July 31, 2004

Tampa councilmen walk out on atheist's invocation

Here's an item from Floriduh:

Three Tampa city council members walked out of chambers rather than listen to an atheist give the opening invocation.

Council members Kevin White, Mary Alvarez and Rose Ferlita left their seats Thursday rather than listen to Michael R. Harvey, a member of Atheists of Florida who had been invited by council member John Dingfelder to offer the invocation.

[Full Story]

This raises an interesting question. What, exactly, does an atheist invoke? Himself? the almighty Nobody? the memory of St. Madalyn of the Oil Drum?

July 29, 2004

God's Will for Your Life (a side comment)

Apropos my study on the will of God, I picked up a couple of books at my church library this weekend. Church libraries being what they are, both books are pretty old; one hailing from the 70s, and the other - the more interesting one, frankly - published in 1946.

The latter book is God's Will for Your Life by S. Maxwell Coder, who at the time was Dean of Education at Moody Bible Institute. The book begins:

One of the most practical and inspiring subjects to be found in the Bible is the revelation that God has a plan for every life. When that plan is discovered and followed, it brings greater happiness and success than could be achieved in any other conceivable set of circumstances. This teaching of the Scriptures has an especially strong appeal to Christian young people with life still before them.

Certainly it is true that young Christians are concerned with knowing God's will. Experience bears that out. I do question whether the Bible teaches that God has a "plan for every life," if by that Coder means what yesterday I called the "itinerary" view, in which God's plan is like an agenda it is up to us to discover and follow. to remain in "the centre of God's will." (More on this in time, however.)

Here's the table of contents for the book:

  1. God Has a Plan for Every Life
  2. Why It is Important to Know God's Plan
  3. Some Personal Tests
  4. The Steps of a Good Man
  5. The Threefold Rule of Earth's Wisest Man
  6. Christ and the Will of God
  7. Important New Testament Teachings
  8. Discovering God's Will
  9. Difficult Questions
  10. Opportunities for Triumph

I found that last chapter the most intriguing, because it touches on some practical applications for the teaching. Coder discusses the morality of:

  • the movies
  • theatre and opera
  • dancing
  • card playing
  • smoking

Note to grandparents: Here is a good reason not to dismiss your grandkids' complaints out of hand. It turns out we are sometimes right when we call your moral code outdated, because Coder's catalogue of heinous lifestyle sins hasn't withstood the test of time awfully well. The stage is now entertainment for the wealthy, the price of theatre tickets having gone beyond the reach of the great unwashed. While it is true that the moral tone of the movies themselves hasn't improved greatly (it's quite revealing that the worst thing Coder can say about Hollywood is that it glamourizes female smoking), today's multiplex is no longer the dark, smoke-filled den of iniquity the movie house once was. Corporations now rent out the comfortable, clean auditoria to hold business meetings! By "dancing," Coder of course means ballroom dancing, the discotheque and dance club still decades in the future. Notwithstanding its original raucous reputation, the waltz is now regarded as one of the high points of the Romantic movement in music; and jazz has largely left the seedy nightclubs and become the music of choice for many intellectuals and music students. Serious jazz fusion such as Bill Bruford's Earthworks is simply inaccessible to many average listeners. And while tobacco's addictive nature was known in the 1940s, the link between smoking and lung cancer had yet to be established, so Coder has a "hit" with smoking nearly by accident. Simply put, practical morality ain't what it once was.

This is why I appreciate a book like Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God so much. It spends a good number of pages discussing practical issues from a Biblical perspective - marriage, money, vocation, ministry, and so forth - and largely ignores the dated moralizing of this older book.

To be four again . . .

This just in, from Norway:

A four-year-old boy caused chaos at a Norwegian airport this week when he hopped aboard a luggage conveyor belt as if it were a merry-go-round.

Ole Tobias crawled onto the belt next to an unmanned check-in desk Monday, continued unnoticed through a trapdoor along with bags and suitcases about his size, then passed through an X-ray scanner and into the luggage hall.

[Full Story]

It's not fair. This kid's living out my juvenile fantasies.

The secular brownshirts on the march again

Yet another flap over separation of church and daily life, this time in the very offices of the governor of Florida:

Walk into the Capitol offices of Gov. Jeb Bush's top lawyer, and one of the first things you'll see is a small American flag with one significant difference: Instead of just stars and stripes, there's a bright white cross emblazoned over the blue field.

To critics, the message is simple: America is a Christian nation.

"To me, it's offensive and hurtful," said state Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.

[Full Story]

Ignore the headline: "Capitol Flag Under Fire Over Cross." It's got nothing to do with a flag. Where is this horrible, dangerous cross that will be the end of the world as we know it?

The image is on a greeting card and is posted on a bulletin board among personal family photos of the receptionist, and does not appear to imply official state policy.

Good grief. These days, even an office admin becomes a Constitutional crisis if she puts up a greeting card in her personal space along with pictures of the kiddos.

