About that Postal Vote

Mine finally arrived in the mail today. With a slightly heavy heart I opened it, filled it in, and have it sealed and ready to be posted tomorrow. It’s been heavy for a few reasons, but mostly because I know gay people who are pretty worked up about this vote. Not simply in anger, or in aggressive support – but worked up in anxiety and fear. I’ve shared this in various forums, but that saddens me that people I know should experience this level of angst over what they appears to be a debate about their personhood.

I’ve been asked by many to put together a list of links to read as they work out how to think through this debate. I’m under no illusion that my collection of links is exhaustive, nor am I under any thought that these links will persuade anyone on either side to switch their position. But as a resource list for those in the ‘no’ camp, these are some articles I’ve found helpful as I’ve waded into discussions on this topic.

I’ll begin with my friend Nathan Campbell’s blog – the first one in which he gave 10 (brief) reasons why he wouldn’t be voting in the plebiscite nor telling his congregation how to vote. Lest it be unclear, Nathan is not advocating for non-participation. His primary argument, if I’ve read it right (and I’d like to think I have) is that Christians living in a pluralistic democracy should participate generously in said democracy with the ‘golden rule’ as a guiding principle for engagement.

The response to that post was mostly disappointing. I think Nathan’s a great guy, theologically astute, well thought out, and generally aiming to be as winsome and engaging on these issues. So, breaking the number 1 rule on the internet, it was disappointing to see comments like this one which can be seen to be driven purely by clear homophobia and ignorance. Other comments calling out Nathan as a false teacher are clearly over the top.

But there is sometimes a glimmer of hope within the comments section, and the interaction that Ying Yee and Nathan had is well worth reading. While I’m sympathetic to Nathan’s general argument within the post, I agree more with Ying (though perhaps less pessimistically). My personal take is that I read the culture falling somewhere between how Ying and Nathan view it.

From there a few other links to consider.

George Athas wrote a few years ago why the heart of redefining marriage in order to provide equality doesn’t make much logical sense. Using the illustration of a vegan going into a steak house is helpful for working out what is really being asked in this debate.

On this current debate, Reverend Mark Durie has written, I think, the clearest argument for why marriage is about children. I’m not entirely convinced by this line of reasoning in general, but I found Mark’s post to be clearest explanation of it.

On the primary issue that Christians should focus upon, I’ll link now to Stephen McAlpine’s brilliant blog – This is Not About the Postal Vote. The main issue is not same-sex marriage. The main issue is freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Stephen also makes some insightful comments regarding the pace of the change of culture that has taken place, and the manner in which the corporate world has not only changed but also put their efforts behind the SSM push.

On the issue of human rights, this ABC article is helpful in understanding why the argument that same-sex marriage is about human rights is fundamentally flawed: because the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have both been reluctant to define it as such. If marriage equality is such an undeniable fact then those who argue as such must grapple with why these decisions were made.

On the argument that same-sex marriage doesn’t affect anyone, this post from Andrew Bolt carries many examples of how this is not true. Bolt’s argument, however, seems to want to push Christian leaders to be more vocal in their defence of the church/Christians. To this, my friend Nathan Campbell has written a wonderful Jesus-centred response. So I link to this Bolt article not to approve of his agenda at the end, but to merely give examples of how same-sex marriage is having an effect on others. (update: here is a recent post from Quadrant online which also details how same-sex marriage has affected people in the US).

And because it seems like no one else is really doing this research, Bolt has a few other articles on ‘How Britain has changed since Gay Marriage‘, and how the Greens have confirmed that Gay Marriage is just the start. I want to be cautious about these two articles in particular – they are written in a way that can produce fear mongering, which I believe is an unbiblical response.

We must not respond in fear, but always with confident trust in Jesus, and as those in my church have seen through the last few weeks of sermons in Acts, this is how Paul responded when opposed.

There’s probably heaps more articles to have linked to. But this is a start.

Is ‘Pokémon Go’ demonic?

Confession: it’s been just over a month now since I installed and starting playing the Pokémon Go smartphone app/game. It’s been an interesting time—with lots of light hearted moments shared with my kids as we’ve high-fived a good catch, and shared the loss of a Pokémon which has escaped my Pokéball and escaped in a puff of cloud.

Over the month that I have been playing I’ve also noticed that the game has had a fairly polarising effect on people. It seems you either love it or hate it! I can understand those who love it—it’s a fun game, it’s a novel take on social interaction and engagement, it’s helped me get outside and walking (!), and I’ve heard many couples enjoying time out together on ’Poké-dates’.

