Monday, October 25, 2010

The Town

The Town, a film directed by and starring Ben Affleck, tells the story of four bank robbers who live in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, and the relationship that almost turns one of them around.

The film opens with the claim that Charlestown is home for an inordinate number of crimes and armed robberies. Sure enough, Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his buddies are experts at robbing banks and armored cars. They work for a powerful drug lord whose day job is running a flower shop. Apparently what holds Charlestown together is a Mafia-esque loyalty to family... regardless of how much pain and heartache such loyalty causes.

An interesting romantic plot weaves in and out among the elaborate holdups. There are some cool chase scenes and lots of bullets flying everywhere. I liked the movie a lot, even if the story was fairly predictable. The acting is really good, and the relationship between Doug and Claire draws you in. I felt the movie stopped way too short of dealing with the angst between Doug and his father. A brief visit in the prison where his father is serving time is the only glimpse you get into Doug's father wounds.

The movie's sub-plot is that everyone has a hungry heart. Doug is looking to break free of Charlestown's violent grip, and desperately wants the love of a woman of virtue. Doug's quasi-girlfriend Krista turns to drugs and sex for significance. Doug's best friend James's idol is power. Claire is no less empty, but her idol (humanitarian good will) looks a lot more respectable. No one seeks the glory of their Creator or a relationship with the One who proved his love on the cross.

The main character of the movie is, of course, the Town. People who grow up there are called Townies. The Town owns and controls its people until they get desperate enough to break free. And if they're not careful, even then the Town has a mysterious power to woo people back in. The Town is therefore equivalent to Bunyan's City of Destruction in Pilgrim's Progress. The gospel frees us from our captivity to sin and invites us into a new life with a new Love - a Love that won't let us go but liberates us to find our true selves.

(Be aware that The Town is rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Children and Stewardship

It's never too early to teach your children to store up their treasures in heaven. Here's a story to prove that kids can "get it."

A couple weeks ago, I preached a sermon on giving. My children's message that day was about giving, too. I told the children a simplified version of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Then I gave each child in the group a $1 bill, and challenged them to invest it in order to see how far that $1 bill could go for the Kingdom of God. I gave the kids a couple of ideas. They might use their dollar to buy supplies for a lemonade stand, for example. Or they might use it to help buy posters to advertise a yard sale. In other words, if the kids invested their $1 bill instead of spending it on something that perishes, they might be surprised to see how much money they could give to God.

A week went by. Then last Sunday, a parent sent me a letter in which he reported the results of my little experiment. His two children (ages 6 and 10) decided to put their dollar bills together. With their $2, they bought a book from Goodwill, which they sold on for $20. After Amazon's fees the total return on their investment of $2 was $15. They gave that $15 to our church!

How inspiring! And what an unforgettable lesson these two kids learned - that by investing a little, we can give a lot to the Kingdom.

Parents should model and teach principles of financial stewardship to their children as early in life as possible. Your kids are impressionable pieces of clay when they are young. It's harder to change financial habits later in life (as many of us adults can easily testify). But if you can help your children understand that everything we have is God's, and that God gives us money in order that we might share it with others, they can grow up to be givers instead of spenders.

As Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

Friday, October 01, 2010

Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness is Mel Gibson's latest movie. He plays Thomas Craven, a Boston homicide detective whose daughter gets caught up in a convoluted, deadly plot to expose a corporation for what it really is. It's a story of cover-up, conspiracy, and government complicity in making this world a scary place.

It's not an easy movie to watch, for several reasons. For one thing, with all the unfavorable news out there about Gibson (e.g., racist rants, abuse allegations, etc.), it felt to me that the anger he displays in this movie is a bit too real. He goes after people with a vengeance. It's understandable, given what his character has to deal with. I'm just saying you can't avoid drawing a connection between reality and cinema. In addition, it's a violent movie with lots of people getting blown away. That's why it's rated R for strong, bloody violence and language. You have been forewarned.

Oh, and another, annoying reason I found Edge of Darkness hard to watch is that I could barely understand the dialogue at several key points, particularly when Ray Winstone was on screen as Jedburgh. Maybe it was everyone's Boston accent, but I had to turn on the English subtitles on my TV. I wonder, why don't movie directors tell actors to enunciate?!

On the other hand, there's a strong, positive message here about the role of father as protector and lover of his children. There's also redemption, as we see a father-daughter relationship restored and past mistakes forgiven. In contrast to a betraying friend, a greedy corporate lawyer, a conniving senator, and other unsavory characters, Thomas Craven is someone with values of justice and mercy.

If only he walked humbly with his God (Micah 6:8). The only answer to injustice this movie provides is to point a gun and pull the trigger.