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Internet, Sexuality

…the Internet can pervert anything  

Parents need to know that, whether it's biblical fiction or a favorite boy band, innocent interests are being used to draw good kids into evil, dangerous corners of the Web **** Warning: the following addresses pornography and sexual content Born in 1998, I grew up in the generation when the iPod Touch and cellphones were starting to become more accessible to teens. This had a massive effect on my journey through puberty, my struggle to view sexuality in a healthy, biblical manner, my exposure to non-biblical perspectives and content, and my relationships with peers. This technology was new to parents as well, and many were none the wiser to what information and entertainment their children were suddenly able to access. Today, we no longer have that excuse; private, personal access to the Internet is here, and it is riddled with temptations and depraved content. Parents need to keep informed. No real limits, no oversight             At age 13, I was surrounded by classmates using the iPod Touch, which had all the features of an iPhone except the option to place calls or texts without Wifi. Any app could be downloaded, any website accessed, and any game played. I bought a second-hand iPod off of a classmate for $20, and a whole new world opened up to me; I could message my friends from home rather than having to call them on the landline! We could talk privately without being overheard, something that was of paramount value to awkward youths who had reached the age when nothing is more embarrassing than your parents overhearing you discuss crushes and the like. Just girls reading Old Testament fiction… Several apps began trending amongst my peers, one of which was an app and website anyone could use to write a book, and anyone else could use to read those books; all you needed to do was create an account. This was very popular amongst girls my age. A particular fictional favorite series in my class was set in Old Testament times; it was from a young woman’s point of view, and contained a fairly innocent love triangle. There was little harm in the series itself. But the app contained scores of books, accessible to whoever desired to read them, and as we all began exploring the app, we discovered something else entirely: erotica. I cannot count the number of poorly written stories I devoured. My parents had told me about the basics of sex, and about God’s design for it, but this new narrative was something completely different. It didn’t matter that I had been taught a biblical view of sex; I now had access to a different definition of it. Curiosity can fester into a full-fledged addiction. We see this with drugs, alcohol, money – all of which are things that children raised in a God-fearing home do not have unhindered access to, things that parents can monitor with relative ease. And it used to be simple to monitor your child’s access to pornography; it took bold action to get ahold of dirty magazines purchased at a corner store, and those magazines had to be hidden under a bed. Even when looking back on your lifetime to your own childhood, most if not all of parents would agree that children and teenagers did not have the same ready access to pornography then. Today is not the same. If your child has a device, they have the possibility to discover virtually thousands of corner store magazine racks. And all of this in the palm of their hand. Whether in the past or the present, children are not equipped with the discretion to navigate most conversations about sex, let alone sexual content and entertainment. By the age of 15, I had read hundreds of gratuitously graphic pieces of literary pornography; I was addicted. The majority of these consisted of “fanfiction.” … to erotic fan fiction Fanfiction is defined by Google as “fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, etc.” To give some further context, the popular and sexually charged book-turned-film franchise Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a fanfiction of the popular young adult vampire series Twilight. There are different genres in fanfiction, one of which includes the “y/n” character, meaning “your name”; these stories are written as though from the reader’s point of view, and fuel fantasies in which the reader is inserted into romantic and sexual relationships with the characters from whatever story the fanfiction is inspired by. Young preteens can explore written fantasies in which they are the love interest of one or more of their favorite characters, fueling incredibly unrealistic ideals and twisted notions of healthy sexuality. Another genre of fanfiction that is hugely popular is where two characters who do not have a romantic/sexual relationship in the original canonical story are given a new storyline. The vast majority of these “ships” (the slang term for relationships) are not heterosexual. Preteens and teens are lured in by extra content about their favorite characters, while gradually being desensitized to sexually graphic content. They can take their pick from hundreds of smutty stories about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, Captain America’s Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, Harry Potter’s Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, Merlin and Arthur, etc. Even more alarming are the number of stories in which real people, generally celebrities, are “shipped” together. Does your child have a favorite secular music artist? Chances are, there are fanfictions out there about them. Most common among these are fanfictions about members of boy bands. There are stories in which two band members have a secret relationship behind the scenes, and fans don’t know; there are stories in which two band members – who live in an alternate universe and happen to be vampires, or rich CEOs of companies, or strippers, or baristas – meet and start dating. There are stories in which five plus members of a boy band are all members of a werewolf pack, and engage in polygamous sexual activities together. As PluggedIn’s article on fanfiction puts it, “a major draw for fanfiction writers and readers is usually the exploration of forbidden romance.” Maybe you have parental controls installed on your phone, and you think, “My child has no access to these sorts of things.” But fanfiction is literary, and it isn’t screened in the same way that visual pornography is. Children can access these stories by merely clicking “I accept” after reading a warning of graphic content. Boys and their cartoons… While I and many of my female peers were exploring these things, the boys were doing something similar. Many boys were watching “anime” on their iPods and iPhones. Anime is defined by Google as “a style of Japanese film and television animation, typically aimed at adults as well as children.” Just as with the content on my writing/reading app, some of these anime shows were harmless, and even contained messages of loyalty, friendship, and other important themes. If you’ve ever noticed your child watching an anime series, you may have thought it was merely an innocent cartoon, and not paid any further attention to it. But many anime series have overtly sexualized female character designs, with unnatural body proportions, and severely immodest clothing. Worse than that, many anime series contain graphic sexual scenes; there is even a category of anime geared specifically towards pornographic content. Male peers admitted to me in later conversation that it was through anime that they discovered pornographic websites. As young teens, they had no credit cards to pay for authentic, licensed anime streaming sites, and so they accessed their anime shows through illegal websites, many of which had flashing advertisements on every page. Nearly every boy in my class and wider peer group was watching pornography on a regular basis by the age of sixteen; some of us girls were curious enough to check it out, too. The pull parents didn’t understand Our parents tried to keep an eye on what we were up to. But it was easy enough to convince them that we were simply reading a harmless book or watching a harmless cartoon. For some of us, our parents set a boundary of not having our electronic devices in our rooms when we went to bed, but we still had access to these things in the bathroom, on the school bus, even in the foyer at school. If you passed by your child in the living room and saw them reading a paragraph or watching an animated show on their phone, how often would you sit next to them and see what they’re reading? Or, perhaps the more relevant question: what is the likelihood they would hide their screen immediately? Many parents today fall into one of two categories: they don’t want to invade the privacy of their teens, and thus leave them to their devices or they constantly demand to know what their children are up to, leading their kids to become more aloof and secretive. I remember being a young teen, and how I chafed against my mother’s occasional questions about what I was reading on my phone. I’d even blatantly lie about it for fear of the truth being discovered. I cannot imagine how much more I would have pulled away from her if she had badgered me about these things. Leaving our kids defenseless In Reformed circles, it is not uncommon for parents to refrain from teaching their children about sex before adulthood. In some cases, parents are so uncomfortable with this that they do not tell their children until they are preparing for marriage, or they do not tell them at all. Some parents, in contrast, give their children too many details at too young an age. I have peers who fall into all of these categories. Finding the balance in this seems very difficult. The biggest issue here is that, due to the prevalence of graphic sexual content available to today’s youth, many are learning about sex through erotic literature or visual pornography. Pornography is typically filmed by men, for men; erotica is typically written by women, for women. Men are creating a fantasy of what to expect from women in a sexual relationship, and women are creating a fantasy of what to expect from men in a sexual relationship. The result is an incredibly narcissistic view of sexuality, stemming from a focus on the reader or viewer’s satisfaction, with no consideration for the other party and no understanding of God’s design for sex and the expression of love it is meant to be. When a boy or young man watches porn, he is buying into a fantasy where he has ultimate power, and the woman’s presence is meant for his pleasure alone. When a girl or young woman reads erotica, she is buying into a fantasy where a man is so utterly consumed by his need for her that he will do absolutely anything for her, as he cannot resist her near-goddess status. (Most females depicted in these books do not believe themselves to be attractive, feeding everyday women the narrative that the most attractive men out there will be attracted to them, and they should not “settle for less.”) This sort of content creates a fantasy of self-worship. It teaches boys and girls to view sex through a greedy, twisted lens. And it’s not slowing down. Common Sense Media’s research report “Teens and Pornography” surveyed a demographically representative set of teens in the United States, and the collected data revealed that 72% of the teens surveyed they had seen pornography; of those, 54% saw it by age 13, including the 15% who saw it by age 11. I am a Gen Z’er. The Oxford Dictionary defines Generation Z as “the group of people who were born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, who are regarded as being very familiar with the Internet.” I would like to suggest a new definition: “The group of people born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s who have been, en masse, bombarded with pervasive, self-indulgent content – deemed acceptable under the label of expression – to the point that they have been convinced to take up the mantle of blurring the line between advancement and destruction.” Better to pluck out your eyes Roughly two years ago, I made the decision to leave social media. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, I deleted my accounts for all three. Very quickly I noticed an improvement in my moods, thought processes, and overall mental health. But today’s modern message of the importance of identity and sexual expression is everywhere. It’s on Pinterest, in the form of an advertisement under the search bar titled, “Beyond blue and pink - Breaking down the binary.” It’s on YouTube, in the form of reaction videos in which you, the viewer, watch someone else react to a video, typically of a third “someone else.” There is no end to technology’s primary narrative: “It’s all about you.” Youth today are growing up surrounded by a message that is directly contradictory to God’s Word. That’s just as true for the youth of the Church. Don’t be fooled into thinking your children are the exception; my parents did their best with what knowledge they had, but without directly monitoring my every move online, they had no way they could know the full extent of what I was accessing. As someone who grew up in the Church and in a Bible-teaching home, I could still write multiple articles on how today’s social environment and media made me question my sexuality, struggle with extremely low self-esteem, and buy into the notion that a message that contradicts Scripture is maybe not so harmful after all. By the grace of God, the worst of those seasons are behind me, but there are still after-effects that have repercussions on my day-to-day life. Many peers I’ve spoken to about this express the same sentiment. Not all e-books are harmful. Not all animation is harmful. In both categories, there are stories to be found with great messages. But they are the rare diamonds in a pile of coal, and parents must be made aware of the danger present in these forms of entertainment. On a broader scale, parents ought to know how many seemingly “harmless” things their children have access to, and the way it is affecting the development, lifestyles, and perspectives of youth across Western civilization as a whole. If you do not want your child exposed to the Internet or social media, but are looking for a smartphone alternative that offers calling and texting in case of emergencies, you can search for "dumb phone" offerings online (though you'll need to do your research as even some "dumb phones" still do have access to the Internet). Americans have a couple of options: the Light Phone (www.thelightphone.com) and the Gabb Phone (https://gabb.com)....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Pro-life - Abortion

