June 2010 Archives

Anonymous Confessions through Art

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Post Secret.jpg

One of my favorite websites is PostSecret. The idea behind PostSecret is simple. Share a secret on a postcard. Anonymously mail it to PostSecret. Every Sunday the coordinator for this art project will share some of the postcards online.

Frank Warren, the creator of PostSecret, has published five books of postcards he’s collected.

I’m going to add a viewer’s discretion advised disclaimer. Many of these secrets include profanity and nudity.

Planet Earth, The Island of Life

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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009.

Planet Earth Still The Planet Earth documentary series was a massive undertaking. It was developed as a television program by the BBC Natural History Unit. Technically it’s not a film. But looking at the grandeur of the production—years of planning, incredible cinematography, worldwide locations, and international marketing—thrusts the series into the realm of films. My only complaint with the series is that while the filmmakers captured astonishing footage, the narrator mentions it too frequently. “This is the first time this has ever been captured on film” is a recurring line in the scripts.

But the footage is astonishing. Forty cameramen working over five years and across two hundred locations took some of the most beautiful nature footage of the decade.

The series first aired on the BBC in 2006. In 2007, a companion film, Earth, was released in theaters. Earth Day 2009 saw a re-release of Earth as part of Disney’s nature documentary program.

The Planet Earth box set is the scope of what I’ll be considering for this article. The set includes the eleven episodes of the series along with the three additional episodes of the companion series, Planet Earth: The Future. These two documentaries cover issues of saving wildlife, conserving the wilderness, and living sustainably. The DVDs also include an episode of Planet Earth: Diaries for each episode. Each of these ten-minute featurettes show how the crew was able to capture such remarkable footage.

Each episode is fifty minutes long totaling over nine hours of runtime for the series proper not including the length of Planet Earth: The Future or the Planet Earth: Diaries. The first documentary is an overview of the diversity of Earth titled “From Pole to Pole.” The rest of the series devotes an episode to the following ecosystems:

  • Mountains
  • Fresh Water
  • Caves
  • Deserts
  • Ice Worlds
  • Great Plains
  • Jungles
  • Shallow Seas
  • Seasonal Forests
  • Ocean Deep

Life Is the Key

Planet Earth Still The keyword for this series is life. The series exposes how the creatures of this planet are in a constant state of preserving their own life. Our planet receives energy from the sun. The plants take sunlight and convert it to a stored form of energy, and from there it spreads through the food chain. Whether it’s the Bactrian camel of the Gobi Desert or the spider crab along the ocean floor, all creatures in this series work to collect food without becoming food themselves.

No species is immortal. Life everywhere works to produce offspring to ensure their species continues. The Earth is the inheritance of our offspring. Considering these goals, we as humans are not so different from the plants and animals we share the Earth with.

What an Honor

As I watch this series, I can’t help but think of what an honor it is to see the breadth of creation in my living room. Being a person who grew up with television, I’ve had images from around the world beamed into my life since before I can remember. Seeing endangered animals without leaving my home? I’ve grown to take it for granted.

Bosch But this is a relatively new convenience. A favorite painter of mine, Hieronymus Bosch, didn’t have this luxury. Bosch was born around 1550 in what is now part of the Netherlands. In his triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch painted a scene from the Garden of Eden. He depicts the garden with exotic animals including a giraffe. When you look at the giraffe, you can tell what it’s supposed to be, but it’s like Bosch was painting the animal from a description or another illustration. It’s unlikely that Bosch ever saw a giraffe.

When I think about it like that, it reminds me of how privileged I am. I can see the majesty of creation from my sofa. That is fantastic.

What We Feel

As emotional beings we remember what we feel better than what we know. In the June 2010 issue of Wired magazine, writer Erin Biba nails the problem on the head. “Scientists feel the facts should speak for themselves. They’re not wrong; they’re just not realistic.”

About two years ago I watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Honestly, the only thing I remember from that film is that Al Gore showed his data with a very fancy presentation program. But he presented lots of data, lots of charts, lots of numbers. I don’t remember any of the facts he showed. I don’t remember anything substantial about the film.

