Tag Archive: review

God’s Crime Scene, by J. Warner Wallace Review

Guest Post by Diane E. WoodGCS

Being a cold case police detective gives Jim Wallace a unique and intriguing point of view about things.  In his first book, Cold Case Christianity, he examined the four Gospels in the New Testament for the evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bible is a historically accurate and divinely preserved account of what the first century apostles observed and did.  In Wallace’s second book, God’s Crime Scene, he asks and answers even more hard questions such as, how did time and space begin, is man different from other living things in the world, and how can a good God permit the evil that exists.   His responses are intellectually reasonable and convincing in part through his cold case examples to prove his point, thus making the book easy for the common man to understand as well as intellectually satisfying.

Wallace employs the same meticulous search for answers as he did as a detective.  By examining and eliminating other “suspects,” we are systematically and reasonably led to the conclusions that make the most sense on each topic discussed.

This book is an excellent resource for the Christian who wants to be more effective in the public square with their faith in an inoffensive manner.  With the information in this book, we can have a non-hostile and well-informed dialog concerning what is political correctness, what a lie is, and what is the Truth.   God’s Crime Scene is a tool for intelligent dialogue with people of different beliefs with confidence and gentleness.  Jim’s book is a great source of information for seekers of truth wherever they are in their journeys.   As a former atheist in search for answers to life’s difficult questions, his systematic investigation lead him to specific solid answers concerning the validity of the Bible.  Detective Wallace uses the same tools of the trade as he would have done in a cold murder case, to find the “culprit” who created the universe and everything in it.

I found the book very interesting and it inspired me to learn more about how the more how science confirms Christian claims.  They blend quite well instead of being opposed to each other.  My confidence in my ability to share Christianity has been enhanced through this study of Christian case making.

Rank/Artist & tags/2011 plays


Falling You – ethereal ambient, female vocals 341


Within Temptation – symphonic metal, female vocals 325


Shiva in Exile – ethnic electronic, female vocals 304


Burial – ambient dubstep electronic 172


Irfan – ethereal ethnic, female vocals 161


Conjure One – chillout electronic, female vocals 97


Solace – ethnic/world rhythms 93


Amethystium – ambient ethereal electronic 89


Ladytron – synthpop electronic 68


Lycia – ethereal darkwave, female vocals 62


Shiny Toy Guns – alternative electronic 54

(source: http://www.last.fm/user/jkwood/charts)

