Recently I was pulled into a protracted debate on facebook. I was basically told that I couldn’t even be taken seriously and was being absurd by trying to make a biblical defense of self-defense. I was basically told I was confusing American macho-ism and my faith. Interestingly enough, my heretofore unexpressed thoughts were that they were confusing their liberal statism and inability to take responsibility for themselves with their faith, but hey – we’ve all got our problems, right? Insults and logically fallacies were continuously thrown my way, but not one logical argument was ever made. The conversation ended when the other party just decided we disagreed and that he wouldn’t engage any further. Oddly enough, that came after multiple requests that he provide me with his argument and scriptural support so that I could understand his point of view. At no point did I sink to the level of insulting him nor did I take a condescending tone, but no true debate was forthcoming. Despite accusations of me being ignorant, this is actually something I have studied rather extensively and have spent extended time in meditation and prayer over. So let’s jump right in on this.

The Old Testament

Now the first move by the Christian pacifist/non-violence arguments I’ve seen is to discount the entirety of the Old Testament. Why? Simply because the Old Testament is full of examples, commands, and praises about the ability to defend oneself or others. Now I understand that we need to be very careful how we apply the Old Testament in a post-Christ faith, however we cannot simply throw out the entirety of the Old Testament just because it makes arguments against our case. Christ came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). While I acknowledge that Romans, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, and Hebrews all spend a substantial amount of time arguing the case that a Christian is not beholden to the legal system of the Old Testament, it is more than just a history lesson. In it we find the definition of God, Man, Original Sin, and our Sin Nature. We see timeless principles for Godly living, warnings against disobedience, and examples of how to praise and obey God. All of these are referenced by either Christ or the writers of the New Testament. So while we need to understand the spirit of how the Old Testament is applicable in our lives, we also need to actually know what it says as it is still valid.

The Value of Human Life

The first salient point we find in the Old Testament is how absolutely valuable human life is to God. This is first seen in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Here we see that because man is not only a creation of God, but one made in His image, that the penalty for taking a life is forfeiture of your own life. Note, this was among the first things God said to Noah after the flood, thus this is pre-Mosaic law for those of you who want to throw out Mosaic law in it’s entirety. Add to this the fact that in 1 Chronicles we see that David, the man after God’s own heart, was prohibited by God from building the temple because he was a man who had shed much blood. The shed blood being referred to was blood David had shed in battle, defending God’s people. Now, this isn’t a ringing endorsement for defending your own life by taking another’s. It’s not meant to be. It’s a piece of the puzzle. It’s an item that shows you just how serious God is about taking the life of a human. It should be how seriously we consider it. Are our actions important enough that would would forfeit our life for it? Is it important enough to fundamentally change our qualification for ministry? We must answer these questions very carefully and honestly.

Mosaic Penalties for Killing, And It’s One Exception

Next we will look at what system the Mosaic law set up in light of Genesis 9:6 and also the sixth commandment (of the ten commandments) which states simply, “You shall not murder.” It should be noted that some older translation will say “You (or Thou) shall (shalt) not kill.” These translations use a more generic term when the original Hebrew actually uses a specific term for murder. Murder is typically defined as a malicious or hate filled killing. This clearly separates it from accidental, negligent, or even self defense killing, which is an important distinction in Mosaic law.

In Exodus 21:12-15, Numbers 35:6-34, and Deuteronomy 19:1-13 we see the penalties for accidental and negligent deaths. Again, the person who causes an accidental death, it’s even specified that he previously did not hate the person who died, forfeits his life. In this case, God does provide a merciful alternative. The person who caused the death can flee to a “city of refuge” where he will not be put to death as long as he stays in said city. Then there’s one other little exception listed in Exodus 22:2-3:

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.

Here we see that if one kills a thief in the night, they are not held guilty for the death. If he breaks in during the day it’s a different matter, presumably because you can see that he is a thief and not a criminal with worse intentions. In that case, he should be dealt with as a thief is normally dealt with under Mosaic law – he makes restitution for what he broke/stole. Of note is that this passage does not deal with people who break in to commit other crimes – rape, kidnapping, or murder, all of which are common in home invasion scenarios. It should also be noted that all of these crimes are capital offenses under Mosaic law. It is reasonable then to assume that if you are allowed to kill in self defense if a thief breaks in at night, you would be allowed to do the same for the other listed offenses, likely during any hour of the day as they are more grievous crimes.

A second example is found in Deuteronomy 22:25-27:

But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

Here we see that because no one was able to save a woman from a sexual assault, she will be held blameless for the assault. By contrast the verses preceding this deal with a woman who could have screamed for help and didn’t – she is assumed to be complacent in the sexual act. If a violent self defense (in this case the defense of others) response to violent criminal attacks was complete forbidden, there would be no distinction made between the two types of sexual act. This passage indicates that not only can we protect ourselves, we can use violence to protect others. This is borne out in the very clear examples of self defense seen in the nation of Israel’s history.

Old Testament Examples of Self Defense

The first example of self defense in the Old Testament that we look at will be from Nehemiah. We are seeing the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah has convinced the current ruler to free a portion of the Israelites so that they can return to their ethnic homeland and begin rebuilding their city. Once there, they find themselves under attack from the various ethnic groups that are now living nearby. Due to this, the Israelites are told in Nehemiah 4:14 to take up arms:

And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.

It is very important here to notice that this is given not to soldiers or to law enforcement agents, but to the people. In fact, we see in other portions of Nehemiah that the rebuilding was done in family groups and that certain members of the family would stand watch while the other built. In 4:17-18 we see that anyone who had a weapon was to work with one hand and carry a weapon in the other and that all of the builders were to wear their swords continually. These were average people who were given charge over their own defense and the defense of their families.

The second example we have comes from the book of Esther, chapters eight and nine. In it the civil ruler, King Ahasuerus, granted the Israelites the ability to defend themselves against racial violence. In Esther 8:11 we see:

[the king sent letters] saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods…

So what do the Israelites do in response? Esther 9:5 says “The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them.” If you finish reading the chapter you will notice that the Jews killed nearly 76,000 people and took no plunder. They defended their lives. Again, the Israelites had no formal army at this time as they were in captivity. These were normal Jews who rose up to defend themselves. No where that I can find is this behavior condemned, in fact it is remembered through the Jewish holiday of Purim. To reiterate that last bit: Jews to this day celebrate their ability to protect their lives and the deliverance that God granted them through their own hands. Which leads directly to the next point.

Giving God the Credit for Work He Allowed Us to Do

This point is shown here in the Old Testament, but there is a New Testament angle to it as well. One of the big arguments against self defense is that it shows a lack of faith in God’s protection. As we saw in Esther, the Jews celebrate to this day the fact that they protected themselves against a plot of annihilation, but that is not the only time God is praised for the work man has done to defend himself. In Psalm 46:1 David claims, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” and then in Psalm 144:1 says, “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.” David also says in Psalm 18:34, “He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” David praises God for his protection and also for God giving him the ability to protect himself. Why? Because, just like in many other aspects of our faith, God asks us to trust him and then do the work ourselves. Take for instance 1 Timothy 5:8, which says:

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Also, consider 2 Thessalonians 3:10:

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

It seems clear from these passage that while we should rely on God for our provision (Matthew 7:7-11 for instance) we are still clearly expected to work for said provision and are considered worse than unbelievers if we do not. The same principle should apply to God’s promise of protection.

The New Testament

The previous point spans throughout scripture, being seen in theory in both the Old and New Testaments. However, there is support for self defense found in the New Testament as well. First we can look at the actions of Jesus and the disciples.