Planet Earth Still But Planet Earth appeals to my heart. I’ll forget numbers, but seeing a mother polar bear bringing her babies onto the ice for the first time? That’s something I’ll remember. Watching the cubs get their footing for the first time on an icy slope. That pulls my heartstrings. They’re cute little things! It’s much more memorable to show the things that make me feel instead of blast me with facts.

Our Place in the World

I’ve only visited a small portion of this planet. I’ve never been to a rain forest. I’ve never been to a pole. In fact, I’ve never been to the southern hemisphere. There are many places I’ve never been, but they are part of my world—part of the miraculous island of life we live on.

In the follow up to the series, Planet Earth: The Future, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, says “Wilderness always speaks to human beings of transcendence in the widest possible sense. It says, ‘You as a human being are part of a system which is not just about your needs and your concerns. Like it or not, you’re part of something immense and very mysterious.’”

Watching this series reminds me that there are places where life is totally different than my home. I’m from Oklahoma. Here the sun rises overhead on its daily journey—starting in the east and reaching the western horizon at the close of day.

Planet Earth Still Watching “Pole to Pole,” I’m reminded that there are places in the world without daily sunsets. When the sun does rise in these polar regions, it stretches across the sky horizontally, not vertically. During the summer, it does not set. Depending on the time of year, it may not show each day at all. It’s something I’ve never experienced, but it is still part of my world.

Beauty of Creation

Planet Earth Still There is no doubt that the Earth is glorious, but it is also beautiful in its bizarreness. To me the strangest chapter in the Planet Earth series is in the “Jungles” documentary. The program focuses on the bullet ants of the rainforests. These ants occasionally become infected with the spores of a parasitic fungus called Cordyceps. This fungus will infect the brain of an ant and cause the insect to go insane. The ant will climb up to a high perch, cling to a branch with its mandible, and die there. Once the ant is dead, the fungus begins to grow out of the head of the ant. In a few weeks the fungus will release spores from this height to infect more ants to begin its lifecycle again. Through the fantastic use of time-lapse filming, we’re able to watch the fungus emerge from the ant. The actual growth can take up to three weeks. Planet Earth shows the event much more briefly.

Planet Earth in Real Definition

The footage in Planet Earth is astounding. This is some of the most compelling video I have ever seen. However, beautiful footage captured on some of the most advanced cameras in existence can’t fully deliver the beauty of nature. I enjoy being in nature. High definition can’t recreate the feeling of a breeze over my skin while I watch the sunset at the lake or the coolness of moist soil on my hands while gardening.

Animals don’t have to be exotic or endangered to be fascinating. While planting roses, I uncovered earthworms that danced wildly before tunneling back into the soil. It reminded me that under my urban landscape there is a whole ecosystem of burrowers and bacteria that I’m sharing the land with. How many days have I walked over their world without giving any thought to their existence?

While I hold that Planet Earth is one of the most important productions of the decade, I enjoy evenings with the sunset more than evenings in front of my television.

Do you know which plants and animals are native to your region? Which wildflowers are your favorites?

Daniel J. Lay lives in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He grew up in the country north of Tulsa where he spent countless hours playing in the mud and climbing trees. These days he enjoys brightly colored insects and sunsets at the lake. Leeches fascinate him too.

John the Baptist by Caravaggio

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John the Baptist by Caravaggio

The artist Caravaggio is one of my favorite painters—certainly, my favorite of the baroque movement. Caravaggio used deep darks in contrast with bright highlights. This use of lighting makes his paintings very dramatic.

I’ve only seen a painting by Caravaggio in person once. It’s one of the many images he painted of John the Baptist. It was a the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. Seeing it in person made a huge difference from seeing it in art history books and online. I remember being fascinated by the subject’s knee. I could actually see swirls of the paint—the artist’s brushstrokes. It was wonderful to see all the colors that photographs can’t reproduce. And the scale of it made an impression. The canvas is over six feet tall.

This painting is probably my favorite I’ve ever seen. I’m ready to visit again. What paintings inspire you?

The Lord of the Rings, Relativism, Crystal Meth, and Other Observations

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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009.

Introduction

Lord of the Rings Still When I first decided to write this analysis of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was excited. Then, I was overwhelmed. Where do you begin a discussion of one of the longest, biggest box office grossing, most beloved film series in the last decade?

