Be A Window, Not A Wall

Be a window,

Not a wall.

Some stand tall,

Yet all eventually fall.

Some loom large,

While others seem small.

 

We’ve all heard the call,

But a few of us are still afraid to fall.

We’ve all failed,

But Christ has prevailed.

 

Windows let the Son shine through,

Yet walls shield people from seeing the real you.

Windows are open and transparent,

But walls are closed off and hide what sin has bent.

Windows crack and shatter,

While walls pretend to have everything together.

 

Be more like a beautiful flower,

Than this structurally unsound tower.

Let the light into every area of your life,

Before darkness hurts like an ill-intentioned knife.

If you want to grow,

Then the walls need to go.

 

There is no guilt or shame,

In the power of Christ’s name.

Be honest above all,

No one expects you to be Saint Paul.

Be a window,

Not a wall.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

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My Favorite Sci-Fi Films

So I’ve always wanted to talk about my favorite films of all time, but have never been able to narrow it down to a top ten or even a top fifty films. The more movies I watch over time, the longer my list of favorites grows as my personal taste expands. But I think I have found the best way of approaching this daunting task and that is by writing about my favorite films by genre. Not only the overarching genre, but also the sub categories that reside within the mainline genre. To start this series off, I’ve decided to talk about possibly my favorite genre of films: sci-fi.

Escapism

For this genre, I’ve broken it down to the following types of films: escapism, guilty pleasures, realism, social commentaries, and the underrated. The rest of the blog-posts in this series will follow a similar format. First, let’s look at my favorite escapism in the sci-fi genre.

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For escapism, the most important element is that you get to go from reality and escape to something completely out of this world. Something that is totally distant from our life. Some favorites in this first category are Alien (1979), Back to the Future (1985), Predator (1987), and Terminator 2 (1991). These are all great sci-fi films that take you to places unexpected and are thrilling from start to finish. Whether it’s the 1950s, the 1980s with time-traveling robots, or even going to space to fight a chest-burstin’ alien, these films take you onto great escapes into the unknown. They’ve got action, suspense, and tons of memorable moments.

Yet my favorite sci-fi escapist movie and also my favorite movie of all time is none other than Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). It’s got everything you need for a killer sci-fi flick and is in my opinion the gold standard of escapist sci-fi films. It’s action-packed, filled to the brim with fun characters, and has a great story that takes you all over a galaxy far, far away. It’s the perfect escape.

Guilty Pleasure

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Now like any genre, there are those films that are not so good, but we still watch them because of some obscure reason. These are the guilty pleasures that you know are either straight trash or a mixed bag of a movie, but you still love watching them anyway for who knows why. A few of my favorite sci-fi guilty pleasures are AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Tron: Legacy (2010).

The latter only for its sick Daft Punk soundtrack and the lit special effects. Outside of that, it’s your run-of-the-mill generic sci-fi flick with a pretty bland story. Oh, and why AVP: Alien vs. Predator? Because I literally only watch the aliens and predators fight each other and skip through the rest of the movie. Besides that, it’s the definition of a dumpster fire.

There’s even Terminator Salvation (2009), which should have been great yet still failed to be anything beyond eye-candy with its awesome action scenes and cool sound design. Although, of all of my guilty pleasures in sci-fi, none is a greater guilty pleasure for me than Michael Bay’s The Island (2005).

From its wacky plot about cloning humans to its sun-soaked action scenes, this movie is guilty pleasure sci-fi filmmaking to a tee. There’s also the excessive amount of references to peeing, which is strange in itself throughout the entire movie because it’s somehow integral to the plot. I don’t know. I like it and you might too. It’s not that good, but boy is it a fun sci-fi guilty pleasure to watch!

Realism

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For this subgenre, all of these films take an idea grounded in reality and push it past its logical limits, while trying as hard as possible to maintain some sort of realism. Films such as Limitless (2011), where Bradley Cooper takes a pill that unleashes his brain’s full capacity. It takes a simple premise and uses it to an engaging advantage for what is a pretty good movie.

There’s even the space-driven sci-fi films that aim to replicate what outer space is really like for better or for worse like Gravity (2013) and The Martian (2015). What makes these films so good is the fact that despite how amusing or terrifying the story might be, the stakes feel even higher than usual due to them being much more realistic.

But in my mind, nothing comes close to entertaining and realistic sci-fi quite like Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010). It’s both brilliant and subdued. Rooted in a fascinating idea and then goes to a whole other level as the plot unfolds. As you fall deeper into the levels of dreams, what is and isn’t real becomes a lot harder to discern. It’s bold, intelligent, and is most definitely my favorite realistic sci-fi film.

