Ghostbusters: Afterlife review

Summary: Sooooooo good. If you love Ghostbusters then you’ll love this. Watch it.

A little longer and some mild spoilers: Oh my word, I love this movie. I was so ready to be disappointed … and I was so wrong. My biggest frustration with Ghostbusters II and the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot was that it felt like they kept telling the same story as the original movie. Yes, it worked so well the first time around, but both of those films felt like poor retellings – don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them, but they just didn’t live up to the original.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife? It lives up to it. So much. It picks up the story 32 years later in a small farm town – the franchise needed to leave New York. Part of what makes the movie so compelling is the incredible performance by child actor Mckenna Grace, playing 12 year old Phoebe Spengler. Yup, Spengler. The story is driven by a new cast in a new location with new problems … yet as the movie builds to the climax, the viewer gradually puts together the pieces that all of it is connected back to the original Ghostbusters movie and the story there. This movie is both prequel and sequel, the way Terminator 2 completed Terminator, Ghostbusters: Afterlife completes a circle of story with 1984’s Ghostbusters.

And the original cast helps save the day. Not some cheesy cameo, but as full on heroes. It is such a good farewell to those characters. And, my word, I literally gasped and teared up at one moment.

The movie is good. Well written. A compelling story. Powerfully performed. One of the better sequels out there. It is a must see. And yes, you need to stay until the end of the credits.

Sometimes I Read Books

I read some amazing books. Here’s what I think of them:

Terraform: Building a Better World by Propaganda. This book is so good. Seriously good. Using the metaphor of terraforming, Propaganda makes a case for being active participants in remaking and repairing the broken parts of our culture and world. With a mix of poetry and writing, he passionately calls out where we need to put our work. I found myself highlighting my way through the book; here’s a couple that jump out at me:

“Christians of that time had an understanding of a person’s origin, value, and functionality and thus built a world from that perspective. However, the world they created, for all the relative good that came about, was catastrophic to their neighbors, their fellow earthlings, who lived around the world. I want to challenge you to tell better stories not only about yourself but about the people around you.” (p.15)

“The evangelical—well, let me be specific, the white Western evangelical, and let me be even more specific, white Western evangelical as a social construct, and white not as ethnicity but as white-ness, evangelical not as faith but subcultural demographic—this person tends to take the opt-out approach. Almost as if the solution to an evil empire is to build their own version of empire. Christian schools, coffee shops, health insurance, chicken sandwiches, music, festivals, you name it, there’s a Christian version. If you work it right, you could go through an entire day and never be in contact with any non-Christian person or business.” (p.163)

It’s thought provoking. Challenging. Convicting. A beautiful call to action. Propaganda is gifted when it comes to words and his book is a must read.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson’s history of America is a powerful case for a caste system rooted in our history, culture, systems, and attitudes. The stories, our history, are jarring and horrifying, often untold but so important to recognize. As someone with a bachelor’s degree in history – with an emphasis in American history – it is often jarring to me to increasingly realize how selective what I’ve been taught has been. It is hard to argue with Wilkerson’s thesis; there is a caste system rooted in our country and there is powerful resistance to recognizing that.

I loved this quote from the beginning of the book: “

We in the developed world are like homeowners who inherited a house on a piece of land that is beautiful on the outside, but whose soil is unstable loam and rock, heaving and contracting over generations, cracks patched but the deeper ruptures waved away for decades, centuries even. Many people may rightly say, “I had nothing to do with how this all started. I have nothing to do with the sins of the past. My ancestors never attacked indigenous people, never owned slaves.” And, yes. Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures built into the foundation. We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now.” (p.16)

There is much to do in our nation. It is our responsibility to deal with it. Wilkerson’s book is a must read.

Separated by the Border: A Birth Mother, a Foster Mother, and a Migrant Child’s 3,000-Mile Journey by Gena Thomas. Such an important book. It tells the stories of two women, both immigrants; one from the United States and the ease of that process, one from Latin America and the horrors of that process. Reading this story of a woman’s 3000 mile journey, the dangers, the sexual assaults, the horror of her child being taken away, the kidnappers … and all of it being worth the risk to escape what she was facing at home … too often we dehumanize those who arrive at our borders, viewing them as a problem we want to go away without asking what makes all of those horrors an acceptable risk to each of those hopefuls seeking asylum. A number of us read this book before and after our mission trip to McAllen, Texas, this past summer.