Nonetheless, you had to know that this self-loathing excuse for a "Christian minister" had to poke his nose in:

"This appears to be a promotion of a particular religious viewpoint," said Barry Lynn, executive director of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a minister in the United Church of Christ. "In a government building, it's inappropriate."

No, bonehead, it's a personal effect, and it is wholly appropriate, as would be a potted plant, a picture of the family dog, or a postcard from a co-worker's vacation.

Another officer of the Secular Thought Police chimes in:

Judith Schaeffer, deputy legal director of the People for the American Way Foundation, said the image was not only inappropriate, but divisive.

If a lawyer who is Muslim, Jewish, some other religion or non-religious came in to do business with Rodriguez, "he or she might well feel like a second-class citizen," she said.

To listen to the spokesdroids for Americans United for Separation or People for Our Way or the Highway, you'd think these poor Muslim and Jewish lawyers can't even walk past a church without fainting violently at the sight of the emblems of that fanatical religion, Christianity. Earth to Lynn and Schaeffer: You're projecting again.

July 28, 2004

Finding and Doing the Will of God: Prolegomena

Two parables:

  1. It's the big day. Only an hour ago, the girl of your dreams, a beatiful Christian girl from a wealthy family just became Mrs. You. Your father-in-law, the CEO of a successful local hi-tech company, momentarily takes you away from the throng of congratulatory crowd.

    "As we discussed," he says, "I have taken the liberty of making the arrangements for your honeymoon. As you know, my daughter has always wanted to visit Banff."

    He hands you an envelope. "Here are your train tickets. I have reserved a suite in your name at the Chateau Lake Louise. Your train leaves at 10 tomorrow morning. Have the time of your lives, and I'll see you in three weeks."

  2. It's the big day. Only an hour ago, the girl of your dreams, a beatiful Christian girl from a wealthy family just became Mrs. You. Your father-in-law, the CEO of a successful local hi-tech company, momentarily takes you away from the throng of congratulatory crowd.

    "As we discussed," he says, "I have taken the liberty of making the arrangements for your honeymoon. As you know, my daughter has always wanted to visit Banff."

    He hands you a slightly thicker, heavier envelope, which you open. A set of keys on a leather keychain fall into your palm. You recognize them as the keys to your father-in-law's Mercedes-Benz CLK cabriolet. Also in the envelope is a cheque for a considerable sum; the memo line reads "For gas and accommodation."

    "The car is yours for three weeks," your father-in-law says. "Use it as you wish. Enjoy your trip."

Consider the ramifications of these two scenarios. In scenario 1, you and your bride get three weeks of connubial bliss, in addition to the innate romanticism of travelling cross-country by train.1 Your only obligation is making sure you get to the train station on time. On the other hand, that one obligation can get to be a bit of a constraint. Suppose you miss the train? You'll still get your honeymoon, but you'll have lost two days waiting for the next train, not to mention the one-way fare you had to spend out of your pocket money. It's still a pretty good trip, but to a certain extent you've missed out.

In scenario 2, on the other hand, you have far more freedom. You and your bride take the Mercedes west en route to Banff. You take it easy, making occasional stops at various roadside attractions on the way. Somewhere around Thunder Bay you mutually agree that taking the trip is more fun than arriving at the destination, and instead of heading to beautiful Banff you elect instead for a roadtrip that takes you into the American Midwest and parts of New England, until you re-enter Canada in Quebec's Southern Townships. You trade off a little luxury in your accommodations so you can eat in better restaurants. After all, your rich father-in-law did tell you to have a good trip, and what could be better than a road trip with the love of your life and a luxury convertible?

I told all those stories to ask this question: Which one of the two scenarios is most like finding God's will for your life? I suspect that most people would identify with the first. God's will is something like an itinerary, which is up to you to discover and obey. This is accomplished through various means: prayer, Bible study, wise counsel, and the interpreting of circumstances, inward impressions, inner peace, and so forth. In non-moral matters, decision making is an exercise of determining what choice God has already made for you. We have all heard the catch-phrases that come with this view:

  • I felt that God was leading me to . . .
  • We are going to pray and seek the Lord's will in this matter.
  • I want to know what God would have us to do in this situation.
  • Be careful not to run ahead of the Lord; after all, you don't want to settle for God's second best.
  • I want to stay in the centre of God's perfect will.
  • God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

I submit, however, that it is actually scenario 2 that is closer to the Biblical view. The Bible contains certain moral principles and precepts which we are bound to obey; however, within those limitations, we are free to act or choose as we wish. In non-moral matters, decision making consists of applying the principles of Scripture and God-given wisdom to make the best choice available, and submitting to the outcome of Providence.

This idea of free choice within the boundaries starts with creation:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Gen. 2:16-17)

It is reiterated in the Old Covenant:

And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household. . . .

