Showing posts from March, 2010

Holy Week

For Christians, the two most important days of the year are Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. Though the world has co-opted both days as secular holidays as well (in case you're wondering neither Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny make an appearance in the Scriptures), those two days hold special significance as the book ends of Jesus life and ministry on Earth. Or at least they should.
Sunday marked the beginning of Holy Week. Now, as a long-time Christian, I have known about Holy Week for some time. But I have to confess, it hasn't always held the significance that it should. I think that's probably true for a lot of Christians.
When it comes to Christmas, I've always been moved by the "reason for the season." I am inspired by the birth of our Savior and I have some personal traditions that always remind me of the importance of Jesus' birth, and the fulfillment of prophecy.
I have long understood the significance of Easter as well, but I don't think it rea…

The End of an Era

Last week the official announcement came down that after 30 years the long-running program "At The Movies" would shutter the balcony for good in August. For those that don't know, "At The Movies" began in 1980 with critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. It has had a variety of hosts since then, beginning when Siskel passed away and continuing to transition after Ebert developed cancer and had to undergo treatment that left him unable to speak.
I have long been a fan of the show, so when I read the announcement I was a little sad. The show isn't the same now, but it's not bad and it feels like an institution for those of us that love film. I grew up watching the show and really respect Ebert. He's probably one of my favorite critics, not because I always agree with him but because I appreciate his honest writing style. Plus, when he doesn't like a film, he really knows how to turn a phrase.
In college, watching the show became a Sunday ritual for my …


Yesterday Graham talked about good anger and bad anger. I'm sure for many it was a difficult topic to think about and hear about. For me, the idea of anger has always been a struggle. I'm an emotional person and it used to be that it didn't take much to get me going.
But as I've gotten older, I realized that's not a healthy approach. Getting angry, and worse getting wrapped up in that anger, is not a healthy emotional response. It doesn't make you feel that good either. Often, when things are done in anger they stick with us. I know, personally, there have been times that I just haven't felt right until I've fixed problems that arose during times of anger and frustration.
Then there's another kind of anger, or disappointment. The kind that motivates you to be a positive force of change in the world. That's the kind of anger Jesus' modeled when he cleared the temple. He was frustrated with the unseemly practices of the money changers and those …


Today is Palm Sunday, the official kick-off to holy week. As most know, it also ends the period of Lent. This year, we've been encouraging people to observe Lent by participating in the significant sacrifice program offered by Lifewater.
I think sacrifice is a good term to describe Lent, but people think of sacrifice in different ways. For most, the idea of sacrifice is something difficult, which it can be. Sacrifice requires giving something up, doing without something, or giving of your time and talents to help others or the kingdom of God. When you think of sacrifice in those terms, it becomes something tough.
Of course, like many, I struggled with the idea of sacrifice and I, too, found that 40 days felt like a long time. That is until I started to think about the idea of sacrifice in a different light. That's what today's experience video was all about.
Sacrifice can also be a gift. Though it feels difficult at first, and can be a difficult process, giving of our selves,…

Is that necessary?

I don't think I'll ever forget where I was on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. I remember being awoken, the images on the screen when I flipped on the TV and the fear and confusion I felt. It was a sentiment shared by everyone throughout the country.
I can also remember the days and weeks following that event; watching the unending news coverage and feeling lost. Slowly, things started to return to normal and life began to resume its normal routines. But, for the most part, the entertainment world steered clear.
I also remember the uneasiness I felt when I heard about the first Sept. 11-themed film that was to be released — "United 93." I watched that film with apprehension. Though it was well crafted and attempted to pay tribute to the brave men and women aboard that flight, it was hard to watch and felt too raw and too soon to be in good taste.
Oliver Stone followed with his tribute to New York fire fighters, "World Trade Center," which put a bit more of a hopeful s…