It’s a powerful book and we could all benefit from knowing more than what gets written in the headlines. Definitely worth reading.

A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry (review)

biblicaltheologyofyouthministry

Dr. Michael McGarry’s new book, “A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry,” is an important resource for the youth ministry community. He powerfully addresses the need for, and the importance of, youth ministry from a number of perspectives.

An experienced youth pastor, McGarry opens the book addressing one of the fundamental concerns many youth ministry veterans and experts have identified; the drop out rate from church is far too high when young people graduate from the youth ministry. We can’t just keep replicating the approaches and systems that have contributed to this problem.

McGarry writes, “the emphasis of this book is on presenting a clear and simple but thoroughly biblical framework for thinking about youth ministry as the church’s expression of partnership with the family for co-evangelizing and co-discipling the next generation.” (p.3)

Towards that end, he does something I have not seen done before; he works through the modern landscape of youth ministry, youth ministry in the Old Testament and New Testament, youth ministry in church history, the theology of youth ministry, and ultimately how this all connects to the family and the local church. For me, this systematic working through youth ministry in each of these contexts is what makes this book so important. He creates a backdrop of history and story that gives weight to his final chapters describing the important components of a healthy approach to youth ministry.

I love his quote, “Youth ministry is for adolescence, the family is for life, and the Church is for eternity.” (p.143) This theme is repeated throughout the book and plays a critical role in shaping a biblical theology of youth ministry.

At 164 pages, this is an easy read. While part of the Randall House Academic line, McGarry does a great job of balancing solid research and methodology with an approachable writing style making this a book for youth ministry professionals and volunteers alike. I highly recommend the book; it is definitely a must read for anyone who wants to see young people and families impacted for God.

The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority

lost worldThe third book in John Walton’s “Lost World” series, this is the first to feature a co-author, and the biggest of the five. The Lost World of Scripture is heavy reading, but fascinating. Walton and Sandy follow the format of previous books with building propositions, but this time with regard to ancient views on communication, authority, and literature. Essentially, Walton writes the first half of the book with a focus on Old Testament literature, while Sandy does the same with the New Testament. The book then concludes with a few more propositions written by them together.

Walton’s contribution was riveting; I was fascinated with his exploration of ancient authority, oral based cultures, and the minor role the written word played – which makes sense, given how few were actually literate. In some ways, it became abundantly clear that as a text-dominant culture and world, it is almost impossible to fully understand ancient culture’s oral based system of authority and passing on of information. Walton does an effective job of identifying those cultural differences and how it has both shaped the scriptures, as well as ways in which we should reconsider our approaches to scripture today.

Sandy’s New Testament portion was also interesting, however somewhat redundant. Literacy was becoming more wide spread during the writing of the New Testament books, but it was still a primarily oral based culture so there was a lot of overlap in what he wrote with what Walton had already established in the Old Testament portion of the book.

In the conclusion, the authors tackle issues of inerrancy, modern standards versus ancient standards, and a present a compelling argument for the authority of scripture. Overall, I’m really glad I read the book. I feel like I have a much stronger sense of scripture and authority. At the same time, it was not an easy read. It took me a while to work my way through the whole book; I’m not sure that it’s ideal for the casual reader. You really need to want to understand ancient languages and literature, as well as ancient views on authority and values in writing to enjoy this book. Having said that, it’s definitely an important work for anyone who teaches/preaches from scripture to read.

MinistryDownloads

ministrydownloads

MinistryDownloads is a great all-around resource site for those in ministry I recently stumbled across! I feel like there has been a real shift in how churches are resourced over the last decade; instead of a handful of large companies being the only real resources out there with expensive materials, often times with pricing staggered to the size of the church, there has been a real rise in online, digital resources with incredibly low costs that stay the same regardless of church size. Instead of paying anywhere from $30-$120 for a four week curriculum, these kinds of sites provide similar resources for $8-$12. How? By removing a lot of the layers between the content creator and the resource customer.