Dr. Seuss's "Horton trilogy"

Parents may be familiar with the first two of Dr. Seuss' Horton books, but the third, only recently republished will be a new delight for many. Horton hearts a Who by Dr. Seuss 1954 / 72 pages  This was the last Horton story written, but ranks first in our hearts for its surprising pro-life message! With his giant ears, the elephant Horton is able to hear what no one else can: that there are tiny little people, – Whos they call themselves – living on what looks like a dandelion puff. They are too tiny to see, and for everyone else they are too tiny to hear, but as Horton knows, and as he often repeats: “a person’s a person no matter how small.” So, conscientious pachyderm that he is, Horton is determined to protect the little Whos, and their whole town of Who-ville. His friends think he's crazy, and one in particular is so sure he's nuts that she wants to grab the dandelion puff and burn it, to put an end to his delusion. It comes to a climax with Horton encouraging all the residents of Who-ville to make as much noise as they can so others will finally be able to hear them! Will their humanity ever be recognized? Kids will love this for the rhymes and the charming hero, but pro-life parents can't help but embrace Horton's oft-repeated entreaty that "a person's a person no matter how small." His simple plea is so famous that it can be a tool in cultural conversations about the unborn since absolutely everyone has read Horton Hears a Who! Might Christians be reading something into the story that the author didn't intend? Quite likely. His second wife said the pro-life movement was hijacking the story for its own purposes. But whether Seuss intended it or not, his story makes a point worth hearing: that our worth is not dependent on our size. Christians have to take that further though, explaining where our worth does come from: being made in the very image of God (Genesis 9:6). Horton hatches the egg by Dr. Seuss 1940 / 64 pages The start of the Horton trilogy isn't as insightful as the third, but it is fun. In his first outing, the genial elephant is taken advantage of by a lazy mother bird named Mayzie. She says she just wants a quick break from egg-sitting, but once Horton agrees to take over, Mayzie takes off and doesn't look back. So, for day after day, Horton faithfully babysits the egg, roosting on the nest, at the top of the tree. As in Horton Hearts a Who, his friends aren't supportive – they're making fun of him again. And then hunters, startled by this strange sight of an elephant up a tree, transport him, tree and all, over the sea to put him in a circus. Horton has to endure the indignity, being displayed as a spectacle to crowds all over, but, as he repeats to all his critics: "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent!" And that, there, is the attraction of this book – it is about steadfastness, and sticking to your word, even when others – where is that Mayzie? – just won't. Children don't need to worry, though, as both Horton and Mayzie get what's coming to them in the end: the baby bird that finally hatches is half elephant! Horton and the Kwuggerbug and more lost stories  by Dr. Seuss 2014 / 64 pages Back in 2014, reports came of a "new" Dr. Seuss book, to be published 23 years after the author's death. It wasn't new new, but rather rediscovered new, with work that Seuss had published in magazines before, but never in a book. It was to be a collection of four stories, all of which had first appeared in print back in the early 1950s. The title tale features Horton once again being sorely treated, this time by a kwuggerbug, who promises to split some delicious beezlenuts if Horton will only carry him to the tree. It seems a deal when the tree seems near but in the end Horton is crossing crocodile-infested rivers, and climbing mountains and the trail just keeps going on and on. Then, in one final trick, the kwuggerbug "splits" the nuts by taking all the nut meat for himself and leaving Horton the shells for his half. But once again, justice is done, this time via an unintentional sneeze. And while there is no great moral to this story, it sure is fun to see Horton this one more time....

