Keep a Close Watch on Yourself and on the Teaching

citizens & sons

Note: Calvin and I have found increasingly so that this is pretty much Grant’s blog but with Calvin and I as guest posters.


Often times, I find it easy to think that my sins only affect myself and my own walk with God.  I also find it easy to think of my sanctification on a very individualistic level.  Hey, “against [God], [God] only, have I sinned,” right?

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My Life Right Now

I finally managed to flip the last page of Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love this afternoon. After almost 3 months of being convicted at every sentence, I am now just a little bit more aware of what it means to truly love God. I hope that as I marinate on the simple and radical ways in which Chan defines the life of a true believer, I might begin changing both inwardly and outwardly to resemble someone who loves God in a crazy way.

In one of the chapters, there was a question that sticks in my mind especially well:

“What are you doing right now in your life that requires faith?”

Yeah, got nothing. That hurts.

I study, I serve in my campus ministry, I hang out with friends, live a peaceful, loving life with my family, participate in Bible study, go to church, prepare for what is coming after graduation…nothing! There is not a single moment I can think of in which I throw myself into something that I can’t handle on my own. All my hours are controlled, limited to what I can handle. I can study, I can hang out with friends. These things do not NEED the strength of God. There is no boldness, no faith in the God who made me and plans my every step.

In the end, I am merely fearful. Rejection, hardship, and a constant battle await the ones who throw themselves into the fray, armed with nothing but faith in God.

I think I need to realize that “faith in God” is the only thing I need, because from that comes every blessing, providence, support, and love from the creator of everyone and everything. When I take a leap of faith, God will reveal His crazy love for me by catching me and attaching wings to my back.

How crazy is that?

Pic credits to fineartamerica.com
Pic credits to fineartamerica.com

Avengers 2 – Epic Action, Epic Plotholes

age of ultron

It’s not too often that I get to watch a movie with some friends on a night out. The general buzz for Avengers 2: Age of Ultron has yet to die out on my college campus, so last night I headed out with some friends to watch it at 10:50pm.

This was pretty late by our standards. It had better be worth it, was the unspoken mantra.

After 2+ hours sitting in the theatre, I walked out thinking: “That was totally epic! If it weren’t for the many problematic elements, that would have been an awesome experience.”

I subjected my nearest friend to a half-an-hour rant about this movie’s epic moments: both the successes and the failures. As a courtesy to the unsuspecting blog readers, I decided to create a short list of pros and cons instead of one, long, stream-of-consciousness block quote, to make it easier to follow.

Here are some of the good and the bad, as per my own opinion. I claim no expertise on movies and do not mean to offend any die-hard Marvel fans through the following points.

Pro:

The-Avengers-2-Age-of-Ultron-Fathead-Decal-Hulk-vs-Iron-Man-ArtEpic Action – by far this movie’s greatest strength. Ripping through robot men in 800 different ways gives the modern audience some cathartic pleasure, in ways that no amount of fluffy romantic comedy movies can suffice. With multiple protagonists, we get a variety of action – projectiles, hand-to-hand combat, lasers, guns, tasers, shield boomerang, and all-around Hulk power. Yay.

Straightforward plot – let’s face it, most of us aren’t looking for a philosophical work of art here. We go watch indie films for that. From Marvel studios, we want action, and a plot that allows action to happen without confusing the audience with too many plot devices. This movie never pretends to be something more than the standard, good-versus-bad action hero movie, and delivers this well. Good guys are good, they make a mistake and create a bad dude, bad dude goes all crazy, good guys go all angsty, and in the end good triumphs. Simple. No confusion. Great.

The cast – whom we know and love.

The humor – which I have to admit, brings in irony and sarcasm to a fine point, and inserts it at right moments to ease up the tension in a serious battle. I’ve always loved the dynamic of life-and-death battles with bouts of laughter, and Marvel always makes sure to provide a good dose of this every time. My personal favorite running joke in the film – The Vision picks up Thor’s hammer.

Cons:

Underdeveloped characters – I mean the twins. They are introduced. They have some pretty cool powers. They have their share of a tragic backstory, and they start out on the bad guy’s side. Great setup for the introduction of new heroes to add to the team. BUT. Their defect to the Avengers after finding out Ultron’s evilness makes no sense; sure, they hate evil, but they hated Tony Stark too. I don’t buy their acceptance into Tony Stark’s superhero team without some sort of deep emotional reconciliation to smooth over the transition. And ALSO, Quicksilver dies. Just like that. Why!? A pointless death that fails to affect the plot development or the hearts of the audience, who just didn’t have enough time to get to know the guy before he got killed off. Strong potential characters flop because Marvel couldn’t fit them into the movie while giving the rest of the cast some spotlight as well.

