29 November 2009

Collision: The Movie

I finally got a chance to get my hands on and watch the new "Collision" movie today. For those not familiar with this movie, it is a debate film/documentary between atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian Douglas Wilson, recorded during a series of on-the-road debates they had, showing highlights of the exchanges during the formal debate sessions, with some of the behind the scene antics and personal comments from each sprinkled throughout.

Hitchens is well known as a political writer and activist, and is often regarded as one of the prominent exponents of "modern atheism," though he refers to himself more as an anti-theist. Per Wikipedia (the most reliable source on the web ;-}) he describes himself "as a believer in the philosophical values of the Age of Enlightenment." His main argument is that since the concept of God or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization.

Douglas Wilson has has recently authored a handful of responses to other atheist authors, like "The Deluded Atheist" responding to Richard Dawkins, "God Is: How Christianity Explains Everything" which is a response to Hitchens' writings, and "Letter from a Christian Citizen" which responds to Sam Harris' book.

This movie began as a series of back-and-forth communications between Wilson and Hitchens, that were later compiled and released as the book "Is Christianity Good for the World?" This launched interest in them doing public debates, which of course led to a "tour" of sorts, and highlights from those various meetings were recorded, adding in behind the scenes interchanges, and released as this movie.

The movie does a good job of presenting both of their views equally and adequately, giving us a good look at some of the issues. Obviously not exhaustive on the subject, and no one cries "uncle" by the end, but points are well made. For me, the high points were hearing Hitchens make comments about never having debated or met someone like Wilson and some of his arguments. He said many people he has debated seem hypocritical, but that Wilson seems the genuine thing, actually believing what he defends.

I think at times though, some of Wilson's arguments get lost on Hitchens understanding. Not sure if he just doesn't fully understand what corner Wilson is backing him into, or if he is not sure how (or if) he can respond. Wilson hits Hitchens with pieces of presuppositional apologetic techniques that in recent decades have been popularized by the late great debater Greg L. Bahnsen. Attempting to pull the carpet of reason out from under Hitchens, it seems all but lost on Hitchens (or so it appears somewhat from the small segments we see).

One of the other things that shines through, is the Christian love and charity that Wilson portrays. At least for the footage of the film, we see them both acting civil and respectable to each other, never demeaning or attacking or being hateful to each other.

The other brief, but powerful highlight to me was when Hitchens brings up the supposed failed prophecies of Jesus and his promised first century return (Matt. 10:23; 16:28; 24:34, etc.). This seems to be a favorite technique by the critics, and has been an attack from Jewish apologists and others against Christianity, and was a contention for men like Bertrand Russell:
I am concerned with Christ as he appears in the gospels…there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise…for one thing, he certainly thought that his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at the time. There are a great many texts that prove that…he believed that his coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of his earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of his moral teaching. – Atheist Bertrand Russell, from his book Why I am Not a Christian
However, for Hitchens, it fails when countered effectively by Wilson's preterist response.

Overall, the movie was entertaining. As a Christian, nothing said by Hitchens had much force, but were typical arguments used as more of an emotional opposition to a creator.

My main complaints against this movie deal more with presentation than content. Whoever was hired to do the camera holding was either drunk, or had no clue how to hold a camera and focus in on the subject. The majority of scenes were jerky, chaotically zooming in on noses, hands, mouths, eyes, etc. and unable to hold still, bouncing around like someone was rolling around with the camera. It was very distracting and very irritating. The "sane" parts were the pieces that were obviously from outside "professional" services (like all of the CBN pieces).

Much of this film appears to come from hand-held cameras, and goes from being grainy, black and white, poor lighting, and other effects. Either this footage was captured without the intent to use it in a professional presentation like this movie, or I assume this might have been someone ideas of "art" for the films sake. Either way, it makes this film come across as a poorly shot home movie, and takes away from what could have been a professional film presentation.

On top of the irritating camera movements from the "drunk" camera man (as we began to call him), the audio suffers in many areas. There are many scenes where you clearly see the speakers are wearing lapel microphones, yet the audio we get for the film is obviously from the condenser mic on the camera. So, we get to hear all of the background noise and hiss in many scenes.

Many of the debate segments take place in restaurants, bars, and small public places, and contain a lot of background noise. In some parts, the film editors knew this was a problem, and we have subtitles, which are helpful, but not always present. To counter this, you must crank up the volume and pay very close attention. Unfortunately, you crank the volume to hear the dialog, and when the segue segments kick in with the various styles of music (some very heavy rock), they blast you away. At other times when the volume seems adequate, the editors have decided to add background music that tends to be way louder than it should, and that distorts the dialog.

Overall, a good film that I would recommend to anyone, but I really wish someone with better skill would remix and edit this film and soundtrack to fix these issues.

