Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor? rated PG-13

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a heart-warming and well-made documentary about the ministry of Fred McFeely Rogers. Ministry? Indeed. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh, but chose to minister not within the church, but through his long-running PBS program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Our vocations are serving God and also serving other people. The purpose of vocation is to love and serve our neighbor. Wearing his trademark cardigan sweater and tennis shoes, Rogers was an excellent example of integrating his faith with his work through his vocation.
The film is directed by Oscar winner Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet From Stardom) and was released a few months after the 50th anniversary of the debut of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Although I never saw an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I found this to be one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, and one that families with children ten and above could watch together and appreciate.
Rogers, who died in 2003, talked and sang to children, teaching them important lessons. What surprised me was that he addressed important and timely issues of the day on his program such as the Vietnam war, the assassination of RFK, divorce and discrimination. Francois Clemmons (Officer Clemmons on the program) talks about how Rogers addressed his race and homosexuality. The film also shows Rogers coming out of retirement (the show ended in 2001) to film a Public Service message after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The film includes helpful and interesting interviews with Rogers’ widow Joanne, his two sons, co-stars including Betty Aberlin, Joe Negri, Betty Seamans, Francois Clemmons, producer Margaret Whitmer and guest Yo Yo Ma. Footage from the program shows Lady Aberlin and Daniel Tiger. We are told that Daniel most modeled the personality of Rogers.
The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language, plus a funny photo of a crew member’s back end.
Themes included children, love, respect, kindness, diversity, and that you are loved just as you are.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is just the type of film we need today in our deeply divided country. Rogers is portrayed as a man who lived out his faith, showing respect for all, even those he disagreed with. We are often disappointed when our heroes are tainted when stories about their private lives become public. In this instance, it appears that Fred Rogers was the real deal. From the interviews with his sons it appears that the Rogers we saw on the program was just how he was in real life.
In his work with children, he demonstrated well what Jesus taught about loving our neighbor in The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 25-37. We can all learn a lot from his example. Highly recommended!

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Let the Trap Say Amen – Lecrae and Zaytoven

Lecrae returns to Reach Records after his excellent 2017 major label debut All Things Work Together, which featured the gold record “I’ll Find You” with Tori Kelly. On this album he teams up with producer and DJ Zaytoven for an album that was born out of a mutual respect for each other’s work. In an interview, Lecrae said “When I hear the term ‘trap music,’ I don’t think of glorifying the negativity. I think of a soundscape that speaks a certain language. I think of music that tells real stories.”
Here are a few brief comments about each of the 13 songs on the album, all of which were produced by Zaytoven, who brings great beats to these songs.
Get Back Right – This song was written by Bobby Pressley, CASS, Zaytoven and Lecrae. It was the first single released from the album. It features a great beat with Lecrae telling his story about recent success (made hits with some big names, went to the Grammys), when he was just starting out (everything was rented and he was pinching his pennies), and when he became a believer (new beginnings and he knew who did it).
Key lyric: When you got real power, you can’t lose.
Preach – This song is written by Verse Simmonds, Zaytoven and Lecrae. This song is about Lecrae being unashamed (Romans 1:16) about God, preaching and his blackness. It opens briefly with keys and then goes into a great beat, driven by drums. Lecrae is going to preach and Zaytoven is going to bring the beat.
Key lyric: Don’t have a church, but I reach.

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I’ve long enjoyed playing and watching golf. This week, enjoy reviews of three recent golf books I’ve read.

Arnold Palmer: Homespun Stories of The King by Chris Rodell. Triumph Books. 240 pages. 2018

