Rated Argh!

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I recently had a discussion with one of the older members of my youth group present where we discussed the movie Schindler’s List.   I said that movie was one of the very few movies I’ve ever seen in which the sex scenes were valuable to the story-line, and that I felt weren’t a barrier to me watching.  She seemed a bit shocked that I would say something like that.  So did several others (everyone else was an adult), and I felt myself trying to back out of the rhetorical corner I had put myself in.  I don’t feel that I did a good job of explanation.  Maybe I’ll do better here.

First off, I concede that a very valid and well thought out rebuttal could be made to everything I am about to say, and I don’t feel that this is a philosophical hill that I am prepared to die on.  But I do feel that what I said had validity, and I do stand behind my point.

Most of the Christian reaction to sex scenes stems from two things.  First, most movies contain sex scenes that are designed only to titillate.  Whole summer blockbusters are often created just for the possibility that teenagers might spend money to see their favorite star mostly naked, and hear graphic talk about sex.  I would firmly agree with the Christians who are against that.  Heck, I would lead the charge.

The second reason is a bit less reasoned, though.  In much of unspoken Christian theology is the idea that sexual sins are worse than other sins.  While there is a defining element to sexual sin that makes it very insipid, there is no biblical allusion to sex being worse than any other sin.  In fact, most of it is vestigial from Catholic doctrine of original sin being passed through sexual contact in procreation.  In short, Mary must have been a virgin because otherwise Jesus would have been born sinful already.  Further, Mary must have been born of a virgin, otherwise her sin would have passed to Jesus.

Because of this theological fallacy, and the inherent personal nature of sex, many Christians view sex on film as being the thing that makes a movie particularly unwatchable.  But gross violence is often an afterthought.  Coarse language?  Not a big deal.  Violent crime…eh…OK.  But sex, NO WAY!

The fact that Schindler’s List depicts the horrific murder of over 6 million people, and uses actual footage in many cases was never shocking in my conversation the other night.  But when I mentioned that there were 2 sex scenes, looks of horror were shared.  This does not make sense to me, the more I think about it.

There is another step that we must take in looking at all of this.  For the Christian, watching a movie cannot be merely an exercise in entertainment.  We have a mandate to connect the story of our lives, others’ lives, and all of humanity, with God’s story of redemption.  We are committed to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19-20).  We must look at a movie like Schindler’s List and see God’s ever-reaching arms.  There are many movies that I have A-little desire to see and B-little desire to try and connect to that story of redemption, but any good story that isn’t pure trash I feel differently about.  Schindler’s List is one of those movies.

The sex scenes in that movie show a deeply flawed man, who is moving through a process of learning to see the great value in these people who are being treated as vermin by those around him.  Could those scenes show the same thing without being graphic at all, probably.  But the same could be said about telling the story without showing people being gassed to death, or cremated en mass.

I would never recommend a child see such a movie, simply because the themes are far too mature.  But there are many real life things that adults should know about that I don’t think little children should.  I think that adults should know of genocide in Rwanda, or Terrorist attacks on buses of Israeli school children.  The story of Oskar Schindler is a true story, an adult story, and ultimately a story that helps reveal a little of the heart of God.   -Ryan

Please stay tuned for Part 2 of this short series to debut later this week.  If you’d like to stay updated on this and other posts from RyanShinn.com, consider clicking the small RSS button on the very upper right of this web page.

Thoughts from Taiwan -part 6

grandma's housePeichi’s Amma must have decided to put all of the events I mentioned in my last blog entry behind her, though, as she was very welcoming to me as we showed up for Chinese New Year.  She didn’t even keep much of a watchful eye over me, as I might have expected.  I cannot be sure that she hadn’t carefully noted the home’s entire inventory and each item’s place prior to my arrival.

Amma and I hit it off quite smoothly this time, with few rough patches.  The most difficult breach of protocol for me to handle is regarding the “house shoes” that each family uses in Taiwan.  Most people know that Asian households require one to take off his shoes on entry.  In Asia there is an added step.  Each family keeps an armada of house slippers on hand just inside the doorway that each guest is expected to use while inside.  You may not opt out of this deal.  Yes, the shoes might not even come close to fitting your American-sized feet.  Yes, one probably will accidentally slip off halfway up the stairs and leave you to hop back down to find it again.  But make no mistake, they must be used.

