August 2010 Archives

Swept Up into the Magic of Hogwarts

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Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009. Also check out Popsickle’s list of the twenty greatest films of the 2000s.

Harry Potter Books The Harry Potter series follows the story of one young boy who was orphaned at a young age by what he is told was a car accident. He lives with his Aunt, Uncle, and cousin Dudley, though he is relegated to live in the cupboard so that Dudley can have the second bedroom he so desperately needs to store his large collection of toys. This pretty well gives you an idea of what Harry’s place in the family is. The real story begins, however, when Harry gets a mysterious letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This launches the story of his life into a fantasy adventure of epic proportions.

For every person who feels slighted by the people around him—like he got the short end of the stick—this story makes vindication seem possible. For Harry stuck in a boring, claustrophobic existence where even school seems like an escape, his acceptance letter to Hogwarts seems too good to be true. While at every turn his family tells him that he is ordinary and destined for mediocrity, in his new reality, he ventures into a world where he was a celebrity since birth. He discovers that he is really quite special and that his life has incredible purpose. This theme of the story really captures its audience, because every human heart longs for this kind of purpose.

The center of the films’ themes is friendship—especially the core group of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The friendship of these three has its ups and downs, but never does any one character give up hope in their companions. They show great loyalty and courage even in difficult times.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Poster Power, or more specifically the lust for power, is another major element in the films. It is implied through the life of the villain that the desire for power can easily become an all-consuming and soul-destroying quest. The characters on the side of good are ever vigilant to guard themselves from this kind of attitude even though it makes many advances on their spirits. One of the ways this plot point is explored is through the subject of death. The villain assumes that immortality is the greatest form of power while Harry and his friends risk losing their mortal lives on multiple occasions for each other and for the good of the world at large.

Given the success of the books before the production of the films, it is not surprising that the production is everything that you would expect from blockbusters financed by a major studio. The films quite live up to the fantastic realm described in the novels, from the magical elements to the grandiose settings—especially Hogwarts. The casting is also faithful to the characters created by the author. The central trio of friends has real chemistry, and there are standout performances by Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, constant foil to the heroes, and Helena Bonham Carter as both crazy and evil Bellatrix LeStrange.

Within the next year, two movies will be released that conclude the wildly popular series. The six movies that have been released so far comprise the highest grossing film franchise of all time. As many popular brands are wont to do, Harry Potter has stirred up its share of controversy. Most of this comes from conservative Christian groups opposed to the movies’ positive portrayal of “good” witchcraft. Witchcraft is compared to the sin of rebellion in 1 Samuel 15:23. I will not dispute the view that witchcraft is sin; in fact, I am probably more on the fundamentalist side of that argument than most. However, I would encourage anyone who refuses to read the books or see the movies based on that one fact to reconsider. If the policy is to watch zero movies that contain sin or even sometimes portray sin positively, that would probably discount even It’s a Wonderful Life. Anyone remember how George’s uncontrolled, unrighteous anger toward Zuzu’s teacher is played for humor? But the point of the movie is not that we should imitate that one character quality. Sometimes it is good to evaluate movies based on what overall message they put forth as well as content. As for the content itself, there are definitely pure fantasy elements to the type of witchcraft portrayed. For example, the ability to perform magic is something characters are born into, and in order to do it properly, they must obtain a wand made of unicorn tail or phoenix feather, something you might be hard pressed to find here in the real world.

Harry Potter While primarily marketed to the younger demographic, I wouldn’t discount them as kids’ movies, based solely on peril and violence. One other troubling recurrence that is up for discussion is the blatant disregard for any kind of caution or adherence to rules shown by the major characters. Our heroes constantly make their way into harrowing situations that they tend to escape by a hair. This serves the fictional suspense well but is not an attitude that translates well into non-fiction for those of us who value life and limb.

It is easy to see how so many have been captivated by the rich story of Harry Potter. The series contains the basic ingredients for a classic. Only time will tell how it endures for future generations, but it certainly continues to impact the current culture in multiple facets.

Laura Culp is 25 and lives in Northwest Oklahoma as a full-time creator of signage and part-time student. She would like to thank Angie Culp for her editorial skills and catering.

The New Paraphrase on the Block

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The Bible in Rhyme Cover

The Message is so yesterday. There’s a new paraphrase on the block, The Bible in Rhyme. Here’s Psalm 68 as a taste:

May God arise and scatter his foes.
The wicked will perish as everyone knows.
Sing to the Lord who rides on a cloud.
Extol your praises, crying aloud.
A father to orphans, the widow’s defender;
He honors believers and cuts down pretenders.
We marched through the desert with You as our guide
and gained our inheritance, though we were tried.
Great was the glory of those who announced
God and His name, but those who denounced
His honor were struck down, peasant and king.
But all who have seen His power now sing.
God sends one thousand chariots out
and crushes His enemies. Now who will doubt?!
The twelve tribes have come proclaiming a song.
Egypt and Cush will submit to the throng.
Announce that He’s come across all the earth.
All who know Him know what He is worth.
Wherever we tread and wherever we trod,
He will be with us. Praise be to God!

Last week we saw an attempt to update Jesus by putting a baseball cap on him. This week we have an attempt to update the Bible by making it rhyme. Do you think we need another Bible translation/paraphrase? What version(s) of the Bible do you use?

