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December 2005

December 31, 2005

Brokeback Mountain is becoming a hit film. Opening in limited release in select markets, it has generated a lot of buzz and seems primed to become even more popular as it opens in more theatres.

Here is a description of the movie (copyright Focus Features):

From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ang Lee comes an epic American love story, based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx and adapted for the screen by the team of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Set against the sweeping vistas of Wyoming and Texas, the film tells the story of two young men – a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy – who meet in the summer of 1963, and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, one whose complications, joys and tragedies provide a testament to the endurance and power of love. Early one morning in Signal, Wyoming, Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet while lining up for employment with local rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid). The world which Ennis and Jack have been born into is at once changing rapidly and yet scarcely evolving. Both young men seem certain of their set places in the heartland – obtaining steady work, marrying and raising a family – and yet hunger for something beyond what they can articulate. When Aguirre dispatches them to work as sheepherders up on the majestic Brokeback Mountain, they gravitate towards camaraderie and then a deeper intimacy. At summer’s end, the two must come down from Brokeback and part ways. Remaining in Wyoming, Ennis weds his sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams), with whom he will have two daughters as he ekes out a living. Jack, in Texas, catches the eye of a rodeo queen Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway). Their courtship and marriage result in a son, as well as jobs in her father’s business. Four years pass. One day, Alma brings Ennis a postcard from Jack, who is en route to visit Wyoming. Ennis waits expectantly for his friend, and when Jack at last arrives, in just one moment it is clear that the passage of time has only strengthened the men’s attachment. In the years that follow, Ennis and Jack struggle to keep their secret bond alive. They meet up several times annually. Even when they are apart, they face the eternal questions of fidelity, commitment and trust. Ultimately, the one constant in their lives is a force of nature – love.

Rotten Tomatoes, a site that collects movie reviews, provides the following brief synopsis: “A beautifully epic Western, Brokeback Mountain’s gay love story is embued with heartbreaking universality, helped by the moving performances of Ledger and Gyllenhaal.”

Here is a second, significantly different (and more honest) description of the movie as provided by WorldNetDaily editor David Kupelian. Note the difference between a summary provided by a Christian as compared to a secular publication.

In Brokeback Mountain, a film adaptation of the 1997 New Yorker short story by Annie Proulx, two 19-year-old ranchers named Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) have been hired to guard sheep on a rugged mountain in 1963 Wyoming. One night, the bitter cold drives Ennis into Jack’s tent so they can keep each other warm. As they lie there, suddenly and almost without warning, these two young men – both of whom later insist they’re not “queer” – jump out of the sack and awkwardly and violently engage in anal sex.

Too embarrassed the next morning even to talk about it, Ennis and Jack dismiss their sexual encounter as a “one-shot deal” and part company at the end of the sheepherding job. Ennis marries his fiancée Alma (Michelle Williams, Ledger’s real-life girlfriend) while Jack marries female rodeo rider and prom queen Lureen (Anne Hathaway). Each family has children.

Four years later, Jack sends Ennis a postcard saying he’s coming to town for a visit. When the moment finally arrives, Ennis, barely able to contain his anticipation, rushes outside to meet Jack and the two men passionately embrace and kiss. Ennis’s wife sadly witnesses everything through the screen door. (Since this is one of the film’s sadder moments, I wasn’t quite sure why the audience in the Portland, Oregon, theater burst out in laughter at Alma’s heartbreaking realization.)

From that point on, over the next two decades Ennis and Jack take off together on periodic “fishing trips” at Brokeback Mountain, where no fishing actually takes place. During these adulterous homosexual affairs, Jack suggests they buy a ranch where the two can live happily ever after, presumably abandoning their wives and children. Ennis, however, is afraid, haunted by a traumatic childhood memory: It seems his father had tried to inoculate him against homosexuality by taking him to see the brutalized, castrated, dead body of a rancher who had lived together with another man – until murderous, bigoted neighbors committed the gruesome hate crime.

Eventually, life with Ennis becomes intolerable and Alma divorces him, while Lureen, absorbed with the family business, only suspects Jack’s secret as they drift further and further apart. When, toward the end of the story, Jack dies in a freak accident (his wife tells Ennis a tire blew up while Jack was changing it, propelling the hubcap into his face and killing him), Ennis wonders whether Jack actually met the same brutal fate as the castrated “gay” cowboy of his youth.