Umm, No

Yesterday I was browsing the DVD section in Target when I came upon the Easter movie section. There were some traditional favorites (The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown; Passion of the Christ; The 10 Commandments, etc.) and some new ones. Generally, I love looking at the seasonal section because you never know what kind of gem you're going to find.
Of course, they're not all gems.
There, sitting in front of me, was "The Animated Passion, a version for the whole family." I thought it was a joke. It's not.
I still remember when I went to see "The Passion of the Christ" six years ago. It was emotional, violent, and jarring. I bought the film when it came out on DVD but I haven't seen it since that first viewing. This year I plan to try, but I haven't yet.
The reason it was so hard to watch was not because of the violent depictions, it was because I couldn't help but think about the pain, humiliation, shame, and suffering Jesus Christ endured on our be…

Now Playing

It's getting a little grim out there as we embrace the "dead" period between the award-nominated film season and the summer blockbuster season. But here's a look at some new releases.
The Bounty Hunter Starring: Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston Quick Take: This "romantic comedy" is light on romance and laughs. Butler remains an enigma. He keeps getting cast in films but, lately, each one has been worse or more appalling than the next. He has some natural charisma, but it's hard to tell if he has talent. Aniston, meanwhile, seems to mostly phone it in here. The pair have some chemistry, but there's not much to like or wonder about with the story. The film is, however, marginally better than Butler's last rom-com, the disastrous "Ugly Truth." There are a few mildly amusing moments, but those are out-weighed by the mildly annoying and uncomfortable moments. There isn't really much to like here. Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including…


Change is never easy, especially for people that don't deal with change well. I'm one of those people. I hate change, and I think I sometimes act like a grump when change comes. Part of that stems from the fact that it's hard for me to see how the change will work out in the future.
I don't deal with disappointment particularly well either. When I was in college, I worked for three years on the school newspaper as a sports reporter then as sports editor. I like to think I had a passion for my job and I was good at it. And I thought it was all building toward something — I wanted to be editor in chief my senior year.
When the time came, I applied for the position. Though I was finishing my third year, because of my accelerated course load and AP credit I was just 18 units — or one semester from graduation. Being a part of the newspaper staff required a full year commitment. My plan was to be editor in chief and take easy loads the last year. But I didn't get the job.


Today I had one of those crazy days, busy from the word go with lots on my mind. It isn't the first time that's happened. I'm a multi-tasker, which makes crazy days even more crazy because I am usually juggling three or four things in my head. It was one of those days where I suddenly looked up and realized four hours had passed.
Then I took a trip out into the country for a meeting. After a while of talking and walking around, thinking about yet future items and planning in my head, I took a moment to look at the beautiful, peaceful scenery around me. In that still, quiet moment, I found peace. And more important, I found calm.
Too often we get wrapped up in our busy schedules, trying to meet the demands placed on us by our families, our jobs, our friends and even our churches. While it's important to be active and involved in life, sometimes you have to take those quiet moments to recharge and reflect. Jesus understood this. Several times in Scripture it notes that Jes…


One of the most interesting things to me in Pastor Israel's message yesterday was the notion that our priorities are out of whack. He quoted an economist who noted that, "Americans tend to worship their work, work at their play and play at their worship." That really resonated with me.
I couldn't help but think of a quote I heard recently from a show I've been watching called "The Wire." One of the detectives tells another, "A life, Jimmy, you know what that is? It's the 'stuff' that happens while you're waiting for moments that never come." That's a reminder to be present and to truly appreciate what we've got before it's gone.
Being able to realize what is truly important is what discernment is all about. We looked at Philippians 1:9-10 yesterday and I, like Israel, was struck by the fact that Paul offered such hopeful advice from a prison cell. "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in…

