Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of CRAZY RICH ASIANS

Crazy Rich Asians, rated PG-13
***

Crazy Rich Asians is an enjoyable romantic comedy based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, but it does have some content concerns. The film is directed by Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) and the screenplay is by Peter Chiarelli (Now You See Me 2) and Adele Lim. The film had a budget of $30 million.
Nick Young, played by Henry Golding and Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, met and fell in love in New York City, where she is an Economics Professor at New York University. They have been dating for more than a year. Rachel is the daughter of a hardworking single Mom, Kerry Chu, played by Tan Kheng Hua.  Rachel and her mother came to America from China when Rachel was a baby. Nick is the heir apparent to his families’ real estate business and vast wealth in Singapore, something he has chosen to keep from Rachel.
Nick asks Rachel to accompany him over Spring Break to Singapore for the wedding of his best friend Colin, played by Chris Pang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), where he will be the best man. Nick wants Rachel to meet his mother Eleanor, played by Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: Discovery) and his elderly grandmother Ah Ma, played by Lisa Lu (The Joy Luck Club).

***SPOILER ALERT***
Rachel begins to get an idea about Nick’s family’s wealth on the flight to Singapore, on which they fly first class and have a room to sleep in on the long flight.  However, when they arrive in Singapore, Eleanor makes it clear that Rachel will never be enough for Nick and that she is unfit to become part of the family. Eleanor doesn’t believe that Rachel is fully Chinese since she was raised in America. In addition, she tells Rachel that she doesn’t have the same social and economic status as Nick and his family. For his part, Nick tries to show Rachel that their relationship means more to him than his family’s money. What can Rachel and Nick do that will lead Eleanor to bless their relationship?
Eleanor is critical of American culture, telling Rachel that all Americans care about is their own happiness. Of the Asian culture, Eleanor states that they learn to put family first instead of chasing one’s passion.
There are those that support and encourage Rachel during this trying time, including her college roommate Goh Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina (Ocean’s Eight), Nick’s cousin Oliver, played by Nico Santos (Superstore), the gay “poor-relation rainbow sheep” of the family, and Nick’s cousin Astrid, a fashion celebrity, played by Gemma Chan (Humans), who is in a troubled marriage with Michael, played by Pierre Png.
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The film makes good use of music and includes some stunning views of the Singapore skyline.
Crazy Rich Asians is a well-made film with a solid cast, but it does have some content concerns which include adult language and several abuses of God’s name and some sexual material (no nudity, but it is shown that Nick and Rachel are sleeping together). Themes include conspicuous consumption, family, wealth and loyalty.
Of note, early in the film we see Eleanor leading a Bible study with a few friends and family members, and hear her read a section of Colossians 3, while another member of the study reads from Ephesians 6.   But does she reflect Christian lovingkindness?

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6 Thoughts on My Approach to Reading

I’ve always enjoyed reading, most likely getting my love of reading from my parents, both of whom loved books. My wife Tammy enjoys a good book as well, so on a nice evening in Illinois, with the sun going down, mosquitoes biting and the crickets chirping, you might just find us out on the patio with the glow from our Kindle and iPad screens illuminating our faces.
I expect to read about 75 books this year, in addition to my daily readings (more about them below). How many books you might read will depend on a number of factors, such as your love for reading and the amount of time you have available for reading.
Here are 6 thoughts on my approach to reading:

  1. I read books in a number of different genres, such as theology, biography, faith and work, personal and professional development, leadership and sports. I always have a list of books “on deck” to read next.   What I choose to read at a given time will depend on a number of factors such as:
  • What kind of book I just finished.
  • What kind of book I’m in the mood for.
  • Whether I am reading to prepare for a talk I am going to be giving or a class I’m going to be teaching.
  • Whether one of my favorite authors has a new book out. There’s nothing finer than finding a new release from a favorite author.
  1. I rarely will read a physical book. In fact, the only times I’ve read a physical book over the past several years has been if I was reading an advanced copy of a book or if I were reading a book that isn’t available in the Kindle format, usually a book from the Banner of Truth. I’m usually reading two books at a time, one on my Kindle, and the other an audiobook from either Audible (from whom I have a monthly subscription) or Christianaudio, who offers some excellent sales, most notably their Twice-Yearly sale where almost their entire inventory is available for just $7.49. Since I review all books that I read, I’ve found that for myself not all books are good to listen to in the audiobook format, though biographies are particularly good, especially if narrated by the author. In addition, the narrator (reader) of the audiobook can make a big difference. My favorite narrator is Maurice England. He’s got a great story of listening to in excess of 1,000 audiobooks during a 12-year career as a truck driver. Find out more about Maurice here.
  2. Reading for my blog. I am always reading two books for my blog – one general book and one specifically related to faith and work. Each week, I’ll share highlights from a chapter of the book in that week’s blog.
  3. Daily Readings. Each day, usually while riding my exercise bike, I’ll read a number of daily readings, including a chapter from the Bible, the daily reading from Tabletalk magazine, a book of prayers and a few devotionals.
  4. Re-reading of books. I remember listening to a podcast a few years ago when a pastor encouraged the listeners to read less books overall, but to read good books more often. Applying that advice, there are a number of books that I have read more than once. Among those books are Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, Prayer by Tim Keller, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell, and most recently The Gospel at Work by Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger.
  5. I want to share what I learn in the books that I read. As a result, I always write a review of the book. I’ll share the review in a number of places, including my blog, Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.

Do you have other thoughts about how you approach reading?


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What is Biblical Hospitality?


I should title this article as “Do as I say, not as a I do”, because biblical hospitality is an area that I need to demonstrate some growth in. Every Christian is called to practice hospitality, but not everyone practices it the same way. Hospitality is so important that the Apostle Paul listed it as a requirement of the office of an elder in a local church:
“Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” 1 Timothy 3:2
I’ve recently read two books that have challenged me in the area of hospitality –Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Area of Unbelief by Matt Chandler and The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield. Let me share what I have learned about biblical hospitality from these two books.
Pastor and author Matt Chandler tells us that when we talk about what it means to be courageous and faithful in the age of unbelief, we have to talk about the Great Commission, which is our mission. He believes it’s more true than ever to say that evangelism is going to look like hospitality. He states that hospitality means to give loving welcome to those outside our normal circle of friends. It is opening our life and our house to those who believe differently than we do.
Why would the Bible be so serious about hospitality? Chandler tell us that it’s because God has been hospitable to us, saving us as sinners and inviting us to eat at his table in his eternal home. He tells us that we demonstrate that we truly appreciate the divine hospitality we have received as we extend our own hospitality to those around us.
He offers four helpful suggestions regarding hospitality:
1. Welcome everyone we meet. He means literally to greet everyone you see. That may be easy for Chandler, an extrovert, but it will be harder for introverts like me.
2. Engage people. He tells us to care about and take an interest in those we run across.
3. Make dinner a priority. Here he’s not talking about dinner with friends, but going back to his definition of hospitality, he’s talking about give loving welcome to those outside your normal circle of friends.
4. Love the outsider. In every setting, work, neighborhood, etc., there are people who for whatever reason are kind of outliers. Chandler tells us that we tend to run away from differences and from being around people who think differently and look differently than we do. Chandler tells us that Jesus would have moved toward those people, and because God extends radical hospitality to us, we should as well.
Chandler tells us that missional hospitality is costly. It costs our time, our money and comfort. It requires trust in God instead of ourselves and demands courage. He tells us that the extent of our courage will be shown by who sits around our table.
Rosaria Butterfield is a pastor’s wife and has an incredible story that she tells in her first book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. In her new book she writes about “radical, ordinary hospitality”. She defines this as using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers into neighbors, and neighbors into the family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed. Its purpose is to build, focus, deepen, and strengthen the family of God, pointing others to the Bible-believing local church, and being earthly and spiritually good to everyone we know. She tells us that daily hospitality, gathering church and neighbors, is a daily grace.
But, Rosaria states, daily hospitality can be expensive and even inconvenient. It compels us to care more for our church family and neighbors than our personal status in this world.
Radical ordinary hospitality creates an intimacy among people that allows for genuine differences to be discussed. It cares for the things that our neighbors care about. It means esteeming others more highly than ourselves.
And like Chandler, Butterfield addresses the issue of our personality type in her discussion of hospitality. She writes that knowing your personality and sensitivities does not excuse us from ministry. It just means that we will need to prepare for it differently.
I learned a great deal about hospitality and was challenged in this area by these two books.
What would you add to this discussion of biblical hospitality?


