Archives For Culture

Have you ever noticed the relationship between Cast Away and Back to the Future? Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic might not look like Cast Away but, in fact, they share a unique motif. Clocks and other references to time pervade the earlier film – which is fitting since it’s about time travel. Marty McFly finds himself trapped in the past, trying to get back to the present in a classic race against time.

But references to time also saturate Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film. The opening FedEx logo proclaims “the world on time.” And it’s Chuck Noland’s purpose as a FedEx analyst to invent ways to beat the clock. Like a package himself, he’s rushed around the world to ensure that the system only ever speeds up. Clocks loom over events. Music taps out a quick time. But then Chuck is marooned on a deserted island with his only timepiece stopped. From here, there’s no conversation. No musical score. Not even the sound of insect or bird. Alone in the silence, Chuck finds all the time in the world. It’s a contrast which is foreshadowed in this opening shot. Here the slogan “the world on time” is rushed to the truck but then retrieved upside down and moved at a more leisurely pace. The film’s main idea.

But the island also represents a different time. Chuck arrives, overdressed and overweight, still planning on delivering those packages. But when the surf batters his one hope of escape, he makes a cave his home and let’s go all but a single delivery. He then makes a friend in an object that resembles an idol. And just in case we haven’t recognized the makings of a caveman, he’s shown painting on his cavern wall. When, at last, he resorts to this extremely primitive surgery, the film jumps four years where his transformation into a native is complete.

Do you see it? Chuck has gone back in time. He’s eroded back to the timeless existence of ancient man. And perhaps nothing speaks to that timelessness more than his charting of the annual course of the sun. The figure eight that it makes is our sign for infinity – eternity. Chuck has come to know the world before our enslavement to the clock. And it’s this earliest view of time which is key to his escape and return. To get back to the present in Back to the Future, Marty McFly must connect his time machine’s mast to a precisely clocked bolt of lightning. And Chuck likewise must release his mast at a precise turn in the season to harness the power of the wind.

But Chuck’s return, while echoing back to the future, is also different from Marty’s. Marty finds his present better than the way he left it while Chuck finds it’s moved on without him. And here in the difference lies the why of Chuck’s symbolic journey back in time.

There’s a great deal about Cast Away worth taking the time to see. Why the allusions to the Back to the Future? How does Wilson fit in? And what’s the significance of these film’s ending reference to roads?

I’ll be back next time with a continuation of my take on Cast Away. In the mean time subscribe, comment, and share. And check out some of my other videos.

I’ve been thinking about No Country for Old Men (2007); a great film with an ending that, like most Coen brother films, is rather odd.

A couple years ago, I was struck by it’s similarities to the Seventh Seal, a 1957 film about the silence of God. After years spent in crusade, a knight returns to his homeland. The figure of death comes for the knight on the beach whereupon the knight challenges him to a game of chess. They make a deal. As long as the knight holds out, death will not take him and if the knight wins, death will let him live. For the rest of the film, the knight uses his reprieve to search for meaning and certainty. He wants to know, not just to believe, God exists. He fears the silence of God means God isn’t there and his life (mostly lived in crusade) was therefore meaningless.

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men also has a figure of death offering reprieve through contest. As with the classic depictions of death, No Country’s villain, Anton Chigurh, wears contrasting black attire with a kind of hood (his strange haircut covering his forehead and ears) and employs the use of a harvester (a cattle gun in place of a scythe). Chigurh is a clinical automaton of destruction. He casually stalks his prey, killing anyone else who takes note of him. He’s clean and principled. Not at all, as someone says in the film, like a man. And as with death, he operates by the invisible hand of chance. This is symbolized in the one reprieve he offers some victims – a coin toss. If they “call it.” he lets them live. And if they get it wrong… Well, you know. But one thing they cannot do is refuse to play. A refusal to play is an instant loss.

These life and death stakes along with the uncertainty in the coin toss is No Country’s defining metaphor. Just as in the Seventh Seal, No Country wrestles with the problem of knowledge and faith. Here’s why the film, with its shots of arid landscapes, men on horseback, wearing cowboy hats and boots etc., feels like a western; No Country in its depictions of amoral violence disabuses us of the classic westerns moral guarantee. The virtuous-man in the white hat does not necessarily defeat the corrupt man in black. In essence, No Country for Old Men calls to mind the good old days of the Hollywood western (good guy defeats bad guy) and in doing so offers our modern era as those days very own dystopia (good guy isn’t guaranteed to win and often doesn’t). Now it’s just the flip of a coin. Nothing in life is certain.