Lacking the Necessary Vocabulary or What Would the Amish Think of Transformers

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In my lifetime, I’ve only watched five silent films. Sadly, that is probably more than most people have seen. In chronological order of release, they are:

I watched The Docks of New York (beautiful screenshot below) a few nights ago. It was directed by Josef von Sternberg, who is considered one of the first auteurs, and is considered a masterpiece.

The Docks of New York Still

While watching it, it occurred to me: Although I know it is considered a masterpiece by film historians, what basis do I have for determining whether it is a masterpiece or not?

We have a cinematic vocabulary with which to evaluate movies. Americans grow up watching movies. We start watching movies before we can speak. I don’t know if anyone’s ever researched how many movies the average American has watched by the age of twelve, but I’m sure it’s in the thousands.

When we watch The Lord of the Rings or Transformers then, we have a cinematic vocabulary with which to evaluate whether they are good or bad films. If an Amish boy who had never seen a movie before watched Transformers, would he have anyway of knowing whether the film was trash or a masterpiece?

I’ve watched 374 movies that were released between 2000 and 2009. But does that prepare me to evaluate silent films? Silent films seem to have a cinematic vocabulary of their own. Before I can determine for myself why The Docks of New York is a great film (in contrast to just accepting what I’m told), I need to watch a lot more silent films.

Have you watched any silent films? Which ones were your favorites?

Drive-thru Church

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Speedometer I presented an after-school Bible club program at a local church. The presentation included a three minute video. The pastor said he could spare 60 seconds for me to speak in addition to the video. He explained he would love to dedicate an entire service to the ministry, but he did not have time. He had another missionary sharing, and the service was already rushed. I had 60 seconds to effectively present the program.

How do you reach a busy world with the Gospel? Talk faster? Alter the message? To reach an energy drink-driven, drive-thru world, you must offer them an alternative to the non-stop pace of everyday life. Church is not another activity tacked onto an already busy week. It is a place that welcomes you to rest—God’s rest.

Energy drinks sport flashy designs to catch your attention as you browse the grocery store. Many churches employ slick graphics to advertise new activities. Creative graphics can be used as tools to minister, but the message needs to be more than a quick energy drink boost; it needs to be spiritual milk helping the church grow. The teaching must have more substance than a fast food burger; it needs to be life-sustaining bread. By looking at Hebrews 4, we can discover several ways to minister by offering rest from the world’s breakneck pace.

Unfortunately the church often makes us busier. A Bible study this morning, a program this evening, a retreat this weekend. Hebrews 4 begins, “since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” If we are too busy, we might miss out on God’s rest!

Family Praying “For those who enter God’s rest also rest from their own work, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10). A church could periodically dedicate an entire service as a prayer service. The pastor could lead the congregation in prayer for things going on in the community and church and then dismiss. Even if a church did this only once a year, think of how much that one day would contrast with the rest of the congregation’s busy week. The church I grew up in had several family days each year where instead of having an evening service, they encouraged families to stay home and spend time with each other. Even a nursery or mother’s day out program can prove to be more of an invaluable ministry than you might think.

It is important to make God’s rest available at church. Hebrews 4:11 encourages us to “make every effort to enter that rest.” How do we know what God’s rest looks like? God’s definition of rest flies in the face of the traditional definition of staying in bed past noon and eating corn chips while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is a difference between resting and being lazy. God’s rest is an active rest.

Entertainment (or rather the overabundance of) is making us lazy. I’m a huge fan of entertainment, but I get so tied up in keeping up with my favorite TV series, checking out the newest comics, reading my RSS feeds, and downloading audio dramas to my iPod that I go weeks without producing anything creative myself. Actively resting means getting up and doing something. Maybe actively resting for you is writing a blog entry. Maybe it is getting a group of friends together to write a script for a sketch. Maybe it is riding your bike.

Also, actively resting means studying God’s Word. The writer of Hebrews compares God’s Word to a “double-edged sword” (4:12). Being equipped to live our daily lives requires an active study of Scripture. The reason verse 11 encouraged us to strive for God’s rest was “so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” You cannot incorporate Biblical principles into sketches you write unless you know Biblical principles.

Fast Car It is especially important for leaders to take time to rest. If you lead a small group in your home, whenever you do get time to study the Bible, you probably spend it preparing for your next small group meeting. Leadership expert Tim Elmore states, “Because leaders spend themselves more than the average person, they need to refuel more often than most people do” (Habitudes #1: The Art of Self-Leadership, 33.) You can’t show others how to rest unless you know how to rest yourself.

The way the King James phrases Exodus 24:12 contains a poignant insight for those striving for God’s rest: “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.’” God says to Moses, “Hey, come here…and just be here.” To me that sounds redundant. God already asked Moses to come there. Why did he also need to tell Moses to be there?

Have you ever heard somebody say “I’m here in body but not in spirit”? Maybe you’ve been sitting in class on a Monday: You stayed up late during the weekend, and although you are sitting in your desk, you aren’t all there. God wanted Moses to be there.

When we meet someone for the first time, one of our first questions is usually “What do you do for a living?” We are so concerned with doing, but God is concerned with being. We don’t feel like we’re serving God unless we’re doing something for God. God cares more about who we are on the inside. In our culture, busyness has become a virtue. How was your week? Well, you know, busy. I have so much to do. Sometime in the midst of your busy schedule, “make every effort to enter” God’s rest.