24 November 2009

Wither: Dream Theater Speaking to Me

Let it out, let it out
Feel the empty Space
So insecure find the words and let it out

Staring down, staring down
Nothing comes to mind
Find the place turn the water into wine

But I feel I'm getting nowhere
And I'll never see the end

So I wither
And render myself helpless
I give in and everything is clear
I breakdown
And let the story guide me

Turn it on
Turn it on
Let the feelings flow
Close your eyes
See the ones you used to know

Open up open up
Don't struggle to relate
Lure it out
Help the memory escape
Still transparantness consumes me
And I feel like giving up

So I wither
And render myself helpless
I give in
And everything is clear
I breakdown
And let the story guide me

I wither
And give myself away

Light reflections on the page
The worlds want to create

I drown in hesitation
My words come crashing down
And all my best creations
Burning to the ground

The thought of starting over
Leaves me paralysed
Tear it out again
Another one that got away

I wither
And render myself helpless
I give in
And everything is clear

I wither
And render myself helpless
I give in
And everything is clear
I breakdown
And let the story guide me
I wither
And give myself away

Light reflections on the page
The worlds want to create
The worlds which you create

Let it out let it out

Yes, more lyrics that speak to me, especially my melancholy and depressing side. From one of my all-time favorite bands, Dream Theater. Here, watch the video:

23 November 2009

Pray for Obama - Psalm 109:8?

If you have not heard, there is a new crazy Christian idea out on the Internet. People are selling products with the slogan "Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8." The verse in question says:
May his days be few; may another take his office!
Very cute use of words indeed. Sounds pretty harmless at first, until you read the next verse:
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow!
Keep reading, the following verses get worse. So, the call is for a shortness of days and removal of office, but in context, this is to be due to death.

Now, as "witty" (and I use this term lightly) as this use of Scripture is, the point is made that there is a dislike of the President, and they would like his days in office to be few. Now, in their defense (not that I know their true intent, but giving them the benefit of the doubt), they did simply use verse 8. Verse 8, used, abused and chopped totally out of context, as a stand alone thought is fine - point taken. I too could agree with the sentiment. In the ways President Obama is setting this nation up for great harm, I too pray for his days to be few (impeachment anyone?). I hope and pray that his harmful influence and potential for damage to be thwarted. So, taken "as is" and out of context, their point is somewhat acceptable.

However, anyone who looks it up, is not going to stop at verse 8, and it is very irresponsible to strip things out of context to make such a point. So, for that I would condemn such a slogan as not only a poor witness of Christian love and charity, but it is an abuse of God's Word as well as a display of public disrespect for the office of President.

However, then you have those professing Christian like Frank Schaeffer making some pretty strong leaps in this case.

SCHAEFFER: No. Actually, it means something more threatening. I think that the situation that I find genuinely frightening right now is that you have a ramping up of Biblical language, language from the anti-abortion movement for instance, death panels and this sort of thing, and what it's coalescing into is branding Obama as Hitler, as they have already called him. And something foreign to our shores, we're reminded of that, he's born in Kenya. As brown, as black, above all, as not us. He is Sarah Palin's "not a real American." But now, it turns out, he joins the ranks of the unjust kings of ancient Israel, unjust rulers to which all these Biblical allusions are directed who should be slaughtered, if not by God, then by just men. So there's a parallel here with Timothy McVeigh's t-shirt on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. He said the tree of liberty had to be watered by the blood of tyrants. That quote, we saw at a meeting where Obama was present carried on a placard by someone with a loaded weapon.
Again, in the slogan creator's defense, the slogan strictly asks for prayer to God for Obama, that his days in office be few. Looking strictly at the slogan, they do not seem to be promoting physical violence by man, but simply a calling on God in prayer (at least I pray to God that is their intent). If such a slogan provokes another person to take physical violence, then you cannot hold the slogan at fault per se, anymore than holding a gun responsible for someone using it to kill someone. However, the point is made that things are already at a heightened state of "hostility" over Obama's action (you would think he'd take a hint and stop), so I would have to honestly ask if this type of slogan is really to an advantage for God's Kingdom or if it could be dangerous?
SCHAEFFER: What we're looking at right now is two things going on. We see the evangelical groups I talked about in my new book, Patience With God, enthralled by an apocalyptic vision that I go into in some detail there. They represent the millions of people who have turned the Left Behind series into best sellers. Most of them are not crazy, they're just deluded. But there is a crazy fringe to whom all these little messages that have been pouring out of Fox News, now on a bumper sticker, talking about doing away with Obama, asking God to kill him. Really, this is trolling for assassins. This is serious business.
I agree that there are many in the "Christian" world that are blinded by this delusional "end time" apocalyptic anti-christ scenario, that are already on a heightened alert from years of being told we're living in the "last days" that stirring up this kind of fear and hate could provoke them to physical violence. But again, if some wacko sees himself as fulfilling some last days scenario and commits violence, you cannot really hold the whole of Christianity at fault, or even a slogan. Especially considering that the very Word of God that the wacko attempts to use speaks against people taking such direct violence.

