Archive for the ‘Movies & TV’ Category

Oh man, talk about arriving late to the party. The American fantasy comedy TV series The Good Place finished its fourth and final season and I’d only seen part of the debut episode.

But then a friend turned me on to season 3, episode 9. That episode highlights Doug Forcett, a man doing absolutely everything he possibly can to live a “perfect” life. The idea is to earn enough points to gain him entry to The Good Place after his life is finished.

Doug (played by Michael McKean) lives off the grid, grows his own food, drinks recycled water (don’t imagine what that fully means), has adopted every stray dog he’s ever encountered and lets people take advantage of him.

Initially, this all seems great to Michael (Ted Danson). A reformed demon from the “bad place”, he’s now trying to get some of his human friends into The Good Place. In this episode, he’s masquerading as a reporter interviewing Doug because, as he tells Janet, his second-in-command, Doug “is the blueprint; he figured it all out.”

Leaving aside the silly comedic extremes, maybe that concept makes some sense to you. It’s definitely part of many faith systems—live right and you’ll get to The Good Place.

But read about how crazy this kind of thinking can become: Doug accidentally steps on a snail. His desperate attempts to resuscitate the creature fail, so after holding a funeral, he decides to walk three days (cars are bad for the environment and so he’d lose points if he used one) to make a donation to a mollusk association.

Even Michael starts to realize this is nuts, so he tells Doug “live your life. Travel. Drink regular water.”

“No, I can’t risk it,” Doug says. “There’s an accountant out there, measuring the value of everything I do. What if I do something and lose just enough points to keep me out of The Good Place?”

Thankfully, there is a way of living and thinking that’s absolutely opposite to Doug’s soul-crushing obligations. It’s called Christianity. Please stay with me while I explain this.

God’s standard is perfection. The evidence? Jesus of Nazareth (whom many people believe is God’s Son) says to anyone willing to listen that, “You must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

But God knows that no one can meet that standard and gain entry to “The Good Place”. So He came to earth as Jesus, taught us how to live, then died on a Roman cross to make up for all the wrong things we’ve done and the right things we’ve failed to do.

Now, anyone who believes in Jesus and decides to follow Him is seen by God as perfect. And that means they gain entry to The Good Place. Even better, it means that as soon as you accept the gift of Jesus, God enters your life and starts making you the person He created you to be.

Sound like a good deal? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Celebrated former TV talk show host and political commentator Jon Stewart certainly stirs the pot with this pithy statement. But is it true? There are two important points to unpack here.

1. Perhaps “religion” has given some people hope. But from my perspective, religion is absolutely hopeless. If you know any “religious” people, it wouldn’t surprise me if you found them to be negative, judgemental and intolerant of those who don’t follow their rules.

That’s what religion does; it sucks compassion out of people as it divides humanity into “us” and “them”, into right and wrong, into good and bad. It’s just a small step from there to actually persecuting people who aren’t in your religious group (or tribe).

I can tell you right now, if that’s what following Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God) is all about, I would never have committed my life to following Him.

Thankfully, following Jesus is about a relationship – something entirely different from religion. When you commit yourself to following Jesus, you enter into a relationship where He comes into your life and begins to make you more like Him.

Becoming more like Jesus means that over time, you become more compassionate, more generous, more trusting, more understanding, more loving – in other words, you become the exact opposite of religion.

There’s another part to this relationship. When you trust in Jesus – His life, His remarkable (and challenging!) teachings, His death and, finally, His resurrection – God no longer sees all the wrong things you’ve done and all the right things you haven’t done. All He sees is the perfection of His Son. That means when this life ends, you’ll spend eternity in the joyous, glorious presence of God and Jesus.

2. I may not have any use for “religion”, but I can write with confidence that this world has absolutely NOT been torn apart by religion. It’s been torn apart by the opposite of all the traits of Jesus – greed, intolerance, hate, fear, judgmentalism and tribalism.

Sadly, these are common traits for every human being on this planet, whether or not they’re involved in any kind of “religion”. The solution, for Jon Stewart, for me and for YOU, is a life-changing relationship with Jesus that starts NOW and goes into all eternity.

Are you interested? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Weekend_at_BerniesSomebody mentioned it a week or so ago and since then, I’ve been thinking about the 1989 American cult movie favourite Weekend at Bernie’s.