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My Review of DOG DAYS

Dog Days, rated PG
** ½

Dog Days is a feel-good romantic comedy featuring several characters and their dogs set during the summer in Los Angeles. The film is directed by three-time Emmy nominee Ken Marino (Children’s Hospital, Burning Love) and written by Elissa Matsueda (The Miracle Season) and Emmy nominee Erica Oyama (Burning Love).  The film had a budget of just $10 million.

****SPOILER ALERT*****
There’s a number of stories going on at the same time – here’s a summary.  Elizabeth, played by Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) is the host of a morning Los Angeles television show. Life is going well until her live-in boyfriend Peter cheats on her. That leads to her and her dog Sam going into depressions. She and Sam go to see the overpriced dog therapist Danielle, played by Emmy nominee Tig Notaro (Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted). Former National Football League star Jimmy Johnston, played by Tone Bell, has a dog named Brandy and is a guest on Elizabeth’s show shortly after the breakup. Their “chemistry” on screen leads the producer to hire Johnston to co-host the show, much to the disappointment of Elizabeth.
Walter, played by Ron Cephas Jones (This is Us), is a lonely widower, who used to be a professor at UCLA. He enjoys his overweight pug Mabel, and has a few run-ins with a 16-year old pizza delivery boy Tyler, played by Finny Wolfhard (It, Strangers Things). The second run-in results in Mabel running away. Tyler offers to help Walter find Mabel and in turn Walter offers to tutor the fatherless Tyler at no cost.
Mabel ends up being found by Amelia, played by Elizabeth Phoenix Caro, a young girl recently adopted by Grace, played by Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives), and Kurt, played by four-time Emmy winner Rob Corddry (Children’s Hospital).           
Amelia had been having a hard time adjusting to her new family and Mabel, who she names “Mr. Snuggles” is just what she and her new parents need.
Tara, played by Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) works in a coffee shop but wants to do work that matters. She also has a crush on Dr. Mike, played by Michael Cassidy (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), the hunky veterinarian whose office is across the street.  A frequent customer, the socially uncomfortable Garrett, played by Jon Bass has a crush on Tara, but Tara doesn’t notice that. Tara finds a stray chihuahua who she names Gertrude. Her apartment building doesn’t allow dogs. Garrett runs New Tricks, a dog adoption business and says that he will take Gertrude. Tara, looking for more purpose in her life, begins to volunteer at New Tricks.
Dax, played by Adam Pally, lives in the same apartment building as Tara. Dax is in a band named Frunk, and isn’t very responsible, forgetting to even show up for his sister Ruth’s baby shower, which he agreed to DJ. Ruth, played by Jessica St. Clair (Bridesmaids) and husband Greg, played by Thomas Lennon, have twins and ask Dax to take their labradoodle Charlie for a while as they adjust to their new babies.
End of plot summary – Did you catch all of that?
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Content concerns include some adult topics (breakups, living together, romance), and a number of misuses of God’s name (“Oh my God”).  Themes include the family, motherhood, friendship and adoption.
I have missed going to see romantic comedies at the movies because they haven’t made very many lately, but this one is a bit sappy.  At times this film has the feel of a Lifetime or Hallmark television movie. That could be because the director, writers and many of the actors involved are best known for their television performances. The film includes a solid cast and the writing is average at best. The film is also overly long at nearly two hours.
Dog Days is an enjoyable, feel-good film that is somewhat predictable, but has some positive messages. Because of the adult topics included I wouldn’t recommend the film for very young children.


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My Review of BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman, rated R
** ½

BlacKkKlansman is a well-acted film that is mostly based on an incredible true story. Unfortunately, demonstrating the subtlety of a Michael Moore film, the film tries too hard to connect former Grand Wizard David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) with President Donald Trump. The film is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, 4 Little Girls) and is based on the book Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth. The screenplay is written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Lee.  The film had a budget of only $17 million.
Ron Stallworth, played superbly by John David Washington (The Book of Eli, Ballers), the real-life son of Denzel Washington, is the first African American police officer hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department. It is a police department in which racism is prevalent and tolerated.

