Book Review: Divergent

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If you want my take on the movie…

Divergent by Veronica Roth is another story in the dystopian/utopian teenage/young adult genre. Think Hunger Games Light or The Giver Heavy and you are in the right area. Divergent of course has it’s own twists to the tale.

In Divergent, there is a class/faction system. The book does an excellent job deepening the positives and the negatives of each faction, much more so than the film. Divergents are those who don’t fit in any faction or have multiple qualities that would fit in multiple factions. They think outside systems and boxes which causes great fear among the populace as they believe living in these factions is what maintains peace.

Like The Giver, the depth of the brokenness of humanity is explored – particularly the pursuit of power. Unlike The Giver, Divergent seems to hold out some hope there is good in all people – at least in each faction. Roth is masterful in pointing out the strengths and deep weaknesses each of the factions bring to society. Despite the best intentions and the best each faction has to offer, it’s only a matter of time when it all breaks down.

Like Hunger Games, there is one faction that has total government control. However, it isn’t the almighty evil. In fact, the most self-less of the factions is given the responsibility to run the government. It’s the curiosity and thirst of knowledge of another faction – the Erudites – that brings the delicate balance crashing down. (Sounds like another story? The Genesis creation story?)

Divergent also uses a feminine heroine that is both strong and vulnerable. I find Beatrice “Tris” much less annoying than here Katniss Everdeen counterpart in Hunger Games. Tris gets stronger as the story continues, she becomes more sure of who she is and a lot less…whiny.

Community plays a huge role in the books. It’s impossible to live without a faction – more specific – a community. This community becomes closer than family – “faction before family” – is THE major player in defining values and cultural norms. What will be interesting as I progress through the books is what role the ‘factionless’ have in the book. Roth has set them up to be a significant player with subtle hints in this book.

It’s on the “young” side of young adult literature. It’s a great story and concept. Love where the series is going but it’s clearly meant for that middle school crowd. You will know what I mean when you get to the ‘romantic scenes.’ It’s like watching a middle school dance. They are a bit of an interruption but not so much that it detracts from the book.

Divergent brings up many issues to discuss – what is family? What lengths would you go to fit in to a culture? IS there a clear right and wrong in the world? What does real power look like? Is sacrifice better than vengeance? How could one value – say BRAVERY – have both strengths and weaknesses?

Highly recommend and looking forward to the other books in the series.

Movie Review: Muscle Shoals

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I’m in a documentary groove right now. This is one type of film I can’t seem to get my family to enjoy. It’s too bad because there are some great documentaries out there. This is one of them.

Muscle Shoals is a little town on the Tennessee River in the northwest corner of Alabama. Back in the ’60s when the rest of the state was going thru racial turmoil, this little city by the river was making music that changed the world.

Rick Hall got together a bunch of white, country boys to be a band. He found a local black orderly singing in the hospital. The man singing was Percy Sledge, the band became known as The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, also known as The Swampers. The funk and groove that these boys laid down became the stuff of legend.

Wilson Picket called his label and said – “Get me those black boys to play on my record.” His label told him – prepared to be disappointed. It’s a bunch of country white boys in Alabama. He came down anyway and so did everyone else. Aretha Franklin, Rolling Stones, Bobby Gentry, Mac Davis, Jerry Reed, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Paul Simon – the list goes on and is utterly amazing.

The film tells us the unvarnished story of the rise and fall of both Rick Hall and the studio. And the music.

The music of the film is incredible. So is the cinematography. Notice all the cool places and chairs they use to tell the story. It’s subtle but great story telling.

Great film and even better music.

Muscle Shoals

G's Absolutely Correct Movie Opinion

Great yarn about great music in a great town. Must see for music fans.

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Mondays And Other General Crankiness

Broncos lose. Wasn’t a blowout. Extremely conservative game-plan when it looked like the Seahawks were vulnerable down the field. Running game was non-existent. The defense played well and kept the Broncs in the game.

Alabama scored 62 points. Unfortunately, 21 of them were for Florida. 4 turnovers and no run game in first half was hard to watch. The 70 yard bombs to wide open receivers and Amari Cooper owning the secondary – not so much.