  1. Falling You– always a favorite, been in my overall top 10 for years.  This music is great for relaxing, and I use it often for that purpose.  Most of 2011’s plays came from the new album, Adore. (Falling You’s Magnatune page)  
  2. Within Temptation– While I’ve been a mostly casual fan of Within Temptation for a few years, the release of their album The Unforgiving in March 2011 excited me about this band, as I think this is their best album yet.  The symphonic metal style is a little out of place within this top 10, but this album is really more rock and symphony than metal, in my opinion.
  3. Shiva in Exile– Another Magnatune artist (as is Falling You), this is a new band for me this year.  I have been growing in recent years in my appreciation for ethnic music, particularly middle eastern influences.  SIE has heavy influences of middle east fused with modern electronic music, creating a very catchy and unusual sound.
  4. Burial – another new artist for me.  I discovered the music of Burial through the social music site www.turntable.fm (as I did #9 Ladytron, #11 Shiny Toy Guns, and many others), after which I purchased their two albums, Burial and Untrue.  With a dark ambient sound, heavy electronic processing and vocal sampling, I found myself attracted to this music, listening to the albums on repeat several days in a row.
  5. Irfan – This is one of the original sources of interest to me of middle-eastern/Arabic-influenced music.  I finally bought their albums Irfan (http://www.last.fm/music/Irfan/IRFAN) and Seraphim (http://www.last.fm/music/Irfan/Seraphim).  I have not been disappointed!
  6. Conjure One – Continuing an apparent trend in this year’s top music, I have also discovered this mellow electronic side project of Rhys Fulber (of Delirium and Front Line Assembly fame).  Also of no surprise to those that know my music taste (or who glanced at the tags in the list above), most of my favorite music features female vocalists, and while there is no permanent vocalist, Conjure One has many featured female singers (Falling You has a similar rotation of guest vocals.).  These singers have a variety of styles and sounds that compliment the accompaniment well.
  7. Solace – Still on my new music search this year, Solace popped up on my radar during my subscription to Magnatune (www.magnatune.com, home also of Falling You and Shiva in Exile from this list) as an artist similar to Shiva in Exile that I might like.  As I would consider this a less “westernized” Arab/Middle-eastern style, it may appeal less to some than does Shiva or Irfan.  Indeed, even though it is in my top artists, I must admit that there are no real standout tracks for me to recommend.
  8. Amethystium – Another longtime favorite, Amethystium is one of those artists I default to when I need something light in the background for reading, studying, or working.  Not that this is elevator music, by any means.  A variety of world music sounds combine with electronica and New Age styles to make many interesting and different-sounding tracks.
  9. Ladytron – Having been exposed to Ladytron through www.turntable.fm, my appreciation grew over time as I recognized that my foot tapped to this female-fronted electronic (another trend for me this year) music each time it came up.  Spotify and Turntable account for the many plays on this list in 2011.
  10. Lycia – A steady favorite throughout the years, Lycia has throughout their albums kept my eager interest as the sound morphed from droning guitars and low-key vocals to female-fronted ethereal and experimental when Tara Vanflower came on board.  This group steadily stays in top rotation.
  11. Shiny Toy Guns – Yet another www.turntable.fm discovery for me, I’ve grown to appreciate the style of this group which I was initially inclined to dismiss as another pretentious indie garage band.  I’m glad to be wrong; I find that this band has a catchy pop appeal with strong electronica/dance values underneath.  A quick favorite (once I gave them a chance!)  My expectation of further growth in my esteem earns them an honorary place in the top 10.

(view last year’s here: https://jkw00d.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/my-top-10-musical-artists-2010/)

Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Dist...

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Liberal bias in the media: does it exist?  Or is this a misconception born of a persecution complex on the part of the right?  Or worse, is it a weapon in the arsenal of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” used to attempt to discredit moderate or liberal voices?  Perhaps bias does exist in the news networks, but so what, one might say, FOX is just as biased in the other direction, so it is no big deal.  Is liberal bias in the media existent, and if so, how would we spot it, and why should we care?

These are the questions that  Bernard Goldberg addresses in his book BIAS.  In 1996, Goldberg wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he accused the major television network news programs of a liberal bias in their reporting of news.  This article, critical of his employers among others, was impolite and imprudent, Goldberg admits, yet it needed to be written since his internal efforts to bring this to light had been ignored.

This bias is nothing conspiratorial; according to Goldberg, “we don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news.  We don’t have to.  It comes naturally to most reporters” (from the op-ed article linked above).  This bias is simply denied as being existent, that the views being expressed are balanced and neutral and ought to be acceptable to every normal American.  If they are indeed being presented in a balanced and neutral fashion, then the charges are without merit; if, however, it can be shown that bias in favor of certain political interests consistently exists in the delivery of the news, it should be recognized by the network executives, reporters, and the general public as coloring the ability or willingness of these agencies to report the unfiltered truth.  As it turned out, these news networks, who pride themselves on prying into everyone else’s business and ferreting out dirty laundry, did not appreciate Goldberg’s accusation and exposure.  He soon found himself out of a job and ostracized by his former friends and associates at CBS who proceeded to label him a right-wing ideologue, simply by having raised the question and proposed the accusation.

After describing his ousting from CBS and the vindictiveness with which he was treated, Goldberg describes the television report which raised Goldberg’s own awareness of this bias and compelled him to write the article.  The bias was expressed in the February 8, 1996 CBS Evening News segment “Reality Check” in phrases such as “flat-tax scheme,” “economic elixir,” and “wackiest flat-tax promise” in describing Steve Forbes flat-tax proposals that year.  The reporter, Eric Engberg, then interviewed three economists who all opposed the flat tax.  There was no representative of the affirmative side; this seemed like a rather large imbalance to Goldberg.  He rightly points out the uproar if a network reporter had referred to Hillary Clinton’s health care program as “wacky.”