This loss of his youthful certainty and meaning weighs on the aged Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, the film’s main character. Bell remembers the good-old days and is himself an embodiment of the good old days. His occupation, southern accident, small town location, goofy deputy, and his clear reluctance to use a gun, point to Sheriff Andy from the Andy Griffith Show who likewise typified classic Hollywood’s moral guarantee. Like an aged Andy Griffith, confronting the heinous crimes committed in our world, Sheriff Bell finds himself an exile from those simpler black and white days.

In this chaotic new world, Bell becomes increasingly averse to risk. His opening monologue says it all.

“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. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this world.”

In the end, Bell quits, undone by fear of losing his life for nothing. His last straw comes when he is forced to “call it.” In returning to the scene of a murder, Bell finds the door’s lock punched out, evidence that Chigurh has also returned to the scene. Bell looks into the circle. In the reflection, the film shows Chigurh standing on the other side of the door, waiting for him to make his move. Bell hesitates, considering what to do. This is in essence the western dual or Chigurh’s coin toss. Will it be heads or tails? Will he enter or turn tails and run? Is Chigurh there or not? Bell chooses to enter and confront Chigurh. But Chigurh is no longer in the room. On the floor, Bell sees a dime showing heads. Bell has called it. He can live another day. But he sits down in the dark a broken man. This risk was too much. He won’t risk again.

In the end, he sits at home, pondering with his wife the emptiness of his dreams.

“Two of ’em. Both had my father in ’em… 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… It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin’… 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… And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and 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. And then I woke up…”

Given that he’s quit the fight, waking up from his dreams refers to Bell’s loss of faith in the reality of some good place where his father has gone before him.
Is Bell right to give up? Does the film agree with him? Given life’s uncertainty it could very well be that he’ll never find security with his father. Heaven may not exist. This disordered world may never be put right. But is uncertainty a reason to give up on the dream? To lose faith?

I think the film actually condemns his decision to quit. The film, appears to me, to be alluding to pascal’s wager. Not as a pragmatic reason to believe in God, per say, but as a pragmatic reason to risk. Given the certainty of death, a failure to “call it” is an instant loss. Given the inevitability of death the only option is to bet it all on hope of that better day.

Life has always been uncertain. Young men live by risk because they don’t know what they can lose while old men die for fear of losing. There is No Country for Old Men.

Wow!  The History Channel is at it again. This time with Bible Secrets Revealed.  And like Banned From the Bible and other programs like it, it’s doing a real bang-up job of distorting the facts with quick sound bites and brazen insinuation.  I received this message from a troubled friend.

So they say the gospel of mark ended originally with the women going to the tomb to wash his body, but when they realized he was gone, they left & said nothing for they were afraid. Yet later on someone added the resurrection due to being unsatisfied with the original abrupt ending

You can find the segment of the program here between 19:27 and 21:21.

It’s true. I agree with the facts. BUT not the inference. Mark did originally end at 16:8 and that later Christians added a new ending because they were unsatisfied with the old. But its not at all for the reasons the program suggests.

The program implies early Christians later made up accounts of Jesus’ resurrection because of Mark’s missing ending. Wrong!  Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, writing 20 years before Mark, tells us who and in what order more than 500 people saw Jesus bodily risen from the dead.  A fact he had already received from others.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

But the writers of Bible Secrets Revealed are apparently so ignorant they feel they can rhetorically ask,

“Is it possible that the account of Jesus divine resurrection, one of the most important tenants of Christianity, was the result of a missing page? (21:09 – 21:21)


Just read Mark!  It’s obvious he knows of these early resurrection appearances!  He points to them!  Three times, he records Jesus predicting his resurrection.

And He (Jesus) began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (Mark 9:31)

They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Himand three days later He will rise again.” (Mark 10:32-34)

Mark also tells us that the angel at the empty informed the women that Jesus had fulfilled these predictions and would later meet his disciples in Galilee.

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” (Mark 8:6-7)

If Mark believes that Jesus was clearly correct about His resurrection, don’t you think Mark intends his readers to trust the predictions of the angel, that they did see Jesus in Galilee.  “There you WILL see Him, just as He told you.”  Any basic introduction to Mark would reveal this.  But you won’t get this from the History Channel.  They just let this leading questions dangle out there as if no one could possibly think of a better explanation.

So WHY doesn’t Mark end with a resurrection appearance of Jesus?

It’s vital part of his message. Throughout his Gospel, Mark has shown that true disciples follow Jesus wherever he goes. And that includes to the death. But the disciples of course ran away and abandoned Jesus in the hours before his death. The invitation from the angel is that Jesus is once again waiting for them. To find him they must follow. Mark ends his gospel, with that invitation still ringing in his readers ears. And the question he wants his readers to ask is, “will I follow?” “Will I start over and follow him in His death and resurrection?”