Bracket Busters

Today we talked about discernment. I have been trying to use discernment all week, particularly as it pertains to filling out my bracket for the NCAA Men's College Basketball tournament.
Each year I try to listen to the experts, research the teams and pick the winners. Millions of people create brackets on ESPN trying for the same thing, all going into Thursday morning believing they could be the one. After the first game, I knew I hadn't found discernment. Notre Dame 50, Old Dominion 51. That was all I needed to see to know I was in for a long day.
After the first day of the tournament, only four brackets in America were still perfect. After day two, none existed. It hurts me to say this, but after Saturday's games — a horror for those of us that bought the hype about the Big East and Kansas — my bracket looks a lot like my math homework used to look — layered in red ink.
One of the things that's always struck me as frustrating about college football and basketball, to a…

FInding joy in the hard times

This week with the high school group we looked at the first chapter of James, specifically how we get through tough times. One of the questions posed was "How can we as Christians respond to these types of situations with joy?"
We can't do it alone. My first thought was of a verse in the book of Nehemiah. In verse 8:10 is says, "Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." I am not sure I always get there, but it is a comfort to know that even in tough times, joy can be found in the strength of the Lord.

30 for 30

I love sports for a variety of reasons: the competition on the field, the stories of triumph involving the players, the chance to bond with others over a shared interest, and for the pageantry. ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, understands all that and, on some occasions, are able to put together specials that capture what we love best about sports.
The 30 For 30 series is one of those specials. In honor of the network's 30th anniversary, filmmakers have created 30 sports documentaries about 30 different events during that time period. At first, I didn't know what to make of the idea. Then I started watching.
Each one I've seen, about 10 in all so far, has been riveting, but none more so than the most recent entry "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks." The film focused on a three-year span when Reggie Miller and his Indiana Pacers were a thorn in the side for John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Pat Riley and the New York Knicks.
I remember, as a teen, wa…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new films I've reviewed this week.
Brooklyn's Finest Starring: Wesley Snipes, Ethan Hawke, Richard Gere, and Don Cheadle Quick Take: This film follows a trio of New York City cops facing their share of problems. Gere plays a burnout a week from retirement, Hawke plays a narcotics detective willing to compromise his morals to get the money he needs to care for his expanding family and Cheadle plays an undercover officer who is getting lost in the game. Cheadle's character becomes further conflicted when he's asked to set up a dealer (Snipes) who once saved his life. The film doesn't offer a lot of positives when it comes to law enforcement, crime enforcement, the drug trade, or life in the inner city. It's gritty without offering much in the way of hope, insight, or a solution. Rating: R for bloody violence throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content and pervasive language. Verdict: One star out of four.
Green Zone Starring: Matt Damon, …

Luck of the Irish

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Hope you're all wearing green.
Today is a fun celebration of all things Irish. Irish Springs Soap, Lucky Charms, "The Boondock Saints," and Leprechaun's, though preferably not the kind played by Warwick Davis. It also seems to have become an unofficial drinking holiday, especially in the United States. I couldn't help but chuckle at the sandwich board sign on the sidewalk downtown for the local bar that proudly proclaimed it would open at 6 a.m. for St. Patrick's Day. That's exactly where I'd like to be at 6:15 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, at the bar.
It's kind of fun to wear green and celebrate the "Luck of the Irish." Of course, I don't know how great that luck actually is.....just ask Notre Dame football fans.
Though everyone has a perception of what St. Patrick's Day is, or rather has become, few probably know it began as a religious holiday. While there is little known about Patrick, he was born in …


Last week I was watching "House," and the patient of the week was a lady whose passion was her daily blog. I was interested, in part because I was looking for tips....Ok, just kidding. But I was still fascinated by her devotion to her blog and her absolute devotion to sharing every thought and every comment made by her and everyone in her life on a daily basis.
Of course, her family and friends were less impressed. Every single thought or word that came to mind was put up on her public site for debate and feedback. So was everything said to her by doctors, friends, relatives and her boyfriend. It was kind of a startling thought for most of the characters, as it was for me, that everything that was said in her presence was shared with the world. She said it was to hold people accountable.
My first reaction was that was one of the craziest things I'd ever heard. Then I thought about it some more. I don't think that everything I say should be posted on the Internet, but I…

