Monday, August 24, 2009

"Torture vs. Torture Porn": A Spoiler-Free (TM) Review of "Inglourious Basterds" (2009, dir. by Quentin Tarentino)

"If you had a chance right now, to go back in time and stop Hitler, wouldn't you do it?  I mean, I personally wouldn't stop him because I think he was awesome, but wouldn't you do it? - Cartman, South Park ("Make Love Not Warcraft," season 10)

I'm afraid that I'm somewhat ill equipped to tackle the topic of Quentin Tarantino as I've not seen Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill.  I've pondered my way through two other of his seminal works, though: Reservoir Dogs and True Romance.  I liked True Romance considerably more, which is telling because Tarantino did not direct the film - he wrote it.  Tony Scott, who's directed everything from Top Gun to Man on Fire, sat in the canvas chair for that one.  Notably, he drastically changed the ending, telling Tarantino that the film did not earn the right to have a depressing, anti-Hollywood ending as planned.  Those lines from the True Romance audio commentary have lingered with me and colored my viewing of Tarantino as an artist.

But look! Nazis!  Man don't you hate Nazis?  I know I do!  Murder & mutilate them! Capture them and torture them!  Bludgeon them to death! Scalp them!  This was the premise of Inglourious Basterds as presented to me by the trailer, two hours of savaging Nazis.  "Behind enemy lines, there are no crimes," the trailer screamed.  While there is blood shed a' plenty, Saving Private Ryan has 400% more carnage than this film, albeit, with 400% less scalpings.  The film depicts torture, yes, but despite the presence of Hostel director Eli Roth as Sgt. Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz (who spends his time introducing baseball to Europe), the movie is not torture-porn.  Torture-porn is that ironic genre that claims to criticize the excess and indulgence of society, even while indulging dark human hearts in every perversion imaginable, see, Hostel, for instance.  Actually, no, don't see it. 

We learn from the trailer that the premise of the film revolves around All-American Brad Pitt (as Tennessee born-and-bred Jewish American, Lt. Aldo "the Apache" Raine) leading a squad of Jewish American grunts behind enemy lines to conduct a guerrilla war of terror.  But this is a Tarantino film, mind you, and the story isn't entirely linear.  While we meet arch-villain SS Col. Hans Linda (Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, in an Oscar-worthy turn. Seriously, Ebert thinks so too) in the first chapter, the ebb and flow of the Basterd's campaign takes place over five denoted chapters.  Only Quentin Tarantino would even think of making a WWII movie in which a film-within-the-film receives so much attention.  Only Tarantino would make this work, as he does.  I'd tell you why and how it does, but didn't I promise this is a "Spoiler-Free" review? Inglourious Basterds is a fantastic movie, lushly shot and strongly acted.  Beyond it's visual beauty, it is well edited and has an appropriately quirky soundtrack.  I give this film an 87 out of 100, but can't depart without offering some social commentary to boot.

I left the theater wondering how many of the people who smiled and cheered (a few times audibly) the torture of prisoners at the hands of the Basterds would approve of the Bush administration's openness to torture, like water boarding, etc.  I remember the way my stomach flinched when I watched Saving Private Ryan for the first time, especially when the GIs gun down to surrendering Germans at Normandy.  (Let's not fool ourselves in thinking that our efforts in WWII, however necessary, were done with clean hands and a pure heart.  J.R.R. Tolkien said WWII turned "elves into orcs" and that the Allied strategy was akin to using the One Ring against Sauron.)  Just war theory/practice is the subject for another day but the historical reflection of Basterds gives us a view on the present.  Do ends justify means?  What if stopping Hitler could only be accomplished by slaughtering men and women who were not actively part of his evil?  What about the image of God?  What about prohibitions against murder?  Is "collateral damage" okay according to Scripture?  Cartman asks a good question.  Go see the movie, and reflect on your answer.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Change is Gonna Come?

