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Vote Early And Often–Who Gets Fired Next!

Vote in my highly unscientific poll. Which person will President Trump fire next?

Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit, he is on quite a roll. Last week he fired his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then fired Andrew McCabe over at the FBI on Friday night, a mere twenty-six hours before his pension would have kicked in. Technically it was Jeff Sessions who did it, but everyone knows the order came from POTUS.

Now I’m wondering, who will he fire next? I predicted he would fire Jeff Sessions before July 4 LAST YEAR (click here to read that blog I wrote after Comey was fired). It might still be a safe bet he’ll be fired because, as I pointed out then, the first rule of an assassination is to kill the assassin. Sessions did the dirty work, now he’s got to go, too. As you vote, and for future clarity, remember a resignation counts here, because we all know those are ‘fall on your sword’ type things. For example, I suspect H. R. McMaster will not be fired, but will resign and that is the same, for our purposes here, as a termination.

So, vote below on who you think will get the axe next. Remember, you have to click on the “vote” button for it to go through, after that, you should be able to see how the voting is going.

 

 

2018 Oscar Preview and Picks

I watched them all. All nine of them. Here is a brief, no spoiler review of each Best Picture nominee. Following that, I will predict some winners in the major categories. Then I will elaborate on some themes from this year’s movie selections. So, here here we go, in alphabetical order.


Best Picture Quick-Review

Call Me By Your Name

Pretentious. Snobbish. Boring. The only truly great part of this film was the acting done by Michael Stuhlbarg. I can’t get the thought out of my mind that this film is nominated solely because it is a homosexual love story. If it were a straight love story, with all the same elements, people would yawn. What is not a yawn, though, is the very disturbing ages involved–a grown man and a 17 year old boy. I’m pretty sure that is a crime.

Darkest Hour

This film has some great one liners, and the storytelling is superb. It is hard to take such a well known subject and historical figure as Winston Churchill and make it interesting, but this movie does just that. There are some bits that are ahistorical, but that doesn’t take away from the truly outstanding film this is.

Dunkirk

If like you lots of scenic panoramas, then this is your film. However, if you like a little dialogue, then maybe not so much. I bet the screenplay for this movie is no more than a page and a half.

Get Out

Of all the films, this one surprised the most in how much I enjoyed. It is equal part Rosemary’s Baby, The Village, and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.

Lady Bird

If you like Juno, you’ll love this movie. Great acting. Witty dialogue. Religious overtones, both positive and negative, as well as that great classic mother/daughter angst.

Phantom Thread

Asparagus. Mushrooms. and Loud breakfast. That is all you need to know. The acting here is superb, but the story leaves me flat. The MC is interesting, but not interesting enough to make me care.

The Post

Great historical film, but I think it misses the mark in terms of greatness. It wants to be Spotlight for the Vietnam War. This is not Spotlight.

The Shape Of Water

Of all the movies nominated, this was the one I was most excited about. Boy, was I disappointed. I know lots of people love this film, but I just couldn’t. The acting is good (again, Michael Stuhlbarg steals the show) but I hated the overall story. And what is with the Parisian arthouse soundtrack to a 1960s era movie set on the East Coast? This movie ruined some of the sweet nostalgia I have for The Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Three BillboardsOutside Ebbing, Missouri

This is a disturbing movie. Its s loud, profane, vulgar, and shocking. These elements combine in a powerful way to evoke deep emotions. It reminded me of the Coen Brothers.


Predictions

Best Picture

I predict Darkest Hour. Billboards has a punchers chance, and Get Out is a long shot.

Director

This is the toughest one for me to pick. It should probably go to Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, with would split the best picture and best director categories. The problem is, Jordan Peele did so much with so little in the movie Get Out that I really think I want him to win.

Leading Actor

If anyone besides Gary Oldman wins it is a travesty. I love Denzel Washington, but if he wins it is because the academy feels guilty for not picking him last year for his outstanding role in Fences.

Leading Actress

Frances McDormand in a landslide. If Saoirse Ronan won, though, I wouldn’t be mad.

Supporting Actor

Woody Harrelson. He and Rockwell could split the vote, but I think Harrelson has this. The biggest question is why is Willem Dafoe even on this list. The best acting in The Florida Project was Brooklynn Prince as Moonee and Bria Vinaite as Halley, who aren’t nominated for anything anywhere, which is a real shame.