This is GOOD for churches. I love being able to see the ministry budget I’m entrusted with go farther. MinistryDownloads is one of those sites; with resources for children’s ministry, youth ministry, small groups, and sermon resources for pastors, it is a great all-around resource site. There are a number of free resources available on the site in addition to all of the solid materials for sale (starting at $3 and going up from there depending on the size of the resource). They’ve also started a new subscription service called All-Access; for just $17 a month, subscribers can download whatever they want, as much as they want. It’s a really great deal; and a solid resource that can be shared with multiple ministry areas in the church. Definitely worth checking out!

Understanding Gender Dysphoria review

mark 2Dr. Mark Yarhouse, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Regent University, has put together a solid resource for leaders and those wanting to know more about Gender Dysphoria, or transgenderism, in his book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. There are very few issues in my experience as a pastor as misunderstood as this topic, and in that misunderstanding, tremendous damage and hurt has been and will continue to be caused.

Yarhouse does a tremendous job of explaining the nature of gender dysphoria, as well the different theories surrounding the causes and treatment of gender dysphoria, and the pros and cons of each. He also explains his own approach as a psychologist and his rationale. Because the research is still in early stages regarding the ramifications for the different treatment approaches, he personally advocates taking the least invasive approach that can resolve the dysphoria; which in practicality means different approaches for each individual. I won’t try to summarize his content here; I would never be able to do it justice.

One of the strengths of Yarhouse’s book for those in ministry is his careful and well thought out Christian perspective and connections to scripture paired with his deep knowledge as a psychologist and his practical experience. He has done the research and it shows. By shedding light on this topic and confronting many of the wrong perceptions and faulty ideas, his book is both beneficial and a call to many in the church to rethink their assumptions. One particularly jarring quote from his book really hit home for me;

“What most people who are gender dysphoric find in the church is rejection and shame – the feeling that there is something fundamentally flawed in them, that the flaw is their fault (back to willful disobedience) and that if others knew about their gender incongruence, they too would reject them.” (Kindle location 946)

Yarhouse’s book is timely. As such a hot button topic, it is a relevant work for anyone who wants to grow in their understanding rather than allow news headlines and Facebook rants shape their opinions. As the church, this is an area where we need to grow in our love and empathy, and I think Yarhouse helps point in a direction that accomplishes that. I have personally read a number of resources and articles in my own pursuit of understanding, and his work is the first to really help address that need for me. He has clearly done his homework, supports his assertions with the research, yet writes in a way that is approachable and understandable. Definitely worth checking out.

Kindle as a Tool

kindleWhen ebooks were first being discussed, I swore I would never make the switch from real books to some digital platform. There is something undeniably real about holding an actual book, the weight of it, the smell of the paper, the feel of turning the pages.

Anyway, that’s what I thought. But now it’s 2015 and I love my Kindle. I also love my Kindle app for iPad, Kindle for PC, Kindle in the cloud, the Kindle app on my iPhone … you get the idea. It’s been an incredible resource for me as a pastor and as a seminary student.

  • Cost. The books are generally cheaper. And with the Kindle Matchbook option now, it’s possible to get Kindle versions of physical books bought from Amazon for three dollars or less.
  • Research. I love being able to do keyword searches. My ability to find applicable information for both sermons or research papers far quicker than when I was a college student 15+ years ago.
  • Highlights. Highlighting has turned into one of my critical tools. It’s possible to see all my highlights for a book grouped together – great for having critical information quickly accessible. Even more important? I’m able to log on to the Kindle website, copy and paste my highlights, and/or print them. This has been GREAT for sermons, papers, or even just collecting information that I want to pass on to other leaders or my team.
  • Convenience. Whatever device I read on syncs up with all my other devices, which means whichever one I pick up knows exactly how far into the book I am. If I’m waiting somewhere, I can read from my phone. Later I can use my iPad. If I’m in the sun? Switch to my actual Kindle. In addition, I am able to have my entire library with me at all times – great for travel.
  • The Beach. I love my basic Kindle when we go to the beach. The screen is great in the sun, it fits in my pocket for when we’re walking around, and the battery lasts the whole trip. Next week when we’re on vacation? I’m going to fly through several books while parked under an umbrella sitting in the sand, sipping a Diet Mt. Dew. It’s going to be awesome.