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The William Tyndale Story

Animated 32 min. / 2005 Rating: 6/10 "The Torchlighters" is a series of animated films created by Voice of the Martyrs to teach children from 8-12 about the many people who have been persecuted for their love of God. The animation is consistently solid, and while the topic matter – persecution – is somber, the depictions of torture are quite age-appropriate. This isn't a blanket recommendation of the series. Several of the other films in the series depict Jesus talking to one of the characters (Augustine, Perpetua) which skirts uncomfortably close to the Second Commandment, and in other cases the biographical target has significant troubling aspects to their theology (the Arminian John Wesley, for example). But the subject of The William Tyndale Story isn't troubling. The film is highly educational, and reasonably entertaining, or to put it another way children should see this, won't mind seeing it, but likely won't want to watch it again and again. So this is an excellent resources for Christian schools, but not ideal for the family video library. The strength of Tyndale is in the film's simplicity. The vast cast of characters featured in an earlier live-action version, God's Outlaw, is, in this animated retelling, cut down to only the half dozen most important. So now even children will be able to follow the story and learn about how Tyndale translated the Bible into English at the cost of his own life. Watch it for free below. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Little Red Riding Hood

by Trina Schart Hyman 28 pages / 1983 This is about a little girl and the big wolf that gobbles her up. If that is a bit of a shock to you, then the version you were told as a child was likely some modernized, bubble-wrapped rendition in which grandma is shut up in a closet rather than eaten, and the woodsman arrives before Red Riding Hood takes a trip down the wolf's gullet. But in Trina Schart Hyman's retelling we hear the traditional tale: first the wolf eats his fill; then he gets his comeuppance. So why is this traditional tale the better one? The peril is a key reason. Our world is not always a safe place, and to prepare our children for it we need to introduce them to the real world in bits and pieces. One good way to teach them about how bad the real world can be is by introducing them to some of that nastiness – in a measured dose – via fairytales. If you take the peril away from the story so that Red Riding Hood is saved before she is ever really in danger, you have a nice story for a two-year-old, but it is not a story that stretches or challenges anyone older. But what if, instead, the wolf "ran straight to the bed, and without even saying a good-morning, he ate up the poor old grandmother in one gulp"? That is scary.... briefly. Only a few pages later the woodsman comes to save the day and skin the wolf, so this is only a small dosage, but one that can serve to fortify children in preparation for the days ahead when they learn what the world is really like. The biggest selling feature is, however, Trina Schart Hyman's remarkable art – there is so much to see in each picture. And as a fun bonus, she has hidden Red Riding Hood's black cat on almost every page, there to be found by a sharp-eyed child. As for age recommendations, well, this is a story my two-year-old always enjoyed (but probably didn't fully understand - she liked looking for the cat) but it's one that my four-year-old needed to be in the right mood for. She found the wolf a tad on the scary side. I have but one caution: at one point the woodsman makes use of the word "jiminy" which some consider a "substitute oath." The woodsman isn't actually taking God's name, but is used this word in place of taking God's name in vain. I don't have a problem with this, but make mention because I know some readers might, so I want you to be aware....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Pea, Bee, & Jay #1: stuck together

by Brian "Smitty" Smith 2020 / 64 pages A bite-sized vegetable, a bug, and a bird wouldn't seem the most likely of friends, but hey, sometimes the oddest combinations just work, right? Pea is fresh out of the pod, and likes to roll. When he rolls right past the farm fence into the neighboring forest, the young-un gets a bit flummoxed, especially after a storm hits. Fortunately, he rolls right into Bee, a very smarter pollinator, who seems to be hiding from her fellow bees. That's odd, sure, but Bee is willing to help Pea learn the ways of the forest, and the two head off together. What's Bee's first lesson for Pea? To stay clear of birds because birds like to eat bugs and peas. Who do they meet immediately after? A blue jay, of course. But while Jay is indeed a bird, he's an unusual sort. First off, he doesn't fly. His nest fell out of the tree when he was but a lad, and he never knew his parents, so there was no one to teach him. Second, he doesn't seem to eat bugs or peas. This might be the beginning of a wonderful friendship! The three comrades go on to tangle with a hungry fox, three overzealous acorns, a host of loyal bees – it turns out that Bee is actually the queen of her hive, and as the adventure rounds up, it's time for her to head back to her royal duties. Cautions If there's a downside to the story, it'd be how Pea sets out on his adventure: he heads past the farm fence on a foolish dare from his "friends" to go check out a tree where he knows his momma wouldn't want him to go. But, at story's end, he does get grounded for it and mostly accepts that as a punishment he had coming his way. Added bonus: Pea learns to stop caring what these "friends" think. He was supposed to bring back a leaf to prove he made it to the big oak on the other side of the fence, but when he loses the leaf on the way back, Pea doesn't care, because even if he can't prove it, he knows he made it. Conclusion There are all sorts of farm-related puns in this one, whether it's raspberries giving raspberries, or Bee telling some of her subject bees to "buzz off." It didn't even hit me, but my kids all thought the PB&J combination of characters was super clever. There are six books in this series so far, and our family really liked the first three. In the second, Pea, Bee, & Jay #2: Wannabees, Bee's constant absence from the hive leaves an opening for a usurper named Lenny. Lenny goes over the top with all the trappings of royalty, arranging for a red carpet, trumpets-blowing sort of entrance wherever he goes. That's kind of annoying, but the other bees figure, well, at least he sticks around! Bee learns her lesson – her people need her to be dependable – and when she is able to prove that Lenny is embezzling honey, she's in again as Queen Bee. The third, Pea, Bee, & Jay #3: Lift Off, is still funny, but not quite as good, with Jay learning how to fly with a little help from his friends. It also has a passing mention of diarrhea that it could have done without. The last three didn't grab anyone. They weren't horrible, but certainly aren't worth recommending. In Pea, Bee, & Jay #4: Farm Feud, things take a turn as two of the friends are feuding for almost the whole book. Yes, they get back together in the end, but their constant fighting meant it just wasn't fun to come along for this ride. Pea, Bee, & Jay #5: Gotta Find Gramps starts with the three watching a professional wrestling match, and then discovering Grampa Pea used to be a professional wrestler too. Professional wrestling is often bloody and sexual, and while there's none of the sex here, it's just not a "sport" I want my kids to spend a lot of time learning about. Finally, Pea, Bee, & Jay #6: The Big Bully, is well-intentioned, tackling the topic of bullying. But I think it's also naive, encouraging kids to befriend their tormenter, because, after all, he's probably just been bullied himself. That might even be true sometimes, but other times the bullies are just bullies. Many kids won't have the smarts yet to tell one sort from the other, making this "befriending encouragement" unhelpful and possibly even harmful. So, three is company, and there's no need to get the rest. These would be great for Grades 1-3, though our older girls and their dad appreciated them too, as a quick light read....

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Science - Creation/Evolution, Watch for free