Ultimately, Ennis ends up alone, with nothing, living in a small, secluded trailer, having lost both his family and his homosexual partner. He’s comforted only by his most precious possession – Jack’s shirt – which he pitifully embraces, almost in a slow dance, his aching loneliness masterfully projected into the audience via the film’s artistry.

Kupelian shows that this film is pro-homosexual propaganda aimed at advancing an unbiblical agenda. “Lost in all of this, however, are towering, life-and-death realities concerning sex and morality and the sanctity of marriage and the preciousness of children and the direction of our civilization itself. So please, you moviemakers, how about easing off that tight camera shot of Ennis’s suffering and doing a slow pan over the massive wreckage all around him? What about the years of silent anguish and loneliness Alma stoically endures for the sake of keeping her family together, or the terrible betrayal, suffering and tears of the children, bereft of a father? None of this merits more than a brief acknowledgment in Brokeback Mountain.”

This film has taken the image of the cowboy, a figure still revered by Americans, and used it to advance a lifestyle that is forbidden by Scripture and harmful to society. “The result is a brazen propaganda vehicle designed to replace the reservations most Americans still have toward homosexuality with powerful feelings of sympathy, guilt over past “homophobia” – and ultimately the complete and utter acceptance of homosexuality as equivalent in every way to heterosexuality.”

Kupelian’s article is well-written and convicting. I highly recommend that you read it.

December 30, 2005

Since launching the new design of Challies Dot Com I have received lots of feedback. Some has been positive and some has been negative. The negative comments have mostly been concerned with two things: the color of the background and the loss of the photo that was in the banner of the old design.

I have finally found an alternative background that I think may work. I have also found a way of perhaps bringing back the photograph. I have created a couple of quick mockups. I am interested in knowing if those who feel the site is currently too red would find the new design easier to read. Take a look at the following (click on them for a larger view) and let me know what you think about one or both of them. It is a little difficult to see on the small photos, so consider clicking on the “different sizes” link and then select the “large” view.

Design 1  
Design 2

December 30, 2005

Earlier this week Canadians received news of the 78th murder of the year in Toronto, our nation’s biggest city. Of these 78 victims, 52 have been killed by gunfire, a rather tragic record for the city. The victim of this murder was a 15-year old tenth grade student who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jane Creba was with her mother and older sister on Yonge Street, within a busy shopping district lined with stores, and was enjoying Boxing Day sales when gunfire erupted. Two rival gangs shot at each other despite the crowds. Creba was killed and six other bystanders were injured.

For some reason this crime has impacted Canadians in a way others have not. I have often lamented that pretty, white (and usually blonde) girls receive the most media attention following killings or abductions and this may or may not have led to more significant media coverage for this shooting. It may also be the meaninglessness of a crime in which a girl was killed who had nothing to do with the dispute. Or maybe it is simply that any one of us could have been the victim of that crime as most Torontonians find themselves wandering Yonge Street at some point in the year. This type of crime is largely foreign to Canada, though it seems violence of this type is becoming increasingly common.

Canadian politicians are outraged by this crime. Strangely, many of them have pointed the blame at the United States of America. Toronto’s mayor, David Miller, says this crime is “a sign that the lack of gun laws in the United States is allowing guns to flood across the border that are literally being used to kill people in the streets of Toronto.” He also said that “The U.S. is exporting its problem of violence to the streets of Toronto.”

It is interesting that this violence happens during a federal election campaign. Paul Martin, Canada’s Prime Minister, whose government has just been ousted in a non-confidence vote, recently declared that, if re-elected, his party will ban handguns. “What we saw yesterday is a stark reminder of the challenge that governments, police forces and communities face to ensure that Canadian cities do not descend into the kind of rampant gun violence we have seen elsewhere.” Of course the Liberal Party’s move is really meaningless. The verbiage of the proposal is as follows: “Banning handguns through an amendment to the criminal code that would invite provinces and territories to participate to make the ban national… Legitimate target shooters who meet requirements would be eligible for an exemption to the handgun ban.” Canada already has a ban on guns except for legitimate target shooters, security guards and ‘collectors’. In other words, this is empty, political verbiage and there would be no real change.

CNN, in an article about the Canadian reaction to this shooting quotes John Thompson, a security analyst with the Toronto-based Mackenzie Institute. He says “the number of guns smuggled from the United States is a problem, but that Canada has a gang problem — not a gun problem — and that Canada should stop pointing the finger at the United States. ‘It’s a cop out. It’s an easy way of looking at one symptom rather than addressing a whole disease.’” And that is exactly the case. Canadians have long felt a sense of superiority when contemplating violence south of the border. I think, though, that we have lost our innocence.