Credits: Speedometer: Nathan Eal / Creative Commons, Family Praying: Matthew Cua / Creative Commons, Fast Car: Ernest / Creative Commons

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

Jesus 2000

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I love this short video (found at Drawn!). I wish I knew some backstory on it, but I haven’t been able to find any:

Jesus 2000 imagines Jesus with a beard and baseball cap. If Jesus had been born today instead of 2000 years ago, how would you imagine him?

Christians Who Cut

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The harsh edge of the blade flashed in the light that came in through the window. Tori squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her teeth as she brought the razor down onto the open skin of her arm. She felt numb and dirty. Both old and new scars covered her body from her thighs to her arms and even on the hidden area of her stomach. Blood beaded on the thin lines made by the blade, and Tori pushed the knife away, disgusted with herself. She’d messed up—again.

Christians Who Cut Every time that Tori promised herself she wouldn’t cut anymore, something would happen that made her give in. Someone would make a mean comment about her at school, she would get in a fight with her parents, or she would simply look in the mirror and think, I can’t stand myself. I deserve this. And then she would be in that same dark place she so often was. It was like she could not stop, no matter how badly she wanted to end this habit.

It was like an addiction.

Tori had been a Christian for several years—ever since she responded to the altar call at summer camp when she was eleven. At first her passion for God grew, but then life started to get hard. Her parents got a divorce. She lost a couple of friends right before she entered high school. Now Tori felt like God was far away. She felt like when she prayed, her pleas were static and distant. She wondered if God could even hear her. She stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She felt ugly and unloved. Maybe I’ve messed it all up, she thought bitterly. I can’t love myself. Maybe God can’t love me either.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

For most of my middle school years, I struggled constantly with self injury. I was depressed, I felt disconnected from God, and I expressed my hidden pain through the blade of a knife. Self injury may be something that you or someone you know struggles with, and if that is the case, then I hope this article can help you find encouragement.

One of the biggest problems with self injury, namely cutting, is that it is a compulsive behavior. According to Dr. Drew Pinsky, cutting is an addictive syndrome. When you cut yourself, you activate thrill mechanisms and cause a surge of endorphins to rush to your brain. This gives you a false sense of relief and even a high of sorts. Each time something happens that makes you feel sad or upset, you feel the need to turn back to self injury to give you that same release you felt before. Cutting can easily become an unending cycle. You want the temporary relief, so you cut… And then you feel guilty for allowing yourself to cut, and the guilt causes you to cut again… And around and around you go.

Even if you have only been cutting for a few months, it can be extremely difficult to stop. In fact, it may seem impossible. Please know that it is possible to end this addiction. I haven’t cut for nearly three years. It takes courage, strength, and faith in God, but it is possible. If you are struggling with self injury or depression, please keep reading. The points below can help you discover a light at the end of the tunnel—a way out of the unending cycle.

  1. No matter how you feel, you are loved. When you feel depressed and alone, it is easy to feel unloved. The truth is there are people who do love you, people who want to be there for you when you feel this way. You have family members and friends who love you. If no one else, then I love you even though I don’t know you personally. I honestly do love you, and I hurt for you. Above all else, Jesus Christ loves you. He loves you so much that he suffered and died for you. He loves you no matter what you’ve ever done. Deuteronomy 14:1, 2 says, “Do not cut yourselves…for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.” Even though this verse was written for the people of Israel, it still applies to you as a Christian. You are God’s chosen possession. He doesn’t want you to hurt. He wants you to have peace and joy.

  2. Even when you feel like God is far away, he has never left your side. Guilt is often a huge issue for Christians who cut. Aren’t Christians supposed to be those on fire believers who worship Jesus with every fabric of their beings? They aren’t supposed to be messed up people who have dark secrets that nobody knows about, right? The perfect Christian is a complete myth. Every Christian has problems even if it doesn’t seem like it from their outside appearance. Everyone experiences trials throughout their lives. You can still be a Christian and struggle with self injury. It is an addiction that is hard to overcome. Ask God to help you through this difficult time. He is there for you. He longs to hold you in his arms and take the pain away. When you feel disconnected from God, continue to pray, read your Bible, and go to church. When you continue to worship God though he seems far away, you are expressing to him that you still have faith in what he can do. Hebrews 13:5 says, “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Keep your faith in Jesus and know that he will never lose faith in you.

  3. Talk to somebody about what you’re going through. Proverbs 27:17 says that like iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another. Find someone who cares about you and can give you accountability and encourage you to work through your emotions constructively instead of through self injury. Ask your friend for guidance, prayer, and understanding. You may even need to find professional help. If you are a minor, talk to your youth group leader or a teacher at your school. Approach your parents about what you’ve been going through. An experienced adult can help you learn to sort through your problems and find hope.

  4. Search for a new way to cope. You may cut to help you release your pent-up emotions, it may be a way to punish yourself for the bad things you have done, or it may be a way to control something in your life when everything else seems to be crumbling all around you. No matter why you cut, you are handling your problems the wrong way. Take up music lessons, start a journal, go to the gym an hour a day… Find something that can start to replace this habit, something that you can turn to when you feel like you need to vent your anger and hurt.

  5. Learn to love yourself again. When you feel hatred and disgust for yourself, it is difficult to honestly want to stop hurting your body. Take out a sheet of paper and write a list of at least ten reasons why you deserve better than cutting. It could be “I’m a loyal friend” or “I’m a beautiful creation of God.” When you feel the urge to cut, remind yourself over and over that you are loved and that Jesus has planned so much more for your life.