Secrets of the Cell with Michael Behe: Season 2

Back in 2020, Dr. Michael Behe produced a series of 5 short videos highlighting how, the closer we look at the inner workings of the cell, the more apparent the fingerprints of its Designer. While Behe is Roman Catholic, he didn't name the Designer, which is the big weakness of the series and a weakness of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement overall. ID is a "big tent" movement, welcoming Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Moonies and even agnostics who all recognize that creation gives evidence of a Creator. But who that Creator is, specifically, isn't said. So God isn't given His due. That said, after watching these films, you won't be able to help but praise Him for His genius. While the fifth episode was the original conclusion of Dr. Michael Behe's "Secrets of the Cell" series, it started up again 2 years later, with three new episodes so far. If you haven't already, be sure to check out Season 1 here and look for the first three episodes of Season 2 – all that are available so far – down below. Episode 6: Bacteria: Superheroes of the Microbial World (18 minutes) This time Dr. Behe highlights just how complex even a simple bacterium really is, doing naturally, what no scientists has been able to do via concerted effort, and computer-assisted design. There is, in fact, an astonishing factory – one that would "rival any modern-day fabrication plant" – at work in these small organisms. What's so fun here is the amazement evidenced by Behe in all that he shares. He's making an argument, one that'll put evolutionists in their place, but he's also enjoying himself peering closely at the wonders God has put on display on the microscopic scale. We should do likewise. Maybe the most interesting factoid this time around is, did you know that we have almost as many (generally helpful) bacteria residing on and in us as we have cells in our body? Roughly 40 Trillion, give or take a few trillion. But because they are so small, they cumulatively only weigh about 1/300th of an ounce. How's that for amazing? Episode 7: Blood clotting: the bodies emergency response team (16 minutes) In this episode, Dr. Behe highlights how the blood clotting system needs to work to save us from bleeding out due to minor cuts and scrapes. But it also has to work in delicate balance, because if it works too well, it could clot blood in the body, stopping the distribution of oxygen, or causing strokes. Behe also explores whether there are beneficial mutations. He notes that the answer is yes.... and no. Any advantages that do happen aren't the sort that would contribute to evolutionary progress. Episode 8: Information: the foundation of life (17 minutes) This time Dr. Behe is asking 3 key questions What exactly is information? Why are incalculable amounts necessary for life? Where does information come from? To produce even a "simpler" part of your body like the femur, all sorts of instructions are going to be needed for how to grow, not just in length, but in proportion to the bones that connect to it, and in parallel to your other femur.that will change and modify as a person grows and works out how to adapt to different workloads - if it routinely bears heavy loads it will need to widen to hold the weight how to repair if fracture or broken, when new bone cells will have to seal up the wound So, all sorts of instructions, even for a simple organ. Just imagine how many instructions are needed to make your whole body run. What size of instruction manual might that be! And, as Behe alludes, we know instructions have to come from an Instructor. Conclusion For more Michael Behe, be sure to check out his full-length free documentary Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of the Molecular Machines, which is both an account of the man, and also a history of the Intelligent Design Movement. The film, and our review, can be found here. You can also watch the first five episodes of the series above - the first "season" – re-edited into one half-hour-long video....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

The Gardener

by Sarah Stewart and David Small 38 pages / 1997 Lydia Grace Finch's family has fallen on hard times. So their little girl is being sent off to the big city to live with her baker uncle Jim to help him around the shop. The story is told via Lydia's short letters home, where she updates the family on her efforts at making her somber uncle smile. She's also, as the title indicates, quite the gardener, an interest she shares with her grandma back home. One of the care packages from her grandma even contains little plants that amazingly survive the postal trip. Though she's living in her uncle's apartment, Lydia fills everything she can with plants, and finds room on the roof to create her own secret garden. Will all her flowery beauty manage to prompt a smile from her uncle? This is a sweet story, and the art fills every corner of every page. Two thumbs way up! If you liked this, you'll also enjoy three others by David Small. One Cool Friend is about a boy, Elliot, and his father visiting the aquarium. When the boy spots a penguin exhibit, he asks his dear old dad for one. Dad thinks he means a stuffed one, and says yes. But Elliot did not. The confusion continues as Elliot takes a smallish one home in his backpack and turns his room into an antarctic setting. Fun throughout, with a twist at the end just for parents (as I don't know that kids will catch this last joke). In Imogene's Antlers, a girl is surprised to wake up one morning with a set of antlers on her head. It doesn't phase her, though, and she runs with it, using them to dry laundry and hang donuts. It's her optimistic outlook that makes this such fun. In the sequel, Imogene Comes Back, her antlers are gone, but now she has a giraffe neck, and the next day an elephant nose... and she's still as upbeat as ever!...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Officer Clawsome: lobster cop

by Brian "Smitty" Smith and Chris Giarrusso 2023 / 238 pages In the opening scene a fish peddler (the fish is the peddler, not the goods) calls out "Fresh fruit here! Get your fresh..." only to have something "ZOOOM!" past and purée all his oranges and apples. Momentarily at a loss, the peddler looks down at the soupy mess, only to, one panel later, start smiling again calling out, "Fresh fruit juice here! Get your fresh fruit juice." Comic genius? Not on its own, but just like a good dad-joke (are there any other kind?) the hilarity builds with every one you layer on top. And there are oodles here, including some awful/awesome puns, starting with the hero of our story, the lobster cop "Officer Clawsome," called "Clawful" by the villains he arrests. Like any good cop/buddy flick, Clawsome has a partner, the starfish Stariana who serves as both his badge of office, riding around on his chest, and as his ninja throwing star when needed. When the town's favorite bakery goes missing – the whole building, staff and all, are just gone – the twosome have to take on a whole host of underwater villains including Catburglarfish, the wrestler Masked Mussel, Brain Sturgeon, the Electric Eel, and a giant mechanized shark. It's all sorts of action, with all sorts of cinematic cliches thrown in just for dad to enjoy too – the best is the massive explosion in the background with Clawsome and Stariana strutting in the foreground. One reviewer called this a “safe grandma buying read for the grandkids” and I'd agree. No cautions needed - this is just good clean, very silly fun. And it's so good that even though it weighs in at 200+ pages, your kids won't have had enough. The sequel, Officer Clawsome: Crime Across Time, is, as its title indicates, a time-travel story, and when our fearless duo end up in the prehistoric past, they meet primitive cavefish (ie. their version of cavemen). In other words, while there is nothing all that explicitly evolutionary (no mention of millions of years, for example), there is definitely some implicit evolutionary assumptions on display here. And that might be reason enough to just get the first and hold off on the second....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Illiad

by Homer and adapted by Gareth Hinds 2019 / 272 pages The Illiad is a Greek epic that depicts just a part of the siege of Troy. It begins with a helpful intro that shares how Helen was kidnapped by the Trojan's Prince Paris, much to the dismay of her Greek husband, the Spartan King Menelaus, who rallied his allies to besiege Troy to get her back. But there was no quick rescue to be had. Our story begins in the tenth year of the siege, and focuses on all sorts of subplots and subcharacters including many a Greek god. The gods squabble, picking favorites among the soldiers, and offer secret help to them – secret because Zeus also has his favorites and he doesn’t want any interference. Two characters star: the Trojan's Prince Hector, brother of Paris, and the Greek half-god Achilles, who seems capable of defeating armies almost by his ownsome, in large part because he is favored by Zeus. However, neither he, nor Hector, are fated to live long. The story ends with Hectors death, and the story really doesn’t feel all that complete, even as it is loyal to the original in this respect. For how the siege of Troy ends, we’d have to turn to Homer’s The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds has an adaptation of The Odyssey too, but it is marred by a few panels depicting naked women). As a graphic novel adaptation, this is impressive. There is some gore – this is a war story after all – but any kid up for reading this would be old enough to deal with the not-overly graphic pictures of spear and sword wounds. The large size gives the author room to go quite deep (though it is still abridged some) and the visual format, along with key footnotes here and there, help make the story more accessible than it is in the original. Now, why should Christians even care to read about Greek gods and myths? We don't study much about Baal and Asherah after all, and they even make an appearance in the Bible. Well, whereas Baal is almost entirely forgotten, the Greek gods, and the mythos around them, continues to make appearances in today's culture, whether in teen fiction (Percy Jackson), the comics and TV (Hercules), or on the silver screen (Zeus, the Amazons, etc.) References to Achilles' heel, and the Trojan Horse are still in use too. Many of us may not have the time or inclination to study the book, but this comic adaptation allows a reader to quickly get a passing acquaintance with one of Western Civilization's key epics. That seems a very good tradeoff for the minimal time required. So who'd enjoy this? Most kids will find it too tough, so it really is limited to anyone interested in delving into the classics. Even those who intend on reading the book should give this a look – I suspect it could make taking on The Illiad much easier. Two thumbs up for a very good adaptation....

