Doubts.

Everyone has doubts.

I have them constantly.

How do you live with constant doubt?

I seek out answers.

Where do you find your answers?

Many places. Books. Music. Friendship. Conversation. Nature. Thinking. Food.

How can you trust those things?

What do you mean?

I mean, how do you know you can trust those things and not others for your answers?

It depends on the question(s) I’m asking myself.

How do you know you’re asking the right questions?

I don’t. But they are my questions. If the questions are wrong, then perhaps my bad questions will guide me to better ones.

Then how do you know where to look?

Look for what?

Your answers.

The answers aren’t mine.

What do you mean?

I mean that if I ask a question and the answer is not clear to me, I search it out. When I find it, the answer, I submit myself to it, even if I do not like what I’ve found. The truth isn’t something you get a hold of; rather it gets a hold of you.

Kiergegaard?

Yes. He influenced my thinking a lot.

Why?

He was a man of doubts and he wasn’t afraid to share and explore those doubts. He wrote in such away that his doubts made perfect sense, but his answers, or the answers that found him, made more sense, more sense than the questions.

What doubts do you have?

Depends on the day.

What about today?

Am I a good father.

Are you?

That’s a bad question: Am I a good father. The better one is “Am I fathering?” You are either fathering your children or you aren’t. It makes more sense to ask if you actually doing something before you ask how you are doing it.

So, are you fathering?

I am.

How did you do today?

Better than yesterday. Or worse. Depends on the area of focus.

Any other doubts?

Yes. That I’m unlovable. I’m no good to my family or my friends. That I only make things worse by being here. That I can’t do what I’m doing, or at least they will soon see that I have no idea what I’m doing despite the appearance I’ve worked really hard to maintain.

Is it hard?

Is what hard?

Wearing a mask.

I’m not wearing a mask.

But the appearance?

The appearance is more my covering my face than wearing a mask. A mask can just hang from your ears. Hiding behind my hands is more poetic and raw. I am constantly walling my face with my hands.

But if you’re using your hands to hide your face, your hands can’t do what they are supposed to do.

I know. That’s the struggle. To show my face in all emotional terrains. That’s where most of my doubt is produced, the emotional terrains.

Why is that?

Because emotions are your honest self emerging through the filter of your conscious. There are no bad emotions; just bad responses. Emotions are powerful things. Deadly, even. And yet, they make life far more experiential. We connect with other emotionally for more easily than we do ideologically.

Really?

No. Any emotion that isn’t ours is hard to understand. That’s why conversation and friendship is good: no man is an island.

Merton?

Merton.

You like a lot of outcasts, black sheep.

I find myself alone often, intellectually and theologically.

How do you cope?

Reading. Praying. Playing with my children. Making love to my wife. Eating good food.

Do you not deal with it?

That is dealing with it: sometimes you have to enjoy life to deal with doubt. By doing something productive in one area, you fix a problem elsewhere. Doubt is often rooted in emotion rather than reason.

Do you think you will ever not have doubts?

I don’t think so.

Why not?

Life is doubting something.

Does that bother you?

No, not really.

Why not?

Why does it not bother me?

Yes.

Because if doubt is my default worldview and I should doubt everything, then by default, I should also doubt my doubts, since doubts would be included in the “everything” category.

I don’t follow.

What does it mean to doubt?

To not be sure of something?

Sure. Lack of conviction, some say. But primarily it is a feeling of uncertainty: the very definition provides the human experience of doubt – a feeling. To live a life dictated by feelings is…

Is what?

…I was going to say dangerous. But that’s not the best word for it.

…Daring?

No.

…Risky?

No.

…I don’t know.

Impractical. That’s the word. If everyone did and said what they felt, unheeded, all the time, the world would be chaos and madness. No order, no justice ( no one would be wrong), no real sanity to compare the madness to.

I see your point. But you haven’t answered by question.

Oh, I apologize. What was the question?

How do you live with doubt?

How can I not?