I have a love-hate relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention.  It's 95% love, but over the past few days, several things have returned to my attention that remind me how far we have yet to go in revamping this Gospel vehicle. (Cash for clunkers?)  The following have jogged my thoughts:
  • The ever-level Timmy Brister is a baller pastor out of Cape Coral, FL.  He does a great job in carefully documenting his research.  He turns his careful eye to the official news entity of the Convention, Baptist Press.  Their hostile & biased attacks on Mark Driscoll and the Acts 29 Network are well documented and deconstructed on his blog.  As a member of an Acts 29/SBC church, these attacks grieve/infuriate me.
  • The insanely smart Al Mohler recently gave an address on why the SBC must change.  For your convenience, the audio is embedded here, but, suffice to say, he draws a good comparison between GM's plight (former success now turned to obsolescence) and that of the SBC.
While these provide good food for thought, the following link is heartbreaking.  Tom Ascol is a hero of mine.  He is the "first among equals" of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, where the aforementioned Brister is also an elder.  I've been reading his blog for years, and as a young (cough, Reformed) Southern Baptist (I refuse to abbreviate it to "SB"), I look up to him greatly.  His take on Mohler's talk is solid as usual (Ascol is a driving force behind the Great Commission Resurgence).  In the comment section, though, there is an exchange between one of the "usual Southern Baptist blog comment section suspects" and Ascol.  I've read comments from this man for years.  He finally comes out with it:

I dont understand how you and Timmy Brister and Dr. Mohler and others of your persuasion can join with those who believe in polls and surveys and in making our Churches more attractive to the lost crowd in order to reach the lost crowd? I'm puzzled, because it looks to me like yall are joining with people that yall are very much in disagreement terms of theology...people like Johnny Hunt and Ronnie Floyd and Ed Stetzer. I'm just gonna flat out ask you, Tom, are yall joining with them, because this is the way to take over the SBC? to gain control of the SBC for five point Calvinism? Are yall joining with people like Johnny Hunt and other non-Five point Calvinists, and the "Church must be culturally relevant" crowd, because this is a means to an end? I'm genuinely curious. I'm not trying to offend you, nor anyone else. I'm just thinking out loud, and trying to understand what is going on in SBC land? when Tom Ascol and Johnny Hunt and Ed Stetzer and Dr. Mohler all seem to be coming together for the GCR? I really never thought that I would hear Dr. Mohler make a speech like he did about the SBC needing to change, with the reasons that he gave. 

Ascol correctly states in reply that the thing that brings such diverse people of different convictions in many areas together is the Gospel.  I am Southern Baptist by birth, but have stayed in it by choice, a choice informed by what the Gospel demands regarding mission. 

The thing though, is that a sovereign God does not need an institution of men such as the SBC.  Jesus Christ will save his people with or without our help.  If the SBC fails, the Gospel will do just fine.  But, I so desperately want for this convention to stick around.  Will change come? I hope so, but I'm thankful above all this that my hope in Jesus is confident and sure.  His Kingdom will know no end.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Skool, Part 1

This morning was the first week of teaching for Sojourn Pastor's School. After 15 minutes of fellowship, usually consisting of fighting brothers in Christ for coffee, we dive into teaching and discussion, all towards the goal of raising up men to know the Word, pastor their homes, and pastor the church of God. It's incredibleness is only slightly tempered by being held at 6:00 am. Taking part in this is a dream come true for me, because as I've come to better know the Gospel, I've come to better know the community of the Gospel, the local church. Better knowing the church as changed the way I view ministry, Gospel partnership, and Gospel mission. Consequently, I've been forced to reconsider how I view ministry training, namely seminary training.

I was on Twitter a bit ago and read the following from a seminary prof: "faculty workshop this morning, as we pray for God's power to train preachers." While Christians should pray in all their endeavors (I survive my hectic shifts at work by prayer alone, on many days), is seminary where preachers are to be trained? I hope to take a few blog posts and share a bit of my own story in relation to ministry and seminary. As an alum of the undergraduate school of a seminary, (boasting in the flesh: the most decorated graduate in the history of that college) as a former staff member of the school, I have learned much about both the ups and downs of seminary training, and believe me, the downs are down. Beyond my experience, though, the Scriptures should be searched, for they are our source of wisdom.

So hang with me gang. Class is in session. Let's learn together.

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The Show Thus Far

My blogging has become an epic fail. My good friend Laura rebuked me to that effect. Thanks Laura. You're absolutely right. I posted once in April, once in June, once in July. Three posts over four months. Lame. Well, it's time for change I can believe in. Starting... now.