This part was not the problem for me.  The problem is that each household has a place where you are supposed to take off your outside shoes Me in Tainanand put your house shoes on.  In Japan this is clearly marked by the presence of bamboo mats. In Taiwan, this place is marked by some sort of sixth-sensed hoo-bah, that I apparently do not posses.

I would enter the house from the screened in porch via the stairs, leaving my street shoes outside.  At some point after the doorway I would cross the invisible battle line of germ warfare where my “safe” shoes were supposed to come on.  I would usually miss this line somehow.  When the process was reversed and the house shoes made it past the line, sirens would go off in Amma’s head, and she would come after me, gently rebuking me in short vocal bugle blasts.  She was very gracious.  I don’t mean to imply anything less.

My most exciting story with the house shoes was when visiting a household outside of the family.  As I came in, I started to take off my outside shoes and was informed that this would not be necessary at this place.  I looked around for some sign of where the hoo-bah was.  It was invisible as usual.  I asked to use the bathroom and was told it was down the hall.  I gingerly advanced, pausing with each step in case this time would be different and I might actually sense the hoo-bah.  They laughed and told me that I would not need to remove my shoes there either.  I felt safe.

NY Eve DinnerA few minutes later, I went to view the kitchen and again was told that it was safe.  I was very confused.  I had never made it this far without using house shoes before. I did not know how to act.  I shrugged and enjoyed my good fortune.

After viewing the kitchen, I was ushered to the seating area where there was a plate of fruit.  Every Asian household I am invited to has prepared fruit.  It is expected.  It is wonderful.  Americans need to start doing that.  I eagerly went to take a seat and eat some fruit.  Everyone lunged at me noisily. I had crossed the hoo-bah.  I didn’t know.  There was not even a pile of shoes.   Nothing.  I retreated and apologized profusely.  They still let me eat the fruit.

Thoughts from Taiwan -part 5

Peichi's AmmaIn Tainan, I met Peichi’s grandmother for the second time.  “Amma” is “grandma” in Taiwanese, which is exclusively spoken in most of southern Taiwan.  It is far different than Mandarin Chinese, sounding a lot like Thai would if it weren’t nasal.  Short staccato sounds punctuate each word.  Peichi and her immediate family of origin speak both languages fluently.  I don’t.  I barely speak some Mandarin, but know only a couple of Taiwanese words.  I have very few occasions to speak it at all.  Amma speaks no English and very little Mandarin.  This means that we cannot communicate at all without someone interpreting.  I often say, “Two people can always communicate if they want to badly enough.”  Amma is a slightly different story.  In some ways it doesn’t seem that she recognizes that I am not developmentally disabled, but just speak a different language.  I’m not saying she isn’t bright.  She is Peichi’s stock.  She must be.  She is just from a world that is much smaller than mine in some ways, and the idea of what happens so far away must be unimaginable to her.

The occasion of our first meeting was at Peichi’s and my engagement party in Taipei.  She came in and sat down at our head table as part of the bride’s family.  She is an adorable old lady.  She is only slightly above four feet tall, if even that much, and she looks exactly like you would picture an Asian “amma” should look like.  Just looking at her makes me want to simultaneously bear-hug her and show her great, gentle reverence.

She plopped down right next to me, with her purse set behind her on the chair, the way some Asian ladies do, both to prevent someone from stealing it and so as to not forget it is there.  It seemed to me at the time, that was probably not quite the most appropriate for the situation, and thought I would endear myself to her by being helpful.  Big mistake.

I patted her on the shoulder, smiled, and reached for her purse to hang it from the trestle on the chair back.  Her eyes grew wide and she reached for it as well, holding it in a death grip.  We played a brief game of tug-of-war as I tried to calm her.  I lost.  The purse was returned to its location.

It was a busy evening, and I was never able to revisit the situation with her.  But somehow I am sure that she was convinced I was trying to steal her, Peichi’s Amma’s purse at my own engagement party.  She must have been thinking that all of the rumors about these Americans must be true.  We are all uncouth charlatans and thieves.