This is a book that golf fans, and in particular Arnold Palmer fans, will enjoy. The author, a Latrobe, Pennsylvania resident since 1992, interviewed more than 200 area neighbors and began each interview with a simple request: “Please tell me your best Arnold Palmer story.” Much of the book contains their answers to that question.
The author got to know Palmer when he was asked by in 2005 to go through the boxes and assemble a day-by-day timeline of Palmer’s life. The book includes a part of that timeline, which Palmer fans will find of interest.
The author gives us a good understanding of what Latrobe is like. Correct that, though we have always heard that Palmer lived in Latrobe, he actually lived and died in neighboring Youngstown, a town of just 326 people.
Even though I’ve read several books by and about Palmer, the author gives us a unique look at him. He shows that he was really a great guy, just like we hope our sports heroes would be. He didn’t live in a gated community and incredibly would often answer the door of his home himself to sign an autograph or sign a photo for a fan. The book includes remembrances from CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz, who spoke at Palmer’s memorial service in 2016, former Pennsylvania Governor and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and many others. We hear about the letters that Palmer would send people, spending an unbelievable $100,000 in postage annually to mail them. It is estimated that he signed well over a million autographs in his lifetime. The author, who writes with a good amount of wit, states that plastic surgeons are less careful suturing scars on supermodels than Palmer was when signing an autograph.
I enjoyed reading about three rainbows that appeared after Palmer’s death, just as one did the night my father-in-law died two years ago. The first was when the plane that carried Palmer’s ashes began its ascent, the second appeared during the Palmer’s memorial service and the third materialized at the June 25 Westmoreland County Airshow held in tribute to Palmer.
I read this book quickly, not wanting to put it down. It’s a funny and at times quite touching tribute to the King.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup by John Feinstein and Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution by Albert Mohler
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For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak – Ecclesiastes 3:7b

Recently, I’ve found myself trying to be wise and use discernment on when to speak up and when to shut up on social media on a number of important issues, including sexuality, doctrine and politics. Do you ever struggle with this? Do you ever see something posted on Twitter or Facebook that is contrary to your view and you feel compelled to enter into the discussion, whether it is “liking” or retweeting a comment, or adding your own comment?  In general, I think that people are likely to post comments on social media that they might never say to your face.  Have we become addicted to outrage?
The issues mentioned above are ones in which there is a great deal of diversity of thought and passion among Christians. How can we represent Christ well in our interactions online? When should we speak up and when is it better to shut up? I want to have a teachable, not a critical spirit, here.
Some months back I wrote an article “Confessions of a (Recovering) Elder Brother”.  In that article I wrote about doctrinal pride and a critical or judgmental spirit, both of which are problems for me when I read something posted on social media that I disagree with on an issue that is important to me.
I am an elder in my church. 1 Timothy 3: 1-7 lists qualifications for elders, several of which are applicable to how I engage on social media. These include such things as being self-controlled, respectful, not quarrelsome and well thought of by outsiders (those outside of the church). Titus 1: 5-9 adds that elders are to be disciplined and not quick-tempered. I have to keep these qualifications in mind as I go about my social media communications on “hot button” issues.
Thomas Kidd has written that online communication is uniquely susceptible to bad judgments and overreactions. His suggestion is that you should wait to respond when you feel irritated or provoked. If you are getting ready to send a tweet, e-mail, or other message that has any potential to be misinterpreted or damaging if not handled correctly, wait before sending. He tells us that just a bit more time and perspective can save us from saying some really stupid things.
I was recently helped in this area by watching this roundtable discussion on “How to Disagree” with Tim Keller, Michael Horton and Matt Chandler. They stress the importance of relationship, and also not assuming “slippery slope” intentions on others.  I would also add that we should not assume someone’s public silence is tacit agreement.

So let’s start with some clear cut examples.  When to speak up?  Adam in the garden of Eden.  He would have saved us a world of hurt!

When to shut up?  Maxwell the Geico spokespig:

I think I’ll get all Likes and Thumbs Up on those examples.  But it would be nice to have some guiding principles when your finger is poised on the ‘Post’ button.

  • In an article by Jonathan Parnell he states, “… all Christians should stand up and tell it like they see it. Let the chips fall where they will. Don’t worry if the public doesn’t even agree with your most basic assumptions. Your job is not to win. Your job is not to control this society. Your job is to say what God wants said.
    The Bible says that the law of God is written on the heart of every person (Romans 1:322:15). It says that everyone is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). There is reason to believe, then, that your witness to the truth — about abortion, or any other issue — will trigger something deep inside of people.”
  • Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6
  • First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
    ~ German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller
  • Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
    Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9

  • If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
    the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
     A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back. Proverbs 29: 9, 11
  • James tells us that the tongue is a fire (James 3:6). On this verse, the Reformation Study Bible tells us “An uncontrolled tongue is likened to a fire that rages out of control. Evil speech (including blasphemy, gossip, slander, lying, false vows, and the like) has the power to spoil, stain, and corrupt the entire moral character of a person”.
  •  Tim Keller writes in his book God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, “According to Jesus, all words – good and bad – are indicators of our heart”. He goes on to state “An abrasive tongue, a lying tongue, a foolish tongue – all of these are signs of a person who has resentment, dishonesty, and pride in his or her own heart”.