If you know anything about this comedy (and its 1993 sequel), you’ll know it’s hardly a cinematic classic. Basically, Larry and Richard do their best to make it seem like their corrupt boss (Bernie) is alive and partying because the boss ordered them to be killed unless he – the boss – stays alive.

What follows are various hijinks as Bernie the corpse appears to be partying at his mansion and even having sex. Oh, and Bernie has a habit of disappearing, causing no end of trouble for Larry and Richard. You’ve probably figured out by now that this ain’t Casablanca or Citizen Kane.

But something about the movie’s theme struck me. We all are trying to hide something, to put on appearances and make things seem real to others when we know very well the opposite is true.

For Larry and Richard, it was making a corpse appear to be alive. For you and me, it might be pretending we’re better people than we really are. More compassionate and less judgmental, more generous and less petty, more interested in doing what’s right and less interested in serving our own greedy “needs”.

We know the truth, but if we can just fool others, then we’ll:

  • qualify for the raise in pay
  • get the girl (or guy) we desire
  • gain the favour of someone with power and influence
  • earn the promotion we’ve long wanted
  • win the respect of others.

Now consider this: if you believe in a creator, maybe that creator is personally interested in YOU. And that creator knows you better than you know yourself.

Followers of Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is the Son of God) believe God knows everything about us. We also believe He is perfect and that’s His standard for judging every person on this planet.

If that’s the case, what are you going to do with the knowledge that all the flaws you’ve carefully hidden from the world are absolutely out in the open with Him? How are you going to explain them away?

You may not like the answer, but here it is: you CAN’T. No one on this planet, no matter how virtuous they seem, can. No one is good enough to get into Heaven.

So here’s the good news: you don’t have to be. God made a way for every person to spend eternity with Him, no matter how good or bad they are. And that way is Jesus.

By dying on a Roman cross, Jesus paid the penalty for EVERY bad thing we’ve done and EVERY good thing we’ve failed to do. Our only obligation is accept what He did. Believe in what He did. And know that He is alive and ready to work in your heart RIGHT NOW.

Interested? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Sin Eater 11.15While on a plane flight, I watched an episode of the American TV crime drama “The Blacklist”, staring the brilliant James Spader.

Besides enjoying the taut suspense, I was intrigued by an apparent power that Spader’s character had: he could suppress the terrible memories of people he wanted to protect.

“I’m a sin eater,” he tells co-star Megan Boone, who portrays a deeply troubled FBI profiler, in a 2015 episode. “I absorb the misdeeds of others, darkening my soul to keep theirs pure. That is what I’m capable of.”

How’s that for an amazing ability? Imagine if a real person could do such a thing? It certainly didn’t make Spader’s character, FBI fugitive Raymond Reddington, a happy person. So would a real life person use such a power?

Well, prepare yourself for a little controversy because a real person DOES have that power and uses it all the time.

His name? Jesus of Nazareth, who many people believe is the son of God.

Stick with me while I explain.

More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus was physically on this earth, walking around Israel with a band of rag-tag followers and telling anyone who would listen that God was not a far-off, angry entity.

He was (and is) in the hearts and minds of anyone who would welcome Him, passionately loving that person and offering them an eternal place in Heaven.

The problem? This perfect God could not, and cannot, stand the “sin” that you and I commit. That means the wrong things we do every day and the right things we fail to do every day. That means turning our backs on God and living like He doesn’t exist.

God sent Jesus to fix that through an extraordinary process: Jesus, who was (and is) as perfect as His Father, became our sin eater, absorbing our misdeeds and taking the punishment for them by dying on a Roman cross.

Anyone who believes in Jesus and follows Him has their sins absorbed and their soul made pure through his sacrificial death and resurrection three days later.

This means when this life is finished and His followers appear before God, the wrong things they’ve done and the right things they’ve failed to do are wiped out. Jesus followers are as pure in God’s eyes as Jesus Himself.

This strikes me as a pretty good deal. That’s why, after much consideration, after reading many books and after debating with some brave Jesus followers, I decided to accept that deal.

So Jesus lives in my heart and mind. The more I listen to His leading, the better my life is.

This same deal is available to you, no matter what you’ve done (or not done), no matter how dark (or light) your soul may be.

Interested? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Star Trek: The Motion PictureEven me, who figures anything with the words “Star Trek” in the title MUST be good, has to admit that the first Star Trek movie was long, sloooow and generally underwhelming.

But when I sat down recently to watch 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture again for the first time in decades, I was struck by the plot and how it speaks to the human condition right now.