Thoughts Upon Watching “First Man” Dir. Damien Chazelle

The look on my student’s face as I informed him that Robin Hood, the “steal from the rich and give to the poor” character didn’t exist. I only delighted more to inform him that King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were also fabrications. His look was that of shock and confusion. But the one that “blew his mind” was that George Washington never cut down the cherry tree. Then something happened – his face went from shock to almost sadness.

“I’ve been lied to my whole life.”

“No, you’ve just been demythologized.”

This encounter ran through my head as I watched “First Man,” directed by Damien Chazelle.

Those who know me, know I love Chazelle’s films. “Whiplash” is one of my personal favorites. “La La Land” isn’t bad either. But “First Man” was something of a departure form Chazelle’s musical laden filmography. It was…mature.

But I’m getting distracted.

Growing up, caricatures are the means by which we learn the world. Good people do good; bad people do bad. There are heroes and there are villains. There are those who start fires and those who run into them. Perhaps it is one of the reasons I intentionally talk to my children in “messy terms.” It’s not always black and white. There are things that are – but there’s a lot that isn’t. Children ask hard questions automatically – I will not train my children to embrace easy answers.

And yet, I find that even as an adult, it is hard for me to see people rightly. Caricaturing is still a passive hobby. We are all expert caricature artists: we live on a diet of the broad brush strokes of idioms and sound bites because they are easier to digest and pass. They may even be sugar coated, hiding the razor that slices our throat as we swallow.

Chesterton was right in his biography of Saint Francis of Assisi: he could either paint him as the king of saints, second to Christ, or as the tyrants of demons, second to the Devil. However, Chesterton selected the narrow path, the middle road: he strove to present St. Francis as he was: a man, fallible and flawed as the rest, and yet, distinctly unique for how else would history have remembered him for so long?

That is the beauty of my student’s face: the middle ground had been provided – the myth shattered. Evidence. History. Reason. And maybe a little common sense.

This was my delight in viewing “First Man.”

The myth is destroyed.

The curtain was drawn.

The pain was real.

The deaths were tallied.

The widows wept.

The fatherless hardly understood.

The risk was great, greater than I realized.

This was my delight in viewing “First Man.”

It is an excellent film. The craft is well done. The acting is engrossing. The score enthralling. The set pieces almost touchable. The editing crisp. The costuming fit. The story, captivating.

The story, captivating.

Too often we intentionally choose the caricature over the portrait because it is easier to remember: a large nose, bushy eyebrows, cartoonish breasts, squinty eyes, a smile three sixes too large. But a portrait, that’s hard to remember because every is so…believable, ordinary, realistic.

I believe people prefer a caricature simply because lying to ourselves is easier than telling the truth, and since we are expert liars already, it is only natural that we would lie to ourselves about others.

“First Man” reminds us to “see people rightly.”

As a Christian Apologist, I repeatedly encounter and meet unbelievers whom I also agree with about the non-existence of god, primarily because they aren’t worshipping the god the same god I’m not worshipping. I am often confronted with a caricature of the Christian God, not the one presented in the Bible, but an odd amalgamation of some hippie, new age, homophobic or homosexually affirming, cool, boyfriend, crazy man. And that’s not an exaggeration.

I love the demythologization of “First Man,” but I love the demythologization of Christ even more.

Some Thoughts About Denominations

Ravi Zacharias once stated that it is not the similarities among religions that is important but the difference: the differences make all the difference.

I would suggest that the same is not true about denominations. This brief blurb will be about Protestant denomination: the differences (heresies/errors) between the tree branches of Christianity would take two long for the purposes of these thoughts.

I have experience many sermons where 1 Corinthians is quoted to say that denominations are an evil, wicked things that harm the kingdom and cause strife among believers.

And they are right, if they emphasize what makes them a denomination and not what makes them Christianity.

The ultimate difference between denominations isn’t disagreements on whether or not there is a God, if Scripture reveals Jesus Christ to us, if the Holy Spirit is within the believer, if the Bible is the primary source of The Body’s Doctrine and Dogma; rather, it’s about hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics is the sole dividing line between denominations.

The difference between heresy and error is that error is still found in the church: denominations see other denominations to be in error. Heresy on the other hand rejects foundational Biblical teachings and hermeneutics.

