or even man versus nature, it's a movie about love and loss, embracing our mortality, masculinity, fighting for life, the existence of God (and our questions, struggles, fears and frustrations about this question). In fact, this level of the movie made it even more enjoyable. I found that questions that would pop up in my mind ("Would wolves really do that?") were completely silenced by the philosophical and metaphorical levels of the movie ("It doesn't really matter, does it, because that's not a wolf, that's the fact of our mortality. That thing is Death itself.").

 In the days since watching the movie, I've been thinking about it a lot. Not just the movie, but about my own life. Who do I really love in life? Am I treating them the way I should? Getting the time with them that I should, given the fact of my own mortality? Am I ready, when that time comes, to live and die well? Am I brave enough to run toward those who are in trouble and suffering and facing death rather than away from them? Which is all to say: this movie is terrifying, entertaining and profound. We need more movies like this one. It's life changing. I loved it. And, for those of you who want to know about the technical side of things... everything was done well in this film. The writing, directing, cinematography and acting are all beautifully done. The sound was amazing. The effects for the wolves were excellent. It's a great film, and you should see it on the big screen.

 So, if you're looking for a movie tonight, or this weekend, check out The Grey.

 Here's the trailer: p.s. Apparently there's been some manufactured controversy about the fact that the wolves in the movie are hungry forces of nature bent on destroying all the humans. To which I can only say, lighten up, people. That is not the point of the movie. What next? Are you going to complain that the blizzards are trying to kill them, too? Why are blizzards always bad guys? It's not fair. Boo hoo.

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