  6. Learn to forgive yourself. You may relapse. You may go months without cutting and then mess up again. When you fall, it is easy to feel angry at yourself and want to give up. Instead of punishing yourself for messing up, take it into perspective. Make a calendar of how long you’ve gone without messing up and congratulate yourself for making it that far. Cutting is a hard addiction to overcome. The closer you come to healing shows how strong you are becoming. Jesus forgives you for every sin and mistake, so learn to forgive yourself as well.

If you have a friend who is struggling with self injury, don’t give up on her. She needs your encouragement and support. Don’t constantly talk about her problem but occasionally let her know that you’re there for her and are ready to listen when she needs to vent. Ask your friend if you can go talk to an adult together but don’t try to force the issue unless you believe that her life is in danger or else the stress could cause her to cut again. Spend more time with your friend. Let her know that you love her and want to be around her. Leave her encouraging notes. Compliment her. Whatever you do, don’t criticize your friend about her self injury. Judgemental remarks are likely to cause her to cut even more. Instead let her know that you’re concerned about her safety and want her to stop because you care about her.

If you have suspicions that your friend is suicidal, that is another issue entirely. If your friend is suicidal, then please tell an adult and get your friend help. Making a friend angry—maybe even angry enough to not forgive you—is worth it if it means saving her life.

You may be struggling with self injury right now. If you are, then don’t give up. You are not alone in your addiction. According to CNN.com, one in five teenagers claims to have participated in self injury. Self injury is a difficult thing to overcome, but it is possible. You are loved and cherished by God. Put yourself into his hands. Hope can be found through the Lord. He has so much more in store for you than you can possibly imagine.

Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Emily Whelchel is a high school student in Amarillo, Texas. She enjoys writing, playing the guitar and piano, and working at an inner city ministry in her spare time. She has a passion for Africa. Check out her blog.

The (Awesome) See-through Comic

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The Awesome Ghost of Bailey Jones There are still some things you can do with paper that you can’t do on a screen. Yes, there’s a Flash version of “The Awesome Ghost of Bailey Jones,” but it is vastly inferior to the double-sided PDF you can download and print. (I found this comic on cartoonist Scott McCloud’s blog.)

Since it is double-sided, hold the printed comic up to the light, and a previously unseen element of the story is revealed. I want to print a comic on those overhead transparencies for inkjet printers (since they don’t have any other purpose any more now that everyone uses PowerPoint). You could stack two or three, and each one would reveal a new level of the story. I just haven’t thought of a story that would benefit from being told this way yet.

While the presentation of “The (Awesome) Ghost of Bailey Jones” is creative, the content is somewhat muddled. The title seems to infer that the comic is about ghosts, but both characters have wings making them look more like angels. Making it even more confusing, when the title character becomes a ghost/angel, he has horns. Is he a ghostly angelic demon? On top of that, the comic seems to make light of suicide.

Some art is all style on no substance. A see-through comic is pretty cool, but there’s not much substance here. Does a comic have to have a strong story or is it sometimes okay just to look really cool? What other cool ways of presenting a comic can you think of?

Popsickle's 20 Greatest Films of the 2000s

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Contributors: Laura Culp, D. W. Hurt, Dempsey Kraft, Daniel J. Lay, Matthew D. Miller, Philip Tallman, and Emily Whelchel

The Popsickle team took a break from writing about the Significant Films of the 2000s to list what we thought were the twenty greatest films of the 2000s.

20. Taken

Taken

I view Taken as Finding Nemo for adults. It portrays the love of a father who will stop at nothing to have his child back. Liam Neeson is what truly makes the movie. He shows how talented he really is in this film. Along with his acting and fighting abilities, he shows that his voice is well trained. After watching the film, one can’t help but say “I will find you” in their best Liam Neeson-like voice. Most of all, the film does a great job of reminding everyone that human trafficking is real, and not everyone’s dad comes to save them. This movie is fictional, but what happens in this movie is not. When watching this film, don’t ever forget that fact. —P.T.

19. Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo

How far would you go to save someone you love? What would you fight to have a loved one back? One clown fish proved that he would do whatever it takes. In a humorous way, this film shows the love of a father. The main storyline of this film is so simplistic, yet it is a brilliant film. Additionally, it is treat for the eyes to watch the clown fish brave the colorful ocean. It is a beautiful sight. Anyone who has ever experienced the deep love of a father will be reminded of it while watching this entertaining movie. —P.T.

18. Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire has opened the eyes of many to the life of a “slumdog,” a person of lower caste living in India. Hope is found through the eyes of the meek Jamal Malik when he makes it onto an Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The film contains many scenes that can only create horror and anger as it reveals frightening truths about child slavery and other severe content, but the message shows without fail that love overcomes all trials and that is what attracts many to this powerful film. —E.W.

17. Up

Up

Pixar does what it does best, extolling the simple virtues in life against a backdrop of bright silliness. The real point of the story is the quiet, consistent people that love us and shape our lives and our duty to pass on that kind of kindness to others (even if they annoy us and disrupt our plans). Where this film really excels is telling the audience these things without ever saying a word. The montage sequences with only the score to guide the emotional rise and fall of the plot are stellar. —L.C.

