Monday, October 8, 2007

Is Halo Christian?

With the advertising push for Halo 3, the United States is beginning to see gaming everywhere. Now I am a gamer and most people know it. I love old school Nintento. I dream of returning to my first gaming system, the Atari. There's nothing like shooting down airplanes and choppers in the game CHOPPER. Though the Atari was my only game system until college when I purchased a Playstation, I have had experiences with all game systems from Dreamcast (don't ask if you've never heard of this's a sad story) to the PC. As I have grown up with computer games and video games, and am a Pastor many times people ask me if these two are compatible. I will attempt to answer this question with a certain example.
This morning I was handed an article from The Gazette titled "THOU SHALT NOT KILL-EXCEPT IN A VIDEO GAME AT CHURCH!" The article basically addresses the issue of churches reaching out to youth with violent video games. Ethicists seem to be on one side and youth pastors/leaders seem to be on the other side with Focus on the Family in the middle not knowing what to do. The youth leaders argue that Halo 3 is a tool that can be used to draw youth into their groups where they can then (during the break of course) give a lesson to connect kids to Christ. Other pastors use the opportunity to talk about God and the devil. A youth minister is quoted in a letter to parents stating "We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell." Others are prompting teens to use Halo as a theme to talk to their friends about good and evil. In a response to their critics Kedrick Kenerly, founder of Christian Gamers Online states "I'm not walking up to someone with a pistol and shooting them. I'm shooting pixels on a screen." (which is a horrible response...I guess many men aren't cheating on their wife by viewing pornography, they are just viewing tiny pixels)
On the other side of the issue are religious ethicists and pastors who claim that "Halo" has a corroding influence and gives access to adult-themed material. They would also state that "Halo" associates thrill and arousal with killing. Daniel Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary states "To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that it's just pixels involved is an illusion."
First let me address the 'pro' side for Halo. I do think that it is a complete mistake to use this as a tool just to get youth into the door of Church. Yes, we want to use everything at our disposal but where is the focus of the activity. It is solely on the activity of playing Halo. The youth won't care what you have to say they will just believe that they have to listen to this little commercial (the Christian message) to play Halo. And we all know how easy it can be to filter out 'commercials'. The message of Christ is to take center focus not a side adjunct to play Halo. And this goes with other 'activities'.
Second, the 'anti' side of the issue has some valid points. Yet, kids these days are able to distinguish fantasy from reality. My fear is that this may spill out into all aspects of media, books, movies and the like. Do kids still play Cowboys and Indians? I think so (even if it is not a politically correct activity) Now churches though need to respect the rating that Halo has been given. It is not appropriate that they allow any aged 'youth' to play a game that is rated M for Mature which focuses on only 17 or older crowd. Sure, younger kids will play it at home and parents will allow that but the church needs to take a stand on this issue. Would you allow youth to watch a rated R movie? I doubt it. This gets to the problem that many people just don't understand the evolution of video games (which may be a blog for another time).
Simply, "Halo", I would argue can be appropriate as a fellowship activity (just as Softball league and the like). But there needs to be some parameters such as respecting the rating of the game. This means that Halo may be great for young adult men's ministry as a fellowship activity. If this just becomes a tool to get people to listen to the message I believe you have already lost them. Certainly some will come hear the message but let's be honest we want to use what is effective. Video games are not effective means of evangelism. It is a fellowship tool. Many forget the aspects of multi-player that most use when playing Halo. This creates a bond and venue in which people share their experiences with each other and creates an aspect of fellowship.
Another aspect that is lost in the game argument is that Master Chief (the main character you play) is a soldier. This brings up the question: Can a soldier kill? The answer is yes. Luther writes how being a soldier is a valid vocation. Now the response may be "But these kids aren't soldiers!" True. But as one looks at the single player of the game through out the trilogy, you will find a wonderful plot that shows how soldiers should act and behave. It takes you through the vocation of a soldier to save and protect. This is especially clear in the 'movies' that were made to promote Halo 3. Watch them, they are rather interesting. Speaking of Halo 3 and the single player plot, I have come up with an interesting conclusion (I have not played the game). But as I watch the movies and follow the story line of both Halo and Halo 2, I have seen where Halo 3 might be pursued. I believe that Halo 3 really sets Master Chief to be a Christ-like figure. Where he will sacrifice himself for humanity and not just for humanity but probably for those in the Covenant (enemies) as well.
That is my take on this whole Halo 3 phenom. And by the way...I probably will be getting a 360 and Halo 3 this Christmas! I am a gamer after all.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