I disagree with how Baptists interpret such and such passage. And Presbyterians. And Methodists. And Lutherans. And Episcopal. And Pentecostals. And so on.

However, there is not much that I would call heresy. There is some, and most of that comes from a misrepresentation from my own tribe on what the other tribe believes.

It may very well be that denominations are a sin; however, if that is the case, then we should be repenting for being apart of not some other church. Which would be ridiculous and unhealthy.

Additionally, we tend to demonize those we disagree with. This is more harmful than anything else the Church does to herself. Explain the difference; call out errors; demand hermeneutical accuracy and integrity; but never demonize the opposition (especially if the opposition are your Christian neighbors who believe in the same God you do, albeit expressing it differently) – they will do that all on their own if their hermeneutic is off.

So yes, Paul didn’t baptize in his name, or his church’s name: I suggest we do same.

 

To Know My Children

As a parent, there are certain scenes in film that speak to me more loudly than they did when I was younger.

One such scene is from The Sound of Music. Which I hate. I can’t stand movie musicals. Which is strange that a scene from any movie musical would linger in my thoughts after so many years. Even as a child, the scene resonated with me. It was only when I had kids that I understood why.

The scene:

Captain Von Trapp returns home to find his children changed for the better, but he cannot see that they are better. He sees chaos, confusion, and a circus. His immediate response is discipline and the firing of Maria, the Nun wanna be, who’s influence has brought out such a delightful and good change in the children.

However, Maria, in a subversion of the norm that Captain has created in his home, rebukes him and tells him he doesn’t even know his won children because rather than love them, he has caused them to fear him. The children are desperate for love, but the Captain only shows control. He will not listen to criticism about his own children, or rather about his knowledge of his children and who they truly are.


 

As a parent, this haunts me. I do not wish to be a Captain. I want to be a father. However, it is so easy to be a Captain, especially in times of stress, insecurity, tiredness, and personal sin.

This is why to us Captains of the world, the Maria’s are so important.

Like my heavenly Father, I wish to know my children.

Now that Eugene Peterson is Dead, I Shall Finally Meet Him.

Eugene Peterson is dead.

I was reading his book, The Pastor, as possible replacement for an out of date text for the School of Ministry for New Horizons Ministries, of which I am the Director.

I had just finished reading the section where Peterson recalls his mother being scolded by a man from their church for telling the men who came to their house stories from the Bible. The man silenced her but stirred in Peterson’s soul, a step towards whet he would ultimately become: a pastor.

For me, this experience is full of tension: while I am reading the book, the author dies. As I grow to know this man through his reflections and summation of his life, his life ends.

I feel as though I have lost a great friend I’m just now getting to know.

However, I know of many who he touched: either in his literary works, his ministry, ministers who talked about him as if they knew him just by reading his material. It’s as if I am finally meeting the man who I only knew through others for the first time. And now that I have just now shook his hand and introduced myself, just as his lips had parted, before the breath leaves his lungs, his grip slips through my hand. The man I had started to know is gone.

I’m only fifty pages into The Pastor, and already, it has changed my life. His insight and humor is alien in this atmosphere of political chaos, moral collapse, and marketable minsters and their churches. And yet, his words bring comfort, solace, encouragement, just what a minister’s words should do.

I am writing this upon just hearing of Peterson’s death so that the emotion and immediacy of my feelings can come through this glimpse of how much a man I never met has changed me, has made me a better man, has helped me love God and my neighbor more truly than I had before our brief encounter.

I look forward to truly meeting him, to complete our introduction, and rejoice in Paradise at the Great Things our mutual Triune God has done.

Now that Eugene Peterson is dead, I shall finally meet him.

Confessions of a Tired Christian

It’s hard to be a Christian in today’s atmosphere.

As a young Christian, I am being yelled at from so many different sides within and without Christendom. Christ has grown nearer to me, but the Church appears to be more divisive and divided than it has been in my life.

Daily, there are opposites voicing their opinions loudly at me:

True Christians support Trump and true Christians don’t support Trump.

True Christians support refugees and true Christians don’t support refugees.