16. Avatar

Avatar

Avatar debuted when three-hour movies had become the norm—some carry an air of being an epic, some just drag out. However, Avatar stands out, because it is an original story. It’s not a reboot, adaptation, or part of an existing franchise. Avatar also sums up the spirit of the decade. It shows our growing interest in environmental concern. It reflects vulnerability to terrorism. The destruction of the Hometree carries the imagery we saw almost a decade earlier when the World Trade Towers came down. In a time when films are revisiting the nostalgia of the 70s, 80s and 90s, Avatar reminded us of what we saw in the first decade of the twenty-first century. —D.L.J.

15. Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite created a sensation that even its creators did not expect. The awkward choices in music and dress for the actors only complimented the blundering main character. The world created felt retro and yet very close to home. But perhaps one of the greatest reasons for the film’s surprise success was its quotability. The ridiculousness of the dialogue is funny completely out of context and so has made its way onto t-shirts, bumper stickers, socks, and every young person’s lexicon of randomness. But perhaps more subtly, the film knew what it was. It did not take itself too seriously. It chose its pace intentionally, its color schemes carefully, and took someone who was completely inept and made them graceful. The viewer might not say it, but they wonder, “If Napoleon can get up and dance like that, why can’t I?” —D.W.H.

14. Gladiator

Gladiator

After a lengthy absence of appropriate Roman period films, Gladiator appears on the scene and does not disappoint. Ridley Scott’s film bears real pain, real heroism, and a strong sense of justice—all while appealing to the modern taste for action and blood. The film contains all-star acting (thank you Joaquin Phoenix and Russell Crowe), epic battle sequences, and the sense that cinema is still viable to communicate the deeper truths of life. —D.W.H.

13. The Incredibles

The Incredibles

Among a group of highly talented filmmakers (there are four Pixar films on this list!), writer-directory Brad Bird outshines the rest. In my opinion, the two films he wrote and directed, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, are the two best films Pixar has produced. The Incredibles was not only a fantastic animated film but a superb superhero film too. Although they had superpowers, both children and adults could relate to the troubles the characters experienced. —M.D.M.

12. Serenity

Serenity

About a decade ago there was a short-lived television series that got abysmal ratings, aired for only eleven non-consecutive episodes, and partook in improbable genre mixing (Chinese Western! In space!). This sounds like a lost piece of obscure trivia except for the fact that it went on to garner so much attention that Universal Studios made a feature film based on it. Why? Because it was that awesome. —L.C.

11. Identity

Identity

An updated and more labyrinthine take on the classic Agatha Christie Ten Little Indians structure. A film for those of us who lament that horror films have become gory and plotless things and wonder why we can’t have more Hitchcockesque suspense. The final twist is what most films fail in, but this one gets right. It makes perfect sense within the constraints of what we know about the characters and yet is still hard to see coming for first time viewers. —L.C.

10. Juno

Juno

Director Jason Reitman was just thirty years old when Juno, his second feature, came out. The young director, who now has three feature films in his filmography, has proven one of the freshest, most original talents working in Hollywood today. Hopefully he will become an auteur on the scale of Woody Allen in the decades to come. Juno was also the feature film debut of stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody. The story affirmed life and became a cultural phenomenon. —M.D.M.

9. Batman Begins

Batman Begins

Batman Begins brought much needed new life back to the Batman franchise. With its gritty real world take on Batman, it allowed us to believe in this superhero again. For so many years, Batman was portrayed as a cheesy colorful superhero. Batman Begins brought in the “dark side” of Batman and the insanity of the villains he faced. Batman is a hero of the night and a man without any real superpowers. He makes us believe that we might even be able to be a superhero some day. Batman Begins brings a whole new level of greatness when it shows us that a hero can be born out of the worst situations possible. Bruce Wayne was stuck in a prison when Henri Ducard sought him out to train him. We need to always be reminded that no matter how bad our situation may appear, God is always seeking us out to become his heroes on the earth. —D.K.

8. Spider-Man 1 and 2

Spider-Man

Spider-Man 1 and 2 relaunched superhero movies and did it in a way never done before. After an era where superhero movies were so far from the comics that even die-hard fans avoided them and so cheesy that the normal moviegoer couldn’t stand them, Spider-Man 1 and 2 reinvigorated the superhero movie industry. Full of action, good versus evil, and drama, these movies draw us all into them. One of the best things about these movies is that the heroes and villains are not one-dimensional. Peter Parker has to try to reconcile his feelings for Mary Jane while understanding the dangers she will face if he pursues her. Even Doctor Octopus ultimately wanted to help the world but fell victim to his ideals when they clearly would not help the greater good. These movies at the very least remind us to reevaluate what our priorities really are. Should we sacrifice everything we are and the people we love for the greater good, or should we seek what is best for others even to the point of laying down our lives? —D.K.

7. Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth, like Stranger than Fiction, presents the viewer with a film where the lines between reality and fantasy blur. But the similarities end there. The strength of Pan’s Labyrinth comes in the contrasting worlds it presents. The violence and brutality of the Spanish Civil War strongly contrasts with the fairy tales of a young girl. Ultimately, the director uses the mixture of the real and the fantastic to dialogue with the audience. The film’s ending is either happy or tragic. The choice belongs to the viewer. —D.L.J.