SPOILER ALERT ***************
Initially placed in a boring position in the Records Department, Stallworth is then given an undercover opportunity in 1972 to attend a rally in which former Black Panther Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael), played by Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton), is to speak. Outside the venue Stallworth meets Patrice, the President of the Black Student Union, an activist group, played by an Angela Davis look alike Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming). Inside the venue, Stallworth, finds himself agreeing with some of what Ture is saying, as he encourages the crowd with chants of “Black Power”. After the meeting, Patrice and others are harassed by the police. Stallworth takes a liking to Patrice, but working undercover, tells her that he works in construction.
Stallworth is then given the assignment to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK, which is led by Walter, played by Ryan Eggold (Blacklist). Stallworth arranges to meet with Walter, but since he is African American he needs to identify a white police officer to portray himself and meet with him instead. Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish officer played well by three-time Emmy nominee Adam Driver (Girls) is assigned to portray Stallworth. Zimmerman does the job well, earning the confidence of Walter. The KKK members are generally portrayed as cartoonish stereotypes by Lee. Eventually Stallworth, who can speak both “white” and “jive” is talking on the phone to KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, well played by Emmy winner Topher Grace (The Beauty Inside).
At the local level, Walter decides he needs to step down, and proposes that Stallworth, though new to the chapter, take his place. As Stallworth and Zimmerman continue their work together they become aware of a planned KKK attack.
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The film makes excellent use of music throughout, including a previously unleased live rehearsal recording of Prince singing “Mary, Don’t You Weep” over the closing credits. Despite the serious nature of the film, it also includes a lot of humor.
An interesting scene showed the juxtaposition of different groups shouting “Black Power” (Black Student Union) and “White Power” (KKK), reminded me of Black Lives Matter and White supremacist groups today.  Dialogue coming out of Duke’s mouth included lines very close to Trump’s making America great again and putting America first.
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including several occurrences of the “F” and “N” words.  It would be appropriate for older teens and adults.
For the majority of the film, despite the quotes referenced above, the film, particularly the acting of Washington and Driver, was excellent. The film also includes a strong supporting cast. Oscar nominee Alec Baldwin (The Cooler) and 91-year-old Emmy winner Harry Belafonte (The Revlon Revue) appear in small roles. Lee includes some of his classic people-mover camera work in a scene with Washington and Harrier late in the film.
Unfortunately, the film’s ending insults the intelligence of the audience with its “paint by numbers” effort to try to connect Duke with President Trump, using graphic video footage of the 2017 tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia and quotes from President Trump.
BlacKkKlansman, based mostly on a true story, is a film that you may not agree with, but it is certainly thought-provoking. But it’s also not a film that will tend to bring our country together, unlike the film Won’t You Be My Neighbor? As I wrote in my review of that film, one of this year’s best, that film was just the type of film we need today in our divided country.


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The Eagles and James Taylor Concert in Washington D.C.

The Eagles and James Taylor at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. (June 26)
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This concert was actually my wife and my Christmas gift to each other. It was the most (by far) we had ever spent on a concert ticket, and it wasn’t nearly the highest price ticket for the concert. And it turned out to be one of the best concerts we have ever been to – and we’ve been to a lot of them over the years.  Back in the late 1970’s we saw Fleetwood Mac and were stunned at the ticket prices – at the time they were $20 each.  My oh my how times have changed.
James Taylor is one of our favorite artists. We have seen him in concert several times, and he’s always outstanding. He was the “opening act” on this warm and humid night at the packed home of the baseball Nationals in our nation’s capital. “JT” was backed by his “All-Star Band”, and they all got an opportunity to show off their many talents. Taylor and the band were clearly having a great time during their 90-minute set (as an opening act, somewhat shorter than his usual set). The only disappointment was that surprisingly, Taylor didn’t play any songs from his 2015 comeback album Before This World.  Instead, he focused on his more popular songs from his catalog, beginning with “Something in the Way She Moves”, from his 1968 debut album on the Beatles’ Apple Records.
Taylor started his set precisely on time at 7:00 pm, as the music on this evening would not end until 4 and a half hours later. Check out Taylor’s setlist here.
I had last seen the Eagles more than 38 years ago when they played the Alpine Valley Music Theatre about 45 minutes from Milwaukee, Wisconsin in June 1980, with Christopher Cross as the opening act. I had just started my career the month before, and that concert was on a weeknight. Despite the three-hour drive home (after getting out of the parking lot), I still went to work as scheduled the next morning. Oh, to be young!
After the death of Glenn Frey in 2016, I doubted that the Eagles would tour again. But with country artist Vince Gill and Frey’s son Deacon joining the band, the Eagles have returned, and they are at the top of their game.
After about 35 minutes to change the stage, the Eagles opened with a pitch perfect ‘Seven Bridges Road’. With five different vocalists – Frey, Gill, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmidt and Joe Walsh – taking leads, the band would play for two and a half hours without a break. Unfortunately, some fans had to leave before the end of the show in order to catch the last Metro ride from the Navy Yards station.
The band’s vocals sounded great throughout, and their harmonies in particular were incredible. Gill tended to take care of the high notes that needed to be hit and Frey did a great job singing some of his Dad’s most popular songs, such as “Take it Easy”. Joe Walsh, a fan favorite, took over the last part of the concert, with James Gang favorites “Walk Away” and “Funk #49” and the sing along “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way”, one of three encores with “Hotel California” and Don Henley’s closing “Desperado”. Check out the Eagles setlist here.  The Eagles and JT gave us the Christmas gift to remember.