And in the New Covenant:

The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. (1 Cor. 7:39)

I hope to discuss various aspects of the will of God and decision making on a somewhat regular basis, hopefully weekly on Wednesdays. Subjects I plan to cover, in no particular order, include:

  • The history of the "itinerary" view
  • Phrases such as "led by the Spirit" or "the will of God" as used in the Scriptures
  • Does God have a personal, individual plan for my life that I am expected to discover and follow?
  • Examination of some of the proof-texts used for the "itinerary" view
  • Gideon and "fleeces"
  • Making decisions according to God's revealed will, especially on the "big" questions such as marriage, work, missions, and so forth.


1 Purists will have already noted that the Canadian doesn't stop at Banff or Lake Louise, but goes north to Jasper. Try to suspend your disbelief just for a few minutes. [go back]

See also

Part 1: God's guidance: A voice from the past

Part 2: God's "perfect will" and Romans 12

Part 3: Fleece, peace, and the "still small voice"

Part 4: God's guidance and "open doors"

July 23, 2004

Those horrible, dangerous, nasty, just-barely-Reformed Baptists

It turns out, according to the "reformed Catholicism" crowd, that everybody in Christendom gets to be "Reformed" except for the Baptists:

The Reformers recognized their historical connection with Rome and the Catholic Church, whereas it seems that contemporary Evangelicalism is courting the favor and casting its lot in with a version of Christianity which lacks any meaningful sense of its indebtedness to, and continuity with, the Church of Rome. How is it that the sectarian spirit of Anabaptism has managed to invade the camp? Could it be that the ease with which Presbyterians get along with Baptists in our Evangelical culture is a sign that something is desperately wrong?

[Full Text]

The amazing thing to me is that the term itself was never something that accurately defined a Baptist position. In fact, it's a common joke in Presbyterian circles that the term "Reformed Baptist" is an oxymoron quite apart from any talk of Reformed Catholicism!

[Full Text]

Well, I guess I'll just have to go out back and eat worms.

Pet stores stop selling mailman-shaped dog biscuits

OK, so it's not only the British. From Toronto, practically my own back yard:

Dogs chomping on mail carrier-shaped treats is no laughing matter for Canada Post.

The unamused Canadian postal service -- whose carriers endure more than their share of real dog bites -- convinced Pet Valu Inc. stores to stop carrying Bark Bars, dog biscuits that come shaped like cats and letter carriers.

"This is not in any way, shape, or form funny for us, and to make light of that ... I don't see that as funny at all, not even in the least," said John Caines, Canada Post's national media relations manager.

[Full Story]

Wanna bet it's not funny? Some people are so thin-skinned it's a wonder they don't explode in the heat.

And now . . . this

I don't deliberately seek out stories from Great Britain. Honest. There must be something in the water.

Organisers have banned the publication of scores in some junior bowling matches because they fear details of heavy defeats appearing in the press could deter youngsters from taking up the sport.

[Full Story]

Oddly enough, no one ever thinks of the self-esteem of the winners, who do all that work and receive no recognition for their accomplishments. To quote that keen observer of life, Lieutenant Worf: "If winning is not important, then, Commander: why keep score?"

July 22, 2004

Same-sex marriage: Surprise!

Bet you didn't see this one coming:

Barely a year after an Ontario court gave its blessing to same-sex marriage, a lesbian couple is trying to untie the knot in what critics dismissed Wednesday as little more than a judicial stunt to test the limits of Canada's divorce laws.

The pair, identified in court documents only as J.H. and M.M., were together for five years prior to their decision to get married last June, but were separated just five days later - two weeks after the Ontario Court of Appeal legalized same-sex marriages. (emphasis added)

[Full Story]

So it turns out that having pushed for so long for the "right" to marry (not that the union between two men or two women is, or ever will be, "marriage"), the happy "couple" couldn't stay in that blessed union for a whole week. Was it just another excuse for the modern-day pagans to mock traditional institutions and values? Does this turn of events really surprise anyone?

I'm reminded of the scene in Life of Brian where a Jewish nationalist argues for the right to have babies. The problem is, he's a man. He can't have babies; he only wants the right to have babies. "It's symbolic of our struggle against oppression," he declares. "It's symbolic of his struggle against reality," comes the retort.

And now . . . this

Another story from the "slow learner" class:

A man in a wheelchair who makes obscene gestures to the crews of passing trains was injured when he got a little too close to one of them, police said.

A gas tank on a train engine clipped the wheelchair of Leland Laird, 54, Tuesday evening, causing him to fall out of the damaged chair and injure his arm, police said.

Laird told officers he has used a wheelchair since 1989 when a car he was driving was struck by a train near Fremont.

[Full Story]

Obviously he needs more training.

July 21, 2004

Haroldus Figulus?

You know that children's literature has hit the big time when it is available not only in English, but Latin, Greek, and Irish Gaelic.