News

Canada's highest court declines churches' appeal over Covid restrictions

The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear an appeal of how the BC government dealt with churches during Covid. Although each provincial government dealt with religious gatherings differently, BC’s response was particularly difficult, as the province ordered churches closed while it allowed bars, restaurants, gyms, businesses, art galleries, and schools to carry on. The indefinite order caused great stress as it clashed with God’s calling to His people to gather for worship and to care for each other. And as the lower court judge admitted, it also violated the constitution’s protection for freedom of religion and assembly. After the numerous efforts by churches to communicate with the provincial government fell on deaf ears, a respectful court challenge was initiated by three churches, two of them Reformed: Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, the Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church of Abbotsford, and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack. ARPA Canada was also granted written and oral arguments by the court. These three churches invested a great deal of time, effort, and heartache into their court challenge, and into conducting it as far as was possible, even in the face of some criticism from other churches. Some brothers and sisters seemed to think that challenging the government in court was contrary to the call for submission to the governing authorities that we find in Romans 13. But it is not. The courts are one of the three branches of government, and they offer a critical accountability to both the legislative branch (which makes the laws), and the executive (which enforces the laws). Bringing a case to the court doesn’t show disrespect for the government. It shows utmost respect – using the process that God has given us and the system of government we have. That's why Paul could appeal to the court system of his day (Acts 25:10-11). One lesson learned by those involved in these cases is that many of our secular leaders, including our judges, have little concept of what church and corporate worship means. As ARPA Canada detailed in their analysis of the original ruling which the churches were appealing, it was evident that the judge didn't understand how important worship is: "we should also be gravely concerned that he does not seem to have an appreciation for how central gathered worship is to Christians. In the judgement, Chief Justice Hinkson suggests that because both secular and religious schools can gather, that the current restrictions do not disadvantage those with religious beliefs. But this fails to appreciate the centrality of gathered worship to Christian communities. It is small comfort for a child to be able to gather with other Christians for the purpose of learning at school, but not to gather for the purpose of worship at church." It is important that churches, as legitimate authorities under God, now use times of peace and freedom to build relationships with our civic leaders so that they understand who we are and what God has called both us and them to. That the Supreme Court declined to weigh in isn't unusual – most appeal requests are denied, and the highest court also doesn’t give reasons for its decisions for not taking an appeal. Yet we can be thankful that the highest court of all, led by the Chief Justice of the universe, is seated on the throne and will judge all things and also make all things right....

Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Richard Wumbrand Story

Animated / Family 30 minutes / 2008 Rating: 6/10 I knew of Richard Wurmbrand as the man who founded Voice of the Martyrs, an advocacy group for the millions of Christians being persecuted around the world. But before he began speaking out for the persecuted, Pastor Wurmbrand was tortured himself, in his homeland of Romania. The Communist government intimidated other Christian leaders into silence or complicity. They wanted Wumbrand to go along too, but at a government-sponsored event Wurmbrand took the opportunity to publicly denounce the state's suppression of the Bible and their denial of God. His stand buoyed up the courage of many other Christian leaders in attendance. It also landed him in jail. As the film makes clear, what he had to endure was dreadful – physical torture and long stretches of solitary confinement – however, there, too, God provided him the strength he needed. We in the West have no idea what Christians in other parts of the world have to endure, and because we haven't been so sorely tested, we also have little idea of how God provides all that we need. While the story isn't as engaging as some, it is important, so I want to show my own children... when they get a bit older. I want them to see how this man relied on God, and could trust God to provide him all he needed, even in the most desperate of situations. You can watch it for free below. And for the adult version of Pastor Wurmbrand's story, be sure to check out Tortured for Christ, which can also be watched for free. >...

Politics

There is no neutrality so will the State be secular or Christian?

When thinking about political issues, it is important to understand that every society is based on some sort of worldview or philosophy. There is no such thing as a society based on “neutral” principles. There must be a philosophical rationale for the kind of political system that governs a society and the laws that it implements. Anyone who thinks that a “neutral” society is possible should ask themselves what the “neutral” position would be on any of the controversial issues of our day. For example, what is the “neutral” position on abortion? Is killing unborn children ever “neutral”? Of course not. Is allowing them to live “neutral”? No, it’s an active recognition of their humanity. So where is the middle ground of a supposedly “neutral” position? Such neutrality is clearly impossible The same reasoning applies with regards to LGBTQ issues. What is the “neutral” position on same-sex marriage? In 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court constitutionalized the status of same-sex marriage in that country. Now every level of government must formally recognize and enforce laws consistent with same-sex marriage. As a result, some Christian businesses have been under attack from government agencies for failing to comply with the new, non-Christian concept of marriage. All political issues – whether abortion, marriage, or anything else—are approached from one philosophical perspective or another. There is no such thing as neutrality when it comes to politics and law. The only question is, which philosophical perspective (or worldview) will inform the political system and the laws it enacts? Secular or Christian? Douglas Wilson, the pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, has written a book that helpfully addresses this question head-on. The book is called, Empires of Dirt: Secularism, Radical Islam, and the Mere Christendom Alternative, and it was published by Canon Press in 2016. Most of the book deals with matters of secularism versus Christianity, since no Christian would argue in favor of an Islamic society. Some Christians, however, do seem to prefer secularism to Christianity as the governing philosophy for the United States. Generally speaking, countries like the United States and Canada are considered to be “secular” countries, and that is seen as being religiously neutral. But religious neutrality is impossible, and secularism is a worldview with its own belief system. Rather than being neutral towards Christianity, secularism is actively anti-Christian, and this is becoming increasingly evident over time. If there must be a worldview underlying the government and laws of every society, which worldview should Christians embrace for this purpose? Christianity would be the obvious choice, and this is the point asserted by Wilson. He argues for what he calls “mere Christendom” and explains it as follows: “By mere Christendom I mean a network of nations bound together by a formal, public, civic acknowledgement of the lordship of Jesus Christ and the fundamental truth of the Apostles’ Creed.” A Christian nation In essence, this means the formal recognition of Christianity as the basis for a country’s political and legal system. How would that look? For the United States, Wilson writes, “it would be by means of something like referencing the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the Constitution.” When a nation formally submits to the authority of Christ, that nation becomes a Christian nation. However, Wilson is quick to point out that being a formally Christian nation is not the same as having an established church. It is possible to argue for the government acknowledging the authority of Christ “without supporting an ‘established church,’ which – in the form of tax revenues – I do not support." Even without an established church, though, any reference to an explicit political recognition of Christianity immediately leads to objections about the potential persecution of non-believers. If the Lordship of Jesus Christ was recognized in the U.S. Constitution, wouldn’t that mean adherents of other religions would lose their civil rights? No, it wouldn’t. Wilson explains as follows: “There must be a God over all. That God may tell us not to hassle the people who don’t believe in Him, and that is precisely what the triune God does tell us. In this mere Christendom I am talking about (you know, the idyllic one, down the road), Muslims could come from other lands and live peaceably, they could buy and sell, write letters to the editor, own property, have that property protected by the cops, and worship Allah in their hearts and homes. What they could not do is argue that minarets have the same rights of public expression that church bells do. The public space would belong to Jesus.” State coercion It is true, though, that political rule inevitably involves coercion. The civil government is the one institution in society with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. As Romans 13 says, the civil magistrate bears the sword to execute wrath on evildoers. The question then becomes: how does the civil magistrate distinguish good from evil? For a Christian nation, the Bible determines what is good and what is evil. When it comes to using force, then, a government in a Christian nation is limited by Biblical law. Wilson explains that “a Christian social order should want to strictly limit coercion to the bounds assigned by Scripture. Unless I have a word from God, I don’t want to make anybody do anything.” As an example of where coercion would be justified, he writes, “Because of this I am willing to have tight abortion laws – I am willing to make people not kill other people.” The Christian Taliban Secularists like to compare American Christians to the Taliban and claim that Christian policies in the United States would make it look like Afghanistan. But nothing could be further from the truth. The liberty that Americans have experienced over the centuries is the result of their Christian heritage, not in spite of their Christian heritage. Wilson points out that those who worry about Christian policies in the United States “envision a dark and dystopic Amerika when, on these two topics , it would actually look more like America in 1960. Was America in 1960 a free society? Sodomy was against the law everywhere, and no locales were carving out room for sharia." This is worth thinking about. During the lifetime of many Reformed Perspective readers, abortion and homosexual activity were illegal in both Canada and the United States. Were they not free countries at that time? Of course they were. They weren’t perfect by any means (no country will ever be perfect), but in some respects they may have been freer than they are today. The truth is, it was Christianity that led to the development of the freest societies in the world. Christianity, that is, leads to political freedom. Therefore, in advocating for an explicitly Christian nation, Wilson writes, “I am arguing for a return to the preconditions of civic freedom, and am not arguing for an abandonment of them. Unbelief does not generate free societies.” Tolerance and intolerance Wilson also makes another point that is worth emphasizing: every worldview tolerates some behaviors while prohibiting others. It is true that Christianity does not tolerate same-sex marriage or the killing of unborn children. But progressive ideology does not tolerate Christian wedding service businesses that refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. And in some Canadian cities, progressives even try to suppress pro-life advertising because they can’t tolerate pro-life messages. Wilson explains the toleration issue this way: “As soon as a man shows his hand, and we know what he tolerates, he is put in a position where he cannot tolerate those who refuse to tolerate what he does. A wide acceptance of the homosexual agenda, for example, means that a society has to crack down on the ‘homophobes.’ Not whether, but which.” In other words, intolerance of some behaviors is inescapable in every society. No society tolerates everything. “Every organized society excludes certain behaviors by definition and is inclusive of others. This is what it means to be a society. Every society has shared values, and it polices on behalf of those values.” This means that the secularists who accuse Christians of being uniquely intolerant are hypocrites. Those secularists inevitably also refuse to tolerate certain behaviors. There’s no getting around this. Preaching So, how would a “mere Christian” society be achieved? Would it require some sort of military crusade? Perhaps a clever political campaign or an active legislative agenda? Certainly not. A Christian society can only result from preaching, not from any sort of coercive measures. As Wilson explains, “We will not bring this about because we have reached into our arsenal and pulled out our armies and navies, our parliaments, our laws, and our ivy-covered halls of learning. The next Christendom will come to be when Christian preachers speak it into existence through the folly of preaching.” In other words, the only way a society could be Christianized is by the spread of the gospel. When large numbers of people are converted, every area of their lives will be impacted by the truth of the Bible, including their political views. This would inevitably impact society and influence it, like yeast permeating bread dough. In short, such change would be a grassroots, bottom-up process, not imposed from the top-down. Conclusion There is no such thing as neutrality in government and politics. Every law and every policy is guided by some underlying philosophy or worldview. The only question is: which philosophy or worldview? Douglas Wilson’s book, Empires of Dirt, helpfully explains this topic from an explicitly Christian viewpoint. If Christianity is true (and it is), then ideally it should be the worldview basis underlying every society and government. The alternative to Christianity is not “neutrality,” but an opposing worldview that is inherently hostile to Christianity. That is what we see increasingly in Canada and the United States today....