Those who dislike it range from those who find the game (and its users) a mere annoyance (since so many people in public seem glued to their phones), to those who find the game demonic! I’ve been asked enough by parents what I think about this game, so here’s my take on the concerns that some have.

Animism

Starting from the most serious concerns, I have read a few websites and blog posts which have made the claim that the game promotes animism (a belief personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs, and consequently, that human beings must discover what beings and forces are influencing them in order to determine future action and, frequently, to manipulate their power).  While there are shades of truth about this, I consider these arguments to be over-reach and over-reaction.

The very light shade of truth is that Pokémon Go, like the Pokémon games before it, does involve capturing mythical beasts and using/controlling them as their trainer to battle other Pokémon (and their trainers) on your behalf. And that’s about where the similarities between animism and Pokémon Go end.

Concerns that the game promotes Animism in some subtle form of spiritual deception is massive overreach: accusing the game of doing something that it very clearly is not.

First, there is no storyline or narrative within the game that promotes animistic concepts. There is no commentary or subtle hints in this direction either. While the game itself does use elements of manipulating these beings known as ‘Pocket-monsters’ there is nothing within the game which makes any spiritual connection to the users’ activity.

The other day my wife sent me video of our 4 year old son playing with Iron Man and Captain America action figures. Even without seeing the movie, he picked up the two toys and ‘battled’ them together (and of course one lost… but why did it have to be Cap?! #TeamCap). I think there is little intrinsic difference between Pokémon Go users battling their Pokémon in a gym and what my son did with those two toy figurines. At the end of the day both Pokémon Go user and my son walk away having ‘played’, and little else.

Second, to say that the game is influencing the minds of young adults towards accepting animism is to give undue influence to the medium. Put simply: it’s a game. Most normal people can discern the difference between what takes place within a fictional world/universe of a game and real life.

There’s a great story from Star Wars actor Ewan McGregor (who plays a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Stars Wars prequels) who tells how cute it is when kids come up to him and ask how they can join the Jedi Academy. But McGregor says he gets really annoyed when adults come up to him and ask the same thing – because he knows, and we know, that it’s silly that an adult would think that something like the Force and the Jedi Academy from Star Wars exists in real life.

Third, Pokémon Go is not pitched at young children. In fact, it’s near impossible for young children to play it. You need a mobile device, and the game requires you to be out and about, walking around trying to find wild Pokémon. Parents are not going to be walking around constantly with their kids every time they want to play it. Ain’t no(parent) got time for that!

Rather, the vast majority of Pokémon Go users are young adults. Young adults who should know enough to discern between the fictional game world and real life.

Evolution

Another major concern is that the game teaches and promotes ‘evolution’.

Does it? In a nutshell: no. Yes, part of the game involves ‘evolving’ Pokémon to a higher and more powerful form but there are critical differences between this in-game evolution and the Darwinian Evolution that many Christians are often so fearful of.

First, the type of evolution that occurs within the game involves mystical/magical transformations: the Pokémon rises into the air in a brilliant ball of light and then *poof*, out comes the new evolved Pokémon. Check out the video below for what it looks like in game.

I hope from that video that it’s obvious this can hardly be seen as promoting Darwinian Evolution.

Second, the irony of evolution in Pokémon Go is that is requires an intelligent being (the user) to make a ‘sovereign’ and free choice over the type and timing of the evolution, and then to push the ‘evolution’ button. Darwinian Evolution by definition rejects the involvement of any intelligent being controlling the process of evolution.

But seriously, young adults (ie. teenagers) are more likely to be influenced by Darwinian Evolution by doing their studies in High School Science than they are going to be playing Pokémon Go. I make no comment on whether studying evolution in school is a good or bad thing – I’m just saying that fears that Pokémon Go promotes evolution are woefully overstated.

The real concern

When I got sent articles and posts about the so-called dangers of Pokémon Go promoting animism and evolution I was annoyed. It annoyed me that the writers didn’t engage with the game itself to test whether their fears and concerns were genuine. But it annoyed me the most that these overstated fears cloud out real and genuine concerns regarding the game.

In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul quotes what may have been a common Corinthian catchphrase ‘All things are lawful’. It seems that some in the church were using the catch phrase based on their inadequate understanding of the gospel – “Jesus has set us free from condemnation, so all things are now lawful for us to do!” That’s my guess.

So Paul writes back that this catch phrase is only partially correct – “All things are lawful, sure, BUT not all things are helpful.”

There are some things in life which are neutral at best. Neither good nor bad. Some are free to participate in these things – but for some it might not be so good to do so.

In relation to Pokémon Go I think there are three ways in which it can be unhelpful.

Lack of Self-Control

The first area concerns self-control.