Thoughts from Taiwan -part 4

Chinese New YearWhen we arrived in Tainan somehow the news of my knee had spread south at a pace that left our stuck-in-traffic 50 km/hr clip.  I have always found that dealing with ailments abroad (or the prevention thereof) is a fascinating experience all on its own.  In Iceland, the family answer to bee stings was for me to eat ice cream.  In El Salvador, they suggested that after being in the rain I absolutely must wipe my whole body down with alcohol.  Every country has some sort of strange sounding advice.  The old wives are alive and well, and telling their tales.

You go through stages in dealing with their medical advice.  In stage one you wonder if they really believe the advice they are giving you, knowing no one in the modern world could possibly believe such hoodoo.  In stage two you try your best to ignore their helpful advances, slightly annoyed that they keep trying to help you despite you clearly not wanting to cover your head in chicken blood to end your malady.  Next stage has you accepting their help and doing what they want, mostly so that you’ll have peace and quiet.  Finally, wondering why their advice worked, you begin to realize that at home we have some hoodoo-like ideas of our own.

In most of Taiwan, their thoughts regarding medicine are quite modern and sensible, unless one is having a baby, and then I doubt there are enough stages for me to stop calling it hoodoo.  This time, I wasn’t assaulted with weird ideas, but I was covered constantly in patches and sprays, and pills shoved down my throat.  Saying “no” was not an option to any of this.  Not only would it not have been heard, but it would have been rude.  So, I became their test dummy.  I felt like a rabbit in a medical lab of some pharmaceutical company, a white one.Peichi and family

Their concoctions did help, and my knee started feeling a bit better after a few days.  I wasn’t sure whether it was the medicine, or time.  Either way, I really appreciated their care.  Taiwanese people don’t have the warmth of Italians or Greeks, who smoother you with affection rather quickly, but they do have a quiet consideration.  When they take you into their circle, they do little things, things that become huge in your mind.  My brother-in-law filling his car stereo with American music so I wouldn’t feel homesick or bored on the long trip, my mother-in-law always filling my cup or offering me something to nibble on, or the entire extended family trying to figure out anything they can do to ease my knee pain.  It makes me thankful for a wonderful family.  It makes me have such a deeper understanding of how little my corner of the world really is, and that my mind and heart are often much smaller than that corner.

Thoughts from Taiwan -part 3

Shinto TempleIn Tokyo, I got lost at a major Shinto temple at closing time.  Peichi ended up at the exit we were supposed to be at, and I ended up on the opposite side.  It is easier to do than one might think, with surrounding tall trees, and darkness encroaching.  The guards would not let me go back in to find Peichi, and made me wait while they chattered into the walkie-talkie. They finally did give me directions to the other side of the park from outside streets.

By the time that I got the security guard to let me go, it was 20 minutes after closing.  He said that it was a 20 minute walk.  I was worried.  Both Peichi and I knew how to get back to the hostel where we were staying, so I wasn’t worried that one of us would be scared and lost.  But we did have many plans for the rest of the night that did not include 30 minute trips back to our room.  So, I ran.

My legs were already tired from walking all over Tokyo.  My knee had been recovering from some strange pain that I acquired weeks ago, and I was generally exhausted from the trip.  I ran anyway, not wanting to worry Peichi, or miss her.  I arrived out of breath, to a generally unhappy wife, but relieved that tragedy had been averted, or so I thought.

As I regained my composure and we began to walk down the stairs into the subway at Harajuku station, I felt a strange clicking in my knee, and Harajuku stationa wonderful explosion of pain with every step.  Walking hurt, climbing stairs was excruciating, but I grinned and bared it.

The next day (the day of our afternoon flight to Taipei) my knee felt the same.  I was beginning to get worried, but I was determined not to let this cause too much disruption to our trip.  I did my best to keep it to myself, although of course Peichi knew.  All of this is important back-story to events in Tainan.

P.S. To alleviate anyone’s fears, while the clicking remains, and there is still some pain, I am confident that I will get over it in time.