6. WALL-E

WALL-E

WALL-E carries an underlying message of hope amidst devastation. The film begins with a desolate image of a lifeless earth that has been destroyed by waste that humans left behind. Throughout the film viewers actually find themselves becoming endeared to a rickety robot whose job is to attempt to clean up the abandoned garbage and make earth habitable once again. In a world where life or hope cannot seem to be found, WALL-E experiences new life and true love, and the hope that follows is what makes a beautiful film by Pixar. —E.W.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a theme park ride. No one realized that the film would become such an obsession for viewers across the nation. Each of the characters are engaging and memorable even though most of them are swashbuckling, undead pirates. This film caters to a wide audience as it carries scenes of tender romance, action that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and a factor of genuine humor. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Pirates of the Caribbean is the sense of adventure and excitement its viewers feel long after they leave the theater. —E.W.

4. Stanger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

The key quality that makes Stranger Than Fiction stand out among all the films of the past decade is its use of a frame narrative. Lots of great stories are framed narratives, that is, a story within a story. Heart of Darkness, The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump—none of these framed stories mix fiction and reality quite like Stranger than Fiction. But a framed narrative is only a gimmick without a strong story. The journey Will Ferrell’s character takes to discover his creator and then knowing his fate is in the hands of another mortal serves as a catalyst for many discussions on the nature of choice and free will. —D.L.J.

3. Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead introduced the filmmaking trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost to the big screen (previously the three had produced the great TV series Spaced). This zombie romantic comedy set the standard for horror comedy that decade. Zombieland, another zombie romantic comedy later in the decade, came closest but still paled in comparison to Shaun. —M.D.M.

2. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Sequels tend to be hit and miss. The Dark Knight is definitely a hit! Drawing much of its material from countless comics, this film brings Batman to life. Unlike the majority of superhero films, this film takes place in a realistic world where men can’t fly, bullets kill people, and sadistic criminals kill for no reason other than their twisted pleasure. The plot of the film is excellent, but the cast is what really sells the film. Of course, Health Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was Oscar-worthy, but the supporting cast really brought the film together. The performances of Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine were superb. Overall the film presents itself to be not just an incredible comic book film but a great action/crime movie. A must see for all comic book readers. —P.T.

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Lord of the Rings

These cinematic masterpieces directed by Peter Jackson and adapted from the books by J. R. R. Tolkein represent the most well-loved fantasy series in the world. What once was esoteric and vehemently discussed in bookstores and literature classes firmly rooted itself to the most mundane levels of popular culture. The films made huge advancements in digital effects technology and established a relentless design ethic to be challenged by few. Besides this the films earned an enormous sum of money, established acting careers for many, received a host international awards, and created a renewed interest in fantasy as a seductive, lucrative, and entertaining genre of film. —D.W.H.

Decadent Miley, Boring Cyrus

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Miley Cyrus' Can't Be Tamed Album Cover Arsenio Orteza, World magazine’s music critic, reviewed Miley Cyrus’ latest album, Can’t Be Tamed, in the July 17, 2010 issue of World. The album’s cover shows Cyrus dressed like she’s trying to imitate Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson when they were teens a decade ago. In other words, provocatively.

Orteza begins his review, “Sometimes we conservatives inadvertently generate free publicity for what we oppose by criticizing as morally abhorrent something that’s really an aesthetic failure needing to be put out of its misery on artistic grounds (Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, most TV shows not on Fox News and a few that are).”

Later in the review he wrote:

[P]op artists and their artifacts can be can be decadent and boring at the same time. And when they are, the boring part is the bigger problem. It indicates that decadence has become so commonplace we take it for granted. It also means that the artist’s artifacts aren’t very good.

If an artist is talented, American culture is usually willing to overlook that artist’s notorious behavior. But increasingly pop culture is becoming enamored with artists who behave badly but whose talent is arguable if not nonexistent. In that case, is it the bad behavior instead of the talent (what there is of it) that we’re praising?

Is truly good art lessened when the artist makes a fool of herself? Can the artifact be admired separate from the artist?

Subscribe to this RSS Feed: The Odyssey Scoop

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The Odyssey Scoop Logo

On Monday I recounted how I rediscovered Adventures in Odyssey. Shortly after I began listening to Odyssey again, I discovered a website called The Odyssey Scoop. It is a great place to keep up with the latest Odyssey news and fun facts.

The Odyssey Scoop has republished “A Town Called Odyssey.” Check it out, and while you’re there, check out the rest of the website.

Talking about "Talking about Anne Rice"

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Anne Rice's Facebook

On Friday Daniel started a discussion about Anne Rice’s recent statement that she quit Christianity. Since then the internet has been ablaze with discussions about Rice.

Unfortunately, not all of the discussions have been gracious or even intelligent. Here’s a round up of the discussions that did deal with Rice in a gracious and intelligent manner:

Popsickle contributor Emily commented on Daniel’s post:

If you don’t want to label yourself a Christian because of the negative image it gives people (meaning that it hurts your witness), then that’s fine. But if you shove away all the fellow “believers” around you because they call themselves Christians, you’re not doing the right thing.

My favorite title of an article discussing Rice’s break-up with Christianity was over at the religion blog Religion Dispatches: “Anne Rice Quits Christians, Still Dates Jesus.”

Brian LePort, who always offers intelligent perspectives on theological and religious issues, wrote:

[T]here is no following Christ without being part of the church. That is like speaking of being born absent being part of the human race. [Y]our Christianity is not necessarily the right Christianity. Contrary to belief you are just as messed up and mistaken as the rest of us. We remain faithful to the church because we recognize we all are flawed.