Supporting Actress

Laurie Metcalf wins.

Animated Feature

Coco

Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049, although Dunkirk might sneak in there.


Themes

It is always interesting to me how the Oscar films tend to follow themes that might reveal a lot about culture and the times in which we live. This year is no different.

  1. The historical Dunkirk as the symbol of snatching hope in the moment of despair. This is the focal point of both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. I  feel like these are companion films that should be watched together.
  2. Elaborating on that theme, the overall feeling of ‘trapped’ comes to mind. That is true in Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, but also Get Out, The Shape Of Water, and even Call Me By Your Name if you get right down to it. One can even spot that theme in the movie Lady Bird and it shines brightly in The Florida Project and MudBound.
  3. Only two films are set in the present time–Billboards and Get Out. (Caveat, it is possible in mind that Get Out is actually set in the future, but that is a different discussion). As the world gets more complicated and technologically driven, the stories we tell go back to simpler times. This might be because telling a story in the era of technology is difficult. This is what some of the problem was with the Blade Runner reboot. Technology is not all that interesting, and it removes opportunity for narrative.
  4. Women are the future. Water, Billboards, The Post, and Lady Bird are female driven films. This is a very good thing. The next hurdle for Oscar will be women behind the camera getting serious consideration for directing.

You know I’ll be watching the Oscars Sunday night. I guess we will wait and see who wins and how right or wrong I was. I still have not forgiven Oscar for Birdman, so disappointments are possible.

 

5 Things I Love About Billy Graham: In Memoriam

c93b53ad616e615faf39c2a908de98fd--billy-graham-quotes-travelingThere is a lot to love about Billy Graham. Learning of his death today at the age of 99 is bittersweet. Bitter because it represents the end of something special, but sweet because it is the actual beginning of something else–something Billy talked about so often–eternal life. I’m a little younger than those who were very influenced by Graham, for by the time I came into the ministry his primary years were already behind him. Nevertheless, he still had an impact on me as a believer and as a pastor. To be sure, he wasn’t perfect–only Jesus has that wrapped up, but he was a positive and powerful influence in the world. Here are five things I love about him.


1. I love the Billy Graham Rule. In a world filled with #metoo, we need to remember Graham was way ahead of the curve here. He pioneered the idea of never being alone with a woman who wasn’t your wife. I was taught this in seminary as the Billy Graham model, and it has served me well. A corollary to this involved the establishment of a board to handle money and make salary decisions. Graham taught us that staying away from temptation on the two fronts where men and ministers are most vulnerable is good ethics.

2. I love the way he adopted whatever media worked. We often think off I’m with the big crusades, but he used television, radio, leaflets, tracks, and even films. I am sure many of us remember watching those evangelistic movies from the BGEA. I am certain that if Graham were hitting his stride today, he’d be tearing it up on Twitter and Youtube. Scratch that, he’d be all over #thesnapchatofdecision.

3. I love his book on angels. I don’t really agree with everything he writes in it, but I love that he took the time, did the work, and wrote a theological treatise. It demonstrates to me that even though his gospel ministry was really the same message over and over again, he had a heart for academic pursuits and biblical knowledge.

4. I love that he helped found the magazine Christianity Today. CT is one of my favorite magazines.

5. I love his commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior rather than a commitment to politics, denominations, or particular churches. To be truthful, there were times when it seems like the power of politics, particularly during the Nixon years, threatened to sweep him away like yet another fad. Yet, to his credit, he chucked all that and turned back again toward his first love. He got burned, but learned his lesson.

Rest in Peace Billy. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Some Words About Gun Violence

I’ve waited, using the time to think, before writing about gun violence. Again. I am not so arrogant as to think my words could change anything, nor do I wish to persuade anyone of my positions. I even hesitate to write at all. I waffle from anger, to cynicism, to hope and then at some point I worry this kind of news will no longer shock me.

As I wrestle with it, I’ve tried to focus on what is true in all of this. We live in a time when truth is under attack from every front, so it is better to work from truth rather than from cliche or assumptions. Here goes my attempt, and then I will give some analysis. But before I share the truths I’ve come to accept on this issue, I need to remind you that multiple things can be true at the same time, and those truths aren’t necessary always in harmony with each other or with a particular worldview.