What We See About Self Defense from Jesus

In Luke 22:35-39 we see the following:

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.

I will be the first to admit that this passage can be problematic but if one breaks it down, the meaning becomes clear. In verse 35 Jesus sets up what their ministry has been like to this point. They have had nothing, but they have lacked nothing. Second he sets up what their ministry will be like from this point forward (i.e.: after his death). He says they will need everything they’ve got and that if they don’t have a sword, they were better to be without their outer garment (which was used for warmth and bedding amongst other things) and to have money for a sword. Next he talks about what is coming next (as he had been all night) by saying it’s time he went and got arrested like a common criminal. The disciples tied the two statements together and asked if they had enough swords. Since Jesus wasn’t concerned about what was happening, he indicated that yes, two would be enough. At this point, many Christian pacifict/non-violent supporters will say that they needed the swords to be considered criminals. However, the Jews were allowed to carry swords for self defense under Roman rule, so that argument holds no real validity. Of note however is the fact that at least two disciples had already carried swords in Jesus’ presence without him condemning them.,/p>

To truly see if Jesus was against all violence and self-defense we will take a look at how the aforementioned swords were used. We can find the applicable passages are Matthew 26:51-56, Luke 22:49-53, and John 18:10-11. Through this there are three main points that can be seen. First is though Christ has come to die and is willingly going with those who are arresting him, he has the right to protect his life with both the sword and legions of angels. Second we see that those who are quick to violence will die violently. This echoes Psalm 11:5, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” Third we see that Peter is told to put his sword in it’s place, indicating that Jesus does not take issue with him having or carrying a sword. If He had, he could have easily told Peter to throw his sword away or to get rid of it.

Possible Problem Passages in the New Testament

One of the main verses quoted by proponents of non-violence is Matthew 5:38-39:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Well, there you have it. We are not to retaliate to violence – see the part about the slap? The problem is, this verse has nothing to do with violent opposition to violent attacks.

First, in order to know what Jesus is referring to, we have to know what he is quoting (as both verses are actually quotes. Verse 38 about “an eye for an eye…” is from one of the following verses: Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21. These verses all deal with limiting the power of a court in response to a crime – so that the punishment would fit the crime committed. If read in the context of the entire passage (Matthew 5:38-42) we see that Jesus is speaking out against personal vengeance for a wrong committed. At this point in Jewish history, the Pharisee’s had taken the original Old Testament verses and instead of applying them to the limiting of a court’s power, had used it as justification for personal vengeance. It was allowed, according to the Pharisees, to go to a person’s home and exact vengeance, as long as it was with in the bounds of the original offense. Jesus is condemning this practice.

Verse 39, about turning the other cheek, is a quote from Lamentations 3:30 where the turning of your cheek is clearly ignoring an insult as backhanded slaps were a common insult at the time. In fact this insult meant that the person slapping you considered you nothing and of no consequence, which is much more of a blow to your self-worth than it is to your physical body. This in no ways means that you cannot defend yourself against violent attack. Jesus is merely saying that you should be able to take an insult and let it pass by. The entirety of this passage deals with foregoing personal retribution in demeaning or embarrassing situations. The original hearers of the Sermon on the Mount would have understood this context as well.

The second problem passage that some may see is Romans 12:18, which says:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

This verse and the entire passage is easier for me to swallow. I am 100% capable, with God’s power and following Jesus’ teachings, to be peaceful with all men. I do not have to respond angrily or violently to what others say and do. I can be harmonious. I can let insults slide. I can easily let God be the ultimate judge and continue to love others despite of how they treat me. However, verse 18 says, “IF possible, SO FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU.” As stated, with God, I am able to do that. However, I see no prohibition here against protecting yourself from an evil man.

Much like the Matthew passage dealt with retribution and vengeance, so does this passage. The difference is the difference between coming home and finding out your wife or kids were attacked that day and loading up for bear, heading over to the offender’s house, and blowing his head off while he eats dinner and reacting to stop an attack in progress. I am able to let God mete out justice in the first instance. I am able to love that person as God loves them and to pray for them. However, if I have the opportunity to prevent such an act because I am present, I am responsible for doing so as we have seen previously.

Third is the Matthew 5:38-43 in which we are told to love and pray for our enemies. Jesus was speaking in context of the common belief at the time that the Jews were only to love their own people and were to scorn and hate their enemies (in this case the half Jewish Samaritans and the Gentiles who were everyone else). He is saying that you should not hate anyone. You should love them and you should pray for them. He nowhere says you have to like them or that you have to let them do whatever they want because you love them. He is merely saying that you should not return their hate. You should love every one the way that God loves every one of us.

These verses together all point to one thing – we are to live at peace as much as we are able. We are not to seek personal gain, whether in physical possession or in reputation, at the expense of others. Nor are we to seek retribution or vengeance for their acts against us. We are not to be easily insulted – we are in fact supposed to return insults and hate with love. This is meant for us to further show the characteristics of Christ and God. A God who violently defended his people on more than one occasion.

Conclusions

We have established that God values human life greatly because man is made in His image. The penalty for taking a life is death, however there are a few understood exemptions from this. However, even taking lives in a way that God allows can have negative affects on our lives and our ministry. We see that God sanctioned the Israelites carrying weapons and protecting their lives and the lives of others. We have seen that though we praise God for his protection, we also praise him for the ability to defend ourselves. We see that Jesus was not opposed to carrying weapons or to defending yourself, except in situations where He needed to fulfill prophecy. We see that Jesus never clearly taught that self defense was wrong, but that we should be more level headed and peaceful than those who do not follow Jesus.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that self-defense is not prohibited by scripture. That said, we are not to be violent people and we are to discern between actually defending our lives and the lives of others versus defending our property or our reputation. Furthermore, self-defense is not commanded. I see room for those who chose pacifism as the ultimate example of Christ’s love. I do not agree with their position, as I do not think allowing someone to murder you for your wallet will actually teach them anything about the love of God. It may however teach them that Christians are easy targets for their despicable acts. However, just because I disagree on this point does not mean that I disagree on the actual important tenants of our faith – I will not chose to make this a break in fellowship. In other words, so far as it depends on me, I will live peaceably with all.

In reference to this story about a boy being suspended from school for pretending to have a gun while playing with his friends at recess, Osceolla County School District spokesperson Dol Umbridge had this to offer:

A gun is a gun, whether you choose to brand it as ‘real’ or not. Imagining violence leads to violence. Past permissiveness about ‘games’ of ‘cops and robbers’ are exactly why crime is at an all-time high. And children who imagine guns will go on to imagine other things, which is highly detrimental to our curriculum. Moreover, thanks to budget cuts, many of our professional educators have been deprived of the in-service training days that would permit them to distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ guns.

Let’s break this down.

  1. A gun is an actual object. It is defined by dictionary.com as “a weapon consisting of a metal tube, with mechanical attachments, from which projectiles are shot by the force of an explosive; a piece of ordnance.” So, a child’s fingers are not a gun, whether you choose to define it as such or not.
  2. Imagining violence leads to violence for sociopaths. Children imagine all kinds of things and never actually do them… It’s called childhood and developing creativity through imagining and pretending. As an educator, I would expect you to know how children develop.
  3. You are correct, children who imagine anything will go on to imagine other things, that’s the point. Children who keep their imagination alive will change this world for the better, and you, as an educator, should encourage this.
  4. Crime, as it turns out, is at a several decades low, not an all time high. Don’t believe me? It’s straight from the FBI.
  5. If your “professional educators” are so incredibly stupid that they can’t tell the difference between a child’s hand and an item made of metal, polymer, and wood then no amount of extra training will help them. Do you have to spoon feed them at lunch time?