True Christians believe the accusations of rape victims and true Christians weigh the evidence.

True Christians are educated and true Christians only need the Holy Spirit.

True Christians read and write poetry and draw and paint and true Christians are working hard and don’t have time for such none-sense.

True Christians daily read their Bible and memorize Scripture and true Christians don’t have to as long they are loving God and loving their neighbor.

True Christians pray for their enemies and Christians don’t have enemies.

True Christians do _____________ and true Christians don’t _____________ .

True Christians think _____________ and true Christians don’t think  _____________ .

True Christians feel _____________ and true Christians wouldn’t feel _____________ .

And often, those blanks are the same. And I hate these kinds of statements.

There are moments when I doubt what I believe because those who are wiser, smarter, closer to God than me say the opposite while those who are wiser, smarter, closer to God than me say the same. The demonization of the opposition is a caricature that seems to seep into our subconscious and bloom into prejudice and isolationism.

I’m not complaining – but I am tired. And frustrated. And often times lost.

But it’s in this lostness where great things have been happening: my love for my wife had deepened and grown; my affection and concern for my children has deepened and grown; my hunger for peace and justice is balancing with my hunger for grace and empathy; my patience with those I disagree with has expanded and I delight in good, thorough conversations; I enjoy work more than ever before; but above all, God has grown in my heart and mind, and I love him all the more because of his love for me.

Lostness provides me with great clarity on what I think is important. So, while I strive to obey God and serve my neighbor, I shouldn’t be surprised at the contradictions in Christianity, though growing weary in them I believe is acceptable.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others like me who struggle to hear Gods still small voice; in Scripture, in His Spirit, in the silence.

However, I am reminded from his Word:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8: 38-39

Filmmaking Films for 2018-2019

Each year, I give my filmmaking students a list of films.

They have to choose one film, watch it a minimum of three times, which, to be honest, is not always enough to gain an appreciation of the craft. However, with all the other homework they have, and given that they have 16 weeks to complete the assignment (a 5 – 10 page paper covering a given topic provided with the film), three time is plenty.

The three view requirement has the following benefits and outcomes:

  1. first viewing is always hard to create objective (and subjective) appreciation for the film since you are taking everything in – the acting, the camera movement, the music, the atmosphere, etc;
  2. with the second viewing, the shine has worn off, the honeymoon is over, and now, you watch it with pen and paper and begin to analyze and dissect;
  3. the third, and often final viewing, you are able to even better observe your given topic in the film and how is effects the theme, message, and craft.

Just for you, here is the list of films for my class for the 2018-2019 school year with their given topic. Most are classics, masterpieces, and game changers, but some are newer films that are included to help stretch my students to teach modern film with a critical eye. The list is alphabetical. I hope you check some out.