Perhaps I should begin at the beginning. The Lord of the Rings trilogy began as a series of books by one of the most endearing fiction writers of the mid-twentieth century, J. R. R. Tolkein. I need not tell you the story; most people have seen the films. If you haven’t, you should. Don’t let the uber-nerds of the world scare you away from something that is truly momentous.

And momentous it is.

Whether discussing acting, writing, storytelling, cinematography, special effects, score, major advancements, or any aspect of film, The Lord of the Rings trilogy marks excellent in all categories. Perhaps I could discuss the details of a good story: themes, archetypes, character development, plot, conflict, rising action, climax, or resolution. Again, I could argue the films’ top marks on all these detailed features. However, instead of creating an article that lingers on the edges of being as long as the movies, I will restrict this article to three main discussions: the creative ethic, the major themes, and the documentary of the films.

The Creative Ethic

Lord of the Rings Still To begin, one of the things that struck me most about the films was the unrelenting commitment to creative excellence. You get the impression during viewing that this world, Middle Earth, really does exist somewhere. It exists in the vast sweeping landscapes of the film. But it also exists down to the gritty details of each person’s clothing and personal affects. From top to bottom, each element was imbued with a creative effort that went beyond the call of the standard film.

In watching the special features, you discover that this was the plan from day one. The director, the art directors, the writers, the actors, the artists, and illustrators had such a love of the books that they took their task of bringing it to the screen with the solidarity and gravity of a monk. You find that the leadership communicated their mammoth task so well that every person who had a hand in the film had their other hand on a copy of the books and their heart plunged down into the romance of Tolkein’s story. The result was a unified, comprehensive artistic study of each element of the story, visual and otherwise. Rarely does a fantasy film come so…complete.

If you temporarily ignore the fact that many fantasy books and films owe a great debt to Tolkien’s work, you can look at those other fantasies and still find them lacking in some respect. Compare The Lord of the Rings to the film Legend directed by Ridley Scott (one of my other favorite directors). Here you have an amazingly beautiful film. But unlike The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), it borrows its lore about goblins, elves, princesses, unicorns, and heroes almost directly from archetypes that are common to most fairy tales. While this is not a bad aspect in itself, it leaves it open to direct connection or association with other kinds of art. The characters of Jack and Lily are introduced, and we already know everything we need to about them. The filmmaker has no need to tell us that one is the hero and the other is the damsel in distress. After about three seconds, we get it. LOTR brings to the screen whole races that demand explanation. Elves and dwarves we may be familiar with, but what is a Hobbit? What are orcs? Who is this ultimate evil in the east? One of the most satisfying attributes of the LOTR films is that they give you the answer to those questions. The fantasy is so engaging that as I watch, I delight in the details. Just as with a long description of the scenery in one of Tolkien’s books, these investigative portions of each race add to the tone, the voice, and the storytelling of the film.

Each race comes with its own design ethic. The filmmakers read the books for details and then asked, “What would this culture be like? What would its architecture look like? What would its clothing look like? What is its history?” For ninety-nine percent of all other movies, we already have answers to these questions. The history is ours, the clothing, ours, the architecture, all ours.

Lord of the Rings Still In addition to the design questions, the LOTR filmmakers knew that every character is motivated by something—even the monsters. One example would be the creature The Watcher in the Water. Since Tolkein didn’t give explicit details of what the creature was like, the filmmakers saw it as an opportunity to shine. But they did not just run off and make what they wanted. They thought about the text and reasoned that everything in Middle Earth—especially the monsters—is somewhat unique to that place. It would have been much easier to create a big octopus or squid to attack the fellowship in the first film. Instead, they took those elements, expanded upon them, and created something that as far as I know, does not exist on real planet earth. And there it is! Through the miracle of movies and the creative ethic of the LOTR crew and the design team at WETA workshop, a truly terrifying, photo-realistic monster terrorized the screen and drew me in even further into the world of Middle Earth.

It seems a Herculean task to consider each character in as much depth as the creators of the film did, but they did it. They took each idea as far as it would go and with confidence hammered it into the eyes and imaginations of a whole world of people new to the fantasy genre while at the same time satisfying those of us already captured by the genre’s intrigue.