I find it interesting that Canadian politicians are blaming America for allowing guns to enter Canada. Yet ultimately it is a nation’s responsibility to keep out what it deems to be forbidden. Two days ago I crossed the border from the United States into Canada after spending a week in Atlanta. As I approached the Canada Customs kiosk at the border I am quite sure I saw the border guard put down a newspaper. She looked bored and more than a little grumpy. She said, “How long were you gone?” I replied, “One week.” She then said, “How much are you bringing back with you.” I told her “six hundred dollars.” She said, “You’re okay,” indicating that we were free to go. And we drove off. We answered two questions, showed no identification and did not undergo any type of inspection. Now don’t get me wrong: I know that the border guards cannot take the time to search every vehicle that passes from the United States in Canada. I also know that as a white male with two children and a pregnant wife I am probably considered fairly low risk for whatever it is they might try to intercept at the border. But two questions?

Following a previous visit to America we approached a border crossing late one night. The border guard was sitting with his feet propped up on a desk, leaning well back in a chair and reading a novel. As we approached the kiosk he slid the window open without putting down his book and said, “How long were you out.” I said, “Four days.” He said, “Value of the stuff” (by which I assume he meant “stuff” we had purchased or received as gifts). I said, “two hundred dollars.” He nodded and slid the window closed. I could have had my car stuffed from floor to ceiling with handguns!

Just yesterday my wife remarked that it seems the primary responsibility of a Canadian border guard has more to do with collecting revenue for goods purchased abroad than it is with stopping forbidden goods from entering the country. I wonder if that might just be the case.

Hal Lindsey (yes, that Hal Lindsey) wrote an article for WorldNetDaily where he imagines what Paul Martin might have said when he met with Condi Rice in October and brought his concern to her attention. “Madame Secretary, Canadians are breaking Canadian smuggling laws and we are powerless to prevent it. What does the United States propose to do to solve our border inspection problems?” And indeed, why should Canada blame the United States for something that is clearly our problem?

Lindsey hits the mark when he says, “The problem isn’t guns. It is people who are unwilling to admit responsibility for a problem. So instead of fixing the problem, they attack the symptom. Canada chose to assign responsibility for its social ills to an inanimate object. Failing in that effort, they are now trying to assign responsibility for their social ills to the United States.”

Guns are not the problem. It is the people that cause the problems. Casting blame is as old as evil itself. We need only look to the first book of the Bible to see evidence of this. “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” He blames her and she blames the snake. All the while they deny their own responsibility. And that is exactly what Canada’s politicians are doing. Rather than facing the true issues, issues of the heart of man, they consign the blame to something, anything else.

As a Canadian I am ashamed of the reaction of these politicians and even more ashamed that they would seek to leverage the tragic, senseless death of a young girl for political gain. Paul Martin and David Miller do not speak for me on this issue.

December 30, 2005

Friday December 30, 2005

Reviews: Suddenly Barna’s book Revolution is back in the news. Reformation21 is discussing it and Justin Taylor points to a review by Sam Storms. Chris Treat also reviews it.

Theology: Michael Haykin says that it is appropriate to laugh at Barna and his ecclesiological proposal.

Nature: Snopes confirms the truth of a story claiming that “a baby-hippopotamus that survived the tsumani waves on the Kenyan coast has formed a strong bond with a giant male century-old tortoise, in an animal facility in the port city of Mombasa.”

Entertainment: The New York Daily News lists the worst television shows of 2005. I am proud to say that I did not see any of them (with the exception of a very few moments of that awful Britney Spears one).

December 29, 2005

Today I am going to post the blogging equivalent of a “state of the nation” address. We’ll call it a “state of the domain.” I wrote this post earlier and realized that I had not been entirely honest and forthcoming, so have added information to it. I realize that this information (discussing readership, privilege and so on) may be confused with boasting or some other ignoble desire, but I assure you it is nothing of the sort. Because at the end of the article I ask for your help, I feel it is only fair if I provide full disclosure (or close to it). If you know me, you understand how hard it is to post an article of this nature. So let’s discuss the past, present and future of this site with a view towards increasing its impact on the Kingdom of God.