Admiral James T. Kirk busts himself down to captain in order to retake command of the Enterprise and help the United Federation of Planets fight off a truly gigantic threat.

The threat is called “V’Ger” and eventually Kirk and company find out it’s a 20th-century Earth space probe believed lost. But it wasn’t lost; an alien race figured out its mission — to gather information, then return to its creator — and massively upgraded it to complete the mission.

Over 300 years, the probe gathered so much information that it achieved consciousness. But returning to its creator? That was a problem. And without its creator, the probe “finds its existence empty and without purpose” (thank you, Wikipedia).

Perhaps this sounds entirely alien to you. But it hit home for me during a scene where Spock (the Enterprise’s science officer) tells Kirk, “V’Ger has knowledge that spans this universe, and yet, V’Ger is barren. It has no meaning, no hope, no answers. But it’s asking questions. Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?

This monologue strikes me as describing the condition of humanity. And the questions V’Ger asks probably occur to any thinking person who has achieved what our culture considers success (even if that success is “just” a middle-class life).

“It knows only that it needs,” Spock relates a little later. “But like so many of us, it does not know what.”

Is this you? It certainly was me. I had the middle-class success our culture sets up as nirvana — good career, satisfying relationships, disposable income with little debt. And yet it seemed superficial. Boring. Meaningless. I was a miniature V’Ger.

If you’ve found yourself sometimes occupying this mental and emotional space, then be bold. Ignore the relentless call of our world and investigate the questions.

That’s what I did. After much thinking, talking, reading and praying, I came to know there’s a Creator. Bigger than all humanity. Bigger than V’Ger. I came to know this Creator loves His creation — you, me and every other human being on this planet — but we had turned away from Him. So He offers us a gift, a way back to Him.

That gift is Jesus of Nazareth, who many people believe is the perfect Son of God. Jesus sacrificed Himself to make up for all the wrong things we’ve done and all the right things we’ve failed to do. Because there’s no human way for us to do that on our own.

Furthermore, original-source biographies of Jesus’ physical life on earth tell us Jesus rose from the dead after three days, thereby destroying the permanence of death that we horribly imperfect humans brought on ourselves.

When you accept the gift of Jesus, all this is open to you. The need is satisfied. The questions are answered.

Sound interesting? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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PerpetualStateOfFear 4.14First of all, let me make this clear: Star Trek ROCKS. Even the not-so-great movies — Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Nemesis (2002) — were still at least mildly entertaining.

What grabbed my attention about this graphic, posted in an atheism Internet community, is two things:

1. The Spock character never said these words;
2. That said, I absolutely agree with them.

What kind of a god would ever demand constant fear from his creations? Certainly not the God I believe in, or Jesus of Nazareth, who many people believe is God’s Son.

An ancient document by one of Jesus’s earlist followers addresses this topic in a very reasonable way: Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love takes away fear. It is his punishment that makes a person fear.

That makes a great deal of sense to me. While I don’t fear God the way this graphic suggests, what I do fear is this:

  •  Disappointing Him by failing to constantly strive to be the person He knows I can be.
  •  Saddening Him by ignoring the opportunities He gives me to tell others about how He changed my life through Jesus and how their lives can be made better the same way.
  •  Insulting Him by living my life as if He doesn’t exist.
  •  Belittling Him by not fully acknowledging everything He did for me (and for you, too) by offering the gift of Jesus, who died to make up for the sins of everyone who believes in Him and follows Him.

I like how the United Church of God website puts it:
“God does not want us to be in continual terror of Him, though that may be where we start in our relationship with Him. Proper, mature fear of God means having a healthy reverence and respect for the most powerful Being in the universe and the laws He has set in place for our own benefit.

I also appreciate the words of Christian Post columnist Dan Delzell:
“Think about a family. Parents who dearly love their children also discipline their children appropriately for their good. In those families, children know they are loved. They also have the ‘fear’ of discipline should they choose to push the limits and disobey. That is not a bad fear. It actually is a very necessary part of family life.”

I see logic in wanting to worship a deity like this. Do you? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Dead Man WalkingDead Man Walking is the name of a well-known 1995 film starting Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Until 2002, it was also the perfect description of my life.

The term comes from the United States prison system and generally refers to a death row inmate making his or her last walk to their place of execution.

So why did it once describe my life? In its more informal meaning, Dead Man Walking refers to any person in a doomed or untenable situation. And that’s where I was.