Why, oh why do we put up with this?

Between the lackluster finale of Dexter and the amazing writing of the past five seasons of Breaking Bad, it almost didn’t matter where we wound up. We have already witnessed amazing character development of all of Bad’s major characters and unless the writers wrote the finale while partaking of the Crystal Blue Persuasion, there was no undoing it. That said the writers from Dexter had better pay attention so they don’t screw up whatever they write next.

THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW, DUH. Also, while we’re talking about things – some of my links are for mature audiences only.

There are a few things that make the Bad finale, and really the entire show, so great.

1. You only know one thing. Walter White is going to die. I mean, he’s been dying of cancer the whole show. You have no idea how – the cancer or his choices – but you know the man is going to die.

2. Because he’s going to die, you have no idea what he’s capable of doing. Walter, until Hank’s death at the hands of Jack, Todd and their crew, seemed to have no line that could not be crossed. The only seeming exception was killing Jesse. Killing Jesse was brought up again and again, and Walt would never allow it – despite it clearly being the best option almost every time it’s brought up.

3. Regardless of what he spent 50 years of his life doing, Walt found his special purpose. (No, not that special purpose.) The more he realized that he loved what he did – the more we wanted to hate him… But he always drew us back in – and this was never less true than the finale.

4. Closure. No coy cut to black (I’m looking at you Sopranos). No pseudo spirituality with no surprises (*ahem, Lost). Vince Gilligan and the other writers finished their damn story. They didn’t leave it open to interpretation (unless you somehow think Walt survived, in which case you probably need to quit reading this to get back to huffing paint fumes) and they didn’t use any cheap cop-out endings or saves. They logically and creatively ended a story that had run it’s course.

Now, for specifics. The second to last episode, Granite Slate, leaves you with the distinct feeling that Walt has had another case of pride f’n with him, and you know he’s got murder on the brain. So the first thing he does is find his college pals Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz. He hides in plain sight and very creepily stalks the couple as they come home from New York. And just like every great noir and/or western revenge flick, he kills them in a murderous rage before starting his main killing spree… Except he doesn’t. He guilts them (and then just in case that doesn’t work threatens them with death from beyond the grave) into giving his family his last 9,720,000 dollars and change via a trust to Junior. You have one last moment of thinking maybe there’s hope for Walt… He isn’t completely Heisenberg yet… and if that’s true maybe he’ll live…

At the close of this scene, we get one last peek at the two characters that grew the least in this show – Badger and Skinny Pete, and it just warms your heart to see them.

Then we have my favorite scene… a flashback of Jesse creating the wooden box that he spoke of in rehab in season three, episode 9 (Kafkaesque). It was the moment that he seemed to have found a purpose, maybe even true happiness, until he traded it for an ounce of weed. But here we see one final glimpse of the Jesse that could have been, before being yanked into the reality of his slavery.

Next, Walt sets up his meet with the Neo Nazis to exact his revenge and slyly poisons Lydia (revealed in the final moments if you missed the very intense shot of her putting Stevia in her tea) in the process.

The next scene seals the fact that Walt is dead and Heisenberg is left. He says goodbye to Skyler in her crappy, tiny apartment and finally has a moment of truth with her. He tells her that he didn’t do all this for the family. Easily the best line in the finale, Walt says, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was, really . . . I was alive.” After his moment of honesty he gives Skyler the location of Hank’s body, looks over his sleeping daughter, and sneaks out the back door where he watches as Junior comes home from school. He has said his final goodbye and Walter White is effectively dead. Heisenberg moves toward his own Swan Song in true Heisenberg style.

Walt shows up at the hideout, talks his way out of being shot right away so that he can figure out what is going on with Jesse. Once he realizes what they’ve done to Jesse, Walt, in his oddly paternal way, drives Jesse to the ground and covers him with his own body while the M60 machine gun he bought at the beginning of season five (in a very un-Lost like flash forward) is activated, pops out of the trunk and kills damn near everyone in the room. Todd is left for Jesse to finish (and let’s face it, Jesse deserved at least one win). Walt reminds us one last time that he never did this for the money when he kills Jack who survived the initial onslaught and is begging for his life by promising to return the stolen 70 million dollars. He then offers Jesse the chance for closure by giving Jesse the gun and telling Jesse to kill Walt. For a moment you think he might, but then Jesse proves that deep down he really is good by telling Walt to do it himself if he wants to die.

Jesse takes off, while Walt takes a phone call to Lydia for one last gloat about the fact that he’s killed her and everyone else, and then he goes and dies in the new lab while the police arrive.

That’s it. The dying Walt took care of his family and the no-options-left Heisenberg protects his product, his name, and his legacy by killing anyone who still had any desire at all to keep Crystal Blue Persuasion going. With his empire secured from the pilfering of others (by it’s utter destruction), he is free to die as well. We have closure, Walt’s journey ends with no lame mysteries or spin-off/sequel setups.

Thank you Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and the rest of the amazing cast and crew for a journey that challenged us as viewers and put the rest of dramatic television on notice. Now hurry up on the Better Call Saul prequel series!

Well, it’s been a while since I ranted about anything, so I thought… why not? After all I did watch what was probably the most disappointing hour of television I’ve seen in a decade last night. Not that I was surprised, mind you. Dexter hasn’t really been good since season four, but I continually held out hope that the writers would get back on track.

The great news is that I am not alone in not being super satisfied with Dexter as of late. In fact, my good friend Frank Taylor (aka Paceaux) wrote up some of his own thoughts, including what he would have liked to have seen from seasons 7 & 8.

Before we delve into the actual finale, let me tell you some of my disappointments in the character of Dexter. I’m not even going to get into plot holes or unbelievability or anything else, just where I think they went wrong. It’s important to note that I have never read a Dexter book – so if Dexter in the books is different, then this obviously doesn’t apply. These are just my thoughts on how he’s presented in the TV show.

1. Dexter never really had to make a moral choice – there was always an easy way out or the shield of “The Code” to hide behind. Dexter should have been forced to make a choice in season 2 – does he or doesn’t he kill Doakes? If Dexter didn’t kill him, he should have lived and Dexter lived with the fallout of his choice. If he did, there should have been consequences for that as well. This was the first time we ever had to consider the fact that Dexter does a horrible thing for “good” reasons. Because of that – is it okay to do some really bad stuff (ie: kill a good person) in order to keep doing good (killing “bad people”)? Instead someone else killed Doakes and Dexter used it to escape trouble and we avoid ever dealing with the morality of Dexter.

2. Dexter’s ooey-gooey center: Somewhere along the way the writers decided that Dexter was only a monster on the outside and that inside he was secretly a good guy. This was cemented in season 4 when Dexter shows true emotions for Rita and Harrison. Now the moral quagmire from point one is forever done away with because now the entire show is about whether or not Dexter can discover the goodness that lies inside of him.

3. If Dexter is discovering his inner humanity, fine. That’s an acceptable (albeit lame) choice for his character arc. That said, there should be a. consequences and b. guilt just overrunning his life. The most accurate count I could find, which does not include most of the final season, lists Dexter’s known and confirmed kills at 132, not including the deaths he is technically responsible for, but did not personally commit. That seems to be something that should probably wreck someone who has just discovered their soul.