All that to say, my Kindle has become an indispensable tool. The guy who once swore he’d never give up paper does almost all his reading digitally now!

“The Death of ‘Superman Lives’; What Happened?” Review

A Superman movie directed by Tim Burton, starring Nicholas Cage? I’ve been making jokes about that killed project for years! It seemed a bizarre concept at best! But now a documentary, years in the making, has dropped giving the full story of the dropped film from Tim Burton, the producers, writers and more.

It is fascinating.

I thought I would just watch for a few minutes; the thing is as long as the movie would have been if it had been made! But the longer I watched, the more captivating the story. Hearing Tim Burton describe his ideas and direction, listening to the producer (he’s OUT THERE), watching Kevin Smith and the later writers talk about their process and scripts submitted, I found myself really wishing I could have seen this thing. The only voice missing was Nicholas Cage, the actor cast to play Superman (what?!?). Even there I could begin to see it watching some of the test footage with him. There’s certainly no denying his love for the character.

Playing into the narrative was the reaction to people when Tim Burton was originally chosen to direct and reinvent Batman, as well as the choice to cast Michael Keaton. It did seem ludicrous at the time, and yet he completely changed the way comic book movies were approached from then on. And Michael Keaton? He was amazing in both his turns as Batman. Hearing Burton describe how he saw the character of Superman, I really began to buy in to it.

And the whole thing was killed after years of development only days before they were to begin filming.

The documentary is great. For comic book fans and superhero movie buffs, it is a GREAT look at an abandoned project still talked about years later.

In the end, I couldn’t believe they chose to risk the money on “Wild, Wild West” instead. I mean, seriously. We lost Nicholas Cage as Superman so we could have Will Smith playing a cowboy in a sci-fi western that flopped. Argh.

The 90-Day Fitness Challenge (review)

parham bookBack in 2010, former Biggest Loser contestants and inspiring Christian speakers, Phil and Amy Parham released a book called ‘The 90-Day Fitness Challenge.’ They had asked me (as well as a bunch of others) to write a blurb for the inside cover, which I was excited to do after I read their book. Anyway, I was looking through it the other day, saw my blurb and realized I never posted it, so here it is:

Being on the Biggest Loser was one of the most significant times in my Christian life. God designed and desires us to be spiritually and physically healthy, and the impact on our lives is huge. Phil and Amy Parham are the only ones to have put into writing what so many former contestants now know – that weight loss, pursuing health, and becoming the person God intended us to be is not just an exercise program, but a faith journey as well. As a pastor and weight-loss group leader, I love that The 90-Day Fitness Challenge is a complete program, tying together amazing teaching and resources on changing to a healthy lifestyle while honoring and involving our Creator. This is THE book to get for individuals or groups looking to change their lives for the long term!

If you want to grab a copy, you can find it here.

 

#GoingSocial by Terrace Crawford

I just finished reading Terrace Crawford’s new book on using social media in ministry, #GoingSocial. It’s a great book, and while it’s just under 200 pages, it’s a quick read – I did it in one sitting.

Crawford does a great job of introducing the concept of using social media for ministry, the value in doing so, and the cultural relevance. He also does a great job of tackling some of the concerns people have that hold them back. The book is ideal for people with little to no social media experience or knowledge, as he carefully walks people through how to start using the major social media outlets out there.

He also gives some great practical advice on how to take advantage of the many outlets out there; blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. I actually found myself putting down the book as I was reading it to make some immediate changes to some of the social media outlets our student ministry uses, and then jumping back into the book.

I liked his writing style; easy to read, good pacing, informative but written in a way that those inexperienced wouldn’t be intimidated. At the same time, as someone who has been using all of those tools for years, I still felt like there was some solid advice and direction for me to act on as well. I came away from it feeling good about how we’ve been using Facebook for our student ministry and Twitter, but with a lot of great thoughts on how I could be more effective with YouTube – I’m definitely missing some opportunities there.

All in all, #GoingSocial is a must have for church leaders. It’s a great book, and one that I will be passing on to the other leaders in my church to take a look at. You can find it at the best price here.