Got a busy week this week. Sequoia wouldn’t start tonight so had to get a tow to shop. These are the days I remember Amy’s dad’s words : ‘Be thankful you have a car to fix.’

And generally today I just felt yucky.

There, I wrote it and said it.

Missing The Gentle Nudges

© Tatiana Sayig | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Sepia Bench © Tatiana Sayig | Dreamstime Stock Photos

This was originally written for a devo for Western Hills Church.

But before we choose to follow God’s will, a crisis must develop in our lives. This happens because we tend to be unresponsive to God’s gentler nudges. .
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

The older I get, the smarter my parents get. At one point in my life, I was infinitely smarter than my parents. They were out of touch. Slow. Well-meaning but completely ill-equipped to help me in my complicated life of constant change.

What.

An.

Idiot.

Do you remember as a child – or maybe even as an adult – getting instruction from a coach or a mentor or a parent? And your initial reaction was probably – “Whatever. What do they know?” Of course, more often than not we quickly realize they knew quite a bit.

Experience. She is a brutal teacher.

God will always first speak to us in a gentle whisper. I have a dear friend that calls it “The Nudge.” He’s always telling me – “I’m feeling a Nudge here. Not sure if it is ‘THE Nudge’ but I’m gonna listen to it.” More often than not, he’s right.

The Nudge that says – stop right here and pray for this person. Over the phone, in the hallway, at the cubicle. The Nudge that says – listen first. Just listen. The Nudge that says – trust me in this. Serve. Give. Risk. The Nudge to trust the Scriptures even when it seems impossible. The Nudge to ask about someone’s faith.

There have been times when I’ve missed ‘The Nudge.’ Crisis results. Sometimes it’s a crisis of inconvenience. Sometimes it’s a crisis of regret. We get to see God work and realize we missed out on it and we had a chance to be in the middle of it. That mission trip we thought we could never get time off or money to pay for. That kid that trusts Jesus and we were too busy to listen or coach or teach. Families get help and we weren’t there to be a part of it.

Sometimes it’s a crisis of pain. By missing the nudge, we find ourselves in a situation of a series of ‘no-win’ decisions. A family on the brink of destruction due to unfaithfulness. A young woman realizing she is now a mom. A man consumed by porn or alcohol or some other addiction. A marriage pushed to the breaking point due to finances.

The wild card in all of this is what does crisis do to you? I’ve seen crisis shipwreck people. I’ve seen the anger and despair take over. The clouds come in, the hate and bitterness rise. The blame begins to flow in all directions – up and out. I’ve also seen crisis create a sense of resolve. It clarifies what is important. It can move us very quickly to trust and faith.

This whole series of “You Can’t Talk About That In Church” has hit on subjects that God has already given gentle nudges to us. From sexuality to finances to our freedom in Christ – God’s word has these ‘gentle nudges’ to protect us or to provide.

Are you catching them?

Allow me a couple of suggestions in hearing the ‘gentle nudges.’

1. Get quiet. Turn off the radio. Don’t come home and flip on the TV. Just sit for a few moments and listen. Get still.

2. Get in the Scriptures. It’s not enough to just get quiet, you need to learn (or relearn) what God’s voice sounds like. So start by reading the Scriptures. YouVersion on your smart phone has about a jillion different reading plans you can start with. Even using the verse of the day will be a great starting point. Point is – read the Bible. Learn what God’s voice sounds like.

3. Start obeying with small stuff. You gotta crawl before you can walk. Ask the Spirit, is there anything in my life that you have repeatedly told me to do that I am not doing? Is there anything in my life you have repeatedly told me to NOT do, that I need to stop doing? It can be as simple as getting up 30 minutes earlier to read and pray. It could be quit gossiping, start serving 1 hour on Sunday morning, make it church more than 2 times a month, increase your give, be slower to speak, start praying for your family or leaders.

4. Keep your head. If crisis happens, don’t panic. Stop and ask the question – what does God want me to get out of this? Did I miss a nudge?

