Monthly Archives: April 2015

Tim Thompson

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Tim Thompson, pastor of Frazer UMC here in Montgomery Alabama. We had a great time talking over this episode. Tim tells his faith story and we talked about baseball cards, organic vegetables, and the importance of hobbies and community.

Eight Ways to Encourage a Single Person (instead of the dumb stuff you usually say)

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We know you mean well, we really do, which is why you won’t hear people bringing this up, but many married people simply don’t know how to encourage a single person. This is a loving open letter from all us single people to all of our married friends asking for you to think about these statements from our perspective, but more importantly, offering an alternative for you to try out instead.

Don’t Say “It’ll happen eventually”

We know you’re trying to sound encouraging, but this one is simply a statement you can not back up. It might happen. It might not. Either way you don’t know. I’ve heard of Christian singles picking out their wedding date despite not having met anyone – because of people saying things like this. (It didn’t work out by the way.) Statements like this can come off as patronizing to any single person. To someone who is really struggling with loneliness, though it can almost feel like you’re mocking them, especially if the person speaking is happily married. Also, what if the person you’re talking to is going to be single the rest of their life and do great things because of the availability that comes with being single? Don’t assume just because you like them, or because they want to get married, they must therefore eventually find someone with whom they are compatible or that their highest calling is marriage.

Do say: “It seems like someone as great as you would make a great husband/wife, I hope it happens for you.”

This is what you really mean anyway. You can’t possibly know that someone is going to get married, but you can see that they have the qualities that would make a good spouse and most of us can accept that compliment more easily. Also it doesn’t set you up as some sort of marriage clairvoyant who, because of your own marriage, has secret marriage knowledge and is able to divine these things for other people.

Don’t say: “You should take (only eligible person around) on a date!”

I know in the movies it’s a common plot device that the guy or girl suddenly notices the girl or guy that he or she’s seen every day and realizes that she or he is who he or she’s needed in his or her life all along. But this is a far less common story in real life. In real life, if there are two single people who are around each other and they’re not dating, there is probably a good reason, the most common one being that at least one of them isn’t attracted to the other. That’s ok. Don’t freak out on “Bill” because he isn’t attracted to that super awesome cute “Linda”. There’s probably some guy like “John” out there who is having the exact same conversation elsewhere that is the right person for “Linda”. And likewise there might be another super awesome “Alice” out there for “Bill.” Don’t flippantly doll out matches, unless you’re prepared to do the counseling.

Assuming you have a healthy marriage, consider this: Imagine you had never met your spouse. Now look at the closest single person around and ask yourself if you’d date that person. It takes more than proximity to create a match.

Do Say: “How can I pray for you?”

People don’t say this often enough to each other period, but keep in mind that single people may not have anyone who says it to them on a regular basis. If you’re close enough to suggest a date, you’re close enough to pray. They may ask you to pray for them about taking “Linda” on a date. Or they may just say thanks.

Update: Had a person say to me they don’t like it when people ask this because it sounds condescending. Yes, out of the clear blue sky it can be, so let me add this: don’t be condescending. Sit and listen a while before you ask this and don’t make a big show over asking it – say it with the same inflection you might say “so what’s going on in your life?”

Don’t Say: “How do you feel about blind dates?”

I can answer that question now: they pretty much suck. Few people get excited about blind dates. The immediate emphasis is on appearance, which may not always be a person’s best selling point.

Do Say: “We’re having a party at our home on Friday, why don’t you come?”

If you want your single friends to meet, let them do it in a casual environment. Also, single people, especially in the church, are often left out of the gatherings of married people. How else can we see what a good marriage looks like if we’re not around them? Invite single people to events because they might need some time with a family to recoup and feel encouraged.

Don’t Say: “It happens when you least expect it/when you’re ready/God wants you to work on you/once you’ve found your identity in Christ then the right person will come along.”

None of these are true. I know many people who were expecting to get married in college and guess what? They did. I know a few older folks who never expected to get married and low and behold, they never have. I also know some single people that are more ready for marriage than some people who have been married for years.