But the creative ethic was not restricted to mere efficiency or attention to detail. No, it truly was creative. Each challenge of bringing the books to life was met not with a handful of ideas but a relentless pursuit of those ideas until a great one was achieved.

We live in a culture that does not value this kind of thinking at all. We’d rather have whatever we want fast and cheap. Take furniture at Wal-Mart as an example. You could spend the money on the lumber, the tools, and the finishes and create a custom desk that is exactly the way you want it and will last a lifetime. Or you could settle and just buy something made cheaply from the big box store that will probably fall apart while you are trying to put it together. What do we value more? Cheap or careful? I would say that by and large, we value the cheap. However, great art that takes the artist countless hours still tickles our imagination. We look at something like the LOTR films and see the detail and come away with one of several conclusions: (1) Those people are complete nerds and have wasted their time, (2) Wow, I respect them for that, but I could never put myself into a project like that, or (3) How do I get a job doing that? I think those of us who put ourselves into our work already get it; everyone else is just trying to get by. My challenge to anyone reading this is: If you are going to do something, why settle, why not do it with excellence?” Look at the result. Worldwide fame, millions of dollars earned, and a work of art that will most likely be preserved beyond your lifetime and into the next. Why can’t our culture respond to all great art like that? Perhaps it is because there is so little art of this quality left in our mechanized, speed-driven culture.

The Themes

The next major thing that makes The Lord of the Rings films significant is their themes. By theme I mean that overarching concept which we seem to pull from the film. It is not necessarily a moral of the story or some catch phrase. Many times they are more complex than that. The LOTR films use the themes from the books. That is to say, themes that are from last century and represent a worldview that has widely been abandoned. Still, they are themes, and therefore, large enough to be applicable to us.

Lord of the Rings Still People today get wiggly when you ask them to define evil. Many people just sit back and say, “Hey, that’s your thing. Do what you want to do, and I’ll keep my values over here.” It is a stance of moral relativism. I believe moral relativism to be self-refuting and therefore nonsense. Rather than attempt to argue that here, I will simply note that Tolkein would agree with me.

There is real, unmistakable evil in Middle Earth—and it should be fought to the last man. Why march across the world into fearful territories of the unknown? Because there is evil, and it must be stopped or all will suffer. Why stand and fight against insurmountable odds on the open field of battle where death is assured unless a miracle occurs? Because there is evil, and it must be stopped. Why align yourself and your future with an obsessed, schizophrenic creature of the deep facing the constant danger of someone’s own mind turning on themselves and then killing you? Simple. Because there is evil in the world, and it must be stopped.

And yet if you stated this as a real reason for going to real war today, people would not accept it. If we go to war in Afghanistan or Iraq or Palestine because it is full of terrorists (evil) and they must be stopped at all costs, people get all frumpy. They claim that this is not a reason to go to war and that it is not our business and that we should just make peace and let them be. They are missing the point of The Lord of the Rings books and of World War II. There is evil out there in the world putting the innocent in danger and killing without question—and it must be stopped. The theme is unmistakable and written by a man who served in the first World War and lived in Britain during the second; in other words, he should know.

Lord of the Rings Still Another theme that arises from the film that seems so foreign to our postmodern American culture is sacrifice. The film is ripe with it. And this is as it should be. The most powerful tales are always about sacrifice: Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. All these contain heroes. What makes them heroic is their willingness to lay down that which is most precious for the sake of someone they love. Sometimes it is an individual like Charles Darnay, or it is a group of people like Scotland. And who could forget the world’s most famous story of sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ? Being innocent, he willingly laid down his life to bring man back into fellowship with God. Is there a more powerful tale to be told than this?

The Lord of the Rings shows Frodo and Sam willing to travel into the land of the enemy with less and less hope of returning to protect what they love most, their friends and their land. I wonder if the average American resonated with this? Are we still patriots? Do we love our homes enough to fight impossible odds for the possibility that they may survive the coming onslaught? My guess would be that most would say, “That’s what the army is for.” And may I take a moment to edify those that do serve in our Armed Forces? You do what most won’t, and whatever your reasons for service may be, I hope that one is because you simply love this great land and that another is to protect our homes and families.

