Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

Archive for January 2014

Discernment with Movies

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Trevin Wax (here, here, and here) and Alissa Wilkinson (here and here) have been debating the portrayal of worldliness in movies, and whether or not Christians should see them. The discussion began after Wilkinson wrote a review of The Wolf of Wall Street for Christianity Today, a new film by Martin Scorsese which depicts the lavish and immoral lifestyle of a financial tycoon. Wilkinson advises caution for viewers who see the movie. Wax wonders if Christians should see it at all. I agree with Wax, and rather than engaging in the full discussion I want to post a few additional thoughts.

Doug Wilson chimed in yesterday with a comment that hits close to home. He didn’t say whether or not Christians should see certain movies that depict immortality and sin in its grossest sense. Rather, he pointed out that when viewing such movies—movies intended to show the reality of the world, the good and the bad—we should keep in mind that actors are portraying characters who are immoral, and that the actors are not necessarily immoral themselves. He illustrates this point with death scenes. If an actor shoots a gun at another actor, neither of them die in real life, and thus we should keep in mind that the murderer isn’t necessarily sinning. It’s not real. But if, on the other hand, an actor takes off their clothes in a sex scene (which is apparently frequent and explicit in The Wolf of Wall Street), that actor is actually getting naked on camera, and displaying their body for millions of viewers to see. The ramifications of these actions are harrowing, to be sure. The actor, whose body belongs to their husband or wife if they are married and should be viewed by them alone, is committing to a much different method of acting than, say, the murderer who fake-shoots a man on film. The nude actor is actually committing sins which the Bible expressly forbids, whether they are married or not, acting or not.

This brings to mind some questions that I had to sort through in high school and college when I participated in musicals and plays. Would I be willing to do and say certain things on a stage that are clearly forbidden in scripture? Obviously, sexual acts were completely out of the question. Bear in mind that I went to a Christian college and did not have the same sort of pressure that others had at secular schools. I know some Christians who went to inner-city arts schools to be a theatre majors and the like, and for many of those schools, “anything goes” is the modus operandi on stage! Just read the summaries of plays like Metamorphosis and Equus and you will know what I mean.

I basically came to the same position that Doug Wilson articulates in his blog post. If the script called for me to commit a sin by way of acting, I would refrain from doing it. For me, this included primarily explicit dialogue. It’s one thing for the dialogue to be real-world and to portray a shady character in the most realistic sense. It’s quite another for me as a Christian to be the one speaking that dialogue every weekend that the particular show is running. I would be actually saying words that are offensive, both to my character and to God.

Similarly, for an actor to play the character of a prostitute and tell the story of a prostitute in an explicit way—i.e., in which the actor would be committing sexual acts on camera or on stage—is expressly forbidden because the actor is actually being sexual in their acting (if that is what the script calls for). This is why Hollywood actors never have successful marriages. No matter now much they try to convince themselves that they are just acting, the act of sex is still taking place, and adultery is in full force if one or both of the actors are married.

Up to this point I’ve only dealt with this question from the actor’s point of view, and I’m no longer an actor. The question that Wax, Wilkinson, and Wilson are asking is whether or not Christians should view these types of movies. I’m still sorting through that question, although from Wilkinson’s review it seems clear to me that I shouldn’t go see The Wolf of Wall Street, even if my desire might be in engaging the culture at large and the questions/answers posed in that film. I think this should be a clear choice for Christians (based on the film’s review), and I agree with Trevin when he says, “At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?” Discernment is key, and for those who are biblically and theologically minded, we should let our conscience guide us. Food sacrificed to idols may be sin for some, but not for others (1 Corinthians 8).

For other movies the question is much harder. Is it possible to depict the horrors of the holocaust without nudity (e.g. Schindler’s List)? A major historical issue like the holocaust is probably why network TV was willing to do away with their normal censorship requirements and show that entire unedited film during the primetime slot when it was released on video. I remember this well because my parents allowed their kids (most of us teenagers) to see the movie at that time. It was that important. It’s a difficult question, to be sure, and one worth pondering.

Written by Josh Philpot

January 31, 2014 at 2:50 pm

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Luther on the Value of Singing the Psalms

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From Ray Van Neste:

Looking back through the excellent volume, What Luther Says (an excellent resource!), I came across this passage where Luther extols the value of singing the Psalms. I have discussed previously Luther’s love of the Psalms. Here succinctly he mentions the comfort they give, how they “preach the Messiah,” and the added impact of singing them (as opposed to only reading them).

