ornament 8 July 2005 ornament

One Bad Apple

I haven’t seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I’m doubtful that Johnny Depp can hold a candle to Gene Wilder. In fact, Depp’s Willy Wonka looks eerily familiar:

The longish black hair. The pale skin. The ornate suit jacket. The (how should we say?) less than traditional adult-male speaking voice.

That is fabled candy maker Willy Wonka as embodied by Johnny Depp in director Tim Burton’s new take on the children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

One problem: “I think the casual viewer is going to see Michael Jackson.”

This was no big thriller for TruePravda. I saw this one coming a year and a half ago.

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ornament 7 July 2005 ornament

Evil Emerges

The London bombings are an all-too painful reminder that evil does exist in the world. My prayers go out to God for all Londoners that they might find comfort and security in him.

As at least one Islamofacist al-Qaida group has claimed responsibility, and there was no attempt at negotiation on the part of the terrorists. Let us be vigilant.

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ornament 5 July 2005 ornament

Travelogue: The Ol’ KY – TN

Because times of travel are typically atypical, I’ve decided that it would be a good practice to record here various observations from whenever I’m out in the highways and byways. The “travelogue” category of TruePravda will consist of notes from journeys both past and present.

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  • The trip from Louisville, KY to Kingsport, TN takes just over 5 hours—when you’re not driving with an infant. A seven-month old baby certainly adds a new dimension to a much-traveled route in the last few years. We stopped thrice on the way down, and thrice on the way back. When the baby needs to eat, the baby needs to eat. Not terribly bad.
  • Gas is cheap in Corbin, KY. I paid $1.97/gallon. I never thought I would call $1.97 cheap.
  • Corbin also sports a billboard featuring a larger-than-life headshot of an attorney. Beside him, in equally giant letters, are the words: DIVORCE $399 COMPLETE PACKAGE. So much for divorce being stigmatized anymore. I would have taken a photo, but it was too dark on the way back.
  • July 4th is a great time to drive at night. Starting at about dusk until we arrived home at 11:30 PM, there were fireworks erupting constantly. Everywhere you looked, whether to the left or right, colorful displays appeared in the sky. Fireworks are bigger money than I thought.
  • This trip’s audiobook, of which we still have a few hours of listening to go, was Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full, narrated by the mesmerizing David Ogden Stiers. While Stiers could make the phone book sound interesting, Wolfe’s ability to put the reader/listener into the characters’ emotions is stunning. Can’t wait to go on another trip just to finish this one.
  • The trip is fraught with landmarks. Worth mentioning is the mile-long Cumberland Gap Tunnel, the walled city of Pineville, KY, and the failed Phipps Bend Nuclear Power Plant Site, where construction was begun but never completed. Of course, the king of all landmarks on the trip is the church whose name is in the front yard in 8-foot tall letters: PREPARE TO MEET GOD. Some go to First Baptist, some go to Second Presbyterian, but only a few go to PREPARE TO MEET GOD. A photograph of this place is on my list of things to do.

That’s all for the premiere edition of Travelogue. Stay tuned for more harrowing tales of travel.

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ornament 1 July 2005 ornament

Patriotism in Worship: How far is too far?

This post is likely to get me into hot water — so before I go any further, let me make the following assertions:

  1. I believe that the United States is the greatest country on earth. While we have our faults, our system of government for the people and by the people is better than that of any other nation.
  2. I consider myself a patriot and I love my country deeply. The men and women who have given of themselves to win and protect our freedom have earned the respect of all, and should be given special reverence in our society.

Keep these assertions in mind as you read on. If at any point in the reading of this post you feel inclined to question my loyalty to country, return immediately to these two assertions, take a deep breath, and continue reading. That said, let’s begin.

Many evangelical churches have the custom, especially around this time of year, of having what are called “patriotic worship services.” The ones I have attended in various churches throughout the years have contained such elements as recognition of military veterans, patriotic songs (“America the Beautiful,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” etc.), the pledge of allegiance, and even sermons concerning America and its Christian heritage.

While I typically enjoyed the stirring anthems and recognition of those who had given so much to purchase our freedom, I always felt something was out of place. It never dawned on me exactly what was out of place until several years ago when I myself was a bit out of place living in Belarus, a part of the former U.S.S.R. I was worshiping in a local Russian-speaking church that was using bilingual hymnals. On the left-hand page sat the English version (presumably for the benefit of Western missionaries). On the right, the translated Russian.

As I leafed through the hymnal, I noticed that “America the Beautiful” and “The Star Spangled Banner” were in the book, both translated into Russian. A Belarusian friend (a recent convert) sitting next to me noticed the oddity and asked me about it. Why was the American national anthem in a Russian hymnal? It was a good question, and one which I could not answer except to guess that perhaps the translator was told to translate all the songs in the American hymnal, and he did his job thoroughly.

All this leads to the larger question: why are patriotic songs even included in evangelical hymnals? I suspect the intentions were lofty enough. Americans are passionate about their patriotism, so why not include that passion within the worship of the church? Perhaps the desire was to bring patriotism under the rubric of Christian worship so that it may be properly checked.

The problem I have with these patriotic worship services lies not in their substance, but in their focus. For if worship is to be prostrating ourselves before the Lord (see Isaiah 6:1-7 for a prime example), it becomes very dubious if the object of worship is shared with anything or anyone.

Biblical passages such Deuteronomy 6:4 and Isaiah 48:9-11 (“My glory I will not give to another”) show us that God seeks complete exclusivity in his prominence. Worship is to be to him alone.

I have no doubt that most congregants (and leaders, for that matter) are not consciously exalting country over God, but the danger is there. It’s more likely that we tend to exalt country alongside God, something equally dangerous.

There is a time and place for everything, and the corporate worship of the church is a time for exaltation of God alone. Patriotic songs and anthems should be sung, but not at the expense of drawing attention away from our supreme Creator. Veterans should be recognized, but not while we’re trying to recognize Christ alone. The church’s corporate worship of God is not the proper venue for displays of patriotism.

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