December 26, 2007

Audio Drama Review: Red Monday

What would you do if you had information about the next big terrorist attack on US soil? What if nobody believed you?

Back at the Podcast and New Media Expo in California, some folks got big, red envelopes with "Classified" written on them. Some folks at the show got a bit freaked out about the whole thing. ANd it got a LOT of attention.

Of course, as soon as I heard about it, I had a feeling I knew what was going on. When I went to redmonday.com, all there was was a login prompt. But I knew what to do -- I checked the page source code.

Sure enough, there was a password left there. Sloppy for a real encrypted site, but Standard Operating Procedure for an ARG. The page was a rabbit hole.

I won't go into a lot of depth explaining those terms here; if you're interested, the best place to start is Unfiction. The forums will show you what kinds of Alternate Reality Games are out there (and there are a LOT of them out there), and there are resources available to explain what's going on in the genre. In short, this Red Monday thing was a game -- a very well thought out game.

I started getting email from a guy named JC, who had uncovered something big. Something was going down on November 26, but nobody was sure what. And that started the adventure.

Encoded files, ECHELON intercepts, satellite photos of suspicious installations -- it was a wild ride. I spent three hours one day scouring Google Earth trying to match up one satellite photo. I spent fifteen minutes talking to JC on Skype, trying to persuade him that John Kerry wasn't the President (in the RM universe, Ohio went Kerry rather than Bush, and it changed the election). The game was intense, and great fun. But then, it was over -- of course, it ended November 26.

And the podcast began.

The game was a sort of viral ad for the podshow, you see. And that's nothing unusual; after all, the game that started the whole ARG craze was "The Beast" -- a viral ad for the movie A.I. And the podcast is quite good.

Produced by J. Marcus Xavier, the man behind the Silent Universe podcast, Red Monday takes us to a world where Los Angeles has been nuked. We figured that much out in the game, though it was in part totally by accident. And we were way off on who did it, and why. The entire 5 episodes are up online, and I recommend them to anyone who likes 24 or Jericho. In fact, there was some speculation in the game that the whole thing was a tie-in to Jericho and the "Tom Tooman" game that's been running in connection with that show.

My only complaint is that the mini-series ends in quite the cliffhanger. I'm thinking that part of the purpose of Red Monday is to give some of the backstory to Silent Universe, Xavier's other podcast. If so, thanks, JMX. Now get to work and make us more Silent Universe! And if not, we need more Red Monday. Some of us have gotten quite attached to the story.

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Early Resolutions for 2K8

I will be FAR away from a computer on New Years Day, and so I decided to announce three blog resolutions that I've been pondering for a while now.

ONE: I will be trying to revive the Mark Study and the This Week in Church History features. Both have languished, and both were enjoyable to write, so I'm trying to go back to them.

TWO: I will be reading and blogging a book every week. I've got a backlog of books I've received to review, and this will be a great way to get through the stack. They won't all be winners, and they won't all be Christian books. They may be books I've already read, but I will be reading them that week. I will announce each Sunday what book I'm reading and blogging, and by the following Saturday the review will be up. In some cases, the review here will be a link to the Blogcritics review -- if I get something through them, they get the exclusive review. It's how the site generates revenue, and it's the ethical thing to do even if they didn't ask us all to do it. But I get books through other avenues, and those reviews will go here first. I'm allowing for two or three weeks off, so count on 49 or 50 books this year, starting on January 6th.

THREE: I'm going to be posting a little about various Christian feast days throughout the year. I'm actually stealing this idea from my wife, and she MAY start a blog of her own dedicated to it, but I think it's a great idea. And since today's St. Stephen's Day, I think I'll start with the next post.

There's a common theme among my resolutions -- I want to post regularly. Once upon a time I was a Large Mammal in the TTLB ecosystem. Now, I doubt I'd even show up on the radar. In 2008, I want to change that. I want to get all my readers back, and I THINK I've got a schedule worked out so that can happen.

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December 22, 2007

Christmas, Post 2

Just a quick shout, because I found someone who sort of agrees with me re: giving December 25 back to the pagans and celebrating Christ's birth another time. I still like January 6 (even though that's dangerously close to my birthday), but Rev. James Martin suggests June.