Just because someone is single doesn’t mean that there is a deep spiritual cause for their singleness and that it must mean that God wants them to learn something and reach some sort of spiritual “next level” before they can unlock the “marriage achievement.” This isn’t a video game. Marriage is not some higher plane of existence that you can get to if you just try harder. Not everyone in a God-ordained marriage was “ready” when they tied the knot, and it certainly doesn’t mean that single people are automatically less spiritually mature. Again, we know you’re trying to be helpful, but these are not true.

Do say: “God loves you, spend time with him.” 

because he does and everyone should.  Single people do need to lean into God in a way that they might not always be challenged to do so. I’ve heard the question “What if marriage wasn’t meant to make you happy, but to make you holy?” I think that’s a great question as long as we believe that being single should offer the same challenge.

While this sounds cliché, it also has the benefit of being true.

Don’t say: “Enjoy being single because once you’re married and have children, you won’t know what you did with all your time.”

Maybe that was true for you. Maybe when you were single you sat around and did nothing all day. Me? I’m working 40-60 hours a week at my main job, taking freelance jobs and occasionally teaching as an adjunct professor locally. In my “free” time I’m working on an MFA in film and writing a series of novels for the fun of it. I also own a home that I maintain. I lead a small group. I cook. I blog. I train in mixed martial arts every week. I have a dog that I take on walks in the park. And yes, I do hang out with my friends a couple of nights a week and I watch TV. I do get to sleep in past seven a.m. many days and I have quiet dinners at home. But just because my life has luxuries that parents don’t have time for doesn’t mean I’m wasting all my time.

Do say: “You’d make a great mom/dad”

Personally I think this is one of the highest compliments you can give a person. I’ve often said that a person can’t pass on what they don’t have. To say someone would make a good parent is paying so many compliments at once – it says you’re a hard worker, that you’re selfless, mature, disciplined, principled, yet patient, humble, & wise. Also it might be God’s calling for that single person to get involved in a a mentor relationship with a kid who has an absentee parent, and you might be the person to encourage them to do that.

Update: I had some female singles say that this really depresses them to hear, so I’ll make an amendment: For single women who you really think would make a good mother, ask them if they have considered foster care. It may sound crazy, but if caring for children is something they’re passionate about, they might just be called to it and frankly it’s fulfilling the call of James 1:27 to care for the widow and orphan.

Don’t say: “You’re single, (therefore) you like to/don’t want to ________”

Every single person is different. Some single people hate being around little kids, but many are glad to help a young family out. Some single men don’t know how to cook, others are amateur chefs. At least once I’ve heard about a gathering of some married acquaintances to which I was not invited. When I asked about it I was told “You’re single, you don’t want to be around a bunch of kids.” Why would single people automatically hate children?

I’ve had several young fathers act as if it would be torturous for me to be around their kids. We don’t all hate children. Spending time with people at every stage of life is one of the easiest ways to get out of yourself and learn valuable life lessons. We can’t, as Christians, say that Children are gifts from God and the rearing and teaching of them as a part of a family and Christian community is of the utmost importance – and then say in the next breath that Children are a hindrance to Christian community. Maybe there are some single people who don’t like kids, but even if there are, I’d still invite them to hang out in hopes that they’d get outside of their own head.

Do say: “So hey, what do you like to do?”

Single folks who are new in town need friends. Couples at least have each other. Singles are, well single. Try to connect with us, make friends, find out what we’re passionate about. Invest in us and we’ll invest back. A single friend who is loyal is very valuable; they often do have more free time than friends who are married and they might even help you move next time you have to, just because they want the company.

Don’t say: “When you are married/have kids then you’ll understand.”

For one thing, they may never get married, and if they do they might not have children. For another thing, just because there was something in your life that you didn’t understand until marriage doesn’t mean that’s the case for all of humanity. Mother Theresa never married or had children, but she understood more about children and selflessness than most of us will. The Apostle Paul wrote over half of the New Testament. He never married; could you picture saying that to him? I’ve even had someone tell me that manhood doesn’t start until you have your first child. I think that must be true for some men who choose not to grow up until absolutely necessary, but if you believe that to be universally true, then you’ll have to explain to me how Jesus Christ managed to get through life without getting married and having children, yet we’re told he is our example of how to be human.