Sacrifice continues to show up again and again. Gandalf gives his life so his friends can escape the Balrog. Merry almost dies defending Eowen against the Witch King of Angmar. The Ents march to war to protect their home believing that they will never return. Faramir rides to certain death to earn his father’s favor. Pippin risks all to save Faramir from his father’s madness. Each one of these heroic characters was willing to give of themselves for a greater good.

Lord of the Rings Still A final theme that arises from these stories has to do with obsession. Since there is a perfume named after this and many people use the language carelessly, I will replace the word with one more relevant and precise, addiction. Gollum’s and Frodo’s relationship to the ring can be described in few other words.

Gollum’s relationship to the ring is only detrimental to himself and others. It causes him to spend the greater part of his life in exile and is the direct cause of his long life, unnatural appearance, and psychological misfortune. With the exception of the long life, could the parallels be any clearer? I live in Oklahoma, and crystal meth is a huge issue here. You can drive around town and see people that are literally wasting away. At twenty-five years old, they look like forty. Their teeth and hair are falling out. They are engaged in compulsive behaviors that are destroying their life and the lives of others. If they don’t change what they are doing, they will die and possibly kill someone they love. I cannot list the number of children and homes lost because a reckless adult was using meth. Gollum, it seems, is not such a fantasy character after all. He is my neighbor.

The films paint another version of the obsession issue though. Frodo has the terrible task of carrying the ring to its doom. Everyone he meets, except for Sam, seem drawn by the allure of the ring. The ring becomes more than just something they want. It becomes their drive. The parallels to our culture are straightforward. Some people are hell bent on getting a certain car, a specific house, or a particular kind of mate. It becomes their obsession. Our country is full of people stressing out, working two or more jobs, and tossing their children in the hands of complete strangers for forty hours a week, because they had to have a certain style of living. Suddenly they don’t control their money; their money controls them. Isn’t this what happens to Frodo? The ring starts out as an accessory, but by the end of the trilogy, he is willing to live with the darkness and pain it is inflicting, because he cannot bear to be parted from it. We should learn from this that there is no physical thing in this life that should demand our lives.

The Documentary

Lord of the Rings Still Having not begun to scratch the surface of the vast depth these films offer, it is time to move the discussion to the final topic of this article: the documentary. It may seem odd to include this, but this is one of the things that really impressed me about the films. While they were shooting three films at once, they were also shooting a fourth—the special features discs on the special edition. Here they explored the author himself, the filmmakers’ journey all the way from concept to screen, and the actors’ involvement in the entire process. No film to that date had done such in depth record keeping on film. They took the viewer behind all kinds of closed doors. It is almost as if a magician showed you how he did his trick, because he knew that the illusion was not nearly as impressive as the reality behind it.

This is a stroke of genius. First, the fans of the novels get the filmmakers’ reasoning for making the changes and diversions from the books that they did. I remember my friend being livid that they skipped the portion of The Fellowship of the Ring that describes Tom Bombadill. I agree that it was a lamentable loss, but after hearing Peter Jackson’s reasons—in humility to be found in few movie directors—I was won over. It simply didn’t move the plot forward.

Another thing that the documentary did was investigate all the creature effects as well as set building and background work. As an artist, I loved seeing the storyboards, the concept art, and the miniatures built to serve the film. But as a film appreciator, watching them combine multiple elements so smoothly was a treasure. I feel as though I appreciate the film more when I watch it. I look at an establishing shot like in Rivendell, and I see the matte paintings blended with miniatures, mixed with digital architecture and film of live actors shot on green screen, covered with a gorgeous color filter, and I think (mouth agape), wow. Before I saw the special features, I only thought, Hey, that’s Rivendell, pretty.

Perhaps the special features service only those who were already fans. So what? With millions of diehard fans across the planet, why not? If nothing else, it only causes those of us in love with the films to fall deeper in it. Kind of like when you are astounded by the perfect woman when you see her. You might think you’re in love. But then you get to know her and find out she really is perfect: nice, creative, humble, passionate, intelligent, and interested in you. That’s when you fall completely head over heels and you buy a ring you can’t afford and ask to marry the girl. I will draw no parallels between those kinds of rings and the one from the films; feel free to do so if you dare.