These tips from Scripture, and some wise leaders can help us to be wise in determining whether we should speak up or shut up. What other thoughts do you have on this subject?

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, rated PG-13

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, an exciting action-packed and at times terrifying film, is the sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World and the fifth film in the overall Jurassic Park series. It is the second film in a planned Jurassic World trilogy. The film is directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls), and is written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, who also wrote Jurassic World. Trevorrow also directed Jurassic World.  The film had a budget of approximately $170 million and has already made in excess of $372 million in foreign markets.
The film picks up three years after the events that took place in Jurassic World. The Jurassic World theme park on the island of Isla Nublar, located 120 miles from Costa Rica, has been abandoned by humans. A volcano is about to erupt, which will kill off all of the dinosaurs that now live freely on the island.
Dr. Ian Malcolm, the mathematician, again played by Oscar nominee Jeff Goldblum (Little Surprises) is speaking to a congressional committee that is debating whether man should save the dinosaurs or allow them to be killed by the volcano.  Dr. Malcolm advocates for letting the dinosaurs die off naturally.
Claire Dearing, again played by Golden Globe nominee Bryce Dallas Howard (As You Like It) is now running an organization to save the dinosaurs. But the government refuses to intervene to save them.
Claire is then contacted by Eli Mills, played by Rafe Spall (The Big Short, Life of Pi) of the Lockwood Foundation to come to California to meet Benjamin Lockwood, played by Oscar nominee James Cromwell (Babe). Clair is told that John Hammond had begun his experiments to bring dinosaurs back to life in the basement of the estate they are meeting in. The Lockwood Foundation wants to carry on Hammonds work, save the dinosaurs from the volcano and bring them to a new sanctuary that has been created for them.
Mills has a particular interest in Blue, the raptor that Owen Grady had trained. They need Claire to return to the island to help them save the dinosaurs and return them to the sanctuary. She agrees to do so.
Claire finds dinosaur trainer Grady, again played by Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers), and together with newcomers dinosaur veterinarian Zia Rodriguez, played by Daniella Pineda (The Detour, American Odyssey) and the often frightened computer nerd Franklin Webb, played by Justice Smith (The Get Down) they head to the island. Once on the island, they work with Ken Wheatley, played by Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs, Monk), and his men who are trying to round up the dinosaurs and remove them from the island. Things get pretty hectic on there as the volcano erupts and the dinosaurs try to evade the lava. Will Clair, Owen and their team be able to safely escape from the island before it is covered in lava? Will they be able to save Blue? And what is the real motivation of Wheatley?
The film gives you about what you would expect – some amazing computer-generated dinosaurs and some stunning action scenes. The film features more dinosaurs than any previous film in the series. Five animatronics were used to depict many of the dinosaurs. The music by Oscar winner Michael Giacchino (Up) is excellent. Isabella Sermon portrays Masie, Lockwood’s granddaughter, and plays a key role in the film.
Themes include teamwork, greed, technology outpacing ethics, animal rights, dishonesty and deception.
Content concerns include a good deal of dinosaur violence, which will be too scary for small children, some adult language, including an abuse of Jesus’ name.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is an exciting, action-packed film with some amazing CGI, a solid cast including the two newcomers, and some humor thrown in for good measure. And don’t forget to sit through the ending credits for a short scene.

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THIS & THAT: A Weekly Roundup of Favorite Articles, Cartoons & Quotes