  • I lived how my family, friends, co-workers and neighbours wanted me to live:
  • Bigger was better.
  • Shopping was *never* a waste of time or resources.
  • I deserved luxurious, expensive vacations (even if I had to go into debt to pay for them).
  • I certainly didn’t waste much time thinking about the big, supposedly unanswerable questions of life.

If you’re still with me, then think about it for a moment: does my life before 2002 sound at all like your life today?

Living like that didn’t make me miserable, but it didn’t make me happy, either. I came to realize that playing the comparison game, which is what our culture relentlessly “suggests”, was a dead-end street. My life had as much meaning as an episode of Two and a Half Men; it was as shallow as a mud puddle. I was in a doomed or untenable situation.

So what changed? I always believed there had to be a creator for all that we see and, from time to time, I would ponder who or what that creator might be. And I pondered what might come after this life ends.

Finally, after much thought, reading and debates with people who value a relationship with God, I put my trust in God and in Jesus Christ, whom serious Christians believe is His Son.

At age 42, I was no longer a Dead Man Walking. I knew – and still know – why I’m here: to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ; to do my best to represent Christ to everyone I encounter; and spend eternity with Him.

This relationship is teaching me to think about:

  1. people in a more compassionate way (as being loved by God, whether I like them or not)
  2. our Earth in a better way (it’s God’s planet, not mine to do with as I please) and
  3. my life in a deeper way (what is truly of value?).

Are you at a place where you’re willing to consider that maybe you’re in a doomed or untenable situation? And is my solution worthy of consideration? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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220px-Bucket_list_posterIt took up barely two minutes in a 90-minute movie, but it left me scrambling for a pen and paper to record everything I was seeing and hearing.

The film is 2007’s The Bucket List, about two terminally ill men (Edward Cole, played by Jack Nicholson and Carter Chambers, portrayed by Morgan Freeman) who go on a round-the-world trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket”.

The scene that grabbed me with pitbull intensity was during a evening plane flight over the North Pole. Freeman’s Chambers is gazing out the window and commenting on the stunning starry sky. He finishes by declaring what he’s seeing is “really one of God’s good ones.” This spurs a fascinating conversation with Nicholson’s Cole:

Cole: So you think a being of some sort did all this?

Chambers: You don’t?

Cole: You mean, do I believe if I look up in the sky and promise this or that, the ‘Biggie’ will make all this [both have lung cancer] go away? No.

Chambers: Then 95 percent of the people on earth are wrong.

Cole: If life has taught me anything, it’s that 95 per cent of the people are always wrong.

Chambers: It’s called faith.

Cole: I honestly envy people who have faith. I just can’t get my head around it.

Chambers: Maybe your head’s in the way.

Chambers’ suggestion at the end of this exchange truly connects with me. For many years,  Cole and I had the same thought about faith. Part of that comes from ego; we humans think we’re so smart, so developed, so sophisticated that we can get answers to everything. Whatever we can’t – well, we just kick it to the side of the road and pretend it doesn’t exist.

The other part comes from the battle between heart and mind. While intellect definitely matters in a big way, when all is said and done, faith is a heart matter. That means it’s primarily not scientific and it’s not quantifiable. It’s “fuzzy”. And in our culture, fuzzy is bad.

But maybe fuzzy is good. Fuzzy allows room for mystery and God (along with Jesus, whom serious Christians believe is His son) definitely comes gift-wrapped in mystery.

Mystery takes us out of our comfort zones and that’s another good thing because it makes us open to new ideas. Such as the concept of a creator who actually loves us and offered the gift of His son to live, die and be resurrected for anyone who accepts that gift.

Does this make any sense? Post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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How did I not see this amazing, hilarious, and thoughtful Seinfeld episode when it was first aired?

For a few seasons, Seinfeld – that brilliant, inventive TV sitcom – was a cultural blockbuster, creating catch phrases and situations that millions across North America embraced and used as their own ‘insider’ language.

The episode that fascinates me concentrates, in part, on the relationship between principal character Elaine Benes and her boyfriend, David Puddy.

Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds out Puddy (Patrick Warburton) is “religious”. This sets up all sorts of conversations between the two, plus other principal characters Jerry and George Constanza.

Here’s a sample of dialogue:

Elaine: I borrowed Puddy’s car and all the presets on his radio were Christian rock stations.

George: I like Christian rock. It’s very positive. It’s not like those real musicians who think they’re so cool and hip.

Elaine: So, you think that Puddy actually believes in something?