Conclusion

So after over three thousand words, more could be said, much more. I will leave you with this: These films are significant. They are significant to the history of cinema. They are significant to our culture. They are more than simple movies. They are not some pieces of pop-culture trivia to be memorized and used on game shows. They are true works of art to be appreciated like a Rembrandt or Mozart. So call into work, make some popcorn, and watch The Fellowship of the Ring. Then stretch, gird up your loins, make some bagel bites, and watch The Two Towers. Then rearrange the pillows, throw some chicken wings in the oven, and hold on to your hat for The Return of the King. And if you make it all the way through, take a deep breath, make out some certificates of proof, and hang them on your wall. Your friends will ask, but you’ll smile on the inside knowing you were part of something special.

Credits: All Images Copyright (c) New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

Douglas Hurt is a Christian, husband, father, artist, musician, writer, reader, thinker. He enjoys Rembrandt, Apologetics and Flatfoot 56. He lives in Oklahoma.

Plants vs. Zombies

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Plants vs. Zombies

I don’t get into video games that often, but with a name like Plants vs. Zombies, how could I not try it?

The basic concept of the game is simple. Protect your home from hoards of the living dead. You use plants like peashooters, cherry bombs and potato mines to keep the dead out of your house.

You can download the demo of this highly addicting game, but it times out after sixty minutes of play, or play the online version here. The full version of the game is $19.95.

What was the last video game you got addicted to?

Metaphorical Awards Show

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It would seem that the best a Christian can hope to learn about sexuality from Hollywood is what not to do. Paying attention to the metaphors Hollywood uses, it turns out that their message is more conflicted than it appears. Hollywood’s version of sexuality is less liberated than confused, less permissive than tragic.

Hollywood loves their awards shows. If I were ever asked to come up with the awards categories for a television awards show, these are the categories I would create:

And the award for best metaphor for virginity goes to… Kyle XY!

Kyle XY Title The third season of Kyle XY, ABC Family’s prematurely canceled superpowered teen drama, picked up exactly where the second season left off. Kyle and his scooby gang were at prom in the second season’s finale, and the third season premiered with the after prom party. In the finale, Kyle’s dad gave Kyle’s younger brother, fifteen-year-old Josh, a condom. At the after prom party, he and his girlfriend, Andy (who—in what is seemingly an attempt to shake the label that is in the name of the network, ABC Family, that it airs on—has two lesbian mothers), discuss whether they want to go all the way:

Andy: Let me guess. You’re thinking, “Are we really going to be that couple that went to prom and played video games all night?”
Josh: Maybe…a little.
Andy: So you really did want to?
Josh: Do you?
Andy: There are so many arguments against.
Josh: I know, the cliché of it all.
Andy: There’s that, and the what-happens-after.
Josh: I…I just want to get to the during.
Andy: Seriously, say you have this amazing pair of jeans. You love them, they feel great, and they hug your ass. And then you cut them off to make shorts. You can’t ever get them back.
Josh: So we’re the comfortable, ass-hugging jeans, but what if we’re not great as shorts?
Andy: Exactly, and I would hate myself if I gave up a great pair of jeans for some sucky, raggedy cut-offs.
Josh [obviously not getting the permanence of cutting the jeans]: I think the jeans are worth cutting so we can try them on as shorts at least once.
Andy: Josh, it will happen when it’s right—not because it’s prom night or because we’re supposed to. But when everything comes together in the moment, we’ll feel it. We’ll just know.

Cutting jeans to make shorts is a great metaphor for the permanence of giving up one’s virginity. I could imagine a youth pastor using a similar metaphor.

And the award for the best euphemism for losing your virginity goes to… 90210 for the phrase “going to Palm Springs!”

90210 Title When the school’s AC breaks down, classes are canceled for the day (“Love Me or Leave Me,” season 1, episode 13, televised January 13, 2009). Annie, who revealed she was a virgin during a girl’s slumber party in an earlier episode (“Secrets and Lies,” season 1, episode 9, televised November 4, 2008), secured keys to her rich grandmother’s vacation house in Palm Springs. She and her boyfriend, Ethan, plan a getaway…alone…and “we’re going to Palm Springs” quickly becomes code for “we’re going to have sex for the first time.”