Do say: “Here’s what I wish I’d known when I was single…”

If you had some maturing moments early in you marriage or shortly after becoming a parent, then feel free to share them, we want to garner wisdom from wherever it comes, but don’t be shocked if maybe we’ve already learned the lesson you had to learn through marriage. God uses marriage to make us holy, but it’s not the only thing he uses. So share your knowledge, share your experience, but please be humble and don’t act as if it’s impossible that we know things that you don’t. I had a married couple with whom I’m close send me a link to a sermon series about being single and they said they’d wished they heard it before getting married. It was not only helpful to me, it was helpful in my relating to them as I realized what challenges they had overcome in their relationship.

Don’t Say: “Never get married/be glad you’re single”

The grass is always greener. Marriage is tough. So is being single. A healthy marriage will have it’s challenges, but if you have serious issues you shouldn’t be complaining randomly to anyone – you should be seeking counsel. Don’t assume that the single person you’re talking to is having fun all the time. Don’t assume that if they were to get married, their marriage will do the same as yours. Don’t mouth off about your lousy marriage. Get help. Yes marriage is hard work, but would you give it up? If so, you don’t need to be talking to us, you need to be talking to a counselor. Very few single people think marriage is perfect. Don’t forget, most of us had parents; it’s not like we’ve never seen a marriage up close.

Do Say: “I see God using you.”

This is a hugely affirming thing to say to anyone, but if you can highlight it for a single person it can be even more so. For spouses, and even more so for parents, there is a clarity of purpose that comes with the office. If you’re a husband your job is to love your wife as Christ loved the church. If you’re a mother your job is to bring up your children in the way that they should go. While these are hard tasks, you at least know what your tasks are. As a single person, we don’t have that kind of clarity automatically, so we’re often searching for it and searching for affirmation when we think we’ve found it. It’s easier to deal with the occasional loneliness of being single if we feel like God is using our marital status for his good. If someone else sees it, then it reinforces that feeling and is the kind of encouragement that allows us to keep on doing that thing. By this same token if you see a single person who isn’t serving God in a fruitful way, it might be for you to challenge them in a loving way to do something to get outside of themselves and search for that calling.

Daredevil Season 1 Review

If you have Netflix then undoubtedly you’ve been reminded this past week of that their latest series just dropped; a Marvel property by the name of Daredevil. You may recall the Ben Affleck Daredevil film way back in 2003. If you were among the few who did go to see it, you were probably were like most of the audience, dissappointed that it didn’t feel more like Sam Raimi’s Spiderman. The real problem with the movie was that it wasn’t realistic and logically consistent enough to reach the audience that didn’t like Spiderman for it’s comic book sensability, but it wasn’t fun enough to capture the fans of the Spiderman film either. So where does this rendition of “The Man Without Fear” rank? Read on…

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First who is Daredevil

Daredevil is a second-tier Marvel hero, who hasn’t enjoyed the success or popularity of Spiderman or the X-Men, nor is he as integral to the universe as Iron Man or Captain America. First off he’s kind of hard to explain. He’s not a Norse God, or a man in a Iron Suit, or a Super Solder. He’s actually a blind guy. Matt Murdock was in an accident when he was young wherein toxic chemicals sprayed onto his eyes, leaving him blind. As time went by he began to realize that his other senses were heightened and that by focusing he had a sort-of sixth sense (there are actually more than five senses anyway as mentioned in the series, but that’s another blog entry) that works a lot like radar. So while he is still effectively blind, he can hear, smell, taste, and feel so well that he can detect specifics about the people on the floor above him, tell if someone is lying, and sense an attacker’s adrenaline pumping, giving him a near precognitive ability to sense attacks. In addition, his inner ear is also extremely balanced, making him very good at acrobatics and extremely agile.