400 Blows, The; 1959; Not Rated; 99 min; French w/English Subtitles; Black and White; DVD There are multiple track shots used in this film: discuss how the use of this particular shot get us into the character’s psyche?
Babette’s Feast; 1987; G; 104 min; Danish, French, Swedish w/English Subtitles; Color; DVD Discuss how the is food framed and what this tells the viewer about its importance/unimportance.
Beauty & the Beast; 1946; Not Rated; 93 min; French w/English subtitles; Black & White; BluRay Discuss the three most beautiful moments in the film: how they are framed, edited, music, set, acting, etc.
Black, Stallion, The; 1979; G; 118 min; English; Color; DVD Discuss why the silence in the film works better to create tension, rather than loud sounds effects.
Casablanca; 1942; PG; 102 min; English; Color; DVD Discuss the character arc of Rick Blaine, and how it is framed.
Chimes at Midnight; 1966; Not Rated; 116 min; English; Black and White; DVD Discuss how the use of hand held camera shots helps add a sense of realism to the viewer’s experience.
Citizen Kane; 1941; Approved; 119 min; English; Black and White; DVD Discuss the transitions to flashbacks in this film: how and why do they work?
City Lights; 1931; Passed; 86 min; English title cards; Black and White; BluRay/DVD Discus how the physical comedy is framed: does it make it funnier?
Cool Hand Luke; 1976; GP; 126 min.; English; Color; DVD Luke is presented as a Messiah figure – how are his “miracles” presented? Include his “death.”
Duelist, The; 1977; PG; 100 min; English; Color; BluRay Discuss the use of ‘zoom’ lens movement in the film: what does it do/doesn’t do?
Fantastic Mr. Fox; 2009; PG; 87 min.; English; Color; BluRay/DVD The film is presented as a storybook: how does this presentation affect the theme?
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; 2004; PB; 142 min; English; Color; DVD Discuss how the theme of time presented (framed/sound/etc)
High and Low; 1963; Not Rated; 143 min; Japanese w/English Subtitles; Black/White and Color; DVD Discuss the use of high and low angles in the film: when they are used and what do they accomplish
Ikiru; 1952; Not Rated; 143 min; Japanese w/English Subtitles; Black and White; DVD Discuss the director’s lack of camera movement and how his editing creates ‘movement’ when the camera is still
In the Mood for Love; 2000; PG; 98 min; Cantonese w/English Subtitles; Color; BluRay Discuss how the use of color assists the narrative of the film.
Ivan’s Childhood; 1962; Not Rated; 95 min; Russian w/English Subtitles; Black and White; DVD Discuss when the camera is handheld: why these scenes and not others?
Leopard, The; 1963; PG; 185 min.; Italian w/English Subtitles; Color; DVD Choose a character: how does their costuming reveal their character arc throughout out the film?
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; 2003; PG-13; 138 min; English; Color; DVD The majority of the film takes place on the ocean. Discuss some possible challenges and solutions to filming the aquatic scenes.
Millennium Actress; 2002; PG; 87 min; English; Color; DVD Some of the editing in this animated feature would be impossible for a live action film. Discuss how this is true.
Passion of Joan of Arc, The; 1928; Not Rated; 114 min; Silent with English title cards; Black & White; DVD Explain how the use of close ups in the film helps the audience feel what the characters feel.
Playtime; 1967; Not Rated; 115 min; French and English; Color; DVD What is the theme of  this film?
Rashomon; 1950; Not Rated; 88 min; Japanese w/English Subtitles; Black and White; DVD The film is told from several perspectives. Discuss how are the different perspectives framed.
Samourai, Le; 1967; PG; 105 min; French w/English Subtitles; Color; DVD Discuss how violence is framed and edited in this film.
Rebecca; 1940; Not Rated; 130 min; English; Black & White; DVD Discuss the use of the elements present in the film and what they represent.
Secret of Kells, The; 2009; Not Rated; 75 min; English; Color; DVD Discuss how symmetry serves to create beauty and discomfort in the viewer’s experience.
Seventh Seal, The; 1957; Not Rated; 97 min; Swedish w/English Subtitles; Black and White; BluRay Discuss the presentation of Death in this film.
Sorcerer; 1977; PG; 121 min; English; Color; BluRay Discuss how the sound design and sound editing creates the tense and chaotic atmosphere that pervades through the film.
Spirit of the Beehive, The; 1973; Unrated; Spanish w/English Subtitles; Color; DVD Discuss how the child’s imagination is presented.
Stagecoach; 1939; Not Rated; English; Black and White; DVD Discuss how the landscape emphasizes the theme of the film.
Summer Wars; 2009; PG; 114 min; English; Color; DVD Discuss  and compare the camera movement and framing in the “real world” vs “Oz.’
Third Man, The; 1949; Not Rated; 104 min; English; Black and White; DVD Discuss the use of the dutch angel and its effectiveness.
Tree of Life, The; 2011; PG-13; 139 min; English; Color; BluRay/DVD Discuss how cross cutting affects the story telling in the film.
Tokyo Story; 1953; Not Rated; 136 min; Japanese w/English Subtitles; Black and White; BluRay/DVD Discuss the presence of the 180 degree rule in this film/ Does the breaking of the rule become distracting or engaging. Explain.
Vampyr; 1932; Not Rated; 73 min; Silent; Black and White; DVD Chose three practical effects and how they add to the unsettling atmosphere of the film.

Which films have you seen/want to see?