Jerry: It’s a used car; he probably never changed the presets.

Elaine: Yes, he is lazy.

Jerry: Plus, he probably doesn’t even know how to program the buttons.

Elaine: Yes, he is dumb.

Jerry: So you prefer dumb and lazy to religious?

Elaine: Dumb and lazy, I understand.

First off, ye gotta love George’s casual dissing of Christian musicians and his breathtaking ignorance. Did you know, for example, that singer/songwriter/guitarist Bruce Cockburn is a Christian? I’ve never heard a single critic knock him for his artistic ability.

Second, the notion of Elaine preferring a dumb and lazy boyfriend to one who is “religious” is not only funny, it’s a remarkably accurate assessment of our culture. From what I can tell, most people would rather spend hours debating the behaviour of the latest Hollywood bad boy/girl than even think about spirituality and life’s big questions.

There’s no doubt that celebrity antics hold the same sort of fascination we feel when we drive past a car wreck. But in the end, does it make any difference in our lives?

Some more priceless Seinfeld dialogue:

Elaine: So, you’re pretty religious?

Puddy: That’s right.

Elaine: So is it a problem that I’m not really religious?

Puddy: Not for me.

Elaine: Why not?

Puddy: I’m not the one going to hell.

Yikes! If any serious follower of Jesus of Nazareth (who many people believe is God’s Son) has used words like this with you, I apologize here and now. It’s no exaggeration to write that anyone who takes his or her faith seriously is never blasé about the fate of friends, family, and loved ones. I’ve eaten veggie burgers that tasted more real than the faith Puddy displays.

Real Jesus followers sacrifice themselves in the same way they believe Jesus took on our failures and misdeeds when Roman authorities hung him on a cross. An ancient document about Jesus says “First we were loved, now we love. God loved us first.”

If you encounter a person who seems somehow different because he/she knows this amazing truth, then you’ve met the real thing and I hope you walk away thinking about your life and your fate.

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Robin Williams. Whitney Houston. Kurt Cobain. Cory Monteith. All these entertainers had one thing in common: extraordinary God-given talent.

As a result (at least in part…) of that talent, they achieved everything our culture says should lead to permanent happiness and fulfillment. They were fabulously wealthy. They had throngs of adoring fans. They earned the highest honours possible in their industries. They were hugely admired by their peers.

Our culture says they had it made. So what happened – or, more importantly, what didn’t happen – that ended their lives so early?

  • Williams, the Academy-Award winning actor (for 1997’s Good Will Hunting) and an incredible comedian, died of a suicide-related asphyxiation at age 63.
  • Monteith was one of the stars of Glee, a popular TV show in North America. He grew up with substance abuse problems and that didn’t change when Glee transformed him into an award-winning celebrity. He died in 2013 from an overdose of drugs and alcohol.
  • Cobain, singer, songwriter and guitarist with the groundbreaking, phenomenally popular grunge music band Nirvana, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1994. He was 27.
  • Houston, 48, who sold more than 170 million albums and collected 415 career awards, was found dead in her hotel room in 2012. She had a history of erratic behaviour and cocaine abuse.

Sadly, we can add more names onto this list of icons who had drug and/or alcohol problems and died early: singers Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse and Jim Morrison, plus guitar god Jimi Hendrix and Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Where was the fulfillment promised by our culture? These people should have been much, much happier than you and me. Their tragic deaths make a clear and consistent case for that promise being an empty lie.

Their wealth didn’t satisfy, their awards apparently brought only temporary happiness, and there was no fulfillment to be had in their fans or peers.

So what (or who) CAN bring real, lasting satisfaction and fulfillment? Could it be…God? Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher, certainly thought so. One of his most famous quotes says, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus [of Nazareth, who many people believe is God’s Son].”

Why is this possible? Because a life-changing relationship with God, through His son, doesn’t depend on anything our culture has to offer. Rich or poor, famous or obscure – these things mean nothing to God. In fact, a relationship with God doesn’t depend on anything in our resumes. It depends on Him.

Consider these three words from an ancient follower of Jesus: “God is love”. That fact explains why He sent Jesus to die for all the wrong things we’ve done and the right things we haven’t done.

He loves us and wants to wipe the slate clean of what some people call “sins” so there is nothing blocking the way to a satisfying, fulfilling, and eternal relationship with us. All we have to do is believe this and claim Jesus as our saviour.

Does this make sense? Agree or not, post a comment below and let’s start a conversation.

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