Here’s the gospel – you are never too far gone for him to reach you. There is nothing you will ever do that will make him love you less. Repentance can happen anywhere anytime. And since he is always speaking to us, the nudges never stop either.

And that’s good news.

How To Fix The NFL Train Wreck of 2014

After the most depressing week in football history, I’ve got the perfect solutions for the NFL, the owners, the Commissioner, and the NFLPA.

1. Remove Roger Goodell immediately from player discipline issues. Don’t have to fire him as Commissioner, just remove him from handling player discipline.

2. Hire a new position: Player Misconduct Commissioner. Job description is easy – this individual handles all off-the-field player misconduct cases.

3. Establish small (3 person) Player Misconduct Council. Call it a Tribunal if you want to have a teen dystopia kind of feel. Put a former player, a union rep, and an owner rep on the council. The Player Misconduct Commissioner brings cases and recommended penalties to this group. Group either affirms, alters, or denies recommendation. Straight majority rules.

4. Establish 3rd-party appeal board. MLB has this. NBA has this. Shouldn’t be that difficult. Don’t reinvent the wheel. In fact, let the same appeal board that handles MLB do the NFL.

5. Quit using the excuse “We are going to let the legal process play out.” Technically, legal process has nothing to do with a companies policies and procedures. Plus, we know what this is code for. It means “this offense is not quite heinous enough to cost us sponsorships or money and/or he is one of our best players so we are going to do everything we can to keep him on the field.”

That’s right – we are looking at you Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, and San Francisco 49ers. We didn’t hear that phrase with Aaron Hernandez or Michael Vick or Ben Roethlisburger. You don’t need to see the legal process to play out with Adrian Peterson, Ray MacDonald, Greg Hardy, and Ray Rice. There’s enough to suspend them. Hardy has already been convicted and he appeal so – the legal process HAS played out.

Bigger than that – it’s not about LEGAL, it’s about LEADERSHIP. If you make millions of dollars representing a city and organization, is it really too much to ask from you – “don’t do anything that will get you arrested?” Apparently it is. Make it simple – you get arrested, you are missing at least a game – maybe more.

NOTE: We don’t want to hear that it will be expensive to hire these positions. You made $10 Billion dollars last year. You want to save a few coins? Hire a few of us fans for 6 figures. We’ll do it for pennies on the billions of dollars you are making.

Special Instructions To the NFLPA and Players:

1. Quit defending each other/yourself via Twitter.. Obviously you have freedom of speech to do this. Understand this as free, helpful advice. Let’s face it. When you tweet defenses for your buddies, you just prove the point that you’ve lost any real perspective on life and it confirms our suspicions about your intelligence level.

I’m looking at you both Baltimore Ravens and Adrian Peterson. “We won this for Ray.” Seriously? You won this game for a guy who knocked out his fiancé in an elevator? Just shut up. Really. You get arrested for beating kid with a switch – causing bruising and bleeding, and you have at least 7 kids from who know how many mothers and you quote a Bible verse to us???

Seriously??? Is there any chance we can have the opportunity to use the switch on you?

Just stop it.

2. Nothing Good Happens After Midnight. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that if you are out clubbing and drinking till 4 AM, bad things are going to happen. Go home. With a driver. Again, you don’t HAVE to do this.

3. Think twice before saying the words “taking food off my table”. You missing a couple of game checks is not taking food off your table. It may be taking gas out of your Ferrari or eliminating that 145th pair of shoes or even that 9th car. But it’s not food off the table. It’s insulting to the rest of the world when you say this.

4. Act like a decent human being. We’re not expecting Rhodes Scholars, Boy Scouts, pastors, or even “Momma’s Boys.” Just common decency that we expect from a 4-year-old when they are out in public. We expect them to not wet on themselves or anything else. We expect them to not hit ANYBODY. We expect them to be in control of their emotions and act human.

We’re not expecting much.

The bar is humiliatingly low.

It’s ridiculous that you need a Conduct Policy that middle schoolers don’t need because they have the common sense to act responsibly and intelligently.

Maybe one day we will see an owner or a business partner – like FedEx, Levi’s, Sports Authority – step up and say ENOUGH. We are done. There’s something more important than money.