Those are the major issues I have with his character. We’ll gloss over the fact that everyone near him is constantly killed or injured, he’s never home, has a nearly-live in nanny who raises his child for him and yet doesn’t ask what he does all day, and somehow is active for nearly all 24 hours in a day and never seems to fall asleep at work and jump right into the finale.

First, we once again are denied Dexter dealing with the morality of what he does in any way. During the last two season Dexter destroys the character (in the sense of uprightness) and is eventually responsible (in more way than one) his sister Debra’s death. The last thing she tells him is that he deserves to be happy (by running away with a woman who once tried to kill Debra). Really? Debra compromised her morals, threw away her career, realized that Dexter was responsible for their father’s suicide, and tried to kill herself multiple times this season because of the reality of Dexter, but he’s basically a good guy who deserves to be happy? Ugh.

Second, Hannah is presented (and accepted by the aforementioned and plainly insane Debra) as the best possible choice to raise Harrison. Yes, because emotionally unstable, completely self absorbed, serial killing women make the absolute best mothers. This was just dumb.

Third, Harry basically disappears. Dexter had been talking to the imagined ghost of his father for several seasons now. He had basically become his evil Jiminy Cricket. He kept Dexter killing and adhering to the code, constantly telling him that he NEEDED to kill. Then in season eight, Harry makes a 180 in most regards, spending all of his time arguing with Dexter and trying to talk him out of killing. Great – so he’s now become the ooey-gooey conscience of the ooey-gooey, deep-down good Dexter. I can live with that, though I still think it’s lame. However, apparently he took one look at all the crap going on in the finale and said, “Dex, you’re too messed up for me. You’re on your own.” So, no closure on the “just how crazy is this guy who talks to himself all the time” angle.

Fourth, on what planet or in what alternate universe would Dexter’s kill of Jaxon have lead to absolutely ZERO investigation/temporary holding/arrest of Dexter? On camera, clearly in calm control and then visibly “acting” once help arrived… all caught on tape. Just lazy, sloppy, and dumb on the writer’s part.

Fifth, what the hell is up with the Debra death and burial? I get Dex pulling the plug – I can see him doing that. And yes, I understand a hurricane is coming in and headed (apparently) directly for the hospital. But Dexter, in his “kill clothes” could not walk out with the body wrapped in a sheet and carry it to his waiting boat with absolutely no one seeing him. And forget logistics. Dexter puts on his kill clothes, kills his sister, and then buries her at sea with all of his other victims. It wasn’t enough that he actually ruined her life (and killed her), but he mentally relegated her to the same status as all the “bad people” who “needed to die”? So wait… Deep down inside Dexter is good and has a soul, but he’s still a sociopath? Make up your mind.

Dexter’s fake death. Great, Dex fakes his death and runs away because he realizes he will always be a killer and no one he loves is safe. Since when does personal introspection and discovery equate to someone being able to swim out of a hurricane? Seriously. He drives his boat into the hurricane, the coast guard finds it destroyed, and he is in Oregon? There’s something missing here… ah yes, logic.

The “batman ending” (thanks for the term Paceaux) does one unforgivable thing. It undoes the entire series. I talked about how I thought the direction for Dexter’s character was lame – but the writers should have committed. We have spent the last four seasons being told that Dexter isn’t evil – he can be good – and he deserves to live a normal life and be happy. Then right at the very end… BAM! Just kidding. He has to kill, it really is something he can’t control, so he can’t be human and happy and has to run away to be an axe-murdering lumberjack. There’s no ambiguousness in the ending. There’s no question that he is still a murder. If he could merely turn it off and finally be good, he would have shown up in Argentina. Nope, the writers wanted less closure and the ability of a second show and so Dexter goes to Oregon with his humanity shut away so it won’t hurt him, back to square one.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am totally okay with the antagonist still being an antagonist at the end of the show, but not if you’re going to fake a change to protagonist for multiple seasons and just drop us off back at the beginning. If you’re going to pull that crap, I’ll just go back to re-watching Lost.

The final mistake that the Dexter show runners and writers made was a tactical one. They limped along on a show that had jumped the shark and gave us a lame duck ending… while airing at the exact same time as Breaking Bad’s final season. Breaking Bad took their protagonist and made him a horrible, loathsome antagonist, took half the cast with him, redeemed a small few, and had characters that actually grew and changed, while challenging the viewers to examine who they actually root for. It did it unapologetically and created 5 of the greatest seasons in television history. It did all of this in the same time slot as Dexter and showed us how a show with a bad guy as the central character should be written, and Dexter just limped away into our collective memory dust bin.

I was lucky enough to attend a private screening in Dallas last week of Man of Steel, the upcoming reboot of the Superman franchise. I try to attend as many summer blockbuster screenings as I can, but this one was a little odd. It was marketed to pastors only and when I showed up my customary 2.5 hours early, I found no one in line. (FIRST!) Once in the theater and ready to go, I realized that the theater wasn’t even close to full. Most screenings I go to end up turning people away after forcing everyone to find someone smaller to sit in their lap… so this was way more comfortable. Then the oddest part – they asked us not to say anything on social media at all until yesterday. Well, those of you that follow my twitter account know that I had already been tweeting about it all day and that I gave a giant thumbs up to the movie upon exiting the theater. Hey, I didn’t sign anything saying I wouldn’t talk! Anyway, I hope you all make plans to see this opening weekend and I’m going to try to sweeten the pot for you.

Fair warning, I have no idea what most people consider a spoiler. I knew that Benedict Cumberbatch‘s character in Star Trek: Into Darkness was Khan about 4 months before the movie came out, so I was shocked when people cried foul at my tweeting of “KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!” after the midnight showing… So, I will probably have some mild spoilers below, so caveat lector.

One last modifier – I am not a huge Superman comic buff. I have seen every screen incarnation there has ever been, but I was more of a TMNT and/or Marvel reader when I was still into comics. So die hard Supes fans will probably shoot holes in what I say all day long.

Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder team up as executive producer/cowriter and director of the latest installment of the Superman franchise. However, let’s just get this out of the way… forget all the other Superman films, especially 2006′s Superman Returns. This is truly a reboot in every sense of the word. Every single aspect we see of the Superman mythos in Man of Steel has been completely thought through and held up to the light of our reality in 2013. Gone is the underwear outside of his tights, a holdover from Victorian era strongmen according to Snyder. For that matter, gone are the tights. Replaced with a high-tech looking Kryptonian armor base layer – again Snyder figures he should have a reason to be wearing such an outfit. Don’t worry, the “S” is still there – but now it’s a family crest that in Kryptonian stands for Hope (but not the Obama kind, from what I can tell).

The film opens on a Krypton unlike any we have seen on either the big or small screen before. It’s a real planet with flora and fauna. With realistic cities and people living in what was likely a near utopian society before a severe energy crisis lead to the attempted coup by General Zod that we open on. Jor El (Superman’s Kryptonian/biological father) is the head government scientist, trying desperately to save his planet and race. General Zod was bred for the sole purpose of protecting the Krypton. Their ideas on how to best do that differ. Jor El sees the writing on the wall and jettisons his son, Kal El (Supe’s Kryptonian name) towards Earth, with the hope of Krypton’s future with him. Krypton explodes, Kal El crashes.