Either that, or some antiquities scholars have way too much time on their hands.

Can a Klingon edition be far behind?

I, Critic

Back when I was a young teenager, I cut my sci-fi teeth reading Asimov's robot stories, both the short stories featured in his book I, Robot) and other anthologies, and then the novels about Elijah Baley and his robot partner Daneel Olivaw. In these stories, Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics were all but absolute:

  1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by the human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Naturally, I was naturally skeptical when trailers began appearing for a Will Smith movie titled I, Robot in which, by all appearances, robots were rioting in the streets. Nonetheless, I have a soft spot for Will Smith action movies and CGI eye-candy, so I decided to keep an open mind and check it out anyway. Besides, I was intrigued how hordes of robots doing mayhem could be harmonized with the more-or-less strict intepretation of the Three Laws of Asimov's own stories, or if the screenwriters would even try.

Short answer: They didn't try, and Asimov purists worldwide cringed. I, Robot isn't "based on" or "inspired by," but "suggested by" the Asimov work. Meaning screenwriters Jeff Vintar (Final Fantasy) and Akiva Goldman (Lost in Space, Batman and Robin, A Beautiful Mind) have done to Isaac Asimov what Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers) did to Robert A. Heinlein.

Nonetheless, don't let that stop you from seeing an otherwise entertaining and somewhat intelligent action movie.

In 2035, the Chicago skyline is dominated by the headquarters of U. S. Robotics, which apparently no longer makes modems, but robots. The city is on the eve of the largest rollout of robots in history: when they are released, there will be one NS-5 humanoid robot for every five human beings. Unfortunately, USR's top roboticist, Dr. Alfred Lanning (portrayed by James Cromwell and seen only in flashback) has died, apparently by jumping out of his lab window.

Enter Detective Del Spooner (Smith), who upon Lanning's death receives a personal automated request to conduct the investigation. Spooner lives in the past: he wears "vintage 2004" Converse hi-top shoes and has a stereo that operates via remote control instead of voice command. And he has a deep mistrust of robots: seeing one running with a purse, he assumes it is a thief and runs it down, only to learn it was actually bringing an asthma inhaler to its owner. His views make him an object of scorn at the police station, because no robot has ever committed a crime.

But this time, it turns out Spooner may be right. While investigating Dr. Lanning's lab with USR's robotic psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), he discovers an NS-5 robot with violent tendencies and a unique personality. The robot, which calls itself "Sonny," has the ability to show emotion - including angry outbursts - and to dream, as well as some unique physical modifications. He also has additional programming, Dr. Calvin discovers, that allows him to ignore the Three Laws at will. Thus, seemingly against common sense, Sonny becomes the prime suspect. Sonny's unique abilities and the personal call to Spooner are but two "breadcrumbs" - clues which Spooner must follow to get to the bottom of what, exactly, is going on at USR.

Patrick Tatopolous has again outdone himself in the production design of this movie. The Chicago of thirty years in the future is familiar, yet unfamiliar; the CGI skyline shows familiar buildings such as the Hancock Center alongside exotic new architecture such as USR's monstrous spire. Exotic vehicles (Spooner drives an Audi concept car created just for the movie) exist alongside old gas-burning cars. The look and feel is about halfway to Alex McDowell's design in Minority Report.

Though once again playing a smartass cop with an attitude problem, Will Smith plays down the wisecracks this time, resulting, I think, in a more believable and complex Del Spooner. Moynahan is excellent as Susan Calvin. In Asimov's fictional world Calvin is a cold, clinical scientist who prefers the company of robots to humans. Moynahan brings out her coldness, although she warms up considerably once she realizes Spooner's suspicions are justified. But it is Alan Tudyk (probably best known for playing the wisecracking pilot "Wash" Warren on the late, lamented series Firefly) who turns in the best performance of the show as the voice of Sonny. The American Tudyk affects a British accent that sounds eerily like Roddy McDowall back from the dead, but infuses Sonny with a good deal of human warmth. At the same time, Sonny has a chilling quality that resembles Douglas Rain's voicing of HAL 9000. You're never really sure whether you should like him or recoil from him.

Asimov's robot stories were often as much logical puzzles as detective fiction: Given that the Three Laws of Robotics are virtually absolute (and Asimov himself said in later stories that they were intrinsic to the mathematical constructs that made robotic construction possible), how could a robot commit a crime contrary to its very nature? The fun was in solving how a robot could be manipulated or deceived into the act. (For example, in The Naked Sun, one character suggests that Robot A could be ordered to place a "harmless" substance into a beverage, then Robot B could be ordered to serve the beverage to a human, unaware that it has been poisoned by Robot A.) I, Robot all but abandons this premise in favour of the suggestion (articulated by Dr. Lanning in a flashback sequence) that robots could evolve beyond the need for the Three Laws as they become more human. Sonny, it seems, is the first example of this emergent evolution. While a lofty enough concept for science fiction, it ditches what makes the robot story typically Asimovian.