Some Videos from Asia

Here are just some of the videos that Peichi and I made in Asia.  We made them mostly for our youth group in Texas.  I hope you enjoy watching even close to as much as we did making them.  Several places, crowds gathered as we made the videos and asked me afterward if I was someone famous.  Of course, I am.

A Powerful Message About Work

I just watched this really good 20 minute video by Mike Rowe (he’s the Dirty Jobs guy). I warn you, it is a bit PG-13 for some farm animal stuff, but it is really well worth it. I love what he has to say, and he is far more intelligent than I ever gave him credit. Actually, guys like him are often far more intelligent than most of us give them credit.

Mike Rowe and Lamb Castration on Fora TV

In case you are wondering, I didn’t embed it, because it only embeds the first half to try and drive you to the Fora site–kinda annoying, if you ask me.  It is better to watch it all in one place.

At YWAM – Day 2

Today started out really difficult, and ended up really sweet.  I really had a hard time dragging myself to prayer, and to be honest I didn’t feel like I got that much out of it.  I went back afterward to take a nap (which was great).

This afternoon I got to tour the base, meet a lot of awesome people, and see many of the amazing ministries that are packed into this little city.  I can’t believe how many world-changing ministries are right here almost within walking distance.  Part of teen challenge is here, one of the biggest YWAM bases, Mercy Ships, Teen Mania, Keith Green’s ministry was here, and probably some others I am forgetting.  YWAM’s facility here is huuuge.

Then I got to meet with Chad, Jeff, Jack, and Andy Adam who are a part of the SSL SST program.  For any Grace Revolution people who read this, you will get to know the SSL SST program very, very well.  It was an amazing plan of God to meet with these guys.  I hope he has a lot in store for this.  It is my great prayer that He does.

Just now my fire alarm started going off.  I have no idea why.  It wasn’t any other rooms, just mine.  I had just gotten out of the shower, and it must’ve been the heat.  Scotty ended up coming over here, and he happened to be one of the bigwigs in YWAM over church planting.  He is in charge of the church planting in a whole slew of South Asian countries.  We had a chance to talk and pray.  His good friend was there and he is a member of the Tyler Vineyard.

Here is some video from the day.

My apologies to Adam and SST for getting the names wrong.  I was pretty tired when I wrote that.

The Free Information Age -part 2

In a previous post, I discussed the beginning of what I have dubbed the Free Information Age.  This post was not meant as simply a parenthetical comment to the current zeitgeist, but as an introduction to a discussion of both the cultural waters that the Church must swim in, and a means of strategy for how the Church can carry its message and navigate in this new economy of communication and ideas.

There was a time in which many would accept a bull or ecclesiastical pronouncement with an assumption of infallibility.  Those days are gone.  The Church is mourning this, and that is natural.  But that is mostly because it is natural to prefer blind submission.  The Catholic church didn’t like Martin Luther’s criticism of its theology and practices, in the same way that the Church currently clings to its old position of assumed inerrancy.

Some since of assumed credibility is actually important.  No two parties can truly dialogue if one party questions the validity of every position the other takes.  But should the Church actually fear shouldering the burden of proof?  Let me illustrate.

I remember as a child getting into the argument over “My dad can beat-up your dad.”  This argument was never solved, and never tested.  As a child, I was certain that my step-father was much stronger than anyone else’s, but I secretly knew that there was a possibility that he wasn’t, and the other boy wondered the same.

But what if my father had been Mike Tyson (the 80’s version)?  In that case, I would never have backed down.  The other boy might, but I would be safe in knowing that my position was indisputably secure.

In a similar way, Christians must know that Jesus is who He says He is.  They know that His claims are indisputable.  We have nothing to fear in marketplace of ideas.  We don’t need to defenders of God to the world.  As His claims are tested, He will be shown authentic.

One of the reasons that Christianity has difficulty in this is that our rhetoric is often louder than our actions.  Jesus was clear in that we are to be people who are known by the love that we share, joy, peace, patience, etc.  These are all actions, not words.  Our actions are to be explained by rhetoric when necessary.  In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, we are to always “speak softly but carry a big stick.”

If skepticism of information can cause us to do this more, then it will bring us back to the type of Christianity that we should practice, instead of the rhetorically-driven example of the political Church.  -Ryan

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