V For Vendetta

V For Vendetta is a thrilling and capturing movie to watch. There's intrigue, action, explosions, and a Shakespearian speaking Guy Faulks masked man. Set in the future, the movie has two sides battling for the control of people. On one side is the Totalitarian Government, that uses faith (namely Christian faith) as a foundation for their actions. On the other side is a lone man, victim of the State that used 'undesirables' to experiment on, who in all essence is a terrorist that seeks to 'free' the people from the Totalitarian Government.
The movie raises some interesting questions on what is the Governments role, what are peoples roles, and what is terrorism. Even though, in the 'Making Of...', the director states that the movie is suppose to leave its meaning open to the interpretation of the viewer. Thus, each viewer interprets the movie differently and each interpretation then is correct. Yet I would disagree, the film's vision and direction does not leave the interpretation open. In the graphic novel written by Frank Miller, which the movie is based, contains a statement by Frank Miller on the purpose of the graphic novel. The statement clarifies the movies purpose. Those purposes are to show the extreme of the State taking over the rights of people by using fear. The second purpose is through narrative to expand on the concept of tolerance.
Here is why this movie can be particularly dangerous. The State is seen as specifically Christian. This gives in to the fear of what Christians really are about, making people 'behave' and having control over other people's behavior. While some history may support inklings of that concept, i.e. the Nazis, the focus of true Christianity is lost. Christianity is not a set of moral behaviors or rules. Christianity is about God sending His Son to die for the sins of all people. Christianity is about Jesus Christ. Ironically, in the movie the character V uses fear on Evey. Although he says that this is what the government would do to her, this is really a form of brainwashing. This is a similar method that Cults would use to initiates to become part of the group, to establish a way of thinking. Yet V is still portrayed as the Hero throughout the movie, his cause just and right.
The second purpose supports the first, namely that Christians are against tolerance. This is seen through the Government casting out 'non desirables' in the name of faith. "Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith". The movie emphasizes that tolerance should be given to every one and for every thing. Yet Jesus Christ displays a different kind of tolerance. He comes to the sinners and the "undesirables" but he still calls them sinners. His message is one of forgiveness, not denial or acceptance of what they have done but forgiveness. Jesus calls a thing what it is. He calls sin, sin. But He also give forgiveness to the broken. The message of tolerance is really seen at the end of the movie as the credits role. There a voice over states for every one to reject the roles that they are 'born into' or the roles of society and to create their own roles. Yet this is impossible nor should it be attempted. I am a Son. That is a role. I can not, no matter how much I deny it (don't worry I don't), stop being a Son. I did not choose my parents. Like wise you did not choose to be male or female but were born one and you will live your role as one. If you begin to deny the roles or as Lutherans would say "Vocation" then thing do not fall into place. This is what the movie promotes: 1. Create your own roles 2. Tolerate every role and 3. Christianity just suppresses our roles and behavior.
In the end, V for Vendetta can be a potentially dangerous movie that is done quite well. Young adults and teens can watch this movie, be entertained and also drawn into the message that the movie give without even realizing it. Knowing the movies message can help those filter it out and see if the movie is truly beneficial or not.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

About A Boy Review

About A Boy is a daring comedy that strikes at the heart of all people. Meet Will, a selfish shallow 38 year-old man who is "an island" surround by his cool stuff. Meet Markus, a geeky socially inept and isolated 12 year-old boy. By the attempted suicide of Markus' mother Will and Markus are thrown together. Comedy most certainly ensues.
Will has attempted to preserve his life in isolation. He has all that he needs, DVDs, CDs, casual relationships with women and the like. His philosophy in life is: if people can make you happy then they most certainly can make you unhappy. So Will chooses to be an "island" with no real interaction with people. Yet, because of this Will in a sense becomes un-human. It is only through the spending of time (unwillingly at first) with Markus that Will becomes 'human' again. This first occurs during the time that they both are watching Xena and Will asks "How's your mother?" It is his first attempt in the movie to be interested in the needs of another person.
Markus on the other hand, needs more of a emotional support. He is terrified of what would happen if his mother committs suicide again. So he seeks out Will. In doing this Will teaches Markus about individualism and identity. Both of the characters grow, Markus to discovery of identity and Will to discovery of community.
As Christians we need to have both! We have an identity that is not lost: saint and sinner at the same time. At times we want to be an "island". Our sinful nature seeks out isolation, self-centeredness, and 'shallow'-ness. Yet as a saint, saved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are called to a community, not just a community but a family. As a Christian we can never be truly alone because our Jesus is always with us. "I am with you always...". Certainly there are times that we do need to be alone. But these times are when we draw upon the Word of God to refresh us and send us back out into the world. Our purpose in life is to "love your neighbor". Now that could be your family, friends, neighbors or anyone. We are to seek the needs of others. About A Boy draws upon the concept that there needs to be community in order to be human and that our purpose is to help others.
This movie is rated PG-13. It has some strong language but is quite an excellent film.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Superman Returns Review