Still, while it's too bad the screenwriters couldn't have stuck more closely to its roots, I, Robot is a good enough SF blockbuster in its own right. Don't let the purists stop you from enjoying it.

July 19, 2004

Steve Bell in Ottawa

In the summer, with the senior pastor on vacation and multiple guest speakers, our evening services tend to be come a little more informal, and just as likely as not to host a concert. That was the case last night, when we hosted Juno-winning Canadian Christian musician Steve Bell for a free concert. I realize that Bell has had some limited exposure in the states, but for the sake of my American friends: He is a guitarist and vocalist from Calgary, and his best known songs are largely paraphrases of Scripture, particularly the Psalms, although he draws on a number of sources for inspiration. While Bell often tours with a band (which includes bassist and Chapman Stick virtuoso Fergus Marsh), he came only with his six-string on this occasion.

Bell began his set by "apologizing" for starting with a Christmas song, then broke into John Michael Talbot's "Magnificat." The first few songs were more "sing-along": "Oh Love," followed by "The Wellspring" and "Holy Lord" (which went together on his album Deep Calls to Deep and always seem to go together naturally in concert). Then came a Trinitarian praise song, "Praise the Father" by another Western folk singer, Gord Johnson, and "Done Made my Vow" and finally "On the Wings of an Eagle," probably hist best known tune.

Following the "sing-along" portion of the program came "Ever Present Need," an adaptation of a poem by Francis of Assisi. Up to this point, Bell had made a number of remarks (typical of his self-deprecating humour) about whom he had "stolen" various songs or tunes from, and introduced one that he wrote himself: a jazzy riff to which the words were alternately "Mmm mmm mmm" or "dee dee dee." Then came "Psalm 116," "Jenny," and "Lauds" (inspired by a prayer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer). The program closed with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)." After a curtain call he played a personal favourite of mine, "Here By the Water," as an encore.

There is apparently some talk of bringing Steve Bell back later in the year with his band. Whether this means to the Met or to the city, I don't know, and don't much care. You haven't heard music until you've heard Fergus Marsh hammer out "By the Water" on the Stick.

This is your brain on KJV-onlyism

I've often remarked that indy-fundy-Baptists are addicted to crap, and this page proves it. If you can stomach more than about 2 minutes of the 14-minute "song" without wanting to end it all by stabbing yourself in the head with a barbeque fork, you're a braver man than me. Consider yourself warned.

July 17, 2004

No more free Bibles for new citizens

The story on the front page of today's National Post:

The federal government has told the Canadian Bible Society to end its 50-year tradition of offering the New Testament to new Canadians at citizenship ceremonies because doing so is inconsistent with Canada's promotion of multiculturalism.

As it happens, I am blogging from the library at a local university where I'm taking a short break from researching the life of William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement. Carey stood against the notion that "civilization" had to precede the Gospel; rather, he charged missionaries not to attempt to overturn the indigenous culture, but present the Gospel to them as they were, and let civilization take care of itself. In his seminal pamphlet, An Enquiry Into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen, which he published in 1792 and formed the basis of the first Missionary Society, he wrote:

As to their uncivilized, and barbarous way of living, this can be no objection to any, except those whose love of ease renders them unwilling to expose themselves to inconveniences for the good of others.

It was no objection to the apostles and their successors, who went among the barbarous Germans and Gauls, and still more barbarous Britons! They did not wait for the ancient inhabitants of these countries, to be civilized, before they could be christianized, but went simply with the doctrine of the cross; and Tertullian could boast that "those parts of Britain which were proof against the Roman armies, were conquered by the gospel of Christ."

From Carey's day onward, then, Christianity has been rightly viewed by missionaries as transcending culture, except insofar as that culture is incompatible with Christianity (Carey himself fought against slavery, the caste system, and widow burning, for example).

So it seems ironic that 200 years later - in the name of "multiculturalism" of all things - the Canadian government is imposing its secular culture on new citizens. Is this not a regression? Why not allow the free and voluntary distribution of Bibles to continue? Let civilization (and multiculturalism) take care of itself.

Do we suck, or what?

It's a couple days old, but I came across this story more or less at random this morning:

OTTAWA -- The Canadian navy will sit out the war on terrorism for one year in an effort to give exhausted sailors a chance to recuperate. HMCS Toronto left the Arabian Sea and the American George Washington Carrier Strike Group July 4 with a broken Sea King helicopter on deck.

And the navy has quietly decided against dispatching a replacement ship until spring 2005 at the earliest.

The Sea King on HMCS Toronto has been grounded since June 25 after particles were discovered in its gearbox.

[Full Story]

It's hard to believe that at the end of World War II, Canada had the third largest surface navy in the world.

July 15, 2004

Float like leaf on river of life. And kill old lady.