Roger Yadon, another blogger who continually offers intelligent perspectives on theological and religious issues, draw our attention to the Bible:

Rice’s comments remind me of the elitist Corinthian assertion, “I am of Christ.” “I am above your petty differences, and am a truly enlightened Christian because I am not Christian… I follow Christ.”

Paul’s response was simple, “Is Christ divided?” Certainly her motive of pure religion is honorable, but making aloof accusations and brushing broad strokes across the very faith she professes is not what Paul encouraged in Corinth. I think he said, “not cool.”

Finally, Jason Boyett, author of the both hilarious and informative Pocket Guide series, observed:

I’ve grown weary with the constant delineations (this week by Anne Rice and, well, all the time by less famous believers) that they can be Christ-followers without being a part of “Christianity.” Or I’ve heard it put this way: I’m not religious…but I’m a follower of Jesus. Look, if you follow the religious figure Jesus Christ, then you are aligning yourself, whether you like it or not, with his other followers. That makes you a Christian, and that makes you part of the Christian religious system. You’re not making a legitimate distinction by trying to separate the religion from your personal faith. You’re just using cute wordplay.

Anne Rice herself followed up:

My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.

Rice just defined what it means to be a Christian: to follow Christ! Her declaration that she was quitting Christianity was just, as Boyett put it, “cute wordplay.” I understand Rice’s frustration with Christians who are anti-gay and anti-feminist, but I wish she would have phrased her frustrations in a way that would have inspired meaningful and intelligent discussion. Instead we get meaningless wordplay.

A Town Called Odyssey

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Adventures in Odyssey Logo If you grew up listening to Christian radio, you inevitably came in contact with Adventures in Odyssey. Odyssey is Focus on the Family’s long-running radio series that has broadcast close to 700 episodes since it first aired in 1987. Now on its third voice actor playing the lead role of John Avery Whittaker, the series is still going strong.

I don’t remember ever intentionally listening to Odyssey. It wasn’t the type of thing where we went, “Oh, it’s that time of day again,” and then the family would gather around the radio. Nevertheless, I grew up with Whittaker and Eugene and Connie. I felt like I knew them. I could see Whit’s End and Odyssey in my mind. I remember when Hal Smith (Otis from The Andy Griffith Show and the first voice actor to play Whittaker) died.

National radio and TV form part of America’s cultural consciousness. Although one grew up in Oklahoma and the other in California, when the two students meet at college, they have a shared culture they can use to relate to one another. They both grew up watching Home Improvement and playing GoldenEye 007. Odyssey is part of the cultural consciousness of many Christians.

Odyssey was already anachronistic when it premiered in 1987. Stations had quit producing and broadcasting radio dramas in the 1960s. The series began as a thirteen-week test series named Family Portraits set in a small town called—you guessed it—Odyssey. The test series proved so popular that Focus on the Family launched Odyssey USA which was later renamed Adventures in Odyssey.

John Whittaker The series revolves around John Avery Whittaker—or Whit—and Whit’s End, the old-fashioned ice cream parlor owned and operated by the lead character. Whit hired a teenager named Connie to run the counter at Whit’s End. He also hired Eugene, a brilliant yet inept college student who often clashed with Connie. Various kids from around Odyssey are constantly coming in and out of Whit’s End.

If you didn’t grow up with Odyssey, you’re probably wondering what makes this radio series about a small town and ice cream parlor so popular. If you don’t listen to Christian radio, you may not be familiar with the show at all. It fills a niche not being filled elsewhere in media. The continued success of conservative talk radio baffles liberals. Their attempts at liberal talk radio have repeatedly failed. Conservative talk radio fills a niche not being filled elsewhere in media. Yes, there’s Fox News, but face it, the news media—newspapers, magazines, and TV—are overwhelmingly liberal.

Odyssey is a Christian sitcom. You don’t find Christian sitcoms on TV. To many, Christian is a synonym for mediocre. Christian sitcom is just another way to say mediocre sitcom with a moral tacked on at the end. To be honest, that’s what I was afraid Adventures in Odyssey was going to be.

It had been years since I had listened to Odyssey. I had recently discovered old-time radio shows like The Shadow and The Adventures of Sam Spade and loved them. I found a website where I could download most of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air series. On Halloween a few friends and I drove out to a lake and popped a burned CD of “Dracula” into the car stereo. Welles’ deep voice had us jumping at the smallest noise. At our Christmas party, we turned the lights out, lit some candles, and popped in a burned CD of “A Christmas Carol” that first aired in 1938.

Aventures in Odyssey Album 01: The Adventure Begins All this got me thinking about the radio series set in Odyssey that I remembered listening to as a child. Focus on the Family has released the entire series going back to the very first episode on CDs. I ordered the first volume, The Adventure Begins: The Early Classics, twelve episodes from early in the series. I was apprehensive as I waited for the package to come in. Would it be as funny and entertaining as I remembered? Or now that I was older would my more finely-tuned critical sense see the series as a cheesy attempt at Christian indoctrination?

I listened to the first volume not once but twice. It was funny and entertaining. These were artists telling great stories. The stories include morals and Biblical truths, but the messages flow naturally from the stories. A story reflects the values of the storyteller. This is not to say that the morals and Biblical truths in Odyssey are unintentional. There is a difference between unintentional and unnatural though. Christianity and the Bible is important to the producers. It is natural that they would intentionally weave Biblical truths into the episodes. Art reflects what is most important in the artist’s life.