I’m cautious about using the word ‘addicted’ to describe how some play the game so often. Addiction is medical term with a distinct medical definition, and every time we use the word wrongly we cheapen the effects of real addiction.

Lack of self-control is, I think, a better way of looking at this issue. Those who play it constantly, talk about it constantly, and are often disengaged and staring at their phones. One parent shared this concern with me that he would not let his two daughters play the game because they have a habit of lack of self-control when it comes to these things in general – a constant preoccupation with these sorts of games: hours on end, day after day. I get that, that’s a real and genuine concern that I see not only in others but also in myself.

The gospel trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:12). A preoccupation with this game, which I think is a common danger of it, is not helpful.

Idolatry

One of the main features of the game which compels users on (since it lacks any narrative to compel users on) is the idea of levelling up in order to catch more distinct and rarer Pokémon. Levelling up in order to be ‘the very best, like no one ever was’ because  you ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ is a key mark of the Pokémon experience.

But when we begin wrapping our identity and status around what level we are, what our highest combat power Pokémon is, how many Gyms we own or have taken, then we verge into the danger area of idolatry.

In Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshear’s book ‘Vintage Jesus’ they provide a list of questions to help identify our idols (also known as our functional saviours):

  1. What am I most afraid of?
  2. What do I long for most passionately?
  3. Where do I run for comfort?
  4. What do I complain about the most?
  5. What angers me most?
  6. What makes me happiest?
  7. How do I explain myself to other people?
  8. What has caused me to be angry with God?
  9. What do I brag about?
  10. What do I want to have more than anything else?
  11. What do I sacrifice the most for in my life?
  12. If I could change one thing in my life what would that be?
  13. Whose approval am I seeking?
  14. What do I want to control/master?
  15. What comfort do I treasure the most?

In answering these questions you can see how our rank on Pokémon Go could act as an idol in our lives.

Distraction

I honestly think this is probably the biggest danger that Pokémon Go users face. Not because I think ‘there are better things to be doing with your time’ – there are heaps of other time consuming, and more expensive, hobbies that get less criticism than Pokémon Go has in the past month.

No, the biggest concern I have for any Christian playing Pokémon Go is that we’ll have good reasons for playing it, but end up distracted by the game itself. Using this game to connect with non-Christian friends and go out on outings is great; spending all your time with your friends glued to your phone, not great.  Using this game as a connection point for conversations, perfectly fine; spending all your time talking about this, not fine.

And there is one further pointed danger. The truly demonic is all of this is not the so-called animism or the evolution promotion. The truly demonic is to take our eyes off eternal realities and fix them on earthly cares, concerns, and distractions.

Matt Chandler explains this problem the best in this short 2.5 min clip:

The biggest potential danger with Pokémon Go is that it gives us a big enough distraction from our boredom that we will miss that we have been called to bigger and greater things in the gospel.

Conclusion

I think Pokémon Go is a pretty fun game. It’s got me out and about walking with the kids – which has been good for my health. It’s been a point of connection in my youth ministry as I use it to start conversations with teens before moving onto what else is happening in their lives. I know couples who have been able to enjoy time out together on Poke-dates.

Does Pokémon Go teach and promote animism and evolution? Hardly. Can Pokémon Go potentially stumble us into a lack of self-control, idolatry, and distraction from eternal matters? Potentially.

Basically there are helpful and unhelpful ways of enjoying this game.

 

P.S

I was forwarded a document from an Asian church which basically decried the game as demonic. To be honest I found it ironic: I find the preoccupation with academic excellence in our Asian circles to be much more demonic, and potentially eternally damning, than a phone game. I’ve seen more youth fall away pursuing academic excellence than I have seen youth fall away because of computer games.

Nerdwriter

I’ve often heard the criticism that much of cinema and movies in general are just a huge waste of time. And to be fair, there’s lots of movies out there that fit this criticism perfectly – and you know, plenty of films and movies I’ve seen have been just that.

But this is not to say that all movies should be painted with that brush. Enter The Nerdwriter.

The Nerdwriter has fast become one of my most watched youtube channels. He’s got some highly perceptive comments to make on a number of topics, but it’s his videos about movies which have really captured my attention. With thoughtful commentary Evan Puschak provides key insights into the purpose of the artistry involved.