I suppose it's a sign of our bigger-louder-and-more times that Ottawa now has neither an inexpensive second-run cinema, nor, with the recent closing of the Somerset, a single-screen first-run one. We do, however, have two major repertory theatres, the ByTowne Cinema and the Mayfair Theatre. A good portion of the latter's business is in second-run films, and although it retains its original 1930s interior, it hosts a modern digital sound system. So last night I took in an encore screening of the newest film by the Coen brothers, The Ladykillers.

This movie ought to bring two previous Coen films to mind. Its dark, farcical plot about a criminal scheme gone wrong is reminiscent of Fargo, but the pervasive gospel music and setting in the deep South resembles O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Ladykillers is a remake of a 1955 British film starring Alec Guinness. The Coens have moved the setting from England to a nondescript town on the banks of the Mississippi. We meet a local widow, Mrs. Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), complaining to the town sherriff about a neighbour kid who plays loud, offensive "hippity-hop" music that uses the N-word. "Thirty years after Martin Luther King," she complains, "Sweet Lord of mercy, is that where we at?" The time, judging by the set decoration and the cars on the street could be anywhere from the mid 1980s onward.

The widow Munson is a God-fearing churchgoer with a cat named Pickles and a stern portrait of her dead husband Othar which she talks to. A running gag throughout the movie involves subtle changes in Othar's expression indicating his approval or disapproval of goings-on.

The widow Munson also has a room to rent. Enter Tom Hanks as "Professor" Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, Ph.D. ("Like Elmer? Fudd?" asks Mrs. Munson), an effete connoisseur of antiquities. He is especially interested in Mrs. Munson's root cellar, the dirt walls of which he finds ideal for rehearsals of his Rennaissance music ensemble.

Of course, Prof. Dorr is no musician at all, and his real interest in Mrs. Munson's basement lies in the fact that its soft dirt walls provide easy underground access to the counting-house of the nearby riverboat casino. His musical "ensemble" is really his accomplices: Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans), the "inside man," a trash-talking gangsta with a job at the casino; Garth Pancake (J. K. Simmons), an aging hippie with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a ladyfriend named "Mountain Girl," and knowledge of explosives; the General (Tzi Ma), a chain-smoking, ex-Viet Cong officer with expertise in tunnelling; and Lump (Ryan Hurst), a high-school football player with limited vocabulary hired for his muscles.

But while Mrs. Munson may be naïve, she isn't stupid. After the gang has a couple of unfortunate basement accidents with explosives (which even the Professor's grandiloquent sweet-talking can't explain away), she discovers the plot and demands that the Professor return the money and go to church with her. Faced with the horrendous prospect of "engaging in divine worship," however, his course is clear: Eliminate the widow. And suddenly this turns into a Coen brothers movie.

Frankly, I don't understand why The Ladykillers has received so much negative criticism. I know it is a remake (which I have yet to see) and therefore is outside of the Coen brothers' regular territory, besides having some big shoes to fill. But even on a second showing, many scenes are downright laugh-out-loud. While much of the acting is over-the-top, it is a farce, after all. Clearly Hanks is having a grand old time hamming up the part of the pretentious Professor, sporting a beard and an outfit that make him look like a malevolent Colonel Sanders. He also wears bad prosthetic teeth and affects a giggle that reminds me of - I kid you not - Joan Cusack. The best portrayal is that of the widow Munson. Hall plays her as a simple but strong-willed woman, naïve of the ways of the world but with a well-grounded sense of right and wrong. The script pokes gentle fun at her simplicity without going all out and mocking her faith: for example, she gives five dollars a month to Bob Jones University, which she regards as the finest institute of higher learning in the world, seemingly unaware of its infamous racial policies. On the other hand, when she slaps Gawain repeatedly for using profanity in her "Christian house," any honest viewer will inwardly cheer her on.

This isn't to say that it's all perfect. Wayans' foul mouth goes too long and too far. And while IBS is Pancake's fatal flaw, it seems to act more as an excuse for fart jokes than a serious plot point.

The music in The Ladykillers is excellent. The Coens apparently hope that this film will do for traditional gospel what O Brother, Where Art Thou? did for traditional bluegrass, and again hired the talents of T-Bone Burnett to co-ordinate the music. Unfortunately it doesn't work as well as in the previous film, where the music was woven right into the plot. Here it functions to set mood and as an occasional set piece (tell me that isn't Eddie Murphy in disguise as the church choir director). The movie opens with a long shot of a garbage barge floating under a bridge and up the Mississippi to an island of garbage, over which plays Thomas Dorsey's "Come, Let Us Go Back to God." This functions ironically as a sort of leitmotif every time the gang uses the barge to dispose of evidence.

The theme of The Ladykillers, is simple: "ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). There is a moral order to the universe. Once the decision is made to kill Mrs. Munson, the plot speedily moves to its conclusion as the conspirators all receive their comeuppance under increasingly fortuitous circumstances.