Social Commentary

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Here we find what might be considered the most heady and emotionally tugging sci-fi films. The ones that cause us to feel and think in ways we might not have before. The films that challenge our beliefs and are sometimes a direct mirror of the times we live in as a species.

When it comes to social commentary sci-fi, some of my all-time favorites include movies like Interstellar (2014), Metropolis (1927), and Snowpiercer (2013). Three films dealing with the similar idea of survival. Trying to make it in a world no longer suitable for us humans or at least for those of us that are not so fortunate. With the use of sci-fi elements, these three films take drastically different approaches on how we would react in similar situations. The various social-economic struggles, the philosophical conversations, and even how they choose to visualize this universal desire to adapt in spite of the worst conditions is what makes these types of films stand the test of time.

Likewise, movies like Arrival (2016) and The Matrix (1999) deal with different types of problems within our modern world like the invasion of our privacy, questioning reality, or even how time affects us. In the spirit of all of these big ideas and confronting our societal struggles head-on, none of these films has affected me more than War for the Planet of the Apes (2017). This, along with the entire Planet of the Apes franchise, has always had the unique perspective of directly addressing bigotry, racism, and xenophobia unlike any sci-fi films that I’ve ever seen.

From the warring factions of apes versus mankind to the delicate reflections on what makes humans human, this movie delves deep into some of the biggest questions that modern day humanity has to deal with now. With its allusions to socialist regimes of the last century to the harsh treatment of minorities during the early years of America, this film speaks on so many subjects and yet nails every single one of them. It’s a modern masterpiece and is my favorite social commentary sci-fi flick.

Underrated

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Not all heroes wear capes and not all films get the attention that they deserve. These are the underdogs. The odd ones out that for some reason or another, don’t get the credit they deserve. Some of these personal favorites include Minority Report (2002) and The Adjustment Bureau (2011). These are films that while good, never seem to get enough attention, in my opinion.

Another underrated movie that I think is pretty fun is I, Robot (2004) starring Will Smith. A movie that follows a detective (Smith) as he tries to solve the suicide of the founder of U.S. Robotics, but believes that a robot is actually the culprit behind the whole crime. It’s got an uneven tone and the third act is really dumb when compared to the rest of the movie, but it has a heart to it thanks in large part to Smith’s great performance and the fun mystery of solving the crime.

Although, my favorite underrated sci-fi movie is Equilibrium (2002). In a post-Matrix world, this at first glance appears like a cheap rip-off of the whole slo-mo kung fu that would define the next two decades of movies. Yes, it has bland production design, some poorly written dialogue, and uninspired cinematography, but this film works because the story concept is just so fascinating and the acting ensemble sells it as best they can with what they’re given. Speaking of casts, this one is kinda loaded as it stars Christian Bale acting alongside the likes of Emily Watson, Taye Diggs, Angus Macfadyen, Sean Bean, and William Fichtner. It borrows heavily from George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as the film is centered on a world where emotion is illegal, along with all things that provoke said emotions. It’s a gem and I’ve grown up always appreciating it as a diamond in the ruff.

In short, my favorite sci-fi films are as follows by subgenre:

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So those are just a few of my favorite sci-fi films. I couldn’t talk about all of them, but this should give you an idea of what sci-fi films interest me most. Next time in this series, I’ll go over my favorite war movies. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

The Thief and the Cross

In light of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I wanted to take some time to write about the thief on the cross. Originally, I was planning on writing this much sooner in the year, but was too busy helping my church run our youth group winter camp that I had to push it off. So I figured that publishing it this weekend would be an ideal and relevant time.

By thief on the cross, I am referring to one of the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus. One became a believer, while the other did not. So for now, any references to the thief on the cross are towards the thief that became a believer.

Why Were People Crucified?

Bart-d-ehrman-2012-wikipedia
Bart D. Ehrman, PhD | James A. Gray Distinguished Professor University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This thief on the cross is an interesting figure in the historical account of the crucifixion of Jesus, but is often overlooked in the grand scheme of things. He most likely would have been a Jewish man due to a number of factors like his belief in one God (1) and his familiarity with the teachings of Jesus about the kingdom of Heaven (2), along with his punishment. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, points out the uniqueness of the crucifixion and why only a certain group of people would receive this form of punishment when he writes

Crucifixion was reserved for special cases. But there were lots of special cases. Two of the most common were low-life criminals and enemies of the state. These are two very different matters – they are not the same thing… This was especially the case – I reiterate – for enemies of the state. Rare exceptions might be made for low-life criminals – escaped slaves, horse thieves, general riff-raff who did not matter to anyone in power (3).”