Further, according to Goldberg, this sort of double standard is rampant.  He cites as another example, the coverage of the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999, when the senators were signing their names in an oath book, swearing impartiality and fairness.  As each came forward, Peter Jennings identified each, taking care to label each conservative senator, but only mentioning the names of the liberal ones, as if the viewing public needed to have them identified and warned of dangerous views.  Liberal politicians and organizations (such as NOW) do not need to be labelled because, Goldberg contends, the media elites do not view them as liberal, but as reasonable,middle of the road moderates, the same as themselves.

Goldberg gives many other examples of one-sided reporting and liberal slant, but the overarching conclusion seems to be that the big problem may not be that there is bias, but that it is denied and presented as a balanced view.

I found this book to be fairly compelling in its presentation and in the examples cited.  As I do not have the resources to fact-check his research, I presume them to be correct.  Does this acceptance of Goldberg’s contentions of liberal bias definitionally make me a ultra-right-wing conspiracist?  Well, I don’t have on a tin-foil hat yet; besides, as it is said, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you, right?

(BIAS, A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, by Bernard Goldberg, Perennial Publishing, 2003.)

“Adore” by Falling You

Released last week by musical project Falling You, the new album “Adore” can be listened to and purchased (currently, only) through Magnatune. In their four previous albums, Falling You has cultivated an ethereal, dark ambient, sometimes trip-hop sound characterized by haunting female vocals and echoing electronic music and percussion.  From their bio page on Last.fm:
“Falling You is instrumentalist and producer, John Michael Zorko, with a revolving cast of guest vocalists including Suzanne Perry (of Melodyguild and Love Spirals Downwards), Dru Allen (of Mirabilis and This Ascension), Victoria Lloyd (of Claire Voyant and Mono Chrome), Aimee Page (of Vishnu’s Secret), Anji Bee (of Lovespirals), Kirsty Hawkshaw, Sara Ayers, Erica Mulkey (AKA Unwoman), Amanda Kramer (of The Golden Palominos), Shikhee (of Android Lust), Krista Tortora (of Full Blown Kirk), and Jennifer McPeak (the original band vocalist from Mercy). They are known for haunting, ethereal, emotive ambient-pop, best heard when the moon is high and the atmosphere serene. ”

In this, their fifth full length album release, Falling You expands their sound towards a slightly harder edge.  Their sound is still recognizable, yet adds a more structured feel that may be more casually accessible to new listeners.  From this album’s page on Magnatune:

“Adore finds ‘Falling You’ exploring a more optimistic, rock-oriented motif. Though the ethereal / ambient base is still there, the music ranges from ambient, to jangly shoegaze, to melodic space-rock, to dream-pop and finally back to ambient. The concept is a simple one – life is a varied and wonderful thing, and though it’s trials can weigh heavily on us, it’s tribulations can lift our hearts. ‘Adore’ is about exploring the more optimistic side of emotional music and this gift called life.”

Before listening to the album, upon reading this description, I confess to feeling a bit disappointed, as the floating, dreamy soundscapes created by the haunting vocals and minimal accompaniment of their previous releases were what I treasured about their music.  I was concerned that expanded instrumental support would change the feel and appeal of the music.  However, based on prior experience, I was more than willing to give it a listen; indeed, if Magnatune had not had the album streaming for preview, I would probably still have bought it unheard. Tentative as I was, “Adore” hooked me from the first sampling, and it has grown on me steadily these ten or twelve times which I have since listened through.  It seems more that the heavier instrumental accompaniment make the music more rich and lush and enhance rather than obscure or detract from the vocals.  Some of my favorite tracks so far are “Firestorm,” “Adore,” “Song of Summer,” and “Moving One.”