We open on an idyllic field where Jonathan Kent… Nope, that’s what you were expecting, because that’s how it’s always been shown. Instead we crash cut to a fishing boat where a smouldering greenhorn is almost crushed by fishing gear. He’s mocked and he goes below deck. What follows is a dark, troubled, and barely restrained young man trying to find his place in this world. Flash backs fill us in on some key moments in Clark’s life – the focus of his powers, saving classmates, and an ethical discussion with his earthly adopted father, Jonathan Kent. This latter incident ends with Clark asking, “Should I have let them die?” and Jonathan trying to find a way to say “Maybe?” and still sound fatherly. This is the key change to Superman that I saw throughout the movie. Everyone from Kal El down to Perry White and some nameless people from the Daily Planet struggle with the notion of what is truly good and whether or not they should make the sacrifice to do good.

Previous incarnations of Superman that I have seen present good and evil in a very black and white sense, much like Star Wars and the Light and Dark sides of the Force. What is good is always self evident and Superman seems powerless to change the fact that he is bound to do good – or worse has no free will to choose anything other than good. While this can give us a warm feeling that good is so easy to find, it’s not very realistic and it leaves us with a near all-powerful being that comes off as naive. That changes in Man of Steel. There may be different opinions as to what is good, bad or best. Kal El constantly struggles with putting aside emotion and personal rights and has to wrestle with what is good in a given situation. It’s not just the titular character though – we see it constantly from supporting roles and even minor “background” roles. People have to choose to do good and live with the results. This is what makes this film so great – it shows us not that good is this great standard we can never achieve, but that we can all choose to do good and when we do, it makes a difference. This leads to an epic and game-changing finale that is Nolan and Snyder’s biggest departure from the Superman of the past. I for one feel like it’s long over due. Kal El feels more like an actual person in this film than I have ever seen him appear before. I can’t wait for another installment of this franchise with these guys at the helm.

The filmmaking in general is great in this film. There is a good balance of epic, beautiful vistas of Kal El flying and quick snappy action of him fighting other Kryptonians (excellent take on combat that involves super speed – loved it). Costume and set design are off the chain – creating a real world for Kal El to exist in that still has a certain flair all on it’s own. Where the production really shined though was casting. Every single character was phenomenally played – from Kal El down on to small bit parts. In fact, so many great actors filled relatively minor roles and did such an amazing job, that even the small characters felt fully rounded and fleshed out – they felt less like people milling in the background and more like we got to see a snippet of something that happened in a real person’s life. Amazing job all around on casting and acting.

I would make every effort to see this big blockbuster in the theaters. Find the best cinema house near you for picture and sound quality and treat yourself to a great film. It’s rated PG-13 for some mild language and some fairly intense imagery and violence, though it’s nothing gory or over-the-top, just big and intense. My kids won’t be seeing it yet, but they’re 6 and 4 – I’d say 8 and up is likely safe depending on the kid. For everyone else – change your plans for Friday and go see this opening weekend. As for me, I’ll be looking for an opportunity to see it again before it heads off to Blu Ray… at which point I will definitely buy it.

While the title could actually apply to very nearly every problem facing our nation, I am of course speaking about the very real threat against the Second Amendment in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

What most people seem to be forgetting is that there are only two tools available to us as humans to change someone’s mind and/or actions. In our civilized society we understand that we have the tool of reason. However, the further we get away from hunting and gathering the more we seem to forget about the other tool: force.

Reason, as seen in societal values and legislation, stops the reasonable, civilized man. For instance, licensed concealed firearm carriers will typically not carry in a gun free zone. Reason, however, does not stop individuals like the Sandy Hook shooter. People who are committed to doing something the rest of us see as insane are beyond reason. Reason, in their own mind, would have stopped them and caused them to seek help before this point. Because they are now unreasonable, there is no “civilized” discourse or action left to us. This leaves us with only one tool against them, force. This is why legislation does not and will not ever stop them. This is why a civilized man (or woman) who has taken responsibility for themselves and is not afraid to use the tool of force is the one thing that has always stopped them. We cannot pass more laws (of any kind) and expect mass shootings of innocents to end.

Taking guns away from law abiding citizens will not stop school shootings – it will remove the victim’s tool of force and thus their means of stopping the unreasonable. Giving the government sweeping power over the citizenry’s mental health with not stop school shootings – it will, however, give the government a greater tool of force to use against dissidents and “enemies of the state.” This should be a terrifying proposition after the last 12 years of building an imperial presidency, but that is an issue for a much longer post. Mandating armed personnel in schools may actually make them safer – because it is applying force to a problem only solved by force. However, it takes away the rights of the school administrators and would add an exorbitant cost to an already over-burdened federal government.

The solution? Enforce the laws you already have in place when it comes to firearms. Make as effective use of this tool of reason as you can. Secondly, rollback legislation and federal control over the security of schools. Allow schools decide how best to keep themselves safe. If they want to hire armed guards, let them craft a plan and implement it. If they want to allow trained personnel (ie: teachers and administrators who have qualified) carry firearms, let them. If they want to allow concealed weapons carriers carry on school property, let them. We all must take responsibility for our own safety and quit relying on a nanny state (or worse a police state) to keep us safe.

In this light we need to remove “Gun Free Zone” legislation at the federal, state, and local levels. Criminals use these signs to find soft, easy targets. If you want to lower mass shootings create more hard targets – armed and armored public places. The military knows that if you want to keep someone from attacking something, you make it appear as costly as possible to attack it. If criminals and sociopaths wanted to work for a living, they’d get a job. If a target can fight back or is too difficult to penetrate, they will move on.

Despite what the anti-gun crowd will say, I value human life. I value our nation’s children. We should protect our children at all costs, with both reason and force. In fact, we should be brutally and violently swift in protecting our children by force. I value the freedoms that were encapsulated and protected by our Founding Fathers. I value the blood that was spilled to free us from tyranny over 200 years ago and has been spilt since then to allow us to remain free. We must not surrender our freedom for any reason. We especially must not surrender our freedom for an empty promise of safety that will leave us in greater danger.

Today I wrote the President of our country and my legislators expressing my concerns. I used the form found here and sent them the following letter:

Dear Legislators and Mr. President,

Considering recent events there is now a concentrated effort to limit the rights of law abiding and free men. My heart, as a father, was broken on December 14 as I saw the events play out in the news. I grieve with the families who were broken and destroyed by the actions of a sociopath. However, blaming firearms or their law-abiding owners and punishing them is not the answer to the challenges we face as a nation. History has shown such actions to be completely ineffectual.

The laws we currently have in place did nothing to stop the Sandy Hook shooter. He was stopped by the mandatory background check from purchasing firearms. He then decided to murder his mother and take her legally owned firearms to commit this tragedy. A dedicated man who does not value life nor the limits of society or government cannot be stopped by more legislation. Laws do not stop those committed to breaking the law.

I agree that we need to do all within our power to protect our children and I partner with all of you to do just that. So I beg you to enact legislation that will genuinely be effective. Banning firearms used in less than 1% of crimes committed is not going to stop such tragedies. Again, this was proven in 1999 when the Columbine shooting took place under the 1994 ban.

Do something meaningful, please. Help reform the mental health care system and help remove the public stigma from needing said mental health care. Allow schools and school personnel the freedom to set their own security policies and to use all available methods to make their school a hardened target, which is the surest way to prevent these tragedies. Do not strip us of our rights and property by passing additional antigun laws that have historically had no positive effect on crime in our nation or others.

Finally, proceed with caution. It is very easy, in a moment of pain and hurt, to overreact and in the process unnecessarily and detrimentally limit freedom. Whether we are addressing mental health, gun legislation, or armed guards in schools we must be wary of assigning too much control or responsibility to our government. Many Second Amendment supporters cite protection from our government as a reason for needing firearms and then call for a veritable police state to protect out children. We must be ever vigilant and mindful of our freedom.

