Friday, May 31, 2013

Spurgeon on the Habit of Singing

While I’m not particularly fond of singing, I do enjoy listening to songs, and I think that the following Charles Spurgeon quote can be applied to listening to music as much as to singing it. Being able to listen to recordings of music is a great blessing, and we should take advantage of it. And if you want to sing, then do so!

“Let me encourage you, Christian people, to sing a great deal more than you do. Of old London, in the Puritan time, it was said that you might have heard songs and prayers in well-near every house as you walked at the breakfast hour from St. Paul's to Eastcheap. Family worship was then the prevailing custom! It would not be so now in any town in England—the more the pity.

“I hear the wagoner in the country, and the costermonger in the city, humming a tune or singing a song. Why should not you, my friends, enliven your listless intervals with a hymn? The world has its popular music—why should not we stir up some soul-inspiring melodies? Soldiers go to battle with martial airs—let us go to our battle with the songs of Zion!

“When the sailors are tugging and pulling at the rope and weighing the anchor, they send up a cheery shout and they work better for it, too. Christian friends, while you work, lighten the toil with sacred song! Serve God with gladness!

“I have often been charmed at eventide on the canals at Venice to hear the gondoliers sing in chorus some glorious old chant. So, Christians, as you steer your vessels to Heaven, and tug at the oar, sing as you row, sing as you work! Sing, for you have much to sing about! Be glad, and praise the Lord who has delivered you!” -- Charles Spurgeon

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Movie Review: Shipwrecked

After his father is injured while on a voyage and can’t continue to pay the mortgage, a young man decides to become a ship’s boy so he can make enough money to keep his family from losing their house. While he finds being a sailor to be hard at first, he soon settles into life at sea, glad to be helping his family. Meanwhile, a notorious pirate who is thought to be dead has stolen the identity of a British naval officer in a scheme to reclaim his hidden treasure. When the fake naval officer gets onto the same ship as the young man, the ship’s boy may be the only one who can stop the pirate’s murderous plans.

Aside from some brief content issues that will be noted later, this is an ideal family adventure film. The plot is fairly simple, but has enough depth and swashbuckling action to make it fun. The protagonist’s devotion to his family is refreshing to see. While the story has a few rough spots, such as a silly subplot with a friendly gorilla, there is nothing that causes major damage to the film. Some people might find elements of the story towards the end too similar to Treasure Island, but overall this is a fairly original pirate movie, and can be considered a classic of the swashbuckling adventure genre.

A sailor takes God’s name in vain once. Some prostitutes proposition the sailors, including the young cabin boy, a scene which includes some brief innuendo. Both of those issues should have been left out, but are significantly milder than similar issues in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. There is also, of course, some mild violence involving clashes between sailors and pirates.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: Angel Fall by Coleman Luck

Three siblings awake in another world after the plane they are on crashes into the Atlantic Ocean. Before long, they are separated on their journey through the fantastical world. Wondrous sights and terrifying enemies await them, and as they slowly come to realize the truth about the nature of good and evil, their part in the war that is tearing the world apart is revealed to them.

While this novel started out slowly, seeming like many other dream-like fantasy tales, I had been assured by a friend that this novel was a masterpiece, and kept reading. I’m glad that I did. Soon wildly original scenes and ideas were flooding the pages, some of which were unlike anything I’d ever encountered before.

One of the most memorable scenes involved a giant spider whose enormous web was a harp that played mystical music, and such memorable scenes occurred again and again throughout the story. A unique fantasy world is witnessed from its youth, through epic fantastical wars that cover the world for millennia, and all the way to its rebirth.

By the end of this book, I had been so amazed by what was described within its pages that I have to agree with my friend’s assessment that this novel is a masterpiece. An imperfect one, yes, with a slow start and some theological murkiness, but the many moments of brilliance make it well worth reading for any fan of fantasy.

While the protagonists in this novel are young, this novel is probably best for older teens and adults. The dark lord figure’s violence causes a lot of people to die and a lot of blood to flow, though it is always described in a way similar to that in Revelation in the Bible, rather than being gratuitous. Sexual sin is addressed tactfully. Some euphemisms are used, but there is no swearing.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Horror: Living in a Nightmare

Is there such a thing as Christian horror? Can Christians write horror stories, or is horror always a bad thing? In this series, I am exploring those questions.