If the descriptions of the music style or of this album have interested you, I recommend you sample their music and support this artist!  You can also listen to this album (and their others) on Spotify: <iframe src=”https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify:album:6nPR6Dq0xKySbWH5gkSpkf&#8221; width=”300″ height=”380″ frameborder=”0″ allowtransparency=”true”>

I recently watched the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for the second time, and it made a strong impression on me, as it did the first time.  I thought I’d write about it for those interested.  There may be some spoilers here, so be warned.

This movie tells the story of Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) who meet and hit it off, only to discover that they have a history together which neither remembers.  Clementine has had Joel removed from her memory, and in a fit of grief, Joel elects to have his memories of her erased as well.  However, as the procedure begins, Joel relives the memories as they are being stripped away, and he realizes that the memories of their time together are worth more than the removal of the pain of separation.

This movie, written by Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” among others) proves to be a unique and well-constructed tale, showing a love story in reverse, beginning with the tension and breakup and moving backwards to the idealism and romance of the early relationship.  Much of the movie takes place within the decaying memories in Joel’s mind, and the surreal deconstruction of the scenes as the memories are erased is poignantly depicted by the crumbling landscape and structures, and the removal of characters.

Jim Carrey plays a role in this less like those of “Ace Ventura” or “The Mask,” and more like “The Truman Show” and “Man on the Moon.”  There is certainly a lot to laugh at in this movie, but it is no slapstick.  Carrey is believable and sympathetic as Joel, and his struggle to protect his memories leaves the viewer feeling the loss as he does.  Kate Winslet, as the spontaneous and outgoing Clementine and Joel’s memory of her, is the outrageous character, often playing off Carrey as the “straight man.”

In the end, this is a love story, and seems to lend truth to the old adage, “It is better to have loved and lost, then never loved at all” by showing the enrichment of Joel’s life through Clementine.  He becomes willing to accept the pain of the loss if it comes with  the joy of love, even for a short while.  By the end of the movie, the couple know the ugly truth, and that their relationship had failed previously, yet proceeds (almost) anew, even though they expect it will end badly as before.

On the negative side, Joel and Clementine seem to be resigned to the fate of their doomed relationship, “nobly” facing it to wrest whatever pleasure can be had before it is over.  There does not seem to be any effort or resolution to try to change or learn from past mistakes.  One hopes that this will happen, but the cynical indication is that these characters are not even capable of change.

Overall, I rate this move 4 out of 5 stars.

No Country For Old Men

Image by Roscoe Van Damme (In Memory of Maureen) via Flickr

“All truth is God’s truth,” so said St. Augustine.  Art through the ages has been the attempt to communicate truths about emotion, beauty, and humanity, and usually does so with more immediacy and widespread impact than does ordinary discourse or prose.  This is as true today as ever, perhaps more so with the ubiquity of multimedia access and its intrusion in every conscious moment of our lives.  Art convincingly communicates the philosophy and worldview of the artist, and films and novels can express these views more effectively and completely than many other forms of art.  Because of the strength which artistic form adds to the communication of a worldview, it is of vital importance that we be aware of the quality of aesthetic virtues employed in an artwork to convey or distort truth.  The crime thriller No Country for Old Men is a film written and directed by brothers Ethan and Joel Coen and adapted from a novel by the same name, written by Cormac McCarthy.  This film can be examined to reveal the worldviews of the film directors and the book author and the accuracy of the truth claims of these worldviews in light of the truths of Christianity and the philosophy of aesthetic virtue.   

Assuming that there are means of objective judgment for art, and that beauty is not simply “in the eye of the beholder,”[1] some criteria need to be established by which the quality of a work of art may be measured.  These are aesthetic standards and virtues which, as defined by Steve Cowan and James Spiegel,[2] and similarly by Francis Schaeffer[3] include elements of genre mastery as well as excellence in the qualities of artistic virtues.  Artistry in the medium of motion-pictures involves technical skills of lighting, narrative pacing, character casting, scenery, and dialogue, to name a few.  Other measurable standards for which achievement of status as “great art” by any artwork require development of skills in the appropriate use of complexity of parts with unity of theme; intensity, or vividness of the art; originality, new ideas or presentation of the familiar in new ways; and expressiveness, or the effectiveness of the transmission of themes to the audience.  Additionally, the form of the art must be appropriate for the content; that is, the style of the artistic delivery must fit the tone and message of the themes.