The Madness in March

I don't really follow college basketball that closely. Sure, I watch SportsCenter on a near daily basis and listen to all the stories, but I probably couldn't name more than a half dozen premier players (and that includes Derrick Jasper). Still, I always get a little giddy when March rolls around because I know tournament time is close.
Championship week is like the catnip, as all the dominos start to fall into place and you read stories about teams on the bubble that are playing for their post-season lives. Coaches careers are made a broken during the span of an hour when ESPN announces the 65-team field.
The NCAA Men's College Basketball tournament is unlike any other sporting event, and it's one of my favorite three-week periods of the year. Beginning with the opening weekend's mad, jam-packed game schedule and concluding with the semi-final and final game weeks later, the tournament is packed with unforgettable games each year.
One of the things I like best about …

Understanding through love

As we continued the Spring Planting series today we looked at Understanding. Graham, using the passage in Colossians 2:1-3, emphasized that understanding comes through love as part of the message. I have been mulling that over this week and was struck by a parallel passage from Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:2.
That passage reads, "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." I think the point is that it's not enough just to know and understand the mysteries of God, you have to apply that knowledge and understanding in love.
As I've reflected on the series so far I been thinking about how integral knowledge is to both wisdom, which we discussed last week, and understanding. My thought is this: wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge to help guide our own lives while understanding is the ability to apply that knowledge to helping offer guidance and support to ot…

Getting Lost in ABC's dramas

For those who don't know, we are in the midst of the final season of the ABC drama "LOST." The show, which began in 2004, is about a group of strangers who crash landed on a mysterious island and all the ways they've become interconnected and struggled to find meaning in their lives and the events that have transpired.
LOST is a deeply layered, mysterious show. I'm a fan, and have been since it premiered, but I can't say I always understand what the writers are doing. Still, I find it compelling. As we work our way toward a conclusion (9 episodes and counting), it is interesting to see years of storylines rounding to a conclusion.
One thing that has struck me about LOST since the early days is how much the show is focused on searching for a deeper meaning in life. It's by no means a Christian show, in fact I think the concept of faith presented by LOST writers is more than a little warped. But it is about the struggle of good and evil, faith and reason and …

To protect and serve

I watched the film "Brooklyn's Finest" recently. It is a sad, violent story about cops, criminals and the thin line between the two in New York City. The film doesn't offer a very flattering view of law enforcement — a growing trend in main stream entertainment.
What the film did offer was some food for thought about the dangers of trying to find meaning in your life in the wrong way. The film centered on three cops — one a beat cop nearing retirement who had no purpose for his life and no will to live it; the second a narcotics detective struggling with mounting debts as a result of his large family and the third an undercover office who'd been in his post so long he was starting to forget who he was. All their stories were very sad. All three sought meaning and direction, but they went about it in the wrong way.
The first cop tried to fill the void in his life with an unhealthy relationship that had no chance of providing him the comfort he sought. The second bec…

Now Playing

And now for my weekly look at new movies I reviewed this week.
Alice in Wonderland Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter Quick Take: Director Tim Burton is a master at creating a unique, compelling visual world. In Depp, Burton has found a perfect collaborating partner. They never do anything in the expected way, and the same goes for "Alice in Wonderland." Unfortunately, this film has story flaws and drags in parts. It's not the most dynamic 3-D presentation, either. Both Burton and Depp have talent, but this is not the best example of that talent. Rating: The film has been rated PG for for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar. Verdict: Two stars out of four.
The Last Station Starring: Helen Mirren, Paul Giamatti, James McAvoy and Christopher Plummer Quick Take: This movie is based on the last days of Russian author Leo Tolstoy (Plummer) and his wife, Countess Sofya (Mirren). The film is seen throu…