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Our Trip to the Museum of the Bible

We recently traveled to Washington D.C. On our “must do” list was a visit to the new Museum of the Bible. Unlike many of the museums (Smithsonian, etc.) in our nation’s capital, this museum is a non-profit organization, and is dependent on donations. The suggested donation for an adult is $19.95. Other experiences at the museum were available for an additional donation. We chose to go with the standard admission, and with that there was certainly plenty to experience.
The museum includes six floors, and we started at the top floor and worked our way down. When we reached the top floor, we were met by three “Secret Service” looking guards, blocking our path. We asked a museum employee what was going on, only to be told that there was a special guest present. Thinking perhaps that a member of Congress was present, we asked who it was. It turned out to be a controversial TV pastor from Texas who was there for an event. We wondered if John the Baptist would have had such security detail and thought for a minute it was something for The Babylon Bee.   
Side note of comment to this pastor titled BE AVAILABLE by Bob Goff:
“Take it from a guy who had the audacity to put his cell number in the back of his book: there’s a huge power in just being present, being available, to those around you. What if you took time for the people in your life? What if you made some audacious plans to rock their lives? Try it and see what happens!” 
The 6th floor had some excellent views of the Washington Monument and the Capitol building. It also had the Manna restaurant, a biblical garden and the Gathering Room.
The 5th floor includes the World Stage Theatre, which offers an immersive and multimedia Bible reading experience. We enjoyed the Israel Antiques Authority presentation, featuring many artifacts from the biblical period.   Picture the 5 smooth stones of David when he fought Goliath – they were actually the size of small fist-size cannonballs!
The 4th floor was probably my favorite. It features more than 600 artifacts and 50 media programs. It immerses you in the Bible’s journey through technology and culture. I enjoyed the many exhibits in this area, and the different bibles, from Martin Luther’s translation, a first edition King James Bible to an English Standard Version (ESV) that I use today.
The 3rd floor includes a 30-minute Hebrew Bible Experience and a walk-thru the World of Jesus of Nazareth experience. It also includes the New Testament Theatre, which was very crowded, so we did not attend.
The 2nd floor was about the impact of the Bible in diverse areas like music, fashion and government, and its significant impact on American culture. I enjoyed seeing a replica of George Whitfield’s field pulpit. Among the many other items featured was Elvis Presley’s bible.
The 1st floor, which is where we had entered, features a 140-foot digital ceiling, a Vatican Museums and Library exhibition and a gift shop.
The Museum of the Bible was beautiful, and very well done in every aspect. It didn’t cheapen Christianity like the Orlando theme park “The Holy Land” does. There was quality in every aspect of the facility, from the many video presentations, displays and exhibits.
We spent two hours at the museum, but you could easily spend much more time than that. We did notice many busloads of children at the museum. I’m not sure how much children will get out of the experience, but for adults, this would be time well spent. To find out more about the Museum of the Bible, go to their website.