Thursday, January 31, 2008

Article in On Course Online

Couldn't remember if I posted this article on Christians in public school:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kenya - The Suffering of Africa Continues

It is hard to understand why this continent seems to have a disportionate amount of disaster and pain. Perhaps you have been in prayer for the troubled nation of Kenya (if not, why not?)
Sadly, this film (and the review I wrote about it shortly after it came out in 2004) seems to still be relevant:

“Hotel Rwanda”
Throughout the film, “Hotel Rwanda”, the protagonist, Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle) deceives, flatters, lies, and uses the property that belongs to others for bribery. In other words, he behaves in a way that I am sure Jesus would commend. Really.
The film (a true story) opens in April of 1994 in Rwanda as two rival parties, the Hutus and the Tutsis, seem on the verge of peace. But it was not to be. The assassination of the President of Rwanda led to a grave escalation in the civil war.
During the colonization of Rwanda by the Belgians, the occupiers almost arbitrarily divided the Rwandans into two groups. The Tutsi were deemed more European, and were given positions of power and privilege during the colonial period. But when the Belgians left, Hutus took charge, and they harbored a pent up hatred of the Tutsi.
Rusesabagina was the manager of a posh French hotel in Rwanda, catering primarily to Europeans and Americans. He was also a Hutu married to a Tutsi.
As hostility and chaos in the country escalated, the Hutus (soldiers and civilians) began to attack all of the Tutsi people. Rusesabagina was initially reluctant to come to the aid of his Tutsi neighbors in need. But eventually he took in many endangered family members, neighbors and orphans into his hotel.
He hoped the United Nations or other Western powers would intervene when it became obvious that genocide of the Tutsi people was taking place. But the outside world did not intervene in the slaughter of the Tutsi.
So Rusesabagina took it upon himself to save as many lives as he could. He flattered the Hutu leaders and lied to them about sheltering Tutsi and the dangers of attacking them. He used the hotel’s food, drink and finances to bribe Hutu soldiers.
After six months, nearly one million Tutsi were killed. But Rusesabagina had saved approximately 1200 lives.
His story reminded me of Jesus’ parable about another manager. In Luke 16, Jesus told about a manager whose boss discovered he was cheating. The manager was still in charge of his master’s goods, but he knew his time as manager was coming to an end. So he brought in all those who owed money to his master and slashed their debts. This won him the favor of the debtors. The manager knew he could turn to the debtors for help when he was fired.
In this strange parable, Jesus commends the manager for being shrewd, for using the resources of his boss (which he held temporarily) to win himself long-term gain. Rusesabagina used the resources entrusted to him by the hotel company to save lives.
Jesus admired that kind of thinking. To be able to trade beer and cigars to save human lives is quite a shrewd deal. Jesus was not endorsing dishonesty with this parable. But He was teaching us that all our resources are temporary possessions. And if we are wise we will use those resources for eternity.
Just as Rusesabagina used the resources entrusted to him to save lives, we can use our resources to save lives and souls. We can use what we have to feed the hungry and preach the gospel to the poor. Jesus commends this as a shrewd business move.
(The issue of deceiving is a tricky one. In Scripture dishonesty is roundly condemned. But Rahab the prostitute is commended in Scripture for hiding Israelite spies and lying when asked if she knew where they were. Rusesabagina seems to be an honest man, but he did lie in the tradition of Rahab. On the other hand, during the Nazi Holocaust, the Ten Boom family hid Jews during the occupation of Holland. The Ten Boom girls knew it was wrong to lie. When asked whether Jews were in the house, Corrie’s sister said the Jews were under the table. The soldiers assumed she was joking and ignored the hiding place beneath the floor under the table.)
“Hotel Rwanda” will be released on DVD and video April 12th. It is rated PG-13 for violent and graphic images. News reports say it has been screened twice at the White House, and that the real Paul Rusesabagina has met with President Bush about the current situation in the Sudan and the Congo.
Tragedies like the genocide in Rwanda are sadly not unique in history. But when such things happen, (to paraphrase the film’s tag line), Christians must not close our eyes to the oppressed, but rather open our arms.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bill the Warthog books now at Amazon

Here's the link:

The cool thing is you can buy just one book and check in the next day to see how that shakes up the # rating. Feel free to put in your reviews as well.