No emotional development – Among any of the characters. The romantic subplot between Natasha and Dr. Banner is just…weird, and random (the fandom ship between Black Widow and Cap’n America makes more sense than this). It’s almost as random as the fact that Hawkeye has a wife and 2 kids (hear the sound of Hawk x Widow shippers dying). Plus almost all of these heroes encounter their worst nightmares through the Scarlet Witch’s mind control, and they go into deep angst over these visions……..and that’s it. No resolution. No confronting and overcoming their deep-seeded fears. There isn’t even a moment where they say, “Hey, I have to get over this in order to save the world.” The movie just skips over directly to the final battle. Considering that Tony Stark’s nightmare set off this whole trouble in the first place, I’m surprised the movie never bothers to show how Stark comes to terms with his fears. Or C. America with HIS fears. Or Thor with HIS fears (OK, he has that weird thing in the pond. Not sure if that was a reference to a past Thor movie. As far as this film goes, that pond does nothing but electrocute him).

Plotholes – too numerous to mention. A lot of stuff goes unexplained. This might be because the movie is relying heavily on the other Marvel studio films to fill in the gaps, in which case I point you to my next object of criticism…

References to past movies – which make you feel like Marvel is forcing you to watch the rest of their franchise in order to be “in” on all the jokes. I get that Avengers 2 is related to this movie, and that the other hero movies tie in as well, but…. a lot of the stuff just goes over my head. It may be a plus to fans who keep up with the series, but to others it feels exclusive and off-putting.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. However, there was enough in it to keep me in a critical mindset throughout. I love superheroes, and action, and cool characters, and Hollywood films. I cannot stand sloppy plot and characters. I hope that as more movies come out in the future, I can meet a rare work that satisfies me yet.

The US National Day Of Prayer (A Reprise)

One of the most amazing miracles is God’s promise to be with us always. He hears our prayers, He answers our prayers, and through our prayers He works His wonders. The world often talks about the power of speech and words. I think they could never understand the full impact of words as a Christian understands the force of words through prayer. May every soul including mine bow to God in the midst of communion with Him through prayer.

A Christian Worldview of Fiction

867434_prayer_at_sunrise

Today is the National Day Of Prayer here in the US. In a country with the freedom to worship when and how and who we please, it seems a little odd that we have a designated National Day of Prayer. I’m glad we do because it makes me think more about the subject, but part of my thinking is that, for most of us, the National Day of Prayer means very little.

For one thing, prayer, as an activity in and of itself, has no efficacious value. Isaiah illustrated that most clearly in a passage about idols:

Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he…

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Unwelcome Guests in 1950s Korea

Cover art of The Guest.
Cover art of The Guest.

Hwang Sok-yong is a prolific South Korean author. He published The Guest in 2005, and I think it met with negative reviews amongst the Korean population. I guess they didn’t like the fact that this book portrays both North Koreans and South Koreans, both Christians and communists (which were the conflicting political forces during the Korean War), in a sympathetic light.

The book is about the Korean War. More specifically, it focuses on a guy named Ryu Yosop who lives in America in the present times. He gets a chance to go back and visit his hometown in North Korea through a special tourist program, and so travels back to his homeland, where he begins confronting the memories of the war during the mid-20th century and the ghosts of his past.

Literally. There are ghosts in this story. They pop out every once in a while to tell us their history and stuff.

As the book progresses, we get to hear all sides of the story. We hear why a Christian man thought he was doing the right thing in killing the communists, because the communists were devils trying to take away their land. We hear why a communist man thought he was justified in taking rich people’s lands, because those lands should rightly be distributed to the poor farmers who actually till it. We hear a guy in a neutral position who points out that everybody in the war was guilty, whether Christian or communist.

“Suddenly slamming his thick palm down on the table, Uncle Some shouted, ‘Show me one soul who wasn’t to blame!'”

I thought the book did a good job at presenting all sides of the stories with equal weight. Today’s society is pretty opposed to communism as a whole; the South Korean society still bears a lot of hate for communism because the bloody conflict happened within the last 50 years. The author tries reeeeeeaaaaaally hard to make sure the speaker representing the communist party doesn’t get “defeated” by the other voices in the story.

It’s a meaningful work. Not meant to offer a definitive solution, but working towards it, primarily by stimulating mutual communication between the parties. Where there is communication, there will be understanding, and when individuals begin to understand, there may be a potential for reconciliation. I think that’s the idea being conveyed.

As a literary work, the book doesn’t make it easy for you. The beginning is slow and a bit boring. The narrative perspective shifts back and forth between multiple people without any transition, warning, or identification. You have to struggle a bit to figure out which “I” is speaking now. Is it the Christian? The Communist? The protagonist? Maybe in a way, this is another one of Hwang’s strategies: make it hard to distinguish between each speaker, so that their identities begin to blend. Maybe they aren’t so different after all – just human beings, who all experienced hardship, misunderstanding, and ideological passion.

P.S. while the use of Biblical passages and Christian doctrines had a significant role in the book and the ideological war, I’d just like to point out that much of the Christian beliefs are misunderstood by the characters in this novel. Communists are not Satan’s minions; Christians are not meant to go out and kill political opponents in the name of God.

1 Corinthians 13 declares: “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” This is the real truth. There is no meaning outside love, no matter how many times people shout the name of Jesus. The fact that Christians were identified as one side of the Korean War is an unfortunate truth, but I hope this does not cause anyone to misunderstand the real truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which greatly differs from the beliefs of Hwang Sok-yong’s characters.