  • Starling Murmurations. On a winter evening in England a flock of 200,000 European starlings congregate to soar in breathtaking formations before roosting for the night. These incredible displays of aerial precision are truly a wonder of creation.
  • Parenting and the Cultural Pressure to Conform. Albert Mohler writes “God is up to this. I’m not saying we’re up to this, but God is up to this.”
  • Toward a Theology of Apology. Kevin DeYoung writes “We need more work in the years ahead—exegetical, historical, and doctrinal—on our theology of apology.”
  • Finding God at the End of Ourselves. Randy Alcorn writes “In our spiritual lives, as in our professional lives, and in sports and hobbies, we improve and excel by handling failure and learning from it. Only in cultivating discipline, endurance, and patience do we find satisfaction and reward. And those qualities are most developed through some form of suffering.”
  • We Are Not Meant to Be Awesome. Scott Sauls writes “God has not called you to be awesome. Rather, he has called you to be humble, faithful, forgiven, and free. We can all leave the awesome to Jesus. When we do, we will also become the best version of ourselves. But without the pressure.”
  • Psalms for Men Who are Struggling. Scott Slayton writes “If you are a man who struggles in silence, turn to the Psalms. In them, you find strong men revealing their weaknesses and showing you where you can turn to for help. There are three Psalms in particular that give you grace for the difficult situations you face.”

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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

  • Six Ways God’s Presence Impacts Our Work. Russell Gehrlein writes “My desire is that many Christians will learn to practice the presence of God at work and experience the same joy that Brother Lawrence had.”
  • Facing Our Fear of Failure. Justin Poythress writes “One of the best ways to develop the next generation of leaders in the church is to create a culture which allows the freedom to fail.
  • Your Best Years Are Not Behind You. Patricia Raybon writes “That’s the biggest surprise to me about getting older: God doesn’t worry about age. He needs willing workers.”
  • 3 Things Your Calling is Not. Ivan Mesa writes “Maybe you’re not like me and have never experienced dark nights of the soul because of calling confusion. But I know if you’re a child of God and trusting in Christ, he has called you to himself and to others. So, serve people and God by pressing into the ordinary fullness of life.”
  • Faith and Work for the “Rest of Us”. Charlie Self writes “Welcoming and empowering retirees may compel a cynical world to take notice and glorify our Father in heaven as we ascribe dignity and worth to all work. Perhaps these steps of hospitality and thoughtfulness for the “rest of us” are providential conditions for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”

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 More interesting article links
 The Top 10 Faith and Work Quotes of the Week
 My Review of Immanuel Labor—God’s Presence in Our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work by Russell E. Gehrlein
 Snippets from the book ‘The Economics of Neighborly Love’

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First Reformed, rated R

First Reformed is about a pastor in crisis. This dialogue driven film features an excellent performance by Ethan Hawke as Reverend Ernst Toller and other strong supporting performances. However, the film deals with some difficult themes, has a disappointing last third, and will certainly not appeal to a broad audience. The film is directed and written by two-time Golden Globe nominee Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull).  Schrader himself was brought up in the Christian Reformed Church and graduated from Calvin College. The musical score by Brian Williams is effective and ominous.
Four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Training Day, Before Midnight, Before Sunset) portrays Reverend Ernst Toller the pastor of First Reformed Church, a tiny Dutch Reformed church in upstate New York that was built in 1767. The church, which is about to celebrate its 250th anniversary, now has only a handful of attendees each Sunday. It exists now mainly as a tourist attraction, as Toller shows visitors the trapdoor that led to a shelter for the Underground Railroad and encourages them to make a souvenir purchase. The church is owned by the megachurch Abundant Life Ministries, led by Pastor Joel Jeffers, played well by Cedric Kyles, better known as Cedric the Entertainer.
We see Toller writing his confessions, doubts and prayers in his journal each evening, while drinking heavily. He has decided to keep the journal for one year and then destroy it. He enjoys the writings of Thomas Merton.
Toller was once a military chaplain and married with a son. He encouraged his son to serve in the Iraq War, where he was killed. His son’s death was the primary cause for his marriage failing. He is also not well physically, as we see blood when he goes to the bathroom.
About a year ago, he had a relationship with Esther, the Choir Director at Abundant Life, played by Victoria Hill. She still has feelings for Toller, but he doesn’t have any feelings for her anymore.
Toller is contacted by Mary, played by Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables). Mary is a member of his church and pregnant.  However, her husband Michael, played by Philip Ettinger, is a radical environmentalist and doesn’t want to bring a child into this world but instead wants Mary to have an abortion. Mary asks the pastor to meet with Michael, which he does, in the best scene in the film, as Toller talks to Michael about hope in the midst of despair.
The environment becomes an important theme in this film. Later, Toller will have an encounter with Edward Balq, played by Michael Gaston, the largest donor at Abundant Life, a petroleum executive and one of the worst polluters in the nation.
The film is rated “R” for some adult language and adult themes, which include abortion, health issues, politics, radical environmentalism, mental illness, hope, despair and alcoholism.
First Reformed is a well-acted, dark and disturbing film that deals with some serious issues. Toller’s journey into the dark night of the soul deepens over the course of the film.  Toller paraphrases Merton at one point in the film: “Despair is a development of pride so great that it chooses someone’s certitude rather than admit that God is more creative than we are.”
Merton also said, “Despair is the absolute extreme of self-love. It is reached when a man deliberately turns his back on all help from anyone else in order to taste the rotten luxury of knowing himself to be lost.”
Although well-acted (Hawke may have earned his fifth Oscar nomination), written and directed, this will not be a film for everyone. And the last third of the film was certainly disappointing.