In other words, the two thieves were most likely crucified for either stealing something very valuable like horses as their names would suggest or for being insurgents that were sworn enemies of the state. Regardless of why they were hung in the first place, these two men died alongside Jesus and witnessed His final moments before His death. This will be the bedrock with which the rest of this blog-post will rely on as a foundation moving forward.

Artistic Depictions of Christ’s Crucifixion

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What is also of note is how artists depict where the three are in different works of art. For instance, Peter Paul Rubens and Titian seem to have placed the thief on the cross to the right of Christ, while the proud thief is to His left. This deliberate creative choice of putting the thief on the cross beside the right hand of God is significant.

In both Judaism and Christianity, to be on the right hand of God was a sign of God’s “ruler-ship, authority, sovereignty, blessing, and strength and is significant in Scripture (4).” We can see this in many places in the Bible such as Psalm 110:1b where it says “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” To be fair, there are other works of art like Rembrandt van Rijn’s Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses (5) that appears indifferent to where each thief is in the picture and is rightly so focused on Christ Himself.

Likewise, James the brother of Jesus once wrote “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (6).” It would seem that in the spirit of this passage and the current state of the thief on the cross, that Rubens and Titian visually depicted what was spiritually taking place inside this thief’s soul. That as the thief on the cross was up there next to Jesus, his heart and mind were radically changed. A series of events that brought this man to a point of understanding.

Things like Jesus asking for the forgiveness of His executioners (7), soldiers dividing His garments by way of casting lots, and those passing by railing blasphemous statements towards Christ in a taunting way (8) all occurred before the thief on the cross had a change of heart. In the Gospel of Matthew (9), it even records both thieves mocking Jesus until a certain point where only the proud thief is left to mock Jesus. Sometime between both thieves mutually mocking Jesus and the one thief continuing to mock Him, was there a sharp change in attitude from the thief on the cross.

A Change of Heart

What happened so suddenly that a thief dying on a cross would suddenly have a complete change in how he perceived Jesus? I’d argue it is a combination of moments, but for now we will only focus in on one. What Jesus said and how He acted during this whole ordeal.

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Anatomical Crucifixion Sketch | Jacques Gamelin, 1779 (11)

Just for a little more context, their punishment by way of crucifixion was not so nice. In fact, it was one of, if not the most painful form of torture at that time. According to Maslen and Mitchell’s article written in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (10), crucifixion had many cruel ways of ending one’s life.

Some of those causes of death may have been, but are not limited to acidosis, arrhythmia plus asphyxia, cardiac rupture, hypovolemic shock, and so on. Death by crucifixion was a brutal, yet extremely prolonged way to die. For some, they died in a matter of hours. For others, they died in a matter of days.

I believe of the three events that took place before the thief on the cross had a change of heart, the moment of Jesus forgiving His executioners had the most impact on the thief. Christ’s response showed the thief a direct contrast to the way He lived His own life. A seed of regret was planted.

Jesus forgave those that were killing Him. The two thieves probably hated those that were crucifying them. Jesus was known as an exorcist and a teacher who wanted to help the poor and sick. The two thieves were most likely men that spent the majority of their lives only helping themselves.

As if the name was any indication, these thieves were probably selfish. Christ was selfless. The thieves died for crimes they committed. Jesus died for crimes we committed. For the thief on the cross and from his perspective, this man was different in almost every single way from him and the other thief. They deserved this death, but Jesus didn’t.

This strong distinction between a thief and the giver of eternal life is a drastic black-and-white difference. One died for taking that which was someone else’s, while the other died for giving all that He had for others. This I believe is what changed the thief on the cross from mocking Jesus to defending Him in front of everyone.

By everyone, I mean everyone. Gentiles and Jews. Pharisees and Roman soldiers. Family, friends, neighbors, and so on. Everyone there at the crucifixion knew of or had heard of these three crucified men and were probably shocked watching the thief on the cross have a change of heart. A thief for the first time encountering something he had never seen before: unlimited love in response to unbridled hate. The love of God in reaction to the darkest of human deeds. The Gospel happening before his very eyes.

The short story of the thief on the cross ends in a profound way. Luke chronicles the rest of that story when he writes

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise (12).””

In response to the thief’s change of heart and his humble demeanor, God gives Him grace. A grace that surpasses all understanding. This is the thief and the cross. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Luke 23:40
  2. Luke 23:42
  3. https://ehrmanblog.org/why-romans-crucified-people/
  4. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/06/13/what-does-the-right-hand-symbolize-or-mean-in-the-bible/
  5. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/41.1.31/
  6. James 4:6-8b
  7. Luke 23:34
  8. Luke 23:35-37
  9. Matthew 27:44
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420788/
  11. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/gamelin_home.html
  12. Luke 23:40-43