Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Christian Music Review: Ginny Owens.

Some friends of ours were kind enough to give us "Without Condition," by Ginny Owens for a Christmas present. I am very pleased to recommend it highly. With regard to vocal style, Ginny Owens reminds me of Sarah McLachlan, but not quite as edgy. This is definitely contemporary music, with some pop and alternative themes. There is a fair amount of diversity of sound within the CD so that it is not so repetitious to go dead upon the second or third listen.

The real meat of the CD has to do with the content, and here Ginny Owens shines with the real light of God. Some sample ideas: "I am Nothing" takes the theme of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and runs with it, giving many examples Christian and life achievement, and declaring if they are done without love, then she is nothing. "If You Want Me To" is a soul-searching toward service in undeserved suffering. It is a beautiful soliloquy that expresses "no matter what" humility. For those of you who were face to face on Veteran's Day, you may recall Virginia Miller singing this one for us at that time. There are many other tracks, and the doctrinal content is quite positive, and without defect of falsehood or tone, as far as I could tell.

There is one more fact about Ginny Owens. She has been blind from childhood. Combining her musical skill with the sound doctrine of her songs, that all adds up to quite a testimony.

Courage and Faith.

Friday, December 27, 2002

The past months have been a foreign policy minefield for our President and his leadership team. It has only gotten worse in the most recent weeks due to the nuclear blackmail of the North Koreans. Nuclear weapons in the hands of blatantly evil men remain the gravest threat to freedom in the history of foreign policy. Our President must act to protect our interests in the world, especially our safety and freedom. Pray for his wisdom to defuse the situation if possible, but to act to permanently remove the threat in North Korea regardless. It is not always right to go to war, but it is sometimes the only right course of action. In that case we ought to pray what is right, even if it means war, and the death of many human beings.

I am proud to say that President Bush has done an outstanding job in shoveling out the Augean Stable-full of foreign policy crap which he inherited from the previous administration. But by no means is he to the bottom of the pile. Keep praying! George W. Bush is at least a man who is well-disposed toward prayer support.

Courage and Faith

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie review.

Turner and I went to see this one yesterday at the Highlands Ranch multiplex.

Before we start, however, you will of course want to know my credentials as an afficionado of all things Tolkien. When I was 13, I first read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It had a profound influence on my love for God, life, and literature, to say the least. I have since read the three great works several times, the most recently in the summer and fall of 2001, out loud, to my family. I truly enjoyed the first film installment, The Fellowship of the Ring.

This one moved faster than the first, had more action, was breathtaking, funny, and touching in appropriate and well-timed turns. I highly recommend this film, just as much, if not more than Fellowship. Inevitably, there were changes from the book, and it is here that I wish to bring my focus. There were omissions from the original text, which are excusable considering the great length of Tolkien's text. There were changes to political details, travel narratives, and personal relationships. Some are innocuous, some seem to add significantly to the story, and some detract. One particularly negative change is the interaction between Gandalf, Theoden, and Grima Wormtongue, found in the chapter, "The King of the Golden Hall." The film makes its worst turn here.

King Theoden of Rohan (a nation whose military is entirely composed of Cavalry, so God knows they're my favorite) sits enthroned in the Golden Hall of Meduseld, the hill-crowning capital town of the grassy realm. He is evidently in his dotage: bent, wizened, and enfeebled, his condition making his country impotent against the Two Towers of evil, Orthanc of Saruman and Barad-dur of Sauron. Yet Grima Wormtongue, a human emissary of the wicked Voice of Saruman, whispers treachery and deceit into his ear, the true cause of an unnecessary and premature aging process. From Wormtongue, Theoden has bought the myth of his own decline, and lived it. The nation has come to dire straights as a result. In the book, Gandalf speaks the truth, unenhanced by magic, and not so magically but spiritually Theoden is freed. Much to my disgust, the movie portrays Theoden under a magical spell, and Gandalf by the magic of his staff, dispels that magic.

Here is the original passage from Tolkien:

"'Now Theoden, son of Thengel, will you hearken to me?' said Gandalf. 'Do you ask for help?' He lifted his staff and pointed to a high window. There the darkness seemed to clear, and through the opening could be seen, high and far, a patch of shining sky. 'Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.'"

"Slowly Theoden left his chair. A faint light grew in the hall again. The woman hastened to the king's side, taking his arm, and with faltering steps the old man came down from the dais and paced softly through the hall. Wormtongue remained lying on the floor. They came to the doors and Gandalf knocked.:

"'Open!' he cried. 'The Lord of the Mark comes forth!'