As you may already know, this blog began quite by accident. I first reserved the domain challies.com in 2002 in order to create a family site. And indeed, that is exactly what the site was for the first several months. I would post irregular photographic updates of my children in order to let my family see how they were growing up. At some point I became interested in recording some of my thoughts and subsequently wrote several articles primarily for my own benefit. I posted them online to allow my family to read them and was surprised to see Google pick them up and even more surprised to find other people reading and enjoying them. Over the next months I posted articles only very irregularly and at some point the site became a bona fide blog, though at the time I had never heard that term. In November of 2003, when readership was beginning to increase, I decided that I would commit to daily blogging and have done so since.

The reason I provide this background information is to show that I never had any real strategy to grow or promote the blog. I don’t know that I’ve ever done much to deliberately promote the site. I did not set out to become a blogger and certainly never would have considered that people would care to read what I write. The point is that this site has just sort of happened to me. I sometimes feel that I have just been along for the ride and that I am little more than a spectator.

In recent months I have had the opportunity to meet with several readers of this site. They have been able to provide a unique perspective on what I do well and what I do poorly with Challies Dot Com. A question people tend to ask is what I foresee for this site in the coming months or years. I have to answer that, quite honestly, I have not thought a lot about it. I most often take this site just one day at a time. Most often when I have attempted to do any type of forecasting the results have been less than encouraging (some day I’ll have to see just how many series I have begun and not finished). I do think ahead to future articles and postings but rarely truly plan ahead more than a few days. In some ways that is a good thing, as it allows for spontaneity, but in some ways that is a liability as it encourages me to do less research and planning than I otherwise might.

So what is Challies Dot Com now? I am not entirely sure. I suppose it is, in large part, my brain and sometimes my heart placed on display for all to see. I write what I think about, and what I think about is formed largely from my time spent with the Lord and my time immersed in good books. The primary emphasis of the site, as I see it, is discussing and interpreting contemporary Evangelicalism through what I hope is a discerning, biblical lens. And if that is, indeed, the emphasis, I would like to keep that intact as I feel the topic is worthy of such prominence.

Since mid-2004 the site has grown dramatically in terms of traffic and inbound links, the two most common measures of Internet success. While I keep the numbers private (I’m not entirely sure why), I can post a graph that plots the growth of the site over the past 12 months. As you will see, the site continues to grow almost every month. As something of an aside, the growth in traffic has led to a great increase in the amount of bandwidth the site consumes. As of next month I may need to once again increase my hosting plan in order to accommodate the increase.

traffic2006.gif

I make no money from the site other than a small amount from the Amazon affiliate program that is paid out in gift certificates (which I use to fund birthday presents for my American relatives). On the whole this does not bother me, though I occasionally consider adding some type of advertising to the site. I do, however, receive many tangible benefits: I get all the books I could ever hope to read (and, frankly, a lot which I would never want to read); I have been blessed with some wonderful gifts from readers of the site; I have become friends with people I would otherwise never had opportunity to meet; I receive encouraging emails from brothers and sisters from all over the globe; and I have been offered some wonderful opportunities, the most notable of which are live-blogging major conferences. Benefits that are less tangible but no less appreciated are: the prayer support of many believers; the privilege of introducing readers to new blogs through the A La Carte and King for a Week sections; and the responsibility of owning a popular web site.

That final benefit is an important one. As readership increases I feel a greater desire and responsibility to be a good steward. While it would be easy to see each visitor to the site as merely a “hit,” the fact is that each hit represents a person created in the image of God, who, like me, is most likely searching for answers and desiring to grow in faith.

All this has led me to wonder what the future of this site might be. I am ready, I feel, to invest more deliberate effort in the site. As I assume is obvious I already dedicate plenty of time to the site, but often the time does not necessarily correlate with effort. What I mean is that I am more ready to begin planning ahead and to dedicate effort to longer, more in-depth series. I am ready to serve the readership with articles that, having been more thoroughly researched and better-written, will be able to bless their hearts and minds. All the while I wish to ensure that the site maintains accessible to all believers, not just those with advanced knowledge of theology. And I would like to maintain the personal nature of the site, lest it become something less than a blog.

And so, as I gaze towards 2006, now only a few days off, I would like to ask for your input. I promise not to be offended and am honestly asking for honesty. If you know me, you know that I have any easier time dealing with criticism than praise! You can either post your feedback in the comments area or send me an email. While this site is and will remain my site (and I say that in as non-offensive a way as I can) I am eager to hear from readers what you feel is done well and what is done poorly. Here are some questions that my guide you (and do not feel that you need to answer any or all of them):

  • What do you feel the emphasis or emphases of this site are and should be?
  • Are there areas of the site that you feel merit more attention?
  • Are there areas that merit less attention?
  • Are there areas I should do away with altogether?
  • Should I increase or do away with the Community Blog?
  • Do you think I should consider video blogging or podcasting?
  • In short, what I can I do in 2006 and beyond to serve the church, to serve you, and ultimately to serve our Lord?