Compared to other Coen films, The Ladykillers rates considerably lower than Fargo and O Brother, but well above The Big Lebowski.

July 12, 2004

Today's secret word is . . . ouch.

The annual "running of the bulls," in which several Spanish men get liquored up and allow natural selection to run its course, took place today in Pamplona, Spain, with predictable results.

French airport menace averted!

This weekend, airport security in Paris made the world safe to travel by plane by confiscating weapons from some horrible, dangerous toddlers:

Two-year-old twins from the UK had their plastic toy swords seized at a French airport, say their parents.

Olivia and Eva Ryan, from Luton, Beds, were waiting with their parents to check in at Charles de Gaulle Airport after a trip to EuroDisney.

[Full Story]

Of course, the French have good reason to worry, considering what happened the last time the Brits showed up in France with swords.

A little quid pro quo for the King James Only whackjobs

A certain Ruckmandroid has seen fit to link to my blog, though of course I get the label of "Alexandrian Apostate." Considering the source, it's a badge I wear with pride.

But one good turn deserves another. If you want to see what a card-carrying droid looks like in full-bore rant mode, check out the long-winded, pretentious, blithering pseudoscholarship at The A.V. 1611 Answers Association.


So apparently Amazon is now using a new tactic to get me to buy books I don't want: a "plog." What's a "plog"? Apparently it's a "personalized log." To me, it looks like one of the usual automatic recommendations, dressed up to look like a blog entry.

But it's the bizarre arbitrariness of the recommendation I saw today that gets me. I quote:

My Life was released today; We thought you'd be interested because you bought Creed or Chaos? Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Or, Why It Really Does Matter What You Believe).

Somehow, since two years ago I bought a book of theology by Dorothy L. Sayers, the Amazonians in their infinite wisdom seem to think I would be interested in Bubba's bloated autobiography today.

I don't see the connection. Unless: Sayers was writing about the necessity of creeds and dogma in the Church of England, and Bubba had no use for creeds and dogma, only the church, to prop up his presidency with ersatz spirituality.

July 11, 2004

Travelling, part deux

OK, I'm back from my road trip to K-W. Here's a quick synopsis:

Friday: Spent some time in the Dana Porter arts library working on an upcoming Sunday school lesson about the life of William Carey. I realized after I'd left that while I was looking for something else, I accidentally left their antique copy of Life of William Carey, Shoemaker and Missionary by George Smith on top of the Life magazines on the periodicals floor. Oops. I'll put it back next time I'm in town.

Went from there on Part Two of my nostalgia tour of UW's campus. This was my first chance to get a look at the new(er) Village 3 in the residence area. Nothing remarkable to look at, except apparently it's air-conditioned and in demand. Went from there along the "Bible Path" to St. Jerome's University, where I checked whether a large Bible I had borrowed and then "lost" (i.e. the library lost it after I returned it) had been recovered. It had. From there to Conrad Grebel University College to check on a few books I had researched and might want to add to my collection.

From campus I walked uptown to buy a wedding card. Uptown Waterloo appears to be dying; the Waterloo Town Square shopping centre boasts "Over 65 Stores" - half empty. Shops along King St. seem to be faring much better. I dropped in at The Carpenter Shop to browse, but it seems to be turning into a Fluffy Christian Trinket Store, rather than the purveyor of serious Christian literature where I built up much of my library. (Fortunately, K-W still has an excellent resource for meaty Christian books in Mitchell Family Books.

That evening I tried to get in touch with an online friend with whom I had made tentative arrangements to have a cup of coffee. Unfortunately she apparently was not home to answer the phone, so I idled for the remainder of the night.

Saturday: The Wedding. Held in the morning at Lincoln Road Chapel, in an interesting building that used to be a local YMCA; the sanctuary is obvously a former swimming pool. (Interestingly, now that the church owns the building, they rent part of the facility back to the Y.). After a short break over noonhour, the reception was held, again in the church. Are potluck receptions a Brethren thing? The two Brethren weddings I have attended both had potluck lunches, rather than catered receptions. No matter, the spread was excellent, and arguably better than any catered reception I have attended. I provided a cucumber and onion salad consisting of two English cukes (halved and sliced), a medium Vidalia onion (coarsely diced), a small tub of plain yogurt, and a tablespoon of dill weed. Simple, but tasty. Between the wedding and the reception, I spent our spare time with many friends who had also travelled from Ottawa.

I spent Saturday evening with my travelling companion and some of his friends in the campus pro-life club, discussing (amongst other things) the recent national election, the current state of pro-life apologetics, and the reluctance of certain campus Christian groups to get involved in pro-life work.