Attached to things

This morning when I went to go with my sister to get coffee I noticed a huge dent in her front fender. I was shocked and asked her what happened. She related the story and was pretty calm about it. I asked if she was upset. She said she was for about 30 minutes, then she was over it.
I wish I had that kind of attitude. I am usually able to roll with the punches, but it isn't easy. And it takes more than 30 minutes, usually.
On Monday night, my VCR gave out. I know, many of you out there are scratching your heads trying to remember what a VCR is and what it does. Call me old school in this regard. Technology fails eventually, but somehow I went into denial Monday night. I tried to fix it. I tried to encourage it to function. I spent some time debating whether or not anything could be done. I've had that VCR since I was in high school and I thought we had an understanding, so I couldn't imagine how it could up and die all of a sudden.
But that's how it is with things of thi…

An Education

I will never forget the first article I ever had published. I was a senior in high school and we had just won a big football game. Morro Bay High School beat Atascadero High School in football. It was practically unheard of. At the time, it hadn't happened in 37 long years.
I spent more than a week interviewing players, teachers and school employees. I heard hundreds of stories about tragic losses to Atascadero and how much the victory meant to past players. In fact, I remember seeing dozens of 30-40 year old men on the sidelines wearing faded letterman's jackets shedding a few tender tears.
I poured my heart and soul into the article, turning the best phrases I could, trying to capture, vividly the images of the game and what it meant to all those on the field and on the sidelines. It was the best work I'd ever done, and it landed on the front page. The day it came out, I rushed to grab a few copies and keep for the family and for posterity. I couldn't have been prouder…

Wisdom vs. knowledge

Last week I was thinking a lot about wisdom as part of our new spring planting series. Part of the discussion centered on wisdom and knowledge — and the difference between them. Graham talked about wisdom beginning with knowledge, which is true, but it doesn't end there.
I think of the difference between them as sort of the difference between "book smarts" and "street smarts." We've all known people who surpassed us in knowledge. People who are either professional students, or who have great memories and are great collectors of facts. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're wise. History is full of people the could lecture endlessly on deep intellectual topics but couldn't navigate the corner grocery store. The absent-minded professor type.
There are also plenty of people that know everything about the world except how to engage it and be a part of it; though sometimes they don't even know it. Graham talked about the fact that true wisdom ta…

I guess I need a colorful coat

So, as part of the year of personal discipleship, Highlands has joined the Monvee program. The program is taylored to a person's individual personality and learning style. A big part of the whole process is seeing what the program determines about your personality and, of course, what Biblical character you are paired with.
A few people have shared what Monvee said about their personality, so I thought I'd use this forum to do the same. After finishing my profile I was curious to see what character I'd be paired with. There, sitting on the computer screen, it said — Joseph.
Of course, I immediately assumed Joseph of the Old Testament — you know the guy that angered his brothers, got a slick coat of many colors and got sold into slavery. Then someone in the office suggested it might be New Testament Joseph — which of course threw my whole contemplation of what it meant to be "Joseph" into question. Fortunately, after some digging, I determined my first impression wa…

Making Picks

Tomorrow night one of the leading contenders from 2009 will be crowned Best Picture, joining a long line of Oscar winners. Oscar winning films, no matter what they are, become the source of debate in subsequent years. Did they deserve to win? Did they hold up? What's the greatest Academy Award film of them all?
Looking back through 50 years of winners, it's easy to see the changing cultural tastes and moods in the films selected as the year's best. Fifty years ago, in 1959, "Ben-Hur" was honored as Best Picture. The film is still considered a classic and it's 11 Oscar wins is still somewhat of a benchmark of success.
Forty years ago, in 1969, "Midnight Cowboy" took the top prize. The film, which starred Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, was representative of the era but probably wouldn't resonate with many under the age of 30.
Thirty years ago, in 1979, the tough to watch "Kramer vs. Kramer" took the top prize. Though the settings and costum…