Virtue in aesthetics regards the application and expression of moral qualities in the creation and transmission of the art.  These virtues include diligence, the dedication and perseverance to complete the artistry with excellence, veracity, the authenticity and sincerity of the artists in the depiction of a worldview, and truthfulness and accuracy in their worldview expression and explanation.  Since evil exists in this world, and humanity is significantly defined by its response to the evil it faces, it is appropriate that man’s art depicts evil as a common element.  As Schaeffer puts it, art that focuses only on the major themes of Christianity, the meaningfulness and purposefulness of life, is “romantic” art which often only turns off its audience by implying a worldview which contains only optimism and idealism, and which does not relate to the world they know.[4] Virtuous depiction of evil, however, is possible and can be relevantly evaluated for its appropriate purpose and presentation.

Set in rural Texas in 1980 when drug trafficking and associated violence was starting to escalate at the Mexican border, the opening scenery is timeless, displaying the sun rising on the vista of a sparse scrub-dotted landscape, reminiscent of many familiar western-genre movies.  A voiceover opening narration by Tommy Lee Jones’ character, aging Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, sets the scene and the mood for the film:

I was sheriff of this county when I was twenty-five.  Hard to believe.  Grandfather was a lawman.  Father too.  Me and him was sheriff at the same time, him in Plano and me here.  I think he was pretty proud of that.  I know I was.

Some of the old-time sheriffs never even wore a gun.  A lot of folks find that hard to believe.  Jim Scarborough never carried one.  That the younger Jim.  Gaston Boykins wouldn’t wear one.  Up in Commanche County.  I always liked to hear about the old-timers.  Never missed a chance to do so.  Nigger Hoskins over in Batrop County knowed everybody’s phone number off by heart.  You can’t help but compare yourself against the old timers.  Can’t help but wonder how they would’ve operated these times.

There was this boy I sent to Huntsville here a while back.  My arrest and my testimony.  He killed a fourteen-year-old girl.  Papers said it was a crime of passion but he told me there wasn’t any passion to it.  Told me that he’d been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember.  Said that if they turned him out he’d do it again.  Said he knew he was going to hell.  Be there in about fifteen minutes.  I don’t know what to make of that.  I surely don’t.

The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure.  It’s not that I’m afraid of it.  I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job – not to be glorious.  But I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand.

You can say it’s my job to fight it but I don’t know what it is anymore.  More than that, I don’t want to know.  A man would have to put his soul at hazard.  He would have to say, okay, I’ll be part of this world.[5]

He feels like a failure to his community, to God, and to his revered sheriff forerunners, particularly his deceased father.  He has held onto his position for decades, but feels like the time is coming for him to retire, as he is faced more and more with increased flagrant displays of the depravity of humanity.  Jones’ character serves as an anchor and represents the “Old Men” of the film’s title.  This movie is, at its heart, about him.

Another central character is Llewelen Moss (Josh Brolin), an “everyman” character who is a hardworking, conscienced man who loves his wife.  Moss accidentally discovers the aftermath of a drug deal gone badly: many dead bodies and a satchel containing $2 million, which he decides to keep.

The third important character in the film, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), is a contract killer with no humor, remorse or humanity.  In the opening scenes of the movie, he gruesomely strangles a sheriff’s deputy to escape arrest and shortly after, kills a motorist for his car.  Throughout the movie, he pursues Moss as he flees for his life with the money, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.  Cold and relentless, he mercilessly removes anyone in the way of his goal, including other men sent to hunt Moss and the money.  Sometimes, he allows fate to decide if a person lives or dies by flipping a coin and having the victim “call it” for their survival. 

Another character of interest is Carson Wells, played by Woody Harrelson, who is another assassin hired to find Moss, the money, and also Chigurh, who has become more of a threat to the man who hired him than an asset.  Wells, himself an experienced professional killer, seems quite tame and almost wholesome compared to Chigurh, and perhaps that is his role in the film, to provide another contrast to this darker evil that Chigurh represents.  Instead of eliminating Chigurh, Wells is ambushed and is himself killed by his target.