That point has been lost on a number of people, not least many readers in the early church. It’s a bit too subtle for some. That’s why someone felt it necessary to include Mark 16:9-20, which is itself a basic summary of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances from the book of Luke and Acts. The summary is accurate. It’s just not the point of Mark’s Gospel.

I’ve dealt with this topic in a couple of posts. You might find these helpful.

Have you noticed how the second Star Wars trilogy (episodes I-III) parallels the first (episodes IV-VI)? Here are a few examples.

A New Hope (IV) and the Phantom Menace (I)

  • Both Luke and Anakin Skywalker leave their family on Tatooine to be trained by Obi-wan as a Jedi.
  • Obi-wan is killed by a Sith lord in front of his apprentice Luke just as Qui Gon is killed by a Sith lord in front of his apprentice Obi-wan
  • Both films climax with Skywalkers (Luke and Anakin) in a space battle in which they blow up the enemy space-station
  • Full cast appears in triumphant award ceremony

The Empire Strikes Back (V) and Attack of the Clones (II)

  • Male leads are separated during “romantic” chapter of the film.
  • Both Boba and Jango Fett follow heros in Slave I through astroid field while heros hide behind an asteroid and escape with the garbage.
  • The first begins with a battle against giant robot walkers and the later ends with battle against giant robot walkers
  • C-3PO is dismantled in a droid factory
  • Both Luke and Anakin Skywalker lose an appendage and get a robotic replacement.

Return of the Jedi (VI) and Revenge of the Sith (III)

  • The original title of Return of the Jedi was Revege of the Jedi
  • The Emperor makes his first real appearance both these films
  • Both Luke and Anakin Skywalker wear a black glove to cover their robotic hands.
  • Luke battles Vader while Palpatine watches just as Anakin battles Dooku while Palpatine watches
  • Luke cuts off Vader’s robotic hand in light saber duel just as Obi wan cuts off Grevous’ robotic hand in the same way
  • Ewoks battle from tree homes on Endor just as Wookies battle from tree homes on Kashyyk
  • Vader unmasked in the former while Vader is masked in the later
  • Ends with funeral

The list of parallels goes on. You can find a more complete list here webpage.  It’s pretty clear that the two Star Wars trilogies were arranged in a parallel a-b-c-a’-b’-c’ pattern.

Parallel Patterns in the Old Testament

I bring this up because I think it’s interesting that at least some people still recognize and value such implicit parallels. For the ancient writer and reader it was no different. These parallels in Star Wars are great illustration of the way the biblical writers structured some of their writings.  Here’s what David Dorsey says in his extremely helpful book the Literary Structure of the Old Testament.

Parallel arrangements are relatively common in the Hebrew Bible. They generally feature two sets (or panels) of units, in which the units of the first set are matched in the same order by those of the first set (a-b-c II a’-b’-c’ or variations).  When a parallel scheme has an odd number of units, the unmatched unit can be placed at the end (a-b-c II a’-b’-c’ II d), center (a-b-c-d-a’-b’-c’), or (more rarely) beginning (a-b-c-d II b’-c’-d’).

Parallelism frequently occurs in Hebrew poetry.  Note for example, the a-b-c II a’-b’-c’ pattern in Psalm 19:1-2 {19:2-3}:

a the heavens

b tell of

c God’s glory

a’ the sky

b’ proclaims

c’ his handiwork

a day by day

b they pour forth

c speech

a’ night by night

b’ they declare

c’ knowledge

The pattern can also be found in larger unites.  For example, the creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4, although primarily linear (first day, second day, etc.), exhibits a secondary parallel pattern (a-b-c II a’-c’c’ II d):

a light

b sea and sky

c dry land

a’ lights

b’ fish and birds

c’ land animals and humans

d Sabbath

Whole books may likewise be arranged in this way.  The seven parts of Jonah are primarily linear in arrangement (following a chronological order), but also exhibit a secondary parallel pattern (a-b-c II a’-b’-c’ II d):

a Jonah’s commissioning and disobedience (1:1-3)

b Jonah and pagan sailors: Yahweh is merciful (1:4-16)

c Jonah’s response to Yahweh’s mercy: praise (1:17-2:10 {2:1-11})

a’ Jonah’s recommissioning and obedience (3:1-3a)

b’ Jonah and pagan Ninevites: Yahweh is merciful (3:3b-10)

c’ Jonah’s response to Yahweh’s mercy: resentment (4:1-4)

d Yahweh’s lesson (4:5-11)

Parallel Patterns in the New Testament

But its not just in the Old Testament.  I’m fascinated by the way the Gospel writers conveyed meaning through the arrangement of there parts.  Here’s one very significant example.