My biggest point of disagreement comes over Schaeffer's words that "Look, this is the American version of the Taliban." The radical Muslims use their scriptures to condone and promote physical violence, not by using it out of context like this slogan, but because their scriptures do literally promote it to begin with. They are not asking their followers to simply pray, they are promoting the taking of violent actions against the enemies of Allah. They are not saying, pray against the infidel, they are saying flat out that it is fine, just, and commendable to kill the infidel. That is quite a drastic difference to telling people to pray against an unjust ruler. If the Muslims radicals were simply gathering in large groups to pray against (and even pray for the death of) the infidels, then I feel confident saying we'd have little to worry about.

The difference is, the Christian Scripture do not call for individuals taking violence unto themselves; unlike the Muslim scriptures which clearly do.

So, is the slogan bad? On the surface, taken at face value, I do not think it is, and would hope that the creator of it is innocent of anything other than good intentions. However, given the current political climate, is it wise to promote this new "Pray for Obama" slogan? I would have to say it is probably more likely to be harmful than beneficial at this time.

We as Christians are to love one another, we are to love our enemies, and we are to submit to our rulers (Romans 13), acknowledging than they, even the ungodly ones, are placed into office by the sovereign hand of the Almighty. We get what we (as a nation) deserve; and considering the way we have let our country go, we deserve what we get. Hopefully it will be a wake up call for Christians to take action, get off their butts, and take a part in the political system of this country, by voting and running for office and by contacting our leaders and demanding they take the godly paths in situations. Take action, pray, get involved...if not, don't complain at what you "allowed" to get into office.

Does America need a revolution? Maybe?
Does it need a revival? Definitely!
Will displaying products with this slogan promote revival? No!

Pray for President Obama. Pray that God will open his eyes to the truth. Pray that God will grant him godly wisdom, to do the right thing, to lead America back to it's Christian foundation. Pray that God will restore justice, order and truth to our nation, it's leaders, and it's laws. Pray that God will convert and save Obama that he can then be used to promote and defend justice and godly principals; but if not, pray that God would see fit to remove him from where he could cause harm, and replace him with a more godly leader. Do all things in love and compassion, and do not provoke others negatively, as I am sure this slogan would be more prone to do.

What are your thoughts? Post them below.

18 November 2009

Confessions of a Madman

Yesterday marked the sixth month since the unexpected passing of my first-born child, Jonathan. The last six months has been a roller coaster ride emotionally as many of you have read on here; a ride I still seem to be on.

During this time, I have developed quite a drinking problem, that only a few very close friends and family members are even aware of. The bad thing is, not only am I drinking harsh stuff, but some of the worst type of harsh stuff that has added poisoning ingredients. I have tried in recent times to stop, but have been unsuccessful. So I post it here publicly in case anyone else wishes to share their experiences with this type of problem.

Hi, my name is Jeff McCormack, and I am a Coke-a-holic. My soda of choice is Diet Coke, or even better, Coke Zero (especially Vanilla or Cherry Coke Zero). You see, soda is bad enough, with all the chemicals, acid and things that drain the minerals right out of your body. If you switch to diet brands, yes, the reduced sugar is one huge advantage (especially to someone pre-diabetic like myself), but you still get the chemicals, the acid, and the added poisonous artificial sweeteners. But, for someone who comes from a lifetime of prior soda addiction, this is a better way to go than sticking with the original. The lesser of two evils, I guess.

HA! So, I was just grabbing your attention. Yes, I do drink more diet soda these days than in times past, but honestly, it is a vice I am willing to live with at this time.

But yes, yesterday was the six month point since Jonathan passed. I can't say things have really gotten any better in my emotional mind yet, I still have issues - daily, mainly when things get quit and my mind slows down. In some ways, the length of time has made things worse. As I mentioned in a post on this topic some months ago, I still kind of feel like Jonathan is a fallen comrade, that I left on the side of the road while I went to get help. The further I get away from him time wise, the more I feel I can never make it back to help him before it is too late. I know, this is weird thinking, I agree, and I can't stand the way my mind works sometimes. I wonder if some kind of happy-pills could fix this (even though the side effects of such pills seem much worse...lol).