Here are some of my favourite examples:

How composer Howard Shore develops the musical themes for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies, and also how music plays such an important part in the experience of a film:

 

How director Alfonso Cuarón‘s direction in the third movie of the Harry Potter series (The Prisoner of Azkaban) is not only brilliant, but also highlights how ‘cinematic illiterate’ a number of us are:

 

And this one giving an insightful comment on why ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘Batman vs Superman’ just really didn’t hit the mark (hint – it’s go to do with director Zack Snyder’s obsession with movie moments at the expense of scenes):

 

But it’s not all about movies over at his channel. He also has some insight into culture in general, in particular I appreciated this take on one reason why Donald Trump has gained so much popularity:

Now, I want to appreciate these clips not only for bringing the insight that they do, but to also elevate Christian thinking on art in general. I’m hoping over the next few posts to do just that, but we’ll see how time goes.

Masterchef Season 7 Review

mastechef 2015 review

 

 

So at the end of last year’s Masterchef Season 6, I didn’t think it could have been topped. The contestants were the best yet. The food was seriously delicious and the plating was the best by far. The family feel of the show and from the contestants was palpable. The challenges were the most difficult yet. How could Masterchef seriously do any better?

Then comes season 7, and wow…  Reynold Poernomo’s ‘Forbidden Fruit’ in the invention test… in the second week… and I knew we were in for a mindblowing season.

As a short review of this year it seems the same things that were great from last year was also great from this year, only amplified.

  • The contestants, the best of any season ever – especially the top 10.
  • The selection process of the top 24 was replicated perfectly from last season – predictable, but still wonderful to watch.
  • The family feel was maintained – probably the best change from the previous 5 seasons. The contestants all sticking around to tearily farewell eliminated contestants has been one of the best additions to the show, IMHO. It really allowed the group to bond together more, and also showed a greater level of fellowship and humanity between the contestants. Masterchef consistently beats out its main rival (My Kitchen Rules) for this very reason.
  • The eliminations continued to be challenging on a number of levels – I especially liked the ‘Name that Herb’ challenge as it really did prove difficult.
  • Speaking of which, the challenges in general were really inventive. My hat off to the producers for constantly coming up with new or creative reused ideas.
  • Travel was kept to a minimum. There were some location based events – such as the cross country drive across Victoria’s King Valley to pick up ingredients for the Pizzini Wines challenge.
  • The challenges themselves were impressive in scope and grandeur – and kept getting bigger until we really did have a finale pressure test befitting the series and the contestants capabilities. 5 hours for a Heston dessert. #wow.

Random thoughts:

  • There seemed to be less celebrity chef weeks this year – there was Marco week, but not much else.
  • Shannon Bennett worked out brilliantly as a chef mentor. He seemed more helpful than Kylie Kwong from last year. It was also brilliant to watch him take on Georgia in the final immunity challenge – he had a really good rapport with the contestants so the banter was that much more enjoyable.
  • I read a great article from Matt Preston with his thoughts on the season so far – and one thing he mentioned was that there was more invention in the mystery box challenge than in the intention test itself. I think that was true generally – though I really did like those invention tests which were completely out of the box (eg the Heston liquid into a solid invention test).
  • It’s weird that in the driving challenges the contestants were squeezed into little Alfa Romeo’s and during the elimination challenges the three contestants would arrive individually in large Jeeps.
  • It was rather satisfying when some of the contestants left. Philipino John Carasig became a bit of the loveable villain this series with his penchant for creating great dishes while at the same time ruining team challenges with his individualism. He brought tension to the show which was relieved when at last he bowed out at the end of week 7.
  • Returning past contestants for a week was great. It was good to catch up with Poh (season 1), Kylie (s4), Callum (s2), Ben and Andy (s4), and Justine (s1). It was also great to see how far they had come up against the current contestants.
  • The lack of masterclasses was a surprise. I can only remember two of them the whole season. I didn’t mind that, but it would have been nicer to do a couple more – perhaps not weekly but at least every third week or so.

Improvements?

So did Masterchef improve on its formula from last season? Well, let’s take a look at the four issues I had last year.

First, I complained that the selection process for the top 24 was predictable. It was the same this year. But after some reflection I realised that the current set up is probably about as good as it’s going to get.

Next I complained about the clichés and real time commentary. The cliff hangers were again utterly predictable, they were, however, a little less often – or at least I felt they were (I haven’t done any statistical checks!). The real-time commentary from the contestants was a lot more focused and also felt less trite than last year. The after-ad breaks, however, often remained far too long. They could be paired down so as to not take up too much time. But overall I’d say there was improvement across the board on this complaint from last year. Previous seasons felt like they were being dragged out, this year felt tighter and succinct.

Finally the major issue I had was the overrun timeslot. The start times seem much more predictable now, and thanks Channel 10 for sticking to that. But the overruns were still there. It’s something learned to live with – making sure I’d always overrun the recording on my PVR by 30 minutes each night… just in case.

So overall I thought this year was about as perfect a season as you could get. Masterchef is on a winning formula. Bring on next year!