“In view of their spiritual meaning the psalms are really lovely and sweet; for they are comforting to all depressed, wretched consciences, who are in fear of sin, the anguish and agony of death, and all sorts of trouble and misery. To such hearts the book of Psalms is a sweet, comforting, lovely song, because it sings and preaches the Messiah, although one merely reads or recites the words without notes. Nevertheless, the use of notes or music, as a wonderful creation and gift of God, helps greatly to produce this effect, especially when the people sing along and do so with fine devoutness.” (#3098)

Why would we deprive ourselves of such a resource? As Bonhoeffer wrote, “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”

Get Ray’s book on Psalm singing here.

Written by Josh Philpot

January 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm

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Nobody Does Not Worship

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Tim Keller shares this illustration in his new book, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton; 2013), 28–30:

Everybody has got to live for something, but Jesus is arguing that, if he is not that thing, it will fail you.

First, it will enslave you. Whatever that thing is, you will tell yourself that you have to have it or there is no tomorrow. That means that if anything threatens it, you will become inordinately scared; if anyone blocks it, you will become inordinately angry; and if you fail to achieve it, you will never be able to forgive yourself.

But second, if you do achieve it, it will fail to deliver the fulfillment you expected.

Let me give you an eloquent contemporary expression of what Jesus is saying. Nobody put this better than the American writer and intellectual David Foster Wallace. He got to the top of his profession. He was an award-winning, best-selling postmodern novelist known around the world for his fierce and boundary-pushing storytelling. He once wrote a sentence that was more than a thousand words long. And, tragically, he committed suicide. But a few years before that, he gave a now-famous commencement speech at Kenyon College. He said to the graduating class,

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god … to worship … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before [your loved ones] finally plant you… . Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful; it is that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

Wallace was by no means a religious person, but he understood that everyone worships, everyone trusts in something for their salvation, everyone bases their lives on something that requires faith. A couple of years after giving that speech, Wallace killed himself. And this non-religious man’s parting words to us are pretty terrifying: “Something will eat you alive.”

Because even though you might never call it worship, you can be absolutely sure you are worshiping and you are seeking. And Jesus says, unless you’re worshiping me, unless I’m the center of your life, unless you’re trying to get your spiritual thirst quenched through me and not through these other things, unless you see that the solution must come inside rather than just pass by outside, then whatever you worship will abandon you in the end.

(HT: Tony Reinke)

Written by Josh Philpot

January 28, 2014 at 1:09 pm

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What Macklemore Got Wrong…and Right

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A good response from Denny Burk on the same-sex wedding ceremony at the Grammys last night during Macklemore’s hit song, “Same Love”:

So here’s the question for everyone watching the Grammys and wondering what God really thinks about all of this spectacle. Are you going to believe in the God of the Bible and His way of salvation? Or are you going to trust yourself to the god of “same love.” The god of “same love” says no repentance and no savior is required. That god approves you just the way you are. The God of the Bible says you need repentance and salvation. That God will save you just the way you are. And He will take you to Himself and remake you into the image of His own dear son (Rom. 8:29). But you must repent, and you must believe.

In the wake of the Grammys, the big question is not what you thought of Macklemore. The big question is which God you will believe in. The false god of “same love,” or the God and Father or the Lord Jesus Christ? Which one will you choose?

Read the rest here.

Written by Josh Philpot

January 27, 2014 at 12:14 pm

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A Few Awesome Quotes from “On Writing” by Stephen King

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Some time ago I came across Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which is often recommended reading for would-be writers. I finally picked it up a few weeks ago and enjoyed every page. I’ve never read a Stephen King novel, although I’m familiar with a number of movie adaptations of his novels like The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redeption, which are some of the best films I’ve ever seen. Just great storytelling and acting throughout.

Below are some of my favorite quotes from On Writing. There is some PG language in the book, so I’ve blanked out those below:

“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up” (37).

Quoting an editor from one of King’s first writing jobs (as a local sports writer): “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story… When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story… Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right—as right as you can, anyway—it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it” (57).

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough” (74).

On lessons learned from his first big success (the novel, Carrie), King came to the realization “that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel [explicit] from a sitting position” (77–78).

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick [explicit] and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page” (106).

“Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your toolbox, and don’t make any conscious effort to improve it. (You’ll be doing that as you read, of course … but that comes later.) One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use ‘emolument’ when you mean ‘tip’ and you’ll never say John stopped long enough to perform an act of excretion when you mean John stopped long enough to take a [explicit]. If you believe ‘take a [explicit]’ would be considered offensive or inappropriate by your audience, feel free to say John stopped long enough to move his bowels (or perhaps John stopped long enough to push). I’m not trying to get you to talk dirty, only plain and direct. Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word—of course you will, there’s always another word—but it probably won’t be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean” (117–18).

Must you write complete sentences each time, every time? Perish the thought” (120).

“The adverb is not your friend… I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops” (124, 125).

“I am convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing… Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as ‘good’ and other sorts as ‘bad,’ is a fearful behavior. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with” (127, 128).

“I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing—the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words” (134).

The two theses of On Writing: “The first is that good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and then filling the third level of your toolbox with the right instruments. The second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one” (142).

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut” (145).

“You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you” (146).

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that” (147).

"Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic. That goes for reading and writing as well as for playing a music instrument, hitting a baseball, or running the four-forty. The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate—four to six hours a day, every day—will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them; in fact, you may be following such a program already. If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires, however, consider it hereby granted by yours truly.

The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor" (150).

“When I’m asked for ‘the secret of my success’ (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy (at least until a van knocked me down by the side of the road in the summer of 1999), and I stayed married” (154).

“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing” (173).

“Murder your darlings” (197).

“I most often see changes to add the grace-notes and ornamental touches after my basic storytelling job is done. Once in awhile it comes earlier; not long after I began The Green Mile and realized my main character was an innocent man likely to be executed for the crime of another, I decided to give him the initials J.C., after the most famous innocent man of all time. I first saw this done in Light in August (still my favorite Faulkner novel), where the sacrificial lamb is named Joe Christmas. Thus death-row inmate John Bowes [as King originally conceived him] became John Coffey. I wasn’t sure, right up to the end of the book, if my J.C. would live or die. I wanted him to live because I liked and pitied him, but I figured those initials couldn’t hurt, one way or the other” (197, in a footnote at the bottom of this page, King writes, “A few critics accused me of being symbolically simplistic in the matter of John Coffey’s initials. And I’m like, ‘What is this, rocket science?’ I mean, come on, guys.”)

“2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck” (222).

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy” (269).

Written by Josh Philpot

January 21, 2014 at 8:20 pm

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Diabetes and Google

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I’m a diabetic (Type 1), which means that I’m insulin dependent. I didn’t find this out until I was 24 (three weeks after my wedding day), and in these last 8 years I’ve learned how to manage diabetes in a way that keeps me healthy. Knowing how much insulin my body needs is based on the amount of glucose in my blood stream. Therefore, having a top notch glucose monitor is a key part of my life, and of any diabetic. Today I learned that Google has developed a new contact lens that has an embedded glucose sensor, a wireless transmitter, and a tiny antenna, all tucked high enough on the lens to not interfere with the wearer’s vision.

Lens

Whenever I hear about new technology for diabetics, I perk up, although with a fair amount of skepticism (and, regrettably, cynicism—after all, these products are made and distributed by big pharmaceutical companies). I think my skepticism about this technology is justified. Google has already too much access to user information, and has been known to aggregate tons of personal data from their users for marketing purposes.

Although I appreciate Google’s creative initiative, given the fact that 1 in 19 on the planet are diabetics (nearly 400 million with Type 2 diabetes alone), perhaps a better approach would be a cost-effective product that allows diabetics to quickly monitor their blood glucose levels and store the data in an organized and helpful way. Contact lenses with computer chips is just an expensive luxury, something James Bond would have in his eyes, not John Doe.

This leads a big issue in our day that Google illustrates so well: Google thinks of people not as people but avatars. People are not humans for Google, but cyborgs who only operate in the space of internet data and who need their products in order to survive. When Google asks, “What is one of the world’s great health needs, and what can we do to solve it?”, their answers lies in a new elegant technological fix, like a contact lens that stores data. The same problem is reflected in Google Glasses, too, which essentially removes all social interaction of normal human beings in favor of digital interactions: people becoming machines. “Wearable tech,” they say. Cyberdyne, I say.

Here’s a short video explanation: http://www.youtube.com/embed/z7QzaV6zraI

Written by Josh Philpot

January 18, 2014 at 3:50 am

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Stephen King on Dressing Up Vocabulary

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From Stephen King’s excellent book, On Writing:

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. […] Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word – of course you will, there’s always another word – but it probably won’t be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean.

The book is only $10.38 on Kindle.

Written by Josh Philpot

January 3, 2014 at 3:09 am

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