Intellectually, I can grasp it....theologically I can grasp it. He is not "left behind" nor is he stuck in need of saving somewhere. He is much better off than when he was her suffering in his weakened state. I can praise the Lord that he brought Jonathan into our covenant family, and that Jonathan never strayed from keeping the truth. I can rest assured that God is faithful and just, and that Jonathan's trust in the saving work of Christ alone ushered him into the very presence of our Heavenly Father for all eternity. All of this is good and all, but my selfish heart and mind have to be forced to think about this side of things.

While I know I should be happy and excited as to the way every little piece of this scenario went down as peaceful and quickly as it did (which my intellectual self is happy about), that is not my mind's first inclination. I am too selfishly wrapped up in missing him, in seeing him, in sharing with him. I still see his facial expression, I still see him sitting at my desk doing my book store packaging, I still hear him grumbling and complaining over certain things. The memories flood in daily, too much to allow the pleasant things I should be thinking, and instead flood my mind with pain and grief.

So, I drink soda as an outlet (sounds like a good excuse, right?).

I really wish I had the mental abilities to follow in the steps of the great King David. For those of you not familiar with the story from 2 Samuel 12, David committed a great sin, and it brought judgment from God upon him in the promise that his son that Uriah's wife had just had with him would not live. When the child became deathly ill, David spent seven days fasting and praying. On the seventh day, the child died, and when David found out:
Then David got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions, and changed his clothes. Then he went to the Tabernacle and worshiped the LORD. After that, he returned to the palace and ate. His advisers were amazed. "We don’t understand you," they told him. "While the baby was still living, you wept and refused to eat. But now that the baby is dead, you have stopped your mourning and are eating again." David replied, "I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the LORD will be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me."
I too long for the day when my emotions get out of the way of my intellect and I can say all is well, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and I am blessed none the less. For now, I struggle still, and appreciate all of the prayers and thoughts that so many of you have sent our way.

So, I toast you all ... raise your Coke high and enjoy the burning sensation as it runs down your throat! To God be the Glory...Great things he had done!

06 November 2009

Missed Opportunities? Entertaining Angels?

Last Sunday, after church, my family and I had to run by the bank to drop off something in the night deposit. It was lightly raining and a tad bit on the chilly side. As we were pulling away from the night deposit, there was a frail looking gentleman in the parking lot motioning to us. We rolled the window down and he motioned with his hand open, saying something about needing to get to the mission downtown, but not having enough money for the bus. We had just left the bank, but only to drop off checks, not to withdraw any cash. My wife rarely if ever carries cash...when she does, she goes through it fast, and so is usually always empty pocketed.

My wife was driving, and she was directly speaking with the gentleman. Her first thought was that he wanted a ride. However, we have a eight person van that is usually filled to max capacity (us plus six kids). My first impression of what he was saying, was that he was asking for cash.

How often are we presented with an opportunity to serve, yet we turn our backs for various reasons. Beggars can be deceptive, there are many out there that are. They want money for drugs or booze; they are scam artists. "Get a job dude, and stop bothering me." How many times have we passed people in need, and not given them the time of day because we were suspicious of their true situation? I know, I will admit, I often act that way.

On this particular Sunday, we acted as usual, cutting him off, saying we couldn't help, and we drove off. It was just habit, an impulse reaction of sorts. I was prepared to hand him a few dollars, because he looked and sounded sincere, however, the window was closed and we drove away before I could act.

As we got back on the road, my wife said to me, he wanted a ride, but we have no room. I said, I think he wanted money for the bus. She said she had no money on her, and we drove away.

All was silent for a few blocks. I know I was thinking in my silence about whether we just blew an opportunity. All I could think of was Hebrews 13:2:

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
I assume my wife was also pondering the event. All of a sudden, the silence was broken when she said, "I think we should turn back and help him," to which I said "I do too." It had just hit her...wait...we DO have room in the van. Hard habits are hard to overcome, and for a moment, we had forgotten our eight-seat van does have a spare seat now in our van due to the passing of our son in May. I said, and if it is just money he needs, I have a few bucks on me, which she did not realize.

She immediately turned the van around to go back to offer him a ride downtown or cash, whichever was needed. We drove to the bank parking lot, and he was gone. We drove around the shopping center next to the bank, and he was no where to be seen. After a few moments of looking in all of the direction we thought he could have gone in such a short amount of time, we gave up and got back on our way.

Did someone else give him a ride? Or did he simply vanish?

Anyway, the issue is, we have become so callous towards strangers in need, doubting if there is a need, that we often brush them off without a thought. I hate feeling like that, and hope that the Lord gives me a more tender mind to reach out and assist others whenever I am able. My job is to act, and react, in love, and help others. If they are deceptive, then let that be on their head. Who am I to be the judge and jury over whether they are sincere or not? We do not need the government to help the needy, if we all were just more willing to reach out to them with what the Lord has blessed us with.