I look forward to your honest advice and input.

December 29, 2005

Thursday December 29, 2005

Family: Our journey home from Atlanta began at 4:58 AM yesterday morning and ended at 8:02 PM for a travel time of 15 hours and 4 minutes. Not too bad. We were thankful for your prayers, especially as we drove through some very heavy downpours.

Du Jour: Dan at RoofGuy posts his mother’s reflections on the death of her husband. “But through it all God has been so good, He has been faithful, He has been true, He has been loving.”

Technology: A major study shows that there are significant differences in the way men and women use the Internet. “Women are catching up to men in most measures of online life. Men like the internet for the experiences it offers, while women like it for the human connections it promotes.”

Sports: This Sunday Shaun Alexander will try to break the NFL record for most touchdowns in a season. I think I like his chances…

December 28, 2005

For the past week I have been basking in the warmth of the Atlanta sun. While I will grant that the Atlanta sun is only moderately warmer in December than the Toronto sun, it creates an atmosphere which is, at the very least, on the better side of the freezing mark. Just yesterday we enjoyed a tremendously nice day in which we hiked to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. This is the site of a Civil War battle which was fought on June 27, 1864. The battle pitted Union troops against the defensive positions the Rebels had dug into the Mountain. The American Battlefield Protection Program summarizes the battle as follows: “On the morning of June 27, [General Sherman] sent his troops forward after an artillery bombardment. At first, they made some headway overrunning Confederate pickets south of the Burnt Hickory Road, but attacking an enemy that was dug in was futile. The fighting ended by noon, and Sherman suffered high casualties.”

As we browsed the gift shop at the visitor’s center my son asked me some questions about the battle. As we talked I placed a reproduction of a Rebel soldier’s grey cap on his head. He immediately took it off and said just a little too loudly, “I don’t want to wear the bad guys’ hat!” I had to explain that people in Atlanta consider the grey guys the good ones. It was quite difficult to explain to my son a war in which there were no clear lines between the good guys and the bad! He ended up selecting some (blue) plastic soldiers to play with.

I do believe that hiking to the top of Kennesaw Mountain and watching Pride and Prejudice (see yesterday’s article) are the most significant things I’ve accomplished over the past several days (with the possible exception of meeting a few readers of this site - anyone else who cares to treat me to a coffee is certainly most welcome!).

One thing I have come to understand this week, as I’ve been nearly 1000 miles from home, is how closely blogging is tied into my routine. I found myself nearly unable to find time, energy or inclination to write throughout this week. There was a lot I wanted to say, but I had very little ability to actually say it.

At home, you see, I have a nice little routine. I wake up in the morning long before anyone else and spend some time reading the Bible and praying. I then post my daily “A La Carte” items and usually spend some time reading a book. At some point I begin writing and often spend an hour or so organizing my thoughts for the day. I may not finish writing but at least I have a good idea of what I would like to say and have done much of the necessary research. By the time the family begins to wander the house I have generally accomplished at least something. Yet here, in my parents’ house, I have been out of routine and have thus been able to accomplish very little. It has been a little bit frustrating but quite relaxing.

But this all ends, I trust, tomorrow. Today, and in fact at this very moment, I am heading home to Canada. I have a good fourteen or fifteen hours of driving ahead of me and will need to cover some 1500 kilometers before my day is through. If all goes well I hope to pull into my driveway at around 8:00 PM this evening.

So I’d ask that if you can spare a moment, please offer a prayer for travelling mercies. We have many miles of road to cover through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario. I enjoy driving and only rarely suffer from driving fatigue, but as always, it is the other drivers I fear more than myself!

December 28, 2005

Wednesday December 28, 2005

Sports: GetReligion has an article about Colts’ head coach Tony Dungy, a man of faith whose son took his life last week.

Technology: Amazon.com shipped over 108 million orders during the holiday season with 99% of them arriving on time. Incredible. Read the news release here.

Americana: Only in America will one visit a Mexican restaurant and find a bean-laden dish on the menu that is called “The Homewrecker.”

Not Humor: Going to church on New Year’s Eve will win one “lucky” worshipper a new house. How is that for a gimick to draw people in?