Matt’s father was a boxer in New York, where he grew up in the real-life neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, which despite the name, is actually now quite a pleasant place to live due to a number of re-gentrification movements that have taken place in the area since the creation of the character in the 60s. Anyway, Matt’s dad wasn’t a great boxer, but even if didn’t win many fights he was never beaten by a knock-out, only a TKO. “Battling Jack Murdock” was known for being able to take a beating and stay standing. Matt’s father refused to take the fall in a fight and was killed for his honesty. Shortly thereafter a man named “Stick” found Matt in an orphanage. Stick was a member of a group of blind martial artists, who believed that sight only offered distraction and used their enhanced senses to best their opponents. Stick became a father figure to young Matt Murdock and he trained him to hone his abilities.

Matt, wanting to fight the kind of corruption and injustice that led to his father’s death, decided that he wanted to become a lawyer to stand up for the little guy. He wanted to stay in his neighborhood and with the help of his business partner and friend, Foggy Nelson, he started the Nelson and Murdock law firm. Any description of the character of Matt Murdock would not be complete without a discussion of his faith. While many superheros are vaguely protestant (Superman is Methodist, as specified in action comics #850) Daredevil’s Christian, Catholic faith is a foundational part of his character. It’s no mistake that both this new version of Daredevil and the 2003 Movie have early scenes of him in confessional.

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So there you have it. Lawyer by day, Superhero by night, blind all the time, and fundamentally Catholic.

My Disappointments

I’ve already been berated by fan-boys who loved the series immediately for having a less-than stellar opinion of the new series. That isn’t to say that I don’t think it is very good, but I do feel that I need to say that I was disappointed in one major way. This is the third TV series in the already enormous Marvel cinematic universe that includes all the characters in the eight various Avengers films, Guardians of the Galaxy, Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, as well as the upcoming Ant Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Inhumans films in addition to the pending Jessica Jones, Defenders, and Luke Cage Netflix series. Up to this point all of the films and TV series have had the same sensibility; they don’t take themselves too seriously and they have fun. Humor is a huge element in all of the Marvel films up to this point, and even in the Agents of SHIELD television show. The violence in these films has always had a measure of un-reality to it that gave it the feel of a comic book movie; so no matter if the world or galaxy is in danger, the stakes are low and the fun is high. Daredevil is the first to break from this world which bothers me on two levels: I personally prefer the “fun” over the realistic. If I wanted realism, I’d live my life. More bothersome than that, however is that this is actually a problem for the cinematic universe. The reality presented in Daredevil is totally inconsistent with the rest of the world it proposes to be in. Some will not be bothered by this, but it upsets me because it marks the end of the continuity that has been so great within the MCU up to this point.

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EWW!

What is the difference? Well Daredevil is trying to reach out to fans of HBO series by having a show with the kind of extreme violence you’d expect from an R-rated film. Things like characters impaling themselves on rusty fence posts, a bad guy beheading someone with a car door, a guy’s head getting crushed with a bowling ball, and lots of cuts, and punches that draw blood like a Tarantino film. This is one of the most violent TV show’s I’ve watched. I’m certain that the production team had a tanker of fake blood ordered for this season. Every opportunity they get, someone is bleeding from the mouth. Every time someone punches someone, they have to do it twice as much as they usually do. A friend pointed out the Foley effects, that is the sound effects that relate to humans, is louder and more visceral. The enhanced sounds make the hits seem harder, the cracking of bones and spurting of blood all the more agonizing. I wonder if part of this was to put us in Matt Murdock’s shoes, who perceives the world based more on sound than the visual.

daredevil-which-comic-book-property-are-you-most-excited-to-see-on-tvYes, fans of the comic tell me that this level of violence is consistent with the comics, but I would argue that reading a comic with cartoon-depicted fights cannot ever reach the same level of visceral impact that watching a bloody fistfight happen on screen between real people. Red ink is very different from looking at a person covered in what appears to be real bloo as it seeps out of their mouths and from wounds all over their bodies. I was still hoping for an interpretation of Daredevil that didn’t take the darker tones, but had that lightheartedness that we get from Iron Man or Guardians.