A look at the contenders

All of Hollywood is bracing for it’s biggest night of the year, the annual Academy Awards presentation, set for Sunday night. Though it feels like different groups have been handing out awards since mid-December — and they have — the real prize, a coveted Oscar, will be up for grabs Sunday night. And it will be a different experience this year — with Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin playing host and a Best Picture race that’s ballooned to 10 entries. Below, I’ve done my best to guess who will take home the golden statue in the key categories.
Best Actor This is a loaded race, full of solid performances. Colin Firth, Jeremy Renner and Morgan Freeman all gave performances that could be winners in most years. But this trophy likely belongs to Jeff Bridges for his exemplary work as Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart.” Bridges has dominated the awards leading up to the Academy Awards and is a good bet to do the same Sunday. Though Bridges’ work was strong, the best performance might actually belong to Ge…

Now Playing

Here's a brief take on new films I saw this last week.
Cop Out Starring: Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Seann William Scott and Guillermo Díaz Quick Take: This is a buddy cop picture — a genre Bruce Willis if familiar with. What you're expecting is a little bit of action, a few laughs and a nice distraction from life. This movie provides that, for the most part. But it's a huge disappointment for Kevin Smith fans. The director — known for his off-color, off-beat indies — sells out with this film. There are some funny moments but Smith doesn't have a great eye for action or some of the conventions of the genre. Plus, a little Tracy Morgan goes a LONG way. Rating: R for pervasive language including sexual references, violence and brief sexuality. Verdict: Two stars out of four.
The Crazies Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell and Joe Anderson Quick Take: This is a re-make of the 1973 film from legendary zombie-movie maverick George A. Romero. The film takes place in rural Iow…

Land of the Lost

I've recently been getting into the world of "The Wire." For those that haven't seen it, "The Wire" is a gritty HBO drama centered on Baltimore. It features cops and criminals, focusing on the city's drug trade and associated crimes.
"The Wire" is an intense show about people living quietly hopeless lives. The panorama featured in the show is a place as foreign to me — and I'd wager most of the people who live in this area — as any far away land. But as I've been sucked into the story, I can't help but be moved by a couple ideas.
First is the high cost of trying to do what's right. Sometimes it's amazing to me, and a little bit sad, that it's hard to get anyone to care about the blight and suffering that takes place in the world depicted on screen. Though "The Wire" features fictional characters, one can't help but get the feeling there is some real life truth in the circumstances.
The other thing that has mo…

The Best Picture

This is an exciting week for me and other movie lovers. The Super Bowl of the entertainment world — The annual Academy Awards presentation — is set for Sunday night. I look forward to this day each year (despite my yearly disappointment with some of the winners). Depending on who's playing, sometimes I like Academy Award Sunday more than the Super Bowl itself.
Of course that doesn't mean things about it don't irritate me. I've resigned myself to the fact that this year's Best Picture race is going to come down to "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker." Personally, I don't really see the fascination with "Avatar." From a technical standpoint, it's groundbreaking. From a storytelling standpoint, it leaves a lot to be desired. "The Hurt Locker" is a solid, moving film. I liked it quite a bit, but it wasn't my favorite.
If the Academy Awards were up to me, "Up In the Air" would be the Best Picture winner. I think it&#…

From the March Newsletter

Here is my column from this month's Highlands' Beat. This is the unabridged version, or director's cut if you will.
For the past couple months, I have had the opportunity to serve as a volunteer with the Click group on Wednesday nights. It’s been a great opportunity to work with Tyler Sotebeer, other volunteers and get to know our high schoolers better. It’s also provided plenty of food for thought.
The group has tackled some tough and important topics, including a recent look at the problem of evil. Doubtless the question of how God can allow people to suffer is one that all Christians struggle with at some point. When natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, or smaller, more personal tragedies occur we all struggle to understand why.
As many of you know, I’m a big movie buff. I took film theory, screenwriting and production classes in college and have had the opportunity to serve as film reviewer for the Paso Robles Press since 2003.
I think film, like all …