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Hostage Lands

by Douglas Bond 2006 / 235 pages “When am I ever going to use this?” It’s a question that comes up frequently in classrooms around the world. And it’s a question Neil Perkins, a British lad, is asking about his Latin class. But while some students have to wait years to put the lessons they learn to practical use, Neil only has to wait until later that same day. On his way home from school he takes a nasty spill off of his ATV, creating a small crater where the machine lands. It’s in this crater that he discovers the leather -wrapped  tablets that are the focus of the majority of this book. These tablets are covered in Latin, so Neil, with the help of his underappreciated Latin teacher , starts translating them. He soon finds out they comprise a story told by a Roman centurion who lived two thousand years ago! Douglas Bond’s Hostage Lands is really two stories in one. The first is a short story about a boy named Neil who doesn’t like Latin, and doesn’t talk much with his dad. This accounts for only 6 of the book’s 37 chapters, serving mostly as an introduction and conclusion to the larger story about Roman Centurion Marcus Aurelius Rusticus. The Centurion’s story starts with his account of what he suspects will be a suicide mission into the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, the territory of the savage Celts. Rusticus only manages to escape death with the help of a friendly Celt, Calum, who he soon discovers is a very different sort of man, for Calum is a Christian. I don’t want to give too much away about this book but would like to strongly recommend it. This is Douglas Bond’s very best book so far. Christian fiction is too often celebrated for the great message contained in the book, even when the artistry, the actually writing is poor. Bond’s book has a strong message – in it the Christian worldview is contrasted with worldviews that elevate power, the State or maybe honor to be supreme. However it is also a wonderfully written, thoroughly engaging story. I would think this is primarily a boy’s book, in the ten to early teens range, though a father may want to pick this one as a read aloud book because he’ll probably enjoy it too....

Family, Movie Reviews

Sesame Street's 25th Birthday: a musical celebration!

Children's TV 1993 / 57 minutes Rating: 7/10 This begins with a bang, with a huge crowd having all sorts of fun on a brilliantly bright sunny day on Sesame Street. Inspired by all this activity, Big Bird and his friends Telly and Prairie Dawn, want to put on their own show. But they'll need some help. So Big Bird hands out the assignments: Telly and Prairie Dawn will head off to go find the dancers, singers, and musicians. Big Bird will find the "lah lah-ers." Prairie Dawn is, understandably, a little put out by this division of labor, but it turns out Big Bird really does have a tough assignment. He finds moo moo-ers, baa, baa-ers, tweet tweeters, and bawk bawkers, but can't find what he's looking for. Meanwhile, we're treated to a series of loosely connected musical interludes, with old favorites like "C is for cookie" and "Rubber Ducky: You're the One," and some new ones too. It's not giving away much to say that when the friends re-unite, they've all found what they were looking for. The show ends with everyone gathered for a group rendition of "Sing a Song" backed by a group of African "lah lahers." Cautions The cautions aren't for this video, but for Sesame Street overall. The most edgy thing here – the only edgy bit at all – is the Count. And he's edgy only because of who he is based on: Count Dracula. But whereas Count Dracula was a vampire that sucked blood, this Count simply counts... though he does have fangs for some reason. These sorts of parodies – that grown-ups will get, but the kids won't – have long been a part of Sesame Street. Older episodes referenced classic films like Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps , or James Bond's Dr. No. More recent parodies have been done for Desperate Housewives, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. It was always odd to riff off of very adult material, but it's gotten more problematic with the advent of the Internet, where kids who liked Sesame Street's Law and Order spoof might be inspired to go searching for more. Along the same lines, when the show features guest stars like Richard Pryor, Will Arnott, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Jon Stewart, Anderson Cooper, Margaret Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, R.E.M., and Tim Gunn, you gotta wonder, where could that take kids? More troublesome is how Sesame Street is now unabashedly promoting the LGBT lifestyle to children. They've featured male actor Billy Porter crossdressing in a huge black gown. And a couple of years ago they introduced their preschool viewers to a child who had two dads who are now making infrequent, but repeated appearances. And while their social media is more radical than the show itself, it indicates where they are heading: the last couple of years they've tweeted out endorsements of Pride Month. Conclusion I reviewed this not only to recommend a good show, but also so I could give parents a heads up as to where Sesame Street has been heading. So, what of the kid who really likes this and wants more of the same? Well, that's a very good question. If we're going to enjoy something like this, it has to be with the understanding that sometimes one is enough. This is a skill that we – kids and parents – have got to sharpen. We need to be able to enjoy a fun film like Toy Story, without feeling pulled to watch the latest sequel, Buzz Lightyear, that took a homosexual turn. We have to watch Frozen with the ability to not watch any further if, as the rumors have it, Disney decides to make Elsa gay. Take the good, and just say no to the bad if that's what follows. So enjoy some bouncy, energetic, musical performances in this Sesame Street celebration. And then, instead of finding more of the same, have the kids go make some music of their own. Watch the trailer below, and rent it all over. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Uncategorised