As such this is NOT for children. I wouldn’t have much of a problem watching the Avengers, or Agents of Shield with a ten-year-old, I wouldn’t suggest this for kids younger than 15. It is very intense and not just because of the violence. The entire world is bleak. The bad guy is also more complex and at points, seems arguably more sympathetic than the “hero.” Also, this probably won’t entertain kids. There were many moments where it wasn’t very entertaining to me. Between the extreme violence there are many long scenes where characters are talking, often in other languages – requiring me to read subtitles, and offering the very serious dialogue that sometimes makes me feel like I’m watching an episode of law and order rather than a show about a superhero. There’s almost two full episodes where Matt is sitting on the couch after a particularly bad beating, during which there is little-to-no action. I’m all for character development, but I’m watching an action/adventure series here. Even some of the more action-packed scenes can get a little boring; there’s an entire episode where Matt is trapped in a building with someone he’s trying to get information from. There’s another one where the only action sequence takes place at the end of the plot, so they break it up across the episode, which only makes for really disjointed storytelling.

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Matt Murdock as “The Masked Man” in this first season he doesn’t dawn the familiar red costume until the last episode.

The likability of the characters is occasionally an issue in this series as well. Most of the characters a likable, but also a little annoying. There’s no one that you look at and feel like they’re someone you really enjoy watching all the time. Matt is generally likeable, though we go through periods of time where you question his logic (instead of getting the dying dirty cop to give you “information” about his boss, why not get a confession on record?) Foggy is likable most of the time, but there are times where his not knowing Matt’s secret identity really makes him a frustratingly ignorant voice. Also he has some lines that are clearly intended to be humorous that don’t quite land. Karen is likable except you don’t really understand why she doesn’t feel free to tell Foggy and Matt what she’s up to in the background, as she investigates with Ben, the reporter. Ben is a likable character, but it’s questionable that we need him in the story. He’s one of a handful of characters that make the whole thing feel like there are a few-too-many characters in the series. Or, at least that they’re trying too hard to check in with all of them regularly.

The BIG Upside (for me, at least)

The saving grace for the show is Matt’s faith. This is the only thing that grounds the show in a reality with which I can identify. The reason for all this bleakness? In the reality of Daredevil, unlike other comic book worlds, God exists. As such, people are imperfect like they are in the real world while God is perfect and is looking out for them. How does this play into the series? Well as I mentioned above, Matt Murdock is a devout Catholic, and he visits with his priest several times. While the priest only appears in four episodes, he is heavily featured in one that is especially interesting. Whereas most pastors or priests are often depicted as bumbling at best and devious at worst, the priest might be the only truly “good” character in the whole bunch. He is smart, he’s the only one who is able to intuit that Matt is the “masked man.” He’s loving, He’s aware of what’s going on outside the walls of his church, and he actually seems to know scripture. He reminds Matt that “vengeance is the Lord’s.” And he calls Matt on his continual questioning about whether it would be wrong to kill someone, asking “Is it that you don’t want to take a man’s life but you fear you have to, or is it that you shouldn’t take a man’s life, but you want to?”

Charlie Cox shooting the 'Daredevil' TV seriesThere is a large on-going discussion with the priest about right and wrong, good and evil, and God’s will. The most interesting point to me comes in a scene where Matt asks the priest if he believes in the Devil. He starts by making the (reasonably accurate) assertion that the language that refers to the Devil in scripture is somewhat ambiguous at times as to whether it’s referring to a specific person or a more amorphous idea of an “adversary.” He says when he was young he believed that medieval theologians just combined all these ides into one character. But then he goes on to say that years later when he was a missionary in Rwanda he saw a local, peaceful and well-respected priest brutally murdered along his entire family by a guerrilla militia captain in front of his entire village. He said in that moment he saw the Devil, “So yes, I believe he walks among us, taking many forms.”