Here's my plan. First, we hand over December 25 to the corporations and let them have their way with it. Let Macy's, for example, tell us that the Christmas season starts not with Advent, but right after Halloween, since that's when they start decorating their stores anyway. Let Kohl's tell us that the appropriate way to begin Advent is not with the traditional evergreen wreath with four candles, but by camping out with surly crowds at 3 a.m. in front of their stores, so that you can buy an iPhone, or some other techno gadget you don't really need.

Give the corporations December 25. It will be our final Christmas present to them.

Reading the rest of the column, I can see some potential in this. No major holidays to compete with, so no "Happy Holidays" greetings that irritate so many people. And the idea of a Christmas barbecue is intriguing, to say the least. Christmas outside, presents under a real tree -- and not even an evergreen. Maybe a dogwood tree.

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Frank Schaeffer is Crazy For God

John Fea at the Religion in American History blog has a review of Frank Schaeffer's newest book, Crazy For God. He gives a better summery of the book than I do in my own review, and I agree with him that many people, evangelical or not, are going to read the book in the hopes of getting some good dirt on the Schaeffer family. There's little enough of that in the book, though -- Frank tends to paint his father as an intellectual who was used by the nascent Religious Right movement back in the '70s, and his mother as dutiful housewife who sometimes regretted her own missed opportunities. But we do read of Francis' temper, and Frank's own youthful indiscretions, so maybe there's something there for the gossip-mongers after all.

I really think, as I wrote at Blogcritics back in November, that the real value of the book is for Christians, especially Christian leaders. Frank was thrust into a role that he really wasn't cut out for -- he was the heir apparent to his father's ministry. It didn't matter that he enjoyed art, and was a skilled painter and movie maker; he was called to carry on the family business.

Unfortunately, it seems he was called by humans, not by God. And when you enter a ministry without the calling of God on your life, you will not succeed. It seems that now Frank has found his true 'calling' in life; unfortunately, he lost his faith in the process.

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December 20, 2007

Happy Holi ... Merry Chri ... whatever.

It is written in the Godblogger's Manual that every Godblogger has to post something about the "War On Christmas." I slacked off last year; in fact, there was only one post from me the entire month. The year before, I ranted about the commercialization of Christmas and the Feast of St. Nicholas. My very first year of blogging, I wrote this, which I still think is pretty good.

This year, I'm going to talk about the whole Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas deal. Because it's getting tiresome, and old, and I think we need to get over the notion that we own the month of December, holiday-wise.
more...

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December 17, 2007

Dirty Laundry, Family Squables, and TBN

I weighed in on the whole TBN/SBC/tongues issue in the previous post, but today I found a couple articles that really made me thing more on this subject. Both are in my shared folder in Google Reader -- if I've got you in my contacts list through GMail, you can get it automatically. Otherwise, you can subscribe to the feed in your favorite RSS reader, or just check out this page. You can see the headlines in the graphic on the left sidebar, right under the calendar.

First up is Ed Stetzer's brief post concerning the use of Lifeway's research in the program. Swain Miller makes the statement that "LifeWay… this past summer... did a survey… and they reported that 51% of Southern Baptist pastors believe in speaking in tongues as one of the gifts… The truth is that there are more than half, I believe, of Southern Baptist pastors, anonymously surveyed… said they practice a private prayer language... but they were anonymous about it." If you read Lifeway's research, it doesn't make any assertion of personal practice on the part of anyone who participated. Only the beliefs of the people surveyed are mentioned. I think this is important because while someone may feel that tongues is a valid gift for today, they may or may not speak in tongues themselves. It's a distinction that is missing, I think, from the broadcast.

The second post I noted today is from Tim Rodgers at SBCToday. I think both of his illustrations are important for us to keep in mind -- especially the second, involving a fight between brothers.

Family fights can be very painful. It gets even more painful when the fight is brought out into public, and is even encouraged by people outside the family (who won't ever BE members of the family). And that's what happened on TBN last week. There has been a family squabble in the SBC over private prayer languages and tongues. We're dealing with it as a family. But now some members of the family have brought in folks from outside to try to end the fight -- and end it in their favor. The people they're bringing in aren't Southern Baptists, and don't 'have a dog in the fight.' But, to quote Richard Hogue at the very beginning of the segment, "I love a good controversy, don't you?" The purpose of the entire segment is to feed off controversy.