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My Review of INCREDIBLES 2

Incredibles 2, rated PG
*** ½

Incredibles 2, released fourteen years after The Incredibles, is a family friendly treat. It is action-packed, visually stunning and very funny. There were more laughs in the theatre for this film than I can remember for quite some time. The film is once again directed and written by two-time Oscar winner Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles). The delightful musical score is by Oscar winner Michael Giacchino (Up), the seventh Pixar film he has scored. The animation is excellent, as you would expect from a Pixar film. At nearly two hours in length, this is the longest Pixar film to date.
The film picks up right where the 2004 film left off, with the Incredibles battling the Underminer, voiced by two-time Emmy nominee John Ratzenberger (Cheers).  Soon, the Incredibles are back to living their lives under the superhero relocation program in the Safari Court Motel. The family is led by Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr, voiced by four-time Golden Globe nominee Craig T. Nelson (Coach) and Helen Parr/Elastigirl, voiced by Oscar winner Holly Hunter (The Piano). The rest of the family is made up of 14-year-old daughter Violet, voiced by Sarah Vowell (The Incredibles), 10-year-old son Dash, voiced by Huck Milner, and infant Jack-Jack, voiced with archival recordings by Eli Fucile (The Incredibles), who is starting to display some superhero powers.
The government ban on superhero activities continues. Winston Deavor, CEO of the Telecommunications giant DevTech, voiced by three-time Golden Globe nominee Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), is a superhero fan. He and his scientist sister Evelyn, voiced by two-time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich, Capote), want to change the public’s perception of superheroes. Winston meets with the Incredibles and Frozone, voiced by Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction). He chooses Elastigirl, rather than Mr. Incredible, to be their public face, and so with a new costume and the use of a body cam to record her good deeds, they are off with their plan.
Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible takes over the stay at home Dad duties, which leads to some funny moments, as he deals with Violet’s dating life, Dash’s math homework and Jack Jack’s newly developed super powers. There is no doubt that Jack Jack was the favorite of those in attendance.
Edna Mode, voiced by Brad Bird returns from the first film. A new cyber villain is Screenslaver, voiced by Bill Wise. Screenslaver hypnotizes digital screen users to do whatever he says.
Themes include family, parenting, supporting each other, doing the right thing and fighting evil.
Content issues include superhero action violence and is the first Pixar film to contain some light profanity.
Although an animated children’s film, the movie does include messages about women, technology, and law enforcement (body cams).
Incredibles 2 is a family friendly film that is well-written, action packed, visually stunning and very funny.

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Wide Open – Michael McDonald

Wide Open is 65-year old Michael McDonald’s (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan), first new studio album in more than nine years, and first album of original material in seventeen years, following Blue Obsession in 2000. It follows three R&B/Soul cover albums for Motown, the most recent being Soul Speak, released in 2008. He has also released a few Christmas albums during this time.
The 71-minute album of keyboard-heavy soul and blues ballads was written over several years and recorded at McDonald’s Nashville studio, along with drummer Shannon Forrest (Toto), and session players from Nashville. The album features collaborations with guitarist-singer Warren Haynes, guitarist Robben Ford, bassist Marcus Miller and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
McDonald has said that most of the songs on the album have to do with sobriety, the journey in his life of getting sober, which he has been since 1986. It is a kind of wide open conversation of many different subjects, both musically and lyrically.
McDonald’s signature voice still sounds great. If I had any criticism of the album, it would just be that a few of the songs go too long, with only one song coming in at under four minutes.

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