Finally Big Blue returns to the silver screen. Superman Returns is a wonderful delight to watch. Producers, actors, and directors finally have discovered how to make superhero movies. Superman Returns captures the essence of the first two Superman movies (Superman I and Superman II with Christopher Reeve as Superman). Superman has been the most iconic and long lasting superhero. As such there is a certain type of mythos attached to the Superman. Superman is a larger than life character, god-like if you wish. Superman Returns captures the Superman mythos. With in this film, there is no better Christ-like figure than Superman.
The Superman Christ-like figure is proliferated throughout the film. Even Singer resigns in claiming that there is a spiritual sense to the movie. First, Superman is an Alien who lives in the world but is not of the world. Superman is also sent to earth by his father, Jor-El. As is explained by Jor-El, played by Marlon Brando, Kal-El aka Superman is sent to earth to bring them to the 'light'. He even states "I send them, you my only son...". Those references bring to mind quite clearly Jesus Christ. John 1:4-5 "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." And John 3:16-17 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son in to the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." Superman is raised by simple farmers similar to Jesus being raised by a carpenter.
Superman is also referred to as a savior by Lois ("The world doesn't need a Savior"). And yet Superman points out to her that he hears all of the 'worlds' cries for a Savior. Almost as if the prayers of the people reach Superman when he is floating above the earth. Probably the most clear picture of Superman as a Christ-like figure is the last quarter of the film. Upon realizing what Lex Luthor was doing, creating a perverted version of Krypton-like land in the ocean, Superman sweeps to action. But Lex had the land interlaced with Krptonite. Weak, Superman is beaten and stabbed with a Krptonite 'knife'. The whole scene is quite similar to Christ's Passion...being beaten and pierced. To stop the Land growth Superman lifts the perverted land and casts it out into space. As on the cross Jesus Christ takes the whole worlds sin, so does Superman in throwing the land away. Especially when he 'dies' and is floating in a cruciform shape before descending to earth.
The whole movie plays upon the Christ-like figure of saviors. Superman is most certainly a Savior. The movie is well done, even though it is long. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My first Blog...comments on "Does God Exist?"

On the 9th of May, Wednesday evening ABC’s Nightline aired the first of a series called “Face-Off”. The show promoted a debate: “Does God Exist?” Two people from what is called the Rational Response Squad, represented the Atheist side. Actor Kirk Cameron and author Ray Comfort represented the Christian side. They each debated the existence or lack of existence of God. This show has sparked such fervor of discussions on the forum boards.

From the beginning Cameron and Comfort’s agenda was to prove that God does exist without using the Bible or faith. While I agree that one can use this method, basically the Natural Knowledge of God, is it the best method of witnessing? I believe that it could be a starting point for atheists, but it is not our convincing arguments that will win people over for Christ but only by the Holy Spirit.

I could discuss many other things about that Nightline episode and arguments about Atheism but I want to focus on a statement one of the Atheists said during the show. She said, “I would rather go to Hell, than go to Heaven and worship a Totalitarian God!” PRAY THAT THIS IS NOT SO! It breaks my heart to see such anger and hatred. It should also break your hearts too.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we need to be more active in our Christian witness. I am sure that many of us know someone in our own life that is an Atheist. It may be your brother, your sister, an uncle, or friend. They might even be a co-worker. God desires all people to be saved. We, as Christians, are called to witness our faith to those who do not know Christ.

How are we to be witnesses? First, is to simply live out our Christian life in all spheres of our activities. We can no longer behave and act differently on Sunday than when we go into the office on Monday. I see far too often that we have compartmentalized our lives. I play my Christian role on Sunday or just when I’m at church. Then when I’m in the office I play my business person role that has no real attachment to my Christian role. This is a danger that we need to stop. Our identity is tied with Christ. We are always a Christian and that needs to be revealed in all aspects of our life. We also need to be confident in confessing what we believe. The public confession of the Apostles’ Creed is not just for Sunday. When addressed about our faith or beliefs be BOLD in confessing Jesus Christ. Finally, always pray. Pray for those that do not know Christ that the Holy Spirit would work and move in their lives. Maybe the Holy Spirit will bring that Atheist to the Body of Christ. What a joy and celebration will it be then!