Thank you,
Kevin Dooley

 

This past Thursday I was invited, as a local ministry leader, to view an advanced screening of a film that will be released in September called Unconditional. The writer/director is from Arlington, TX and now lives in Nashville, where the movie is set. It is inspired by true events and even (at least in the screening) has a short segment at the end with the real-life person one of the main characters is based on.

Those of you who know me are at this point asking yourselves, “Why in the world would Kevin agree to see an openly Christian film?” And to answer that, I have to say… I dunno. Tickets were free and it was something to do. As some insight into my perspective, faith-based films entered my awareness with Flywheel, Sherwood Church/Pictures first film. They have since given us Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous, all of which have suffered from poor acting, a lack of budget, and cheesy writing which is not especially connected with what I like to call “the real world”. Like much of the Christian music industry (another rant for another time), I am not a fan of “faith-based” films in general. My main problem is that they do not tackle real problems in a real manner and they tend to shove the “church-answer ending” down your throat at the end. As a believer, even I check out at these moments because it’s just too much. So, all of that to say I wasn’t expecting much from Unconditional. I am happy to share with you that I was very pleasantly surprised.

First of all, the directing was very, very solid. There was no distinct style to it, like a Nolan or Scorsese, but it was good, solid directing that turned out a good film. Think Peter Berg or F. Gary Gray, whom you likely don’t know by name but have enjoyed a film from…

Secondly, the lead performance were great. Lyn Collins (John Carter, The number 23) and Michael Ealy (Seven Pounds, 2Fast 2Furious) were convincing and relatable. Some of the supporting roles fell a little flat, but for the most part they were solid as well. Surprising all of the child actors were solid, a place I’ve seen many lower-budget “indie” films fall flat, especially when there’s this many of them.

I felt the story was very well done. The story follows a woman who is devastated and loses her faith after her husband is violently murdered. In the opening scene she has returned to the place of his death to take her own life – instantly I knew this film wasn’t going to shy away from reality or tough issues. She is interrupted and through a course of events reconnects with her childhood best friend. Through the new relationship and the connections it brings we see completely unconditional love can change a life and how it can redeem any situation. All this in a way that is real – people still, to the very end, struggle with dark, hurtful, sinful things – and without ever getting real preachy. The viewer is shown God’s truth without ever feeling condemned or judged for not believing the same way.

All told, I really enjoyed the movie – but it is not without it’s warts. There are things that set it apart from the “normal” Hollywood fare movie goers are used to.

First of all, the ending kinda blew it for me. I mean, the climax and the resolution were 90% good, but then the narration kicked in over a montage of “wrap-up” footage and I could have told you down to the exact timing what shots were coming and in what order, including the final “zoom up through a raindrop into the clouds and fade to black”. For a film that had spent so much time expressing a belief system in a believable way, it fell back on it’s Christian roots at the end with a cheesy, predictable summation.

Secondly – the color grading was pretty inconsistent. Now, most normal movie goers pay no attention to color grading – in fact, when I’ve pointed out the teal/orange phenomenon to most people they hate me because they had no idea it existed. However, in Unconditional, normal movie goers will notice. Contrast is inconsistent from one shot to another – one shot seems washed out and the next is high contrast, all in the same scene and normally when going from a wide to a close-up cutaway. There are also several shots, seemingly in every scene that is in low light, that has a shot with blacks pulled up so far that they are distractingly noisy (like the trailer park scene in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice). I’m not sure if this was just poor exposure being corrected in post, but considering it was shot on RED cameras in what I would assume to be a digital RAW format, they would have to be severely underexposed to be that bad. On top of that, highlights through out the entire movie (including the under-exposed scenes) were blown-out/over exposed in the harshest, ugliest way possible… There was no gentle knee into the highlights, they were just gone.

Thirdly and following close behind the poorly exposed shots, there were some obviously blown focus shots (no discernible object was in sharp focus), which only happened a couple of times in the movie, but really stands out from Hollywood fare that does not allow shots like that in a final edit. That said, with a generation of DSLR shooters coming up, people are becoming less and less sensitive to focus being perfect or even attempted at all… Just check out a local short film festival if you think I’m exaggerating.

Now, that seems like a long list (and much more indepth) compared to what I liked in the film – but let me re-iterate, I really enjoyed this film. It was heartwarming and very well done. The reason my criticisms sound strong and are fairly detailed is there may still be time to fix these before a national release in September, which means the few small issues the film has could be remedied and this film could stand on it’s merits as a film with the “normal” Hollywood fare and wouldn’t have to make excuses because it’s a “faith-based film”. This one actually has a chance at connecting with people and I’d like to see that happen.

Hopefully when Unconditional hits theaters in the fall it will pull in a decent crowd opening weekend and will be met with favorable reviews. I’m rooting for this one and in fact, I’ll take my wife to see it opening weekend so we can help them out with something other than my nit-picky review of an early screening…

For more information, check out their website Unconditional or follow them on twitter at @unconmovie

I went to see Prometheus this past Sunday. I hunkered down in my seat, propped my feet up on the railing in front of me and got ready for a masterpiece from Ridley Scott. I absolutely LOVE the original Alien. The sequels were progressively less impressive, though enjoyable. But this would mark Ridley Scott’s return to this universe and I was beyond excited. The ensuing 124 minutes were, on some level, enjoyable, but they were no where near what I have come to expect from the director that gave us Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and American Gangster. In fact, while I always enjoy going to the movies (and seldom get to these days), the more and more I thought about the movie, the more it left a bad taste in my mouth.

First of all, the story had no progression. The opening scene shows us an intelligent and emotional, yet unknown alien race and then we are instantly introduced to our protagonist who believes said aliens exist and is anxious to find them. By the end of the movie we know barely anything else about said aliens.

On top of that, there was near zero character development. The story follows a familiar structure (more on that later), however in the original Alien there are 8 crew members. When we first see the titular space-faring vessel of Prometheus we are told via text that the ship is crewed by (if I remember correctly) 17 crew members. We have more than doubled the crew – which means each individual will, by necessity, receive less character development. We are shown bits and pieces that let us know that our protagonist Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace, has some kind of faith that is driving her, but other than off-hand comments it does not seem to factor into her decision making. Most other characters have near zero explanation given for their actions – to include the more nefarious actions of Michael Fassbender‘s android, David.

In this same vein, there were entire storylines that seemed completely superfluous. What I’m assuming is good money was paid out to cast Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce in what amounted to a great big aside that took the wind out of the story of Shaw. Theron’s Vickers is closed-off, impersonal, and cranky. We are not told why until the very end and guess what – with zero character arc for her, no one cares. In fact – I was left wondering why the scene had occurred at all. Pearce’s Weyland, the presumed dead owner of the company that sent the Prometheus on it’s voyage, is apparently secretly kept alive and smuggled onto the ship, so he can seek immortality from the Engineers. This mission is part of David’s programming, but doesn’t explain 90% of what he does against the rest of the crew, nor does it factor AT ALL into discovery of the Engineers or the resolution of the film. Excluding this entire story arc (as both Vickers and Weyland are the same story) and the elimination of the basically useless storyline of the two lost team members would have left ample time and material to explore in depth who the Engineers are, what they are doing & why, and what should happen next. Instead we have zero explanation of why the Engineers created us, why they developed a biological weapon that they intended to destroy us with (the Xenomorphs), or anything at all about who they are. Instead, despite David learning how to communicate with them, we are treated to a mindless rampage by the last Engineer on the planet, and a sudden resolve from Shaw to find out what we did wrong (and the promise of travel to the Engineer’s home planet).