When I was in my mid-teens, I became severely chronically ill, and the shallow faith that I had got by on as a preacher’s son crumbled. Feeling abandoned by God, with no hope, it seemed as if my life was a horror story. I was living in a nightmare.

So I began reading a lot of horror stories. I didn’t notice the subtle shift towards horror stories at the time. It wasn’t intentional. But looking back, I can see how horror connected with me. It reflected the horror in my own life.

This was mostly not a good thing. As I noted in the previous article in this series, much horror says that the world is a dark and twisted, and gives no hope. This disturbing proclamation brings a tainted thrill to those who have hope in their lives.

To me, since I was living in a horror story, the thrill I got was different. Horror wasn’t something that could scare me and then allow me to go back to my happy life. It was something that comforted me by saying that yes, I was right about how dark the world was.

It was a grim and ultimately false knowledge, but it seemed to give me a foundation to stand on, since I thought I no longer had God to look to. Horror showed many people being consumed by darkness, just as I felt I was being consumed. But sometimes they managed to overcome it, and I had a tiny, frail hope that perhaps I might overcome it, too.

Thankfully, God reached into my darkness and started leading me out of it, giving me a sure foundation. While I still struggle with the darkness brought about by my illness, I refuse to surrender to the darkness any more, and seek to look to His light.

Many Christians see horror stories as having no purpose other than to scare, but my extensive experience with the good and bad sides of horror has shown me otherwise. Horror, when used correctly, has an important and beneficial purpose.

I’m not the only person in the world with much darkness in my life. I’m not the only person struggling not to give in to that darkness. Horror fiction reflects this darkness, and that is where it derives part of its power.

If an author abuses this power purely to give twisted thrills, then he will be held accountable to God for such a perversion. If, however, an author uses the darkness to point to the light, then the power of horror is valuable.

For everyone who has a lot of darkness in their life and struggles not to give in to that darkness, horror reaches out to them, agreeing that there is a lot of darkness in the world. But horror must not stop there. It must assure them that they don’t have to live helplessly in a nightmare any longer.

They can wake up from the nightmare, with God’s help. They can overcome the monsters, with God’s help. They can escape from the things that haunt them, with God’s help. They can be free from the curse of sin, with God’s help.

Few genres can present that message in such a vivid way as horror. The Bible is filled with horror stories that present hope: A valley full of skeletons that will be raised to life. Three days learning to trust God in the belly of a beast. A man who is released from the grasp of a legion of demons. I’ll probably explore Bible stories such as those later in this series.

For now, think of the darkest times in your life. What comforted you the most? Likely, sometimes it was bright and happy things. But other times, I suspect it was people telling you about dark times in their lives that they had overcome, or reading Psalms about the dark times David and other psalmists overcame.

That is what horror should do: Tell about people in dark times, and how God helped them overcome. Just as they overcame, so can you. God’s light is greater than darkness, and He can save you from any nightmare you are living in, no matter what it is. Do you agree?

The previous article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: Dark and Twisted

The next article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: Five Ways to Use Fear

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review: Adam by Ted Dekker

An FBI agent is shot by the serial killer that he is obsessed with stopping, and after being resuscitated, he realizes that he has no memory of the killer’s face. Since the memory of the killer was snatched away by his previous near death experience, he induces another near death experience to see if he can resurrect the memory. It doesn’t work like he hoped, and the killer’s kidnaping of his ex-wife may force him to even more drastic measures.

After a bit of a shaky start, the story got into its stride and took off, making me hope that it would be a solid thriller. However, as the plot raced along, the story took an unexpected turn, and never felt quite as solid after that. In the end, it was a decent thriller with an adequately presented message, but probably not worth seeking out unless you’re a hardcore thriller or Dekker fan. I noticed more typos than I expected in a professional novel.

There is one swear word and two ambiguously used words that could be taken as swearing. Such language was so random that it felt awkward, and would have been better left out. There are a few non-explicit sexual references that, while not inappropriate, might go behind what most people would expect in Christian fiction. Violence is pervasive but rarely graphic. The dark tone and supernatural occurrences might disturb some readers.