Sunday: We left Waterloo early to visit my friend's aunt in Toronto and have breakfast. My friend is Filipino, and neither his aunt nor uncle, having only recently arrived in Canada, speaks English well. Fortunately, we both speak food, as she treated us not only to breakfast, but lunch. We then spent the afternoon at church - though a Filipino Baptist assembly, thankfully the lengthy service was conducted in English rather than Tagalog - followed by yet more Filipino food. The small congregation was exceedingly warm and friendly. I would visit them again if I have the opportunity.

Roadside Attraction Watch:After church we picked up one more friend who had stayed overnight in Toronto rather than Waterloo, and made our way back to Ottawa. En route we made a stop at a notable Roadside Attraction: the Big Apple Theme Park in Colborne. The Big Apple is the world's biggest apple statue, a three-storey fibreglass Macintosh apple with an observation deck on top. The attraction stands next to a huge pie bakery and restaurant. I had a slice of their traditional apple pie, which was quite tasty.

July 09, 2004

Travelling for the Weekend

At the moment I'm writing this from a public terminal at my alma mater.

Yesterday I travelled from Ottawa with a friend, to attend another friend's wedding tomorrow. We left Ottawa at around 10am and arrived here at 3:30. My travelling companion was invited to speak to a campus pro-life group last night, so I sat in on that meeting.

Before going to bed after a fairly long day, I took a quickie tour of UW's campus to see how much it has built up since I graduated in 1997. There are at least three new buildings on campus, including an environmental and information technology building which, for some reason, also houses a dinosaur museum; and another one dedicated to co-op education and career services. Other buildings have been expanded, especially in the Engineering faculty. The Davis Centre, with its inexplicable myriad of stools, remains as hideous as ever.

Here at the library, where I spent a lot of my out-of-class time as a student, the exterior of the building is currently under construction, as they are replacing the copper flashing around the building. The new-penny look of the new copper doesn't blend in with the concrete exterior of the building quite as well as it will once it's oxidized; the old copper still on the roof is considerably older and thus a less garish green-black. Well, give it a few years.

July 04, 2004

Let Freedom Ring

Happy 4th of July to my American friends.

July 02, 2004

Harry Potter 6

It's official: The title of the sixth book in the blockbuster Harry Potter series will be . . . Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince [full story].

I have been hunting around on J. K. Rowling's official site for a good 45 minutes and can't find the announcement, although there was a hint dropped in the News section that the "HBP is neither Harry nor Voldemort," or words to that effect. (Apparently a hoaxer spoofed Rowling's style and had everybody thinking that the next title would be the incomprehensible Harry Potter and the Pillar of Storgé, leading Rowling to come clean herself.

As to when the book will be out, at this point that's anybody's guess.

Incidentally, if you haven't visited Rowling's site, give it a shot. You'll have a blast. (It uses Flash.)

In related news, apparently Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has begun filming. Rumour has it that Ralph Fiennes (Schindler's List, Quiz Show) is being considered to portray You Know Who. We'll see.

July 01, 2004


I woke up this morning to the sound of thunder and rain coming down hard on the roof.

This is my seventh Canada Day living in Ottawa - eighth if you count the one as a student ten years ago - and I can't recall ever having one that didn't get dumped on at least once during the day. Of all the bright and sunny days in the year, we chose this one. Oh well.

Update: It's 2:30 in the afternoon, it looks like sundown, and the thunder and lightning have started again. I love this town!

Happy Canada Day

Ottawa is the place to be on July 1, as several hundred thousand patriotic Canadians merge on Parliament Hill to party. This time of year, I wouldn't be anywhere else.

Over the years I've been online, it's been my habit to collect Canadian patriotic songs and hymns and say something about them on Canada Day. Since this is my first year with a blog, I thought I would start right at the beginning again with our national anthem, "O Canada."

"O Canada" was originally a French composition, commissioned in 1880 by the Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec. A music teacher and nationally known composer, Calixa Lavallée, composed the tune. To this was set a poem by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The first performance of "O Canada" was on St. Jean-Baptiste Day, June 24, 1880. An English version was penned by Sir Robert Stanley Weir in 1908.

But it wasn't until July 1, 1980 that "O Canada" officially became Canada's national anthem. Both English and French versions are official. The French is:

Ô Canada!
Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!
Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,
Il sait porter la croix!
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

Here is my translation of the French words:

O Canada!
Land of our forefathers,
Your brow is wreathed with beautiful garlands!
Because your arm can carry the sword,
It can carry the cross!
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant endeavours.
And your valour, steeped in faith,
Will protect our homes and our rights.
Will protect our homes and our rights.

The English anthem is a slightly modified version Weir's original:

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North, strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Although the national anthem has official English and French lyrics, there is no official bilingual version, although frequently the two languages are blended into a single verse.

The very best renditions of "O Canada" were by the legendary Roger Doucet, who sang the national anthem for a generation of hockey fans at the Montréal Forum. Today, police constable Lyndon Slewidge is fast becoming an icon in his own right as he opens home games for the Ottawa Senators.