Next we have the complete lack of originality in the plot. To be clear, I’m not talking about the necessary elements to cause this to lead up to the events of Scott’s 1979 Alien. I’m talking about the fact that it borrowed scenes and elements directly from other films in the Alien franchise. Just to quickly name a few of the many, many rehashes of past films:

1. We have an android with a secret agenda

2. We have a violent scene discussing breaking quarantine rules and bringing an infected crew member on board

3. We have an attempt to hide/bring home an alien specimen

4. We have our heroine run around in little white underwear.

I could go on as this is nowhere near the only ones – but even just having these elements present left the movie as a whole entirely predictable. Even when there was a slight twist given to the elements or scenes, they quickly got back on the “let’s remake Alien” track. To top it all off, the worst part about rehashing Alien is that this installment has none of the originals suspense or horror. Alien was a truly frightening movie – it is the ultimate haunted house movie, set in a sci-fi setting. You simply cannot leave the house and thus escape your tormentor, because there is no where to go. This movie lacked all of the fright, but kept the action and gore. It’s like Ridley Scott forgot who he was and channeled the much over-hyped James Cameron for this movie.

In all, I had hopeed for a intelligent and cinematically beautiful look into creation and technology. David’s questioning of Logan Marshall-Green‘s Charlie gave me great hope that we would get there, but alas the question, “Why did man create me.” provoked the answer “Because we could,” which is basically the only reason this film was made. There was no hope or plan to start a discourse or to simply say anything. There is hope that the end will lead to an un-Alien franchise that can hopefully shake off the shackles of rabid fandom and possibly have something worthwhile to add to our culture, but likely, we’ll just get more rehashed Alien drivel.

Despite enjoying the visuals, I’m going to have to give this film a disappointing 55%.

Let me tell you a story…

Unethical Mortgage Brokers make some really bad loans because they know they’re going to sell them to big banks and not have to worry about. After they sell their loans, people who couldn’t afford their houses, quit paying on them. When the big corporate banks don’t get their money, they kick people out of their homes. The banks don’t really want to diversify into real estate, so they decide to sell off the homes at rock-bottom prices and right off the loss. So they sell off their homes in my neighborhood for 50-60% of their actual value and now I get an appraisal on my house for a ridiculously low amount and can’t sell it unless I walk into closing with SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. So now, my only legal recourse is to become a landlord, and every night I go to bed telling myself that it’s both illegal and immoral to burn down my house. At least I can sleep at night knowing I’m not as evil as 90% of mortgage brokers.

The American Dream has become a farce due to greed and the erosion of morality. Home ownership is an undue burden that we have taken upon ourselves because we believed some bullshit marketing and some idyllic image of a world that doesn’t exist.

So tomorrow a great friend of mine, Christina Grace Miller, turns 28 years young. Christina was my original supervisor at Lake Pointe and over the years we grew to be partners in ministry and friends. I learned a lot from Christina over the years – not the least of which was what true selflessness looks like. This year, like she has for the past several years, Christina is asking people to donate even the money they would have spent on a card to a cause bigger than just celebrating her birth. This year Christina is asking people to support the Sophumelela Centre, which serves those in East London, South Africa who are infected & affected by the HIV/AIDS Pandemic. This is being facilitated by the Themba Foundation, a great organization grown out of lives changed by serving in South Africa which now partners with several strong, healthy and effective ministries in South Africa to not just relieve the suffering of HIV/AIDS, but to actively combat it and help turn the tide against it.

Even if you have never had the fortune of meeting my friend Christina, I’d ask that you consider helping an amazing cause. It’s nearly impossible to explain how even the smallest gift can make a huge difference, not just in someone’s life now, but for eternity.

And to Christina – Happy Birthday! I’m am exceedingly glad that you were born and that we got to share life over the past (nearly) six years. You’ve meant a great deal to me, and I will always look at the world differently because I have known you. Thank you.

Also, so you don’t think I’ve changed too much – Congratulations on not dying for yet another year, keep your wits about you and you’ll hopefully survive for another 12 months. =)

And in case you missed the link up above: http://web.mac.com/simplychristina/SimplyChristina/simplychristina.com.html

Well, it’s with an odd mix of joyful excitement and near-nostalgic sadness that I post this today. Life has been a whirlwind lately – and it shows no evidence of letting up any time soon. But to get to today, I need to look back at where I’ve come from.

Over five and a half years ago I accepted my first position in ministry. A man who has grown into a good friend – Wes Hartley took a chance on a young, cocky guy who had been muddling through a haphazard career in production. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to do it in the church. God has used Lake Pointe Church to change all that. I have found a true calling and passion to connect people who are far from God with a God who loves them through the art of visual storytelling. Through God’s direction and the experiences I was exposed to at Lake Pointe I learned how to be a minister and a leader as well as growing my craft by leaps and bounds.Because of all this, I began to develop relationships with other ministries and began to see opportunities open up at churches and ministries all across the country.

Today I can let all of you know that I have decided to pursue one of those opportunities. Starting Monday October 31st I will begin the next adventure in my calling as I become the Media Director at Pantego Bible Church, pastored by David Daniels in Ft. Worth Texas. I am resigning at Lake Pointe effective October 27th. I will always cherish the time I spent at Lake Pointe and all that I was able to experience and learn there. However, I look forward to building a budding media ministry into a powerful and effective tool that Pantego can use to reach people in the Ft. Worth area. I know I don’t know everything I’ll need to know and I know I don’t have all the experiences I’ll need to draw from – but I am stepping out on faith that the God who is calling me to this work will provide all of my needs in this next step.

I have met so many amazing people through my time at Lake Pointe – from the lead Pastor Steve Stroope – who has made an indelibly marked and changed my life – to our worship pastor Danny Davis and the other senior staff, to the amazing volunteers of the Go Unseen team. To the staff and people of Lake Pointe – both past and present – I thank you for your investment in my life. It will not be in vain as I continue my Kingdom work now in a different local body. I will miss the media team members who I have worked with daily for the past (nearly) six years – I will miss “No Filter Thursdays” (which quickly spread to all other days of the week), the fun atmosphere we kept no matter how hard the work got, and the rush of seeing it all come together as people’s lives were changed as they encountered a God that loves them.

So – some details. We will eventually move over closer to the church – once we get the house ready we’ll put it on the market and once it’s sold we’ll move over in that direction. Ann will continue to work at Lake Pointe as their Missions Travel Coordinator (at least as long as they’ll let her – and they’d be crazy to do otherwise, she’s passionate about missions and exceptional at what she does there). Since she’s working from home for the most part, she should be able to continue that even after the move. Pantego (at least for the time being) doesn’t have a Saturday night service, so we’re looking forward to two days off a week (probably Friday and Saturday), so there should be more time together as a family – not to mention more time to pursue some creative interests outside of work, so hopefully some shorts will start to be produced by Eddie Pineda (who has been an awesome addition not just to Lake Pointe as my content creator, but to me personally as a friend) and I – but we’ll see how that all shakes out.

Please pray for my family and the ministry we are seeking to be a part of at Pantego Bible Church and also for Lake Pointe as they go through this transition.

Recently we have started using an iPad on stage for our pastor to teach with. The signal of the iPad is run out of the unit via a VGA adapter to a flat panel that is on stage with him and it is also sent to our video system so that we can display whatever is on the flat panel on our main screens.