The two-part episode, “The Imagination Station,” that originally aired on March 18 and 28, 1989 introduced a new invention of Whittaker’s that soon became a favorite on the series. Digger Digwillow said the titular Imagination Station looked like one of those old time machines in the comics. His description alludes to the origin of the Imagination Station.

In the bonus material included with the CD release of the episodes, Odyssey co-creator Steve Harris recalls a writer’s meeting where they were discussing writing an episode about time travel. He wanted Odyssey to seem like a real place to kids and was afraid a time machine would make it too fantastical. That’s when they came up with the idea of a machine that would harness a person’s own imagination to make it seem like they were really in the past.

Imagination Station The Imagination Station is obviously a metaphor for Adventures in Odyssey itself. Unlike TV and movies, when listening to the radio, you have to use your imagination to come up with the pictures. The purpose of Odyssey is to make Biblical truths came alive for kids.

There’s a deeper metaphor that can easily be missed. The Imagination Station is a metaphor for the core of Christian theology.

In the first part of “The Imagination Station,” Tom Riley comes to Whit for help with a boy in his Sunday school class who doesn’t pay attention. His parents can’t get him to read his Bible either. He thinks it’s boring. Whit suggests, “Maybe I can try this Imagination Station out on him. If it works the way I hope it will, Digger Digwillow won’t be able to complain about the Bible being boring ever again. He’ll have his own experience to prove it” (emphasis added).

Digger: What is all this stuff? Some kind of museum?
Whit: It’s all part of the Bible room. Exhibits and inventions to help kids bring the Bible to life.
Digger: The Bible. You got any comic books around here?
Whit: No, we don’t need comic books in the Bible room. You don’t care much for the Bible, huh?
Digger: Well, it’s alright, I guess. It’s just that it’s…well, nothing personal, but I think the Bible is kind of, you know, boring.
Whit: Boring? King David, Samson, Elijah, boring?
Digger: Yeah. I mean, I know all about those guys, and, well, I like my comic books better.
Whit: Comic books have their place, but they don’t really compare to the Bible—especially since the Bible is true. You think you know all the stories, huh?
Digger: Yep. My dad went through our Bible at home, and he tried to pick out the interesting ones.
Whit: Hmm, then I suppose you know the greatest story in the Bible.
Digger: Probably. Which one you talking about?
Whit: The story of Jesus.
Digger: Oh yeah, I’ve heard it. He taught people and they killed him and stuff.
Whit: Oh, it’s not as simple as that, Digger. Maybe you don’t know it as well as you think you might.
Digger: Uh-oh, here it comes. What are you going to do, sit me on your knee and tell it to me?
Whit: No, I’ve got a better way.

Take a Ride in the Imagination Station The problem wasn’t that the Bible was boring; the problem was that Digger had never met Jesus. He hadn’t had a personal experience with Jesus. Christians are obsessed with the Bible, because they have had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, who is the central focus of the Bible.

Christians honestly believe the Bible is interesting. They don’t study the Bible out of obligation or religious duty; they study the Bible, because they really want to know what it says. Odyssey isn’t a way to dress up the Bible to make it palatable to kids; it is an honest attempt to introduce kids to the Bible, because the producers are convinced kids will be enthralled with the Bible once they read it.

Whit tells Digger he has a better way than sitting him on his knee and telling him a story. Maybe Whit means you have to find more exciting ways—like a radio drama or an Imagination Station—to teach the Bible in order to make it interesting. I don’t think that’s what Whit meant. You have to meet Jesus before the Bible will be interesting. Whit programs the Imagination Station to transport Digger to Passion Week.

While in the Imagination Station, Digger visits the Last Supper. He brings the bread to Jesus. As soon as he meets Jesus, things begin to change. He tries to relate to John Mark how he felt when Jesus looked at him, but he just stutters incoherently. John Mark responds, “My words exactly.” In the second part, Digger has a conversion experience. He accepts Jesus as his Savior.

Connie Kendall One of my favorite episodes is “Promises, Promises.” It is an early episode—the seventh episode of the series in fact. Connie comments that she believes people are basically good deep down inside. Whit tells her that’s a noble and wonderful sentiment, but unfortunately, it is also one of the most ridiculous things he has ever heard.

Whit explains, “I don’t mean to offend you, but you’re way off when you say that people are basically good deep down. That’s not our nature. For proof all you have to do is look at any one of these youngsters running around here. Now, I don’t have to tell any of them how to misbehave. They already know that. But I sure do have to teach them how to be good.” This is deep theology. But never does it seem forced. It is an organic part of who these characters are.

Connie still disagrees. To prove Whit wrong, she says she’s going to make a promise to be good and keep it. She writes down a promise to treat everyone she meets with kindness, gentleness, and patience. Whit says he’s going to make it easier for her. He challenges her to pick just one thing, patience, and to set a time limit, four weeks. As you can imagine, Connie doesn’t even make it a week.

Odyssey would often tackle theological issues. Although it is a kid’s program, it also doesn’t shy away from tough issues. There are episodes about divorce (#17 & 18: “A Member of the Family”), the Vietnam War (#28: “The Price of Freedom), and an episode where a young girl dies of cancer (#50: “Karen”).

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