I have to confess, I enjoy heated debate and discussion. And as I've mentioned before, I have in the past sought out controversy for its own sake. So I can relate to Hogue's perspective on the issue. But one thing that I learned long ago is that when you seek out controversy for its own sake, or for the sake of your own enjoyment of controversy, nothing is resolved -- in fact, resolution is the exact opposite of what you want. You want the controversy, the conflict -- it's an adrenaline rush to be involved in something controversial.

That's why many people blog -- for the controversy. For the rush, the feedback, the attention (measured in trackbacks and comments, of course). But that attitude doesn't solve anything. Hogue's statement at the outset of the program set the tone, and it was clear from the beginning that the controversy would continue.

It was also clear that only one side of the debate would ever be presented. It's TBN, after all -- why would they bring on some cessationists to defend their position? Instead, the SBC is painted as a group that is trying to silence the voice of God in our generation, which is far from the truth. That kind of sentiment doesn't solve the problems that he SBC does have -- it simply sensationalizes a minor divide for others' entertainment and amusement.

It must be pleasant for the folks at TBN to have no controversies or conflicts of their own to deal with, that they have to entertain themselves by capitalizing on the disagreements of other Christians.

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December 13, 2007

Charismatic Takeover???

For a long time now, there has been a controversy in the SBC over private prayer languages. It all started when the IMB trustees decided to not commission any missionaries who prayed in a "private prayer language," which they felt contradicted traditional Southern Baptist positions. More than a few SBC bloggers felt that the trustees had gone well beyond their role at the IMB, and it led to a LOT of blogging on the subject.

At the time, I was one of the people upset with the trustees. I really had more of a problem with the idea of "alien baptism" than with the prayer language issue -- I wasn't baptized in a Southern Baptist church (it was FAR more conservative than any SBC church I've ever been in, actually), and I really thought that the trustees were trying to pass judgment on the validity of someone's conversion. I didn't view private prayer language as a really serious issue in the SBC, and I really still don't.

I do, however, have a philosophical and theological problem with the modern charismatic movement. Their tendency to place priority on personal experience over Biblical truth concerns me greatly -- there is so much potential for drastic theological error in a system where there is no accountability. How can anyone pass judgment on the validity of someone else's experience if those experiences aren't subject to Scriptural standards? I'm not a hardcore advocate of the Regulatory Principle, but I think that Scripture has to be the norm in our worship and practice. If I'm doing something in worship that is not Scriptural, I expect that my fellow believers will rebuke me and let me know the problem. They can't do that if my experience is the ultimate point of reference for my own spiritual life. more...

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December 06, 2007

Interesting take on Golden Compass

Hanna Rosen of The Atlantic has something interesting to say about Hollywood's latest "blockbuster," The Golden Compass.

Given enough time and effort, Hollywood can tweak and polish and recast even the darkest message until it would seem at home in a Fourth of July parade. In the end, the religious meaning of the book was obscured so thoroughly as to be essentially indecipherable. ... With $180 million at stake, the studio opted to kidnap the book’s body and leave behind its soul.

I haven't read the books (and don't really plan to, considering what the author's stated purpose in writing them is), and I doubt I'll see the movie. But I do think it's interesting, and a bit telling, that the books are so anti-religion in general and anti-Christian in particular that Hollywood has had to sanitize them to create the movie.

Read Rosen's full article here. Sounds to me like they made a movie about a little kid who fights totalitarianism and wins, when the books were (to quote the author)"about killing God."

(hat tip to the Dallas News' Religion blog)

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December 03, 2007

Cornholin'

Tip o' the hat to Rhett and Link.

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No Surprise

The Dallas News' Religion blog has a story today on an impending "preach in" (actually homiletics conference) sponsored by the New Baptist Covenant. I thought that what the ABP said was a pretty good indication of why the SBC is (to use the Dallas News' words) "wary" of this new Baptist organization.

James Forbes, pastor emeritus of the Riverside Church in New York, is among those who will preach at the event. Riverside is jointly affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ. It was founded in the 1920s by John Rockefeller as a monument to liberal Protestantism in New York City and has remained prominent in the nation’s theological and political affairs ever since.

The SBC has finally rid itself of liberalism, though there are still some left-leaning moderate elements. Why would we want to revisit all the turmoil and controversy of the past 25 years? The NBF numbers among it's leadership notable Baptists such as former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both of whom have made clear their position on the SBC as it currently stands. Neither are friends of the resurgence, so why should the SBC be anything but wary of a group they are leading?

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