The first truth, a big picture truth, is that an unarmed populace is a vulnerable populace. Specifically, it is vulnerable to tyranny. Whatever else our founding framers might have envisioned when they crafted the Constitution, keeping people armed in case of an outbreak of tyranny was certainly on their mind, especially given the fact of the Revolutionary War they’d just fought. The first thing a tyrant seeks to do is take away the populations defense mechanisms.

The second truth is that guns have always been regulated in our nation. Always. Most cities and towns in the past had very strict gun control laws, such as no one could have a gun on them in the city limits. These types of restrictions were very common throughout our history.

The third truth is liberty and security do not play well with each other. The more secure you make something, by definition, you restrict its liberty. A well educated, rational society that cares about both liberty and security will learn to find the balance between these two in order to create the best possible outcome for the majority of people.

The fourth truth is a society has an obligation to its children to protect them until they reach adulthood.

The fifth truth is that decisions made out of fear are never good decisions. Our nation is afraid right now. I see it on the faces of people at church, at work, in the supermarket, at the movie theater–everywhere I go. People who are afraid are often not thinking properly, which makes them susceptible to bad ideas or demagoguery.

The sixth truth is though they are alike in kind, there is a difference between the random killings we’ve seen at schools and churches and the traditional gun violence demonstrated in urban environments or domestic violence. Do not misread me, those are horrible problems and need to be addressed as well, but they are different problems than what we saw in Parkland, Florida last week.

Here is the last truth, the seventh truth, I’ve come to. We don’t have a gun problem. We don’t have a mental health problem. We don’t have a teenage problem. What we have is much more specific than this–we have a young, white, male with mental health issues who has access to guns problem.


Now, for a little, but not much, analysis.

  1. One possible solution would be to think about schools and education differently. Maybe large schools with a high concentration of students is the wrong way to go. Perhaps some of the mental health issue is caused by the attempt to raise our children in large, massive industrial-styled complexes with hundreds or thousands of students as if they were a product being made. Maybe we need to decentralize, create smaller, more intimate learning spaces where children can’t fall through cracks.
  2. Banning particular kinds of weapons is not a viable solution. The solution would be more akin to restricting, or banning, certain types of people from having firearms. Most Americans, myself included, have no problem whatsoever with a sane, well-adjusted soul owning a weapon. But I think, given the recent issues, we need to put the onus on the individual to prove sanity and stability. This would require far more than a background check. Bonus thought–if people are serious, they will not restrict weapons at all, but instead restrict, limit, regulate, and record the purchase and sale of ammunition. A gun without bullets is just a heavy stick.
  3. Look at the venues where these tragedies occur–schools, churches, concerts, movie theaters, and night clubs. If we turn these places into fortresses complete with armed guards, razor wire fences, metal detectors, and staff (think kindergarten teachers, theater ticket takers, pastors, bartenders) who are armed, then liberty has not only diminished, it is dying. It will also kill these institutions. The movie theater experience will die, as well as congregational worship as we know it, along with schools. Parents will pull their kids out, and thus the public school will fade away. I just don’t think the answer to these issues is more security, because that poses greater issues and takes us down the slope toward a police state–where everyone is secure, but liberty is a myth. I have already witnessed the loss of too much liberty in my lifetime. I don’t want to see us lose any more.
  4. I have argued in the past, and still believe, that the mental health issue emerging in young boys as random violence is actually a larger problem. The problem presents itself differently in other demographics, but has the same causes. I say causes because there is no one cause, but I do believe there is one basic solution. The causes are manifold and include but are not limited to–fatalism, despair, glorification of violence, dissolution of home life, the teaching of Darwinism, and propserity. The solution, though, is singular. As a believer in Christ Jesus, all of this points to the need for spiritual renewal. Our society is broken, because we have neglected our soul.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Good people can disagree on issues, and you might be in a different camp on some of this, and that is okay. Whatever we do, it is imperative that we learn to listen to one another and realize that we are all on the same team, because none of us want what happened in Parkland, Sutherland Springs, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Charleston, Miami, Las Vegas  . . . and sadly so many other places, to happen ever again.