The former series airs on ABC Family, and the latter caused a minor stir by portraying oral sex within the first five minutes of the pilot. Guess in which series the teens actually end up engaging in premarital sex. Contrary to what you would probably expect, Josh and Andy on ABC Family’s Kyle XY are the couple who decide to “try on the shorts.”

Ethan’s not a virgin (he was the recipient of the aforementioned oral sex), but although Annie said she was ready to go to Palm Springs, he realized he would be taking something from her that could never be given back. He explained she was different than the other girls because he really cared about her and didn’t want to hurt her. He was afraid if they had sex and then it didn’t work out between them that it would hurt her, so he wanted to wait until they were sure.

When Annie’s parents discover where she sneaked off to, they frantically rush to the vacation house. They are relieved to see through the window that their daughter is asleep in the bed—alone—and that Ethan is sleeping on the couch. Rather than disturb them, they have hot marital sex in their minivan.

In his column in WORLD magazine, Marvin Olasky, the editor-in-chief, stated that the pro-abortion media must be ever vigilant if they are going to convince us that they really believe what they preach about abortion (“Abortion heresy,” January 17, 2009). He cites a recent article in the New York Times in which Times journalist Alex Kuczynski recounted her fifteen failed pregnancies.

At one point, while describing a pregnancy that didn’t make it past ten weeks, Kuczynski refers to her “small dead baby” but quickly regained her vigilance and added that it was no more than a “coagulation of cells.” Finally the journalist and her husband decide to hire a surrogate mother. She describes how it was weird having her baby come out of another woman’s body and then reminisces, “My husband came out and sat next to me. He took my hand. ‘You gave birth to our baby,’ he told me. ‘The doctors went in and took our baby out of you 10 months ago.’” He was referring to when the doctor removed her eggs. Wait a minute! A pro-abortion journalist writing for a pro-abortion publication just let a paragraph slip in calling an egg—an unfertilized egg at that—a baby. Tongue firmly in cheek, Olasky advises the New York Times to fire the editor who let that paragraph slip by.

Juno Poster The screenwriter of Juno, Diablo Cody, says she’s pro-choice and doesn’t think there is anything pro-life about Juno. After letting Juno, Knocked Up, and Waitress slip through (and all in the same year nonetheless), Hollywood needs to be more vigilant if they really want us to believe they are committed to the abortion cause.

Likewise, the media needs to be much more vigilant if they expect us to buy they believe the permissive sexual ethics they preach. Both Kyle XY and 90210 recognize there is something sacred about sex. Unfortunately, the teens are left adrift without any objective standard to guide their sexual behavior. They’ll “just know” when the time is right. Once they finally give up their virginity, they will forever ask, “Was that really the right time?” This is especially tragic because it is possible to know when the time is right. The Bible provides an objective standard: the time is right once you’re married. You then can enjoy hot, passionate marital sex.

Matthew D. Miller is editor of Popsickle. He lives in Oklahoma City and enjoys reading, writing, and programming.

The Bible: Brick by Brick

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There are dozens of translations of the Bible available. One of my favorites is the Brick Testament. The Brick Testament is the brainchild of Brendan Powell Smith, who uses LEGOs to illustrate over 400 Biblical stories.

Lego Last Supper

The illustrations on his website have been collected and printed in a series of books.

My favorite story is heaven as described in Revelation.

Please note that Mr. Smith illustrates some of the less wholesome Biblical stories.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever built with LEGOs?

I Found Jesus at the Dollar Tree!

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Dollar Tree It’s true. I found Jesus at the Dollar Tree on 12th street. I went into the store to buy some candy for a movie and had a few minutes to spare, so I walked around the store. As I was walking through the toy section, I saw him. At first I nearly walked right past him. He was in a little plastic box. I was rather surprised to see him. Wouldn’t you be too? It’s not every day that you see Jesus at Dollar Tree.

As I stared at him and he returned a blank stare back at me, he quickly reminded me that this is how most of the world wants him…in a box.

Jesus is safe in that box. He’s not offensive in that box. As long as he is in that box, he’s not going to require you to take up your cross or do anything that you don’t want to do.