Maybe.

Movie Review: The Act of Killing

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In 1965, the communist Indonesian government was overthrown by the military. The United States provided weapons and covert training to make this happen. Para-military groups called ‘death squads’ acted as modern-day gangsters, arresting and killing thousands of communists and Chinese.

This film returns to the scenes where these arrests and executions took place with the men who carried them out. Anwar Congo is not only the film’s tour guide but he was a former death-squad leader. He not only takes us to the places but reenacts many of the scenes with a chilling bravado that will make you question if humanity really has learned anything in the past 2000 years.

It’s not just the brutality of the murders, it is the way Anwar and his colleagues tell the story. They are proud of what they did. Still proud. They are so adamant to tell the whole story in as much detail as possible, they start recreating scenes with actors, costumes, and special effects. It is as if you’ve been given a backstage pass to a person’s personal delusion of reality.

Anwar and his friends speak of the evil of communism and the Chinese as an ideology but offer no real stories of what was so inhumane about their rule. We get to see this hate get fleshed out as they extort small Chinese business owners on camera in the markets. A newspaper editor happily recalls selling out communists to the death squads, bragging that he was the final determination of life or death for these people. The hubris is shocking.

There is plenty of documentation of what the death squads did but there is little to no mention of the history that led up to the coup of 1965. Was all this action in reaction to the corruption and atrocities done by communists? It’s as if these death squads suddenly appeared and started killing people in response to the coup. The film hints at a very disturbing reality. That these ‘gangs’ were already in force and were just looking for a cause, an excuse to carry out the act of killing.

The final 15 minutes of the film finally show a chink in the armor of Anwar. He reveals that he is ‘haunted’ by those he killed. Almost every night, their faces return to him in his dreams, terrifying him. His ‘friends’ do not share the experience. They convince him to get help from a doctor, be stronger, push it aside. We are never given resolution to his demons. This is to be expected as there probably will be no resolution for Anwar.

It’s an award-winning documentary and rightfully so. It showed how fragile life is, how little value humanity has in certain circles.

The Act of Killing

G's Absolutely Correct Movie Opinion

A haunting look at the 1965-1966 coup of Indochina.

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Book Review: World War Z

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I’m not a huge fan of the zombie genre but Max Brooks kept me thoroughly entertained with his ‘fictional history’ of the Zombie War. This all started by watching the movie “World War Z” which I surprisingly enjoyed. Curiosity getting the better of me, I had to read the book.

Let me start with the first shocker of the book. It’s not like the movie. In fact, it’s going to be easier to make a list of all things that are the same between the book and the movie:

1. They both have Zombies in it.
2. A lot of zombies die.
3. Israel’s “10th man” concept is communicated clearly.
4. They are both titled ‘World War Z.”

Let me double-check….Yeah, I think that about covers it.

The movie is entertaining and so is the book. They are just very, very different.

The book is a not-so-subtle slap in the face to the American value system and arrogance. Cuba comes off as the model country of how to survive in case the entire democratic/capitalistic system craters.

The real genius of the book is because of the way Brooks tell the story, it’s entirely possible to miss the critique of American arrogance. It reads like a commissioned report, an investigative history. The interviews are from widely different characters all over the globe detailing their experiences with the zombies. It’s through these interviews we learn not only about individual tales of heroism but also the nightmares they live with. Each story is told from distinct perspectives, no objectivity is even attempted. It leaves the reader having to understand that none of the accounts are objective.

Telling the story this way allows Brooks to get in many critiques about American hubris, arrogance and dependence on technology. It’s a not-so-hidden critique on our abandoning the “dirty jobs” for white-collar jobs. What makes Brooks brilliant is that he is able to do this in a way that doesn’t compromise the story. It’s brilliant and completely works. We are transported from Brazil to China to Russia to Japan to different cities in the United States hearing of the successes and failures against people who had been reanimated by the virus. Along the way, the depravity of man is clearly exposed against the backdrop of a worldwide tragedy. But the goodness of man is exposed thru the stories as well.

It is absolutely worth reading.