This may seem like a something peripheral to Christianity, but it is very important. Today’s popular philosophy is to destroy or at lest stridently discount any notion of the existence of absolute evil. In the church it often takes the form of rewriting the intentions of scripture by discounting the many great theologians that have come before us, and acting as if we know better today. It shows that priest realizing that the collections of references to an enemy weren’t made into one person, but rather they were discovered to have been referring to the same person. It actually discusses an important theological topic on a popular TV show with reasonable respect for Christian orthodoxy.

The Priest isn’t the only one discussing matters of faith. Throughout the series Matt brings up God, God’s will, and God’s gifts. While he is often frustrated or even angry with God, he trusts and believes in Him. It’s a constant and very real tension that Matt believes his gifts are from God, but struggles with knowing how to use them, and what God’s will is. He also prays and makes the sign of the cross before putting his outfit on.

What’s more is that the bad guy, Wilson Fisk, AKA “The Kingpin” states two different times that he is not a man of faith. The second time he makes this assertion is toward the end of the last episode wherein he then tells the story of the good Samaritan, explaining that he used to believe he was the the good Samaritan, but now he realizes that he is “the ill-intent” who attacked the man on the road that day. Murdock and Fisk have similar back-stories, as we see, but one became the enemy he was trying the fight and carries guilt with him everywhere, and the other humbly protects people from the shadows. We’re offered the possibility that the primary difference between the two is their faith.

a few more thoughts

There is a real sense in which this is not a superhero series at all. Similar to “The Dark Night” it’s a crime story, a detective story first. The scale is much smaller than what we see in most marvel films, as it takes place in one neighborhood on Manhattan. The small scale only adds to the grittiness of it. There’s a sense in which it’s about real world problems of drugs, human trafficking, gangs, politics, and corruption. This is another reason why I’m not a huge fan of the series. If I wanted these kinds of issues I could watch almost any police procedural. Some however have reacted to the opposite. Lost of guys really respond to the raw, dark realism.  There is a very noir sensibility to it both in the flavor of the plot and in the way it is photographed. If you want to watch a series about a super hero, watch the Flash on the CW. It’s just a fun superhero TV show. This is not that at all. This is a painful walk through a very real world that is intended to make you stop and ponder right and wrong. It is also slower than many superhero shows, which I can’t decide if it is exacerbated by the fact that it’s available to watch all at once, or if that helps alleviate the problem. While many shows have bottle episodes, that is episodes that take place on established sets to save money, usually in the middle of the season and often taking place entirely in one room, there is a sense in which the whole season feels bottled when compared to the larger scale of other marvel movies. Even some of the more action packed episodes are cooped up in a single location.

Is it a good show? Someone just asked me this question and I said “that’s a complicated question.” They then asked me if they would like it, and that is less complicated. If you like violent action, then you will like this series. If you like slow-burn plot where people in suits make veiled threats toward each other, then this is your series. If you don’t mind a large portion of the plot examining the life of the bad guy, you might like this series. If you don’t like the marvel movies up to this point, because they’re not real or gritty enough, I’d say give this one a try. If you liked Dark Knight, then you’ll probably like this one.

If however, you don’t like seeing lots of blood you will probably not like this. If you want your plot to move quickly, straight forward to the resolution you won’t enjoy this. If you need a little more than a drop of comic relief, I’d say skip this one. If you get tired of long scenes where bad guys are talking to each other about subplots that will have no effect on the larger story then you won’t enjoy this show. If Captain America, Iron Man, or Guardians, rank among your favorite movies – this might be a bit much for you. If you thought “Dark Knight” was a bit too dark, then I don’t recommend this series.

Is it a good show? Arguably, yes. But it’s not for families with kids. It’s not as broad-appeal as I believe the Avengers is, and it definitely isn’t aiming for the same audience. I’d be curious to see where they would take it in a second season, but the basically happy ending of this first season almost makes me wish they’d stop now and perhaps bring Daredevil into a few guest appearances of other Marvel shows. It definitely has a few fun moments though, if only in the last episode. So, if you’re into this kind of dark action, check it out – it has some good truth to it.