We all know that Luke begins his story with two annunciation scenes.  But did you know that Luke uses parallels to arrange them in a meaningful structure.  Look at this:

a Description of Zacharias and his situation (1:5-10)

b Angel’s message to Zacharias (1:11-22)

c Zacharias returns home and Elizabeth reacts to the news (1:23-25)

a’ Description of Mary and her situation (1:26-27)

b’ The Angel’s message to Mary (1:28-38)

c’ Mary goes to Zacharias’ home and Elizabeth reacts to the news (1:39-

d Mary’s sings a song

When we miss the pattern we miss some of the message that Luke’s attempting to convey.  And the same goes for other patterns in the New Testament.  For more on how Luke uses this parallel pattern to convey meaning check out these two posts: What Happens When You’re Filled with the Spirit and Why God Shut Zachariah’s Mouth.

I have a critic named Larry who comments on this blog from time to time.  I don’t know Larry personally but from his comments I believe he’s a good guy.  He loves Jesus and he truly wants to correct people who he sees as teaching something wrong.  I see a lot of myself in Larry.  Although he’d probably deny that.

Larry first challenged me on Will Some Who Have Never Known Jesus Enter His Kingdom.  And in doing so he helped me wrestle more fully with Scripture. So even though we still differ I’m truly thankful for him.  And by the way its still the most engaging exchange on this blog.

Larry then returned on How Do We Witness to a Culture That No Longer Feels Guilty and sarcastically used my words in the previous post against me.

No need to share Jesus. Didn’t you know that there will be some in heaven who have never known Jesus? How is that possible you ask? According to Matthew 25:31-46, non-Christians are blessed for serving needy Christians. Such a message should comfort all those who have not explicitly acknowledged Jesus.

And then again on 4 Reasons Lazarus, Not John, May be the Author of the Fourth Gospel.

In Jesus’ own words, we are short of ‘workers’ and you are spending your time arguing that Lazarus wrote the Gospel of John. Priorities!

And finally, Is Sex Essential to Jesus’ Encounter with the Woman by the Well.

I find that you take a text and sensationalize it to try and generate reader interest. Your blog seems to be patterned after the National Enquirer with a Bible verse or two thrown in to pique the interest of ‘Christians.’

Why do you feel the need to dramatize the scriptures? We are to sow the seed (the unadulterated, Word of God without embellishments and exaggerations), another waters but God causes the increase.

My overall take on this series: That sound you hear is me rending my clothes.

Larry’s main issue with me is that I’m teaching something false.  I disagree with that but I’ll let you read and decide.

But Larry also believes that I’m sensationalistic and deviate from the core truths of the scripture.  And on this point I would have to agree.

While I don’t think I sensationalize Scripture, I do post on the sensational in Scripture.  And sometimes these sensational topics are outside the top priorities of Scripture.  But then again, “all Scripture is God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) so I don’t necessarily think my noting that sex is deeply imbedded in John’s depiction of Jesus encounter with the woman by the well is altogether unimportant.  In fact its connected with a larger theme of John’s Gospel and the Bible.

But Larry does have this right about my blog: I do focus on the sensational. Here are four previously unstated things I aim to do with every post.  Here’s the method to my madness.

1. Surprise

We cease to be aware of things familiar to us.  Routine, or what Samuel Coleridge called the “The film of familiarity,” constantly closes our eyes to things around us.  Continued exposure to the same truths break down our senses to them.  While we may know something in a cognitive sense we cease to be fully aware of it.  Kind of like a routine drive to work.  But surprise frees our senses from the power of routine and causes to once again look with fresh eyes at what we previously took for granted.  Jesus understood this.  Note for instance how he masterfully twists his audiences cliched stereotypes in the story of the Good Samaritan.  Surprise is a true delight and I delight in offering true surprise.

2. Incite

Surprise is also essential to jokes.  We laugh when we discover a twist from our expectation.  “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather.. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.”  Ba dum chhhh.  I love to laugh but the surprise I’m aiming for has a much higher purpose than laughter.  It’s designed, like Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, to incite you to further reflection.  Is it true?  And if it is true what does it mean for me and what I believe?

3. Inform

I’m a busy person so I like blogs that have factual content and get right to the point.  I love listening to stories but I don’t particularly enjoy reading them and so I typically don’t offer personal stories without a point.  This story is of course a rare exception.  I aim to offer overlooked information you can use in you’re study of God’s word and in you’re conversations with others.

4. Inspire

Bottom line: I want you to be inspired and motivated to study the Bible more deeply and pursue God more passionately.  If I’ve turned you off to either one of these things I am truly sorry.  For some my spice is too hot but for others its too mild.  I want you to know that my deepest desire is to see you more fully equipped and delighting in the God who both created and saved us.