Counterfeit Gods

by Timothy Keller 2009 / 240 pages John Calvin once said, "The human heart is an idol factory. " It makes sense that God's prohibition of idolatry is the first commandment. The reason: we are all idolaters, and every violation of the commandments is also the breaking of the first commandment - desiring some created blessing so much that we are willing to do anything to get it, without caring how God wants us to use his blessings. The brilliance of Tim Keller's Counterfeit Gods is that it takes this plausible idea, and makes it compelling, by showing how idolatry in action has played out both in the Bible and in today's world - and shows the solution. Keller introduces the concept of idolatry as an explanation of the suicides of executives in response to the economic meltdown of 2008 and the utter disillusionment of Beatrice Webb and H. G. Wells after the rise of Hitler. The first chapter shows how the understanding of idolatry makes sense of one of the most puzzling stories in the Bible from the life of Abraham. Keller also looks carefully at the lives of Jacob and Leah to analyze our own and our culture's idolatrous attitude to sex and love. He examines how the first sight of Jesus casts down the idol of greed in the life of the tax collector Zaccheus - an idol institutionalized in our day as "the culture of greed." Our culture's idolatry of achievement and success as ways to validate yourself is critiqued through the Biblical example of the Syrian general Naaman. The self-glorification of Nebuchadnezzar foreshadows our own and our culture's idolatry of power. Finally, Keller shows how the hidden cultural idols of profit, self, and nationalism can even subtly diminish our service to God, as the latter two did especially in the self-righteous ministry of Jonah. All these exposures of the idols of our hearts would be merely disheartening (pun intended) if, as Keller shows, God did not provide a Way of escape in the person of Jesus Christ. Keller shows how setting our hearts, eyes, and ears on Him and His kingdom counsels and comforts us, in two main ways. Using counseling case studies, Keller shows how the fact that Christ has shared our suffering turns the loss of even the genuine blessings of loved one, prosperity, success, and the approval of others from causes of sinful despair to sources of sorrow in the midst of hope. Most of all, we can resist the incursion of idols into our hearts by learning to make Christ our true and lasting blessing - the Way, Truth, Life, food, drink, and love of our hearts. I'll note I cannot recommend everything that Keller has written. The Reason for God, in particular, shows a willingness to accommodate Biblical interpretation truth to the supposed authority of secular evolutionary scientific theory. I noticed that Keller used no examples from Adam to Noah in Counterfeit Gods, perhaps he doesn't quite know how to fit them within his theistic evolutionary framework. However, the Biblical examples he does use are applied to ourselves and our culture in insightful, practical, and comforting ways. Thus, while I cannot recommend The Reason for God (because arguably, and ironically, it makes an idol out of secular science), I highly recommend Counterfeit Gods....

Family, Movie Reviews

Seven Chances

Comedy / Silent 56 min / 1925 Rating: 8/10 This Buster Keaton classic is a silent film, so instead of asking my kids if they wanted to see it, I just popped it in and started watching on my ownsome in the family room. And, as I expected, it didn't take long for them to sit down beside me. I think it was the otherworldliness that got them. This is unlike anything they've seen before, from another time, all black and white, with dialogue you read and music that's so well matched to what's on-screen that it's almost like they can talk. Keaton stars as Jimmie Shannon, a down-on-his-luck businessman who has long wanted to marry his sweetheart, Mary Jones, except he doesn't have the money to support them. And, to make matters worse, his boss has been tricked into "a financial deal that meant disgrace – and possibly prison – unless they raised money quickly." So Jimmie is as down as down can be. That's when the lawyer shows up with news that Jimmie's grandfather has given him seven million dollars... on the condition that Jimmie is married by 7 pm on his 27th birthday! Jimmie's problems are solved: he can marry his girl and keep everybody out of jail! But today is his birthday, so off he rushes to propose. Sadly, poor Jimmie muffs it, making it sounds like the reason he wants to marry Mary is just so he can get the money. She refuses! The distraught Jimmie has no interest in marrying anyone now, but is pressured by his partner to marry someone, anyone just to keep them out of jail. The partner makes a list of seven names – seven chances – for Jimmie to try. And when Jimmie foolishly does, he gets laughed right out the door. But that partner isn't finished: he tells the newspaper about the story, and effectively takes out an ad for ladies interested in marrying a millionaire to meet him at the church. When several hundred show up, the chase is on, and for the next ten minutes we get to watch as Keaton jumps, leaps, slides, and runs, runs, runs for his life! Cautions This is an old film and with that comes a couple of concerns. With Jimmie seemingly willing to propose to just about anyone, we see him approach a woman from behind, only to veer off when he discovers she's black. It's a quick few seconds and kids may not even notice the racism here, but if they do, then you can talk about the way things were back then. The bigger caution is the film's premise: marrying for money. This was remade in 1999 as The Bachelor, and it bombed, probably because. by adding color, sound, lots more dialogue, and a star who gave a restrained performance, they made it almost believable. And this is only funny as a farce. If anybody would actually marry someone for money, that'd be a sad creepy story. The original remains hilarious precisely because it stars a clown no one could ever find believable. Conclusions I encourage you to rent this, or get it from your library, even though many free copies can be found online. It is so old it's in the public domain, free for anyone to republish, but most of those free versions are grainy or have a soundtrack that's nothing more than random selections of classical music. The very best version is KINO's, which pairs a crisp picture with music that matches the action perfectly. It makes a huge difference! So who would like this? I've tested it on pre-teens and skeptical 20 and 30-year-olds too, and while it took them all a few minutes to warm to it, by the end everyone was giving it the thumbs up. They appreciated the hijinks and some also enjoyed the education: this is what film was like way back when, and Seven Chances is one of the rare gems that still hold up today. You can watch the trailer below. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Courageous