Risen Movie

 

Now this looks very interesting.

From a USA Today report on it:

When Jesus’ body disappears from a sealed tomb, Clavius interrogates followers of “The Nazarene” to find out what really happened.

“That’s where the detective work comes in,” says Fiennes. “This is an extraordinary story and well-known to everyone. But it takes us on this journey through the eyes of a nonbeliever.”

Ultimately, he says, the story is compelling enough to attract an audience for a Bible story that goes beyond faith-based moviegoers.

“This is pure cinema,” says Fiennes. “I am foremost a lover of stories. The Bible is the most extraordinarily rich source of narratives, featuring the most beautiful stories ever written or handed down.”

I’m excited to see more of this! What about you? Thoughts, comments, scepticism… put it in the comments below!

 

His Holiness, and other divine titles of Jesus

I’m a day behind Masterchef. Life has been fairly busy of late and it’s been hard trying to keep up, especially when so much of the show annoyingly runs way overtime and my HDD recorder doesn’t get the full episode which then requires trawling through the Masterchef website to catch final moments of each episode. Ahem.

I’m a day behind, so it came as interesting reading tonight that I learned Kate, one of the final seven contestants in the competition (and, admittedly, one I haven’t been rooting for) had a bit of a run-in with the Dalai Lama. Apparently protocol dictates that his official title be used when addressing him, that is: His/Your Holiness. Kate, revealing for the first time that she is a Christian, refused the title on the grounds that she believes God is the only one we can call ‘Holy’ and instead opted to simply refer to him as ‘Dalai’.

Many of the comments on the various news sites which have run stories on this issue reveal how deeply misunderstood Kate’s actions were. So while I haven’t actually seen the show, nor read enough of her specific comments on her actions, let me offer up some observations.

First, in direct answer to a comment which seems to keep coming up: biblical Christians will not be offended if others do not refer to our leaders by their title. Nor would biblical Christians use the titles often given to the Pope – such as ‘Great High Priest’ or ‘His Holiness’. So it’s not just a matter of saying, ‘Well if the shoe was on the other foot things would be different.’

Secondly, this issue isn’t new. In fact, this issue of Christians clashing with men who use these sorts of titles stems back to the first century church. The Caesars of Rome, since Augustus, consistently used terms that Christians reading the New Testament would be familiar with. For instance the titles ‘Son of God’, ‘Saviour’, ‘Great High Priest’, and ‘[bringer/giver of] Peace’ were often used by the Caesars and can be found in many inscriptions (I did a lengthy essay on this issue in first year bible college for those interested in reading). The pressure to conform, and the temptation of escaping persecution, pushed most to either join the Imperial cultic worship or, at least, pay lip service. But Christians, choosing to honour the One worthy of these titles, chose not to participate under the pressure of persecution.

Third, no matter what everyone says, we are living in an increasingly intolerant world. I’m amazed at some of the comments and the questions being asked in polls on this matter – particularly whether or not Kate should have simply followed protocol no matter what she believed. This clear betrayal of the fundamental right to express what one believes is staggering. Beware of the Thought Police.

Driving Personality

I think you can tell a lot about a person by their driving. And add to that – I think you can also tell a lot about a persons spiritual life from their driving habits.

I add that last point because lately I’ve been watching various people drive, and I’ve noticed that the attitude they approach to their driving tends to reflect their attitude to life – and I guess in some ways (though there will always be exceptions) also reflects how their walk with Christ is going.

But then again, maybe this is only true for the people I have sitten in cars with :P

A train delayed…and a Da Vinci Code

This morning was going well enough until I hit a delay on the train. Apparantly a truck had gone through the Sherwood rail crossing and pulled down some of the lines. I was at Milton when this accident occurred – and was there for about 20 minutes.

Whilst the train was at rest I was reading ‘The Goldsworthy Trilogy’ when person sitting infront of me started to sing softly to her vietnamese song she was listening to on her walkman. It sounded pretty funny to the people immediately sitting near her – had she known that she was singing I’m sure the embarrasment would have been worse :P

But then I noticed that the lady sitting to my left was reading Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’. I couldn’t see the cover, but the page font was big enough to read… so I read a little and (if my memory serves me well) saw this, “‘Upon this rock I shall build my church’ was authority Jesus gave to Peter as the first apostle.”

I knew then that this lady was reading ‘The Da Vinci Code’. The book reminded me of the truth of what Paul wrote to Timothy – people have itchy ears and will listen to anyone who says anything to suit their own desires. I’m not sure what that lady believes in, but I pray for her nonetheless.

Christianity Today has some nice articles on how we should treat the Da Vinci Code.