In the end, Moss is gunned down and the money taken by Chigurh, who disappears like the ghost that Sheriff Bell describes him as.  Bell, feeling overmatched, retires and gives up the fight.

The Coen brothers are masters of their craft, technically speaking.  Having previously directed the critically acclaimed movies Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and O Brother Where Art Thou, the Coens have displayed a mastery of the techniques of their art as directors and writers.  Their particular specialty, which is used effectively in No Country for Old Men is originality in using the familiar and taking it somewhere unexpected, breaking formula expectations.  This film combines the genres of western, crime drama, thriller, and film noir, and the first-time viewer of this movie cannot foresee the ending before it unfolds.

The expertise and direction mastery of the Coen brothers are expressed by the cast and crew[6] as being well-prepared, dedicated, approachable, collaborative, and good leaders.  They have built a team of trusted and proven technical crew, and spend the needed time with their cast and crew to inspire and achieve excellence.

In this film, the Coens ably express intensity without garishness and distraction, taking a minimalist approach to the elements of the film, but still effectively and boldly conveying the emotions and plot.  The scenery is harsh but beautiful, and the dialog and musical score are as sparse as the landscape; but this fits well with the content of the film, adding to the mood of loneliness and desperation of the characters.  In one scene, the tension rises as Chigurh menacingly dialogues with an elderly shopkeeper, whose is clearly at stake.  Chigurh drops a crumpled up cellophane candy wrapper on the counter, and the camera briefly focuses on it as it noisily and almost painfully expands.  The tension of the moment is perfectly represented by this, and thus is a dramatic device expertly employed.  Another interesting dramatic technique used in this film is the proximity of the three main characters to one another: they never appear in frame together, even as the plot draws them closer together. This, too, builds suspense and tension, keeping the viewer wondering about the reality of the relationship among the three main characters in the movie.

Clearly, the directors, as well as the author of the book from which the film is based, have an understanding, or at least a plausible familiarity, with the scope and magnitude of evil in men’s hearts and printed in the newspaper headlines every day.  They know of what they write and it shows in the authenticity of the characters’ reactions and dialogue.  Major characters (except perhaps for Chigurh, who may be more a symbol of evil than a man) are well developed, believable, and sympathetic. 

No Country for Old Men, being a story of the sweeping tide of evil, unsurprisingly contains many depictions of evil.  These depictions, mainly in the form of murder by various methods, are necessary to the theme and plot of the film.  The depictions of murder are grisly, particularly at the beginning of the film with the graphic strangulation of the deputy, but progressively become less and less a focus, until by the end of the film, the killings, even of the main characters, are done off camera, reported by a character or newspaper, or otherwise hinted at.  This could have been done so for dramatic effect, to emphasize the gravity of the crime by showing it in more detail towards the beginning of the movie, but exercising discretion in not sensationalizing or dwelling on the gore of it as the movie progresses.  It could also be a method of involving the viewer by symbolizing the desensitization of the audience itself to violence and evil.  The evil acts are still there, but not gratuitously flaunted in the faces of the viewers, and certainly not presented to the audience in a way that endorses, glorifies, or romanticizes it.  On the contrary, the sympathetic characters of the film deplore and resist the violence and evil.

The message and worldview that the movie expresses is somewhat subject to interpretation, but mostly seems to be one of hopelessness in the face of spreading and unstoppable evil, and the choices made by people confronted with that evil. Death pursues, personified in the cold relentless Chigurh, and is portrayed as fate, with Chigurh often flipping a coin to decide whether someone would live or die.  As an embodiment of evil and/or death, this flipping of the coin may also be intended to represent the fact that sometimes people make choices that directly affects the admission of evil and death into their lives.  Of course, many times Chigurh does not offer the coin toss, and death comes upon man without their intervention or control.  For Llewelyn Moss, the “everyman” character, the choice when confronted by evil is at first to try to outrun it, but when the futility of flight is realized, he turns to fight it, but is, himself, defeated by it.  Moss’ wife, otherwise very child-like in the film, also defies evil when he visits her, denying that it is her destiny to be killed and refusing to “call it” when he flips a coin to choose her fate.  She insists that he does not have to go through with killing her, but she becomes a victim as well when Chigurh dispassionately executes her.  (An associated truth about the consequences of choices is evident here too: choices affect not just one person, but many others in a circle about that person as well.  Moss’ morally deficient decision to keep the money leads not only his own death but that of his innocent wife.)  Even Sheriff Bell, the ostensible representative of order and goodness, is overcome, and retreats into a shamed retirement, sad and weary.