About eighteen of us at my church, a majority under the age of sixteen, joined together last Sunday night (1/13) to watch the story of William Wilberforce’s struggle to end the English slave trade as portrayed in the film Amazing Grace. Initially, the screen image was pretty dark until Dave jiggled the cable to the projection unit and then there was light. Popcorn was passed and spilled. We laughed together. Some grew misty eyed. All applauded at the film’s end.
And I sit here pondering, “Why do I enjoy watching movies with others more than watching movies alone?”
Because in ways, viewing movies should be a solitary experience; ideally there shouldn’t be discussion during a film or interaction that takes focus off the screen (exceptions to this policy to be mentioned later). So why is moviegoing a social experience? And another question: will movie “going” survive the home theater?
As home screens get bigger and more highly defined, and sound systems get louder and crisper, and Blockbuster and Netflix bring movies straight to the home via mail or downloading, one wonders why anyone would “go” to the movies anymore. (There was an excellent Goofy cartoon about home theaters that showed before National Treasure II. The cartoon was much better than the feature film.) Why not cocoon at home and enjoy at home the movie you want to see at the time of your own choosing? There’s certainly a lot of appeal to the idea compared to theater experiences highlighted by rude cell phone users, sticky floors, projectors with bad bulbs and sound bleeding in from the theater on the other side of the wall.
But there still is something to be said for watching films in a crowd. Comedies seem funnier with others laughing with you. I know some critics don’t like to review comedies they see alone because it isn’t the same experience. Many people won’t laugh out loud when viewing something alone, but they will in the presence of others.
Even the drive-in experience used to have a sense of community. Though all were in their own metal compartments, there were times when they would join together to let their feelings be known. When there were technical difficulties, horns would honk in unison to make the projectionist aware of their discontent. When I lived in Santa Cruz County there was (and still is) a drive-in theater. On warm nights people would bring their lawn chairs to sit on the ground or in the back of their pick-up trucks. (As the great film critic Joe Bob Briggs has stated, “The drive-in will never die.”)
I said before that ideally, conversation does not take place during a movie. We don’t want to hear teens gossiping behind us about who’s hooking up with whom or someone in front of us asking for explanations of the previous half hour’s plot points. We especially don’t want to hear someone referring to future plot points (“I think this is where they shoot the dog. No, that happens later. This is where they find the treasure.”)
But there are other ways that people interact with what’s going on the screen. In recent years there have been movie musical sing-a-longs. The Sound of Music has been a favorite for this. The lyrics appear on the bottom of the screen and the audience is encouraged to sing along.
There was a television show, “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, wherein bad films were shown, and a man and his two robot pals silhouetted at the bottom of the screen would offer funny, mocking remarks throughout the film (really, this is the only way to watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians). Now, at some special screenings, audiences are encouraged to join in the mocking.
At some inner city theaters, audiences have always been quite vocal in expressing their feelings. Audiences warn on-screen teenagers not to go out in the dark alone and encourage heroes along in their fist fights and gun battles. This talk back viewing is obviously related to the talk back in African-American churches where people encourage the preachers with Amens and Hallelujahs.
That’s what I like about viewing a film with other people. Even during the viewing there is a shared experience. When the film is good, there is a shared exhilaration. There is something in human nature that makes us want to share the things we enjoy and admire. That is part of the excitement of going to see a ball game with other fans or going to a concert. We want to join with others in praising actors, athletes, musicians and speakers we admire. There is something particular and wonderful when people applaud at the end of a film. Obviously, the people who made the movie can not hear the applause. But we still want to express our appreciation in some way.
There is something about this desire to enjoy things together, in community, that relates to the act of worship. Yes, there is a time and place for worship in solitude. We should take time to pray, read Scripture and even sing hymns when we are alone. There are people who say they never go to church because they prefer to worship God “out in nature in my own way”. But real worship leads us to worship with others.
As David said in Psalm 34, “O Magnify the Lord with me, Let us exalt His name together” (KJV). Worship cannot only be a solitary act. We are not made that way. We are not made to keep good things to ourselves. And the best thing we have is God. “To Know God and Enjoy Him” (Westminster Catechism) is what we were made to do. How much better when we can do so with others?