Today I answered an email from a Worship Pastor at another church who is considering this. I figured I’d share what I sent to him and maybe add some additional insights as they come to me – please feel free to chime in with your thoughts and experiences doing something similar…

  • What software are you running on the iPad? Also, does it allow the capability for the pastor to circle /underline something as he teaches, using his finger?

We’ve used a few different ones. We’ve used Keynote for just a straight presentation (with no drawing or writing live). We’ve used Adobe Ideas which is strictly a drawing app – it allows multiple layers (including one photo layer), but does not have the ability to input text. This past week we used Note Taker HD, which allows you to have multiple pages, input text, and draw. It also has the ability to annotate PDFs, which can be used to bring in background art or pre-produced pieces. Note Taker (and some of the other VGA capable softwares) are a little laggy on the VGA output when drawing or changing things on the fly with the original iPad. We’ve used a personally owned iPad 2 for testing (and then we used it with Note Taker this past week) and it is noticeably faster. For this application, if you do not have an iPad yet, I would highly recommend getting the newer model.

As for the drawing aspect, this is software dependent. We have tested the following software that allows for this ability. Some worked, some didn’t – none of them were exactly what we needed, but we made a couple work. These were all tested pre-iOS 4.3 (before VGA mirroring), so having the VGA output capability pretty much limited us to this list:

  • Penultimate: The best at writing and drawing, but no capability to bring in pre-done artwork. It also has great organization in multiple notebooks. The VGA output has white pillar-boxing.
  • Whiteboard: No capability of multiple slides, importing artwork is clunky
  • AirSketch: No VGA output, but outputs via WiFI – interesting concept, but our WiFi wasn’t reliable enough. Can input graphics, but does not have multiple slide/page capability.
  • Note Taker HD: A little clunky in the multiple pages implementation, but the ability to bring in a PDF (and therefore any pre-done artwork) and draw on it is a big plus.
  • Sketchbook Pro: Amazing drawing program – a little too complicated for stage presentations, but really well done.
  • Adobe Ideas: Great set of tools and smoothing. You cannot move between separate pages without seeing an Adobe Ideas splash page. If you can make it all fit within 7 layers (and only 1 is a photo/import layer) then it’s great.
  • Neu.Notes: Document size is unlimited, which can get confusing if you accidentally move too far from your artwork (you can get lost and there’s no easy way to reset). Also the VGA output was letterboxed.

In addition to this, Steve actually uses a stylus when he’s drawing, so it’s more of a pen/pencil feel. There are many options for these and they basically come down to personal preference. The ones we tested are:

  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003ULE6GU
  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000BUI76S
  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004BN62TU

Each writes very different from the others (even the two that look identical).

  • Does someone else prepare his graphic slides, or does he do his own? (I assume someone does it, but I want to make sure)

Pastor Steve gives us as much lead time as possible – usually getting the content for the iPad to us by Wednesday @ noon – and then we will build the presentation using the points/scriptures/quotes he’s given us.

  • How do you feed the video signal to your flat screen… Wired, or wireless… ?

We currently use the VGA output on the iPad. It is the most stable we have seen so far and since we are connecting to a TV on stage, this allows us to connect directly to it. We also use a Twister-type unit (Video/VGA over ethernet) to get the signal in to our video system – so we can take what is on the flat panel and also put it on our main screens.

As noted on the software AirSketch above, there is some ability to go wireless. Basically you’d have an ad-hoc WiFi network setup and the other computer on it would browse (in an internet browser) to the address given by the iPad. If it were then run in full-screen mode (the internet browser that is) and the VGA/DVI/DISPLAY PORT output set to mirrored and run to a scan converter (if needed) you could simply have the iPad on the stage by itself.

There is one small issue with the VGA output (at least up to v 4.2.1, this may have changed with the latest firmware, but I have not yet updated. The issues is that if the iPad locks (falls asleep or manually locked) it cuts off the VGA output after a few seconds. Some programs prevent the iPad from locking (like Keynote) but others (most of the drawing apps) do not. Some programs also only output black if the iPad falls asleep and then comes back on, forcing you to exit the program and re-enter (which kills the signal again). The solution we came up with was to not let it fall asleep – this means that the iPad has to be on (and draining the battery) from before service starts, until it’s done. For an hour service this will use about 15% of the battery. Since it takes 3+ hours to charge the iPad with the supplied charger (and way, way, way longer via USB or an iPhone charger – closer to 9 hours) it is imperative that it is fully charged when you start and charged as often as possible between services/days.

We have the new HDMI connector on order and plan to test that when it arrives – it has the added benefit of being able to power the unit while using the HDMI out, which the VGA adapter does not allow.

  • Where did you get the iPad stand?

We’re not 100% happy with our current setup, but it is actually an adapter for the top of a mic stand (we’re haven’t found a mic stand that is as stable as we’d like yet). The adapter can be found here:

http://www.thegigeasy.com/products/products.html

The adapter works great – it is plastic, so I’m not sure about it’s durability (I’d prefer aluminum), but I have no problems with it’s functionality, just the stability of a mic stand when you’re trying to write on it. Another options we have considered are a light stand (with adapter), but we haven’t tested it yet.

There is a company making some beautiful iPad stands, but they’re running $800+ depending on options…

http://www.littlemountainproductions.com/ipodium/home.html

  • I assume you are using the original iPad… Is this correct?

We are currently using an iPad 1, but when the personally owned iPad 2 is available we will use that due to the processor differences. The speed increases really do make a huge difference when you are writing/drawing live.

That’s really about all I can think of right now – anyone else out there doing something similar? What “gotchas” have you found? What has worked really well for you?

So we had an amazing Easter service this year. We opened with a mash up of “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” by the Stones and “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister, we shot some great cardboard testimonies of our people which lead into the song “Beautiful Things” by Gangor and we wrapped the whole thing up with “Creed” by Rich Mullins.

In addition to all that, I told the story of how I came to faith. I talked about being raised in a good, strong Christian home, but never really believed until I’d taken the time to make a mess of my life and then showed how God has redeemed all of that and how wonderfully he’s blessed me. I told 20,000 people I was an alcoholic and recreational drug user before meeting God on a cold, rainy afternoon and then I told them how amazing God was that he could meet a young [punk] kid like that and turn him into a responsible man who’s now a husband, father, and minister. So here is that piece:

[xr_video id="c279a929a0ec4b9297b3b43d67856ecc" size="sm"]

See it here in HD.

Not the best pics, but here’s my full size M&P9. It’s made by Smith & Wesson. I got it in a couple of weeks ago and have nearly 600 rounds of the Todd Green 2000 round challenge through it so far. All mods (except night sight install) were done by me and include:

Beavertail reduction (stupid thing poked me in the love handles)
Stippling of backstrap, frontstrap, mag release, and index marks
Apex Sear installation
MA compliant trigger return spring
Warren 2 dot night sights

Left side of the M&P
Right side of the M&P

Well, we had 4 amazing Christmas Eve services this past week. Here’s a look at some of the various pieces that went into it:

1. Christmas Faith Story. Scott Milder shares with us the journey he took to faith.

2. The Christmas Story. Each year we try to do a humorous bit, this year we used it to get us into the Christmas Story:

[xr_video id="cc59274570b844418d25821f5c13226b" size="md" width="400"]

3. The Solos. Here are the 4 solos sang during our services

A. Glory in the Highest, Jason Castro

B. O Holy Night, Suzanne Davis

C. Winter Snow, Emmy Davis

D. Heavenly Child, Danny Davis (Danny wrote this song and sings it pretty much every Christmas)

I hope you guys enjoy this as much as I did helping make it happen!