"The doors rolled back and a keen air came whistling in. A wind was blowing on the hill.

"'Send your guards down to the stairs' foot,' said Gandalf. 'And you, lady, leave him a while with me. I will care for him.'

"'Go, Eowyn sister-daughter!' said the old king. 'The time for fear is past.'

[and then, after a paragraph description of the great heroine Eowyn...]

"Now, lord,' said Gandalf, 'look out upon your land! Breathe the free air again!'

[and after a paragraph describing the panorama from the hill...]

"'It is not so dark here,' said Theoden.

"'No,' said Gandalf. 'Nor does age lie so heavily on your shoulders as some would have you think. Cast aside your prop!'

"From the king's hand the black staff fell clattering on the stones. He drew himself up, slowly, as a man that is stiff from long bending over some dull toil. Now tall and straight, he stood, and his eyes were blue as he looked into the opening sky..."

You can see that it is the truth of the wide world and Gandalf's words which sets the king free from Wormtongue's awful spell of deceit. That's the kind of truth that is so thoroughly and tightly woven into Tolkien's books, and sadly is lost through the movie. It is almost as though Grima Wormtongue himself wrote that portion of the screenplay.

If you desire an afternoon of escape, with a grand visualization of the Trilogy, the movies are quite good. They fail to evoke, however, the charm and truth of the original. See the movie. But if you fail to read the books you are missing out on an essential of Western Literature and a glorious telling of many truths.

A final word: The Two Towers stands tall in the Pantheon of movies about Cavalry, and that is in my mind a most compelling reason to see it.

Band of Brothers final thoughts:

Rene' and I watched the final episodes of Band of Brothers this past Saturday night. This series, available at a video store near you, has my highest recommendation. Even after our tearful reactions at the end of 11 hours of material, both of us wanted to go right back to Episode 1 and work through it again. You will leave this series with a much enhanced appreciation for the American soldier, and especially for the men of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

After re-examining the entire series in my mind's eye, here are a few of many spectacular peaks.

1. The scene depicting the drop on Normandy, the early morning of 6 June, 1944. There was a panorama of the night sky, filled with C-47s and anti-aircraft fire, and then with the parachutes of the airborne infantry liberators... it was a freedom sky, courtesy of the United States of America.

2. The impeccable tactics and execution of Brecourt Manor. The battle of a handful of Easy Company soldiers is still studied and honored as a classic example of light infantry assault. Suppressive fire and maneuver.

3. The dread preceding the assault into Carentan. Germans in prepared positions in a city. The director of this piece did great work toward imparting the confusion and utter lethality of urban warfare. As the men of Easy Company approach the city, you experience this primal scream inside of you, "NOOOOoooo!" But the point is that they did it, regardless of their dread.

4. The makers of Band of Brothers also portrayed superiority of German tanks in the probe on Nuenen, during Market-Garden. The British tankers, who were teamed with Easy Company, had little chance against the long 75 mm and 88 mm guns of the Germans. They were slaughtered, and the infantrymen of Easy found themselves in grave difficulty as a result.

5. The Battle of the Bulge. Once more I found myself with chills coursing their way down my spine as the screen played another battle just right. The cold, the Germans, more Germans, more cold... all working together to generate an appreciation for the sacrifices of these men and many, many other Americans just like them.

6. The oddness of the Winter and Spring of 1945, which saw a sudden cessation of combat for the 506th PIR. Although many other men continued constant contact with the enemy, both in Europe and the Pacific, action tailed off significantly after January of that year.

And many, many other incidents, too many to mention. Another observation: at the beginning of each episode, they have brief excerpts of recent interviews with the men of Easy Company. Their identities are not revealed until the end of the last episode, when their names are stated to go with their faces. What a powerful way to do it! Throughout the series you see the actors play out the incredible sacrifices of the men. Then the names are given to associate with the deeds. Major Winters... Sergeant Guarnere... First Sergeant Lipton... They are truly faces carved in granite by war - and for our liberty. See this series and thank God for them and for what you have.

And finally this thought: in the final statements of the real men of Easy Company, there is not one arrogant word. These men, officers, NCOs, and enlisted men, are humble to the core. Consider what they did, and then their true humility, the next time you want to crow about any of your personal accomplishments.