The movie ends with Bell talking with his wife, some time after his retirement.  He recounts two dreams that he had during the night:

Okay.  Two of ’em.  Both had my father.  It’s peculiar.  I’m older now’n he ever was by twenty years.  So in a sense he’s the younger man.  Anyway, first one I don’t remember so well but it was about money and I think I lost it.

The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin’ through the mountains of a night…goin’ through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and snowin’, hard ridin’.  Hard country. He rode past me and kept on goin’. Never said nothin’ goin’ by. He just rode on past and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down…and when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon.  And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and that he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. Out there up ahead.

And then I woke up.[7]

These dreams, along with the opening narration given by Bell, act as symmetrical bookends in which he remembers his father and other old lawmen from simpler times and laments the overwhelming evil overtaking the country, questioning if there is any hope for redemption for himself or the world.  The first dream could be interpreted as a perceived failure on his part to guard justice and goodness, a duty which he feels has been left for him by his father.  The second dream seems to be about hope, which Bell’s father carried ahead of him into the dark cold lands that the country had become, a beacon of goodness that waited for him to claim or join when he arrived.  But then he woke up, and this seems to be a dispelling of that dream and a return to this world:  no country for an old man. 

From an atheistic worldview, this movie seems relentlessly depressing, with no hope in reality for defeating evil and death.  One can only be swept away in the tide of fate, escaping, however temporarily, in the unreality of dreams.  There is no justice to be found here: the “good guys” do not win, but are unceremoniously and anticlimactically defeated by death or retreat.  Evil triumphs and justice is thwarted, with no hope given that this will ever change.  This is, of course, perfectly logically consistent with the atheistic worldview, in which there is no ultimate justice, and the victims of injustice are pitiable but not truly avenged or recompensed.

However, applying a Christian worldview to the movie, one might rename the movie No World for Old Men, realizing that the world is the kingdom of Satan, and that his corrupting influence in the hearts and minds of the unrepentant is leading the world headlong into more and more egregious evil, such that the culture and climate of each passing generation is unrecognizable and inconceivable to the one before.  The hope in the dream, then, is that the father, who could represent a righteous influence or God himself, goes ahead of us and gives us the light of hope to follow in this world, and a hope of justice and the ultimate triumph over evil in eternity.  We then “wake up” to the reality of our temporary world with light and hope for ourselves and for any others that will follow and receive it.

The fact that the Coens leave the interpretation of the dreams (and thus the movie itself) for the audience permits the audience to make their own moral judgments and estimates of what it all means.  Certainly the scope and pervasiveness of evil is not unfamiliar to the viewers, and the hope or despair felt after reflecting on this movie can perhaps indicate to that person the implications of their worldview.

No Country for Old Men is an example of art that has been carefully and expertly crafted by artists who prove themselves masters of the technique of their art.  The Coen brothers display many admirable aesthetic virtues as directors in their work ethic and relationships with their cast and crew.  Since the ending of the movie is somewhat subject to the viewers’ subjective interpretation, the ultimate message of the film is also vague, but this, too, is intentional, and perhaps can be useful to confront the viewer with their beliefs and challenge a change.  This film is not for everyone; the violence is bloody and difficult to watch, and there is a fair amount of profanity.  However, as a sum total package, weighing the strengths against the shortcomings, and considering it from a Christian perspective, this movie succeeds as aesthetically virtuous art.

[1] For a good case supporting objective standards in art, see Cowan and Spiegel The Love of Wisdom, p.430

[2] Steven B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel, The Love of Wisdom (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 432-437.