Drama 2011 / 129 minutes Rating: 7/10 Like Fireproof, Facing the Giants and Flywheel before it, Courageous is a sermon wrapped up as a film. But unlike those earlier Kendrick brothers’ efforts – where the message took precedence over the moviemaking – this time the sermon has been wrapped up in a really good film! The moral of this story is that fathers are vital to their kids, and consequently to the whole country. We follow five fathers, four of them police officers, only one of whom seems to be doing a great job as a dad. Another, Adam Mitchell, will seem quite familiar to most of us – he isn’t a bad father; he just isn’t as good as he could be. Or to put it in his own words, “I’m doing about half of what I should be.” Courageous begins and ends with a pair of chase scenes which give the Kendricks a chance to show just how good they have become at staging action sequences. These are basically police chase scenes, and they are intense! In the middle of the film we have some comedic scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny, and of course plenty of edifying conversations about the challenges of fatherhood. Cautions Two cautions: the comedy and action make this a film that most of the family would enjoy, however there is one tragic event that makes this too emotional for children, and might make it quite unpleasant for some parents too. Without giving too much away, one of the five families is struck by tragedy, which is what gets that father to reassess just what he’s doing as a dad. It is a necessary plot element, but it turns this from a start-to-finish feel-good movie to one that will take viewers through the full range of emotions. The second caution would only be not to expect too much from the film. If you're looking for depth and nuance and Academy-Award-winning acting, then this isn't for you. The acting's not remarkable but it is solid. And while the biblical model of godly fatherhood is given a compelling presentation here, it certainly isn't a comprehensive one - there isn't time for more in a 2-hour film. Conclusion What you will find here is an encouraging, inspiring plea for fathers to get on with the task and privilege of raising their children. If you don’t mind being challenged as you are being amused, you’ll enjoy it. Edifying and entertaining – it’s a rare combination, but the Kendricks have pulled it off! ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Like Dandelion Dust

Drama 104 minutes / 2009 Rating: 8/10 Like Dandelion Dust pits two families against each other for the custody of Joey, a six-year-old boy they both claim as their own. The Porters are a troubled couple – in the film’s opening scenes we see a drunk Rip Porter being taken to jail for beating his wife Wendy. The Campbells couldn’t be more different – Jack and Molly have the big house, the sailing yacht and the happy family life. And they have Joey. But the Porters are Joey’s biological parents. Wendy discovered she was pregnant soon after Rip’s arrest and imprisonment, and she decided to give Joey up for adoption. She also decided not to let Rip know about the pregnancy or adoption, so he only learns about Joey seven years later, after his release from prison. Since Rip didn’t know about Joey, he never gave his consent to the adoption. When Rip decides he wants Joey back from the Campbells, it turns out he has the law in his favor. So the big question in this film is, what would you give up for your children? The Campbells don’t seem to have any legal means to keep Joey; should they explore illegal options? The Porters are in the right legally, but are they morally right to take Joey back? This is simply great storytelling, and while it occasionally treads close to melodrama, the superb acting – anchored by Academy Award winner Miro Sorvino (Wendy) – keeps it from straying over the line. Cautions The theme of domestic violence means this film earns its PG-13 rating, thought it is only briefly shown. A second caution relates to the first: the physically abusive relationship between Rip and Wendy Porter is treated too lightly – Wendy quickly forgives Rip. While that is due in part to the nature of the medium (in a two-hour film they don’t have the time to draw things out) the seriousness of spousal abuse means this turn-around – from abuse to forgiveness – happens too fast. Yes, we need to forgive one another, but repentance also needs to be genuine. A man who hits his wife has done something grievous and must prove that his repentance is a clear turning away from sin, and not just a brief interruption of it. Conclusion Like Dandelion Dust is based on a Karen Kingsbury novel of the same name so viewers will be surprised at the muted Christian presence. While several characters are Christian, and we see some scenes take place in church, Dandelion isn’t trying to be a sermon. There is no one doing a gospel presentation. Instead, this is simply a good night’s entertainment that will engage both your mind and your emotions. Although I'd suggest it for adults only because of the nature of the topic matter, I heartily recommend it. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Three Investigators in The Secret of Skeleton Island

Family / Drama 91 minutes / 2007 Rating: 7/10 The Three Investigators started as a book series that ran from 1964-1987 and included more than 40 books. I own many of them, and hope to pass them on to my kids, so when I discovered there was a movie, I knew I wanted to see this one. It lived up to my expectations. Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews are a team of juvenile detectives that "have never lost a case." Jupiter is the "Sherlock Holmes" of the group, always able to put the pieces together. Pete is the athletic, fearless "muscle" (or, at least, as much as a 13-year-old can be) while Bob is the researcher extraordinaire, their very own version of Google, always ready with a pertinent fact. The team has their headquarters secreted away in Jupiter's aunt and uncle's salvage yard, complete with secret entrances and research materials and old case files. When Pete's dad invites them to come visit him at his new job site building an amusement park on an island in South Africa, the Three Investigators set out on what they think will be a nice vacation. But, like the book series, events quickly take what seems to be a supernatural/mystical turn - a fearsome mythical beast appears to be haunting Skeleton Island. But, again like the books, there turns out to be a logical explanation, and it is up to Jupiter Jones and his team to figure out what sort of beast it might be, and what secrets it is hiding. Cautions In films starring children, parents are mostly absent, and that holds true here too. While the Three Investigators are only 12 or maybe 13 or 14, they are portrayed as smarter and more capable than the adults around them. And because they are smarter this gives them a reason to ignore parental authority - Pete's dad orders them home, but they decide they have to keep investigating instead. So this is a not-so-subtle challenge to parental authority, and authority figures overall. There is minimal violence (some folks get scratched by the beast and a man is hit in the head with a flower pot) but there is enough peril and tension to make this a film that would scare children. I would recommend it for 11 and up. Conclusion This will be enjoyed by anyone who grew up reading the Three Investigators series and now wants to point their kids to it. The feel and spirit of the books is captured quite effectively, even if the film doesn't have that much to do with the book of the same title. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Forever Strong

Drama 109 min / 2008 Rating: 7/10 This one begins with a fall from grace: teen rugby star Rick Penning crashes his car, injuring his girlfriend, and gets sent to juvenile detention for his second DUI. He also loses the affection of his rugby coach father who only seems able to relate to his son as a coach and not as a dad. Even behind bars Rick is hardly repentant. A prison chaplain of sorts starts setting him right by, first, having him scrub a lot of latrines, and second, by introducing him to a very special rugby coach. Larry Gelwix's Highland club has won the US nationals 15 of the last 20 years, but as he puts it, he's more about creating championship boys, than winning championships. He invites Rick on his team, which of course, the pig-headed Rick declines. But when he finds out he can get out sooner if he plays, Rick changes his mind, and shows up, though still grudgingly. This is a sports movie, so of course, we know Rick is going to turn it around in the end. But this one is also rooted in reality – Coach Gelwix and the Highland team are real, and Rick's character is based on a real person too – and it's those facts that keep this one fresh. Cautions As part of Rick's bad-boy life, the film opens with scenes of partying, and brief shots of bare-chested guys and bikini-clad girls. Rick is also shown drinking while driving his car off the road. He hurts himself, but the real damage is to his girlfriend who got thrown from the car and is shown strung up on a barbwire fence. It's shown only for a moment, but it is the film's most disturbing image (I thought she was dead, and only learned later she wasn't). Another caution would concern the bloody cuts from the rugby action (and from a few fist fights). A topic for discussion with your teens is how the Highland team is at times overtly Christian, and then not. The team prays before games, asking for protection for both themselves and the opponents, but then the player leading the prayer also asks God to help them all "feel the mana, the power of family." Family is a big part of the film, and there is an ancestor-worship vibe going on at times. So family could be the central "god" of the film. Conclusion This is otherwise a pretty amazing movie: well-shot, solidly acted, and you'll feel the rugby hits right through your TV. The action is too intense for preteens, but it might be a fun one for mom and dad and the older kids. And what's cool is you can watch it for free at RedeemTV.com (though you will have to sign up for their free membership). ...

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