Isn’t that nice? Your own personal Jesus who does what we want instead of what he wants.

When you take a close look into God’s Word and see who Jesus really is, he will amaze you. It is impossible to truly describe how amazing Jesus is. Walter Wink once said, “If Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” I couldn’t agree more! This man who is God is so amazingly unique! Have you met the real Jesus? Once you truly meet him, your life will never be the same. Meeting Jesus will change your life.

Growing up in church I became very acquainted with the “flannelgraph Jesus.” If you spent any time in church as a kid, you have probably met flannelgraph Jesus also. When I say flannelgraph, I mean those felt boards that Sunday school teachers used to tell Bible stories back in the day. Flannelgraph Jesus always wore the blue beauty pageant sash, and he always had perfect hair. He was the nice guy who seemed to be a pushover and quite honestly a wimp; he never offended anyone, and he was safe. Growing up in church I got to know Jesus very well. There was just one problem. I didn’t get to know the real Jesus.

However, as I searched throughout God’s Word and sought out the real Jesus, I was very surprised by the man that I found. He is not pushover or a wimp. He is not afraid to offend. And most of all he is not safe.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe In C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are talking with the children about the mighty lion, Aslan, who is a Christ-like figure. The children ask Mr. Beaver, “Then he isn’t safe?” Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

I agree with Mr. Beaver. He isn’t safe, but he’s good.

I am not an animal expert by any means, but I do know this to be true: lions are not safe. Call me a wimp, but I don’t go to the zoo to pet the lions. Why? Because they are dangerous! A lion could tear me apart.

Just like that mighty lion isn’t safe, Jesus isn’t safe either. Jesus calls all who follow him to come and die. He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus isn’t calling you to merely say a prayer and go back to your regularly scheduled life doing the same old things. He is calling you to deny yourself and die to your old ways of living, each and every day. He is calling you to follow him with all of your heart. He has issued a call to come and die so that you can truly live.

This means that when you follow Jesus you have to give up your sin—your lying, stealing, lusting, etc. This sounds impossible, but when you truly trust Jesus, he gives you his Spirit to help you live for him (John 14:26). He doesn’t just give you an impossible task and leave it up to you to do it. Jesus provides the resources to do his will.

He is calling all who follow him to walk the narrow road. It is a rough road, but it leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Jesus has certainly issued a call to come and die, but it is much more than that. It is a call to come and live. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Jesus is calling you to life—true, everlasting life!

So you have a choice. You can live your lives your way and follow the “Jesus” in the plastic box. You don’t have to worry about being offended by this “Jesus” or worry about offending anyone else by him. With this Jesus you can be tolerant. Or you can choose to follow the real Jesus, the one true living God who does not live in a box and cannot be contained by one. With this Jesus you must come to terms with the fact that he is the only way to heaven. He is the only way, the only truth, and the only life (John 14:6), and apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Jesus from the Dollar Tree The question is: Which Jesus will you follow?

The little plastic Jesus that I met at Dollar Tree now sits in my office. He continually reminds me that the real Jesus is not in a box, and he can’t be contained in one. When I see him in that little plastic box, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:23, ESV). He reminds me that Jesus is not safe, but he is good. He is calling me to take up my cross each day and follow him on the narrow road, and he is calling you to do the same.

Credits: Dollar Tree: Ildar Sagdejev / Creative Commons, Book Cover: Fair Use, Toy Jesus: Taken by Author

Philip Tallman is a Youth/Music Pastor in Healdton, OK. He is doing his best to follow Jesus, and he shops occasionally at Dollar Tree.

Paper Going the Way of the Bees

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Generation X Nest A friend of mine recently used Facebook to ask if the invention of the Kindle would create the same kind of revolution that occurred when the bound book replaced scrolls. For me, the biggest con of switching to a Kindle is the intangibility of the media. I want to be able to touch my books. Highlight words. Scrawl my name on the first page.

Author Douglas Coupland (JPod, Generation X) mused on the medium of paper, how it is made of pulp and compared it to the paper nests of flying insects like wasps. Read this New York Times article to learn about how the author eventually chewed his published book into a model based on nature.

Back to the question: Is the Kindle the end of paper?

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