[3] Francis A. Schaeffer, Art & the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 41-48.

[4] Ibid. 58.

[5] No Country for Old Men, DVD, act. Tommy Lee Jones, 122 min. (Paramount Vantage, Miramax Films, Scott Rudin Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, 2007).

[6] These are based on cast and crew interviews in the DVD special features.

[7] No Country for Old Men, DVD, act. Tommy Lee Jones, 122 min. (Paramount Vantage, Miramax Films, Scott Rudin Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, 2007).

The Shack

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“The Shack” relates the story of Mackenzie, a middle-aged husband and father, in the midst of his “great sadness,” a tragedy which has befallen his family. Mack receives a mysterious note from God inviting him to a weekend with Him in the shack where the tragedy occurred. During this weekend, Mack learns forgiveness, experiences healing, and knows a relationship with God that cold religion cannot deliver.

In “The Shack”, first time and amateur author Paul Young delivers a moving and poignant fiction which has received many accolades and endorsements. Written in 1995 as a story for Young’s children and a few friends, buzz and interest in “The Shack” has since grown through word of mouth and grass-roots marketing by a phenomenal and unprecedented rate, having sold more than 7 million copies in English, and being translated in many other languages.

As well as the multitude of praise, controversy in Christian circles over this book also buzzes noisily, with concerns having been voiced by wise and respected leaders such as Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, and Chuck Colson about the treatment of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, importance of local church bodies, and depiction and personification of God. This last point has been the most serious charge, even provoking some to decry the book as heretical. This depiction in the book shows the Trinity appearing to Mack as a matronly black woman (God), a middle-eastern man (Jesus), and an Asian woman (Holy Spirit), and the concern is about whether or not man is free to remake God into forms with which he may more easily relate.

For me, “The Shack” is a book about paradigm-bursting and box-shattering, about replacing religion with relationship. While I don’t take lightly the discernment and wisdom of mentors and respected theologians, it is clear in the book that Young is not saying that God *is* a black woman, or anything but spirit, and so I think that cries of heresy go a little too far. On page 93, Papa (God) says, “Mackenzie, I am neither Male nor female, even though both gender are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.” …”to reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simple reinforce your religious stereotypes, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religions stereotypes.” Because Mack in the book has troubles relating to his father, God appears to him in a form to which he can relate. This is the heart and virtue of the book for some, including me (although I have a great relationship and image of my dad), while being the stumbling block for others.

From the time I began to learn to think for myself, as I matured into an adult, depression also grew stronger and more serious in my psyche. I did not know where this came from for a long time. Currently, I recognize the depression as being a manifestation of a inner tension between faith and reason. As I grew up in a culture of Christianity, I inferred, even though I can’t remember ever receiving overtly or implied, that faith and reason were opposed, that God disapproved of doubt and application of reason to issues of religion, and that faith could not withstand an assault of logic: basically that Christianity (and all other religions as far as I could tell) was a religion based on blind faith. With study and guidance I came to realize, within the last several years, that my background assumptions about faith and reason were wrong, and that rather than being opposed, Christianity and reason were complimentary to one another.

However, although this brought me to a point of intellectual acknowledgement of God, I still lacked a real relationship with God, instead more aware of rules and institutions of religion. I tried to fit myself within these institutions and rules and found I was becoming legalistic and works-centered, but really had no good understanding of what a living relationship with God looked like and operated on a day-to-day basis. Seeing the depiction of God interacting with Mack in an admittedly unusual but very caring and relational way was inspiring and moving for me.

In the end, I believe the value of this book is in its attempt to break down religious stereotypes of God and give a new perspective and expectancy of what relationship might be like. This book should not be taken as a comprehensive theological text, but, even though it is fiction, it does purport to shed light on the nature of God, interpreted by the author and publishers, and presents it as truth. Therefore the reader should be aware of the concerns as he or she reads it; if they are kept in mind, “The Shack” can be a very inspiring book that glorifies God and motivates the reader to become more intimate with Him.

(Thanks to Benny Parks for many discussions and insights on this topic)