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By In Culture, Film

Fargo Movie Review: Lady Justice is Pregnant

A while ago I wrote a post about strong female characters in movies comparing Wonder Woman and Elastigirl. A reader of the Kuyperian blog, Anthony, responded and asked if I had seen Fargo. He suggested Margie as an interesting female character. So I watched the movie over Christmas break. Here are some of my thoughts on the movie in general and on the question of Margie as a strong female character.

Whenever I watch a Coen brothers’ film, I always feel like I am walking into the book of Judges. The world is a little tilted and the hero is always a surprise because he or she is never who you thought it was going to be. Fargo is like this in many ways. The story starts with a strange and dark premise that is also a bit humorous: a man wants two thugs to kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom so he can extort money out of his wealthy father-in-law who will pay the ransom.

This setup presents the sharp reality that even a family man can embrace terrible darkness. But the humor of this beginning also suggests the deeper justice at work in the story. While evil is a dreadful force to be reckoned with in the world, it is never out of control. There is always a deeper truth at work which is controlling everything so that even the darkness serves the purpose of the comical ending.

On the technical side of things, the Coen brothers are masters of creating a specific region. As I watched the movie, I thought of a comment from Flannery O’Conner: “Art requires a delicate adjustment of the outer and inner worlds in such a way that, without changing their nature, they can be seen through each other. To know oneself is to know one’s region” (The Fiction Writer and His Country). The Coens ensure that the location of the story, dark, cold North Dakota, becomes a character in the story. The cold biting edge of the world is inside most characters in the story. It is only Margie and her husband Norm who do not give into this cold world. They share a joy and love that pushes back against the cold.

Into this dense setting, the Coens place characters who are equally thick. No one is extra. Even small side characters, like the old friend from high school, are full real characters. This also grounds the story in a deep reality.

Before moving onto the meaning of the story, I do have to acknowledge one huge flaw in the storytelling abilities of the Coens: the two sex scenes. It is really too bad that such a rich story with such rich characters falls into this kind of cartoony story telling. A sure sign that a story teller has fallen asleep at the wheel is a sex scene. It takes no brains or talent to pull one off. The reality is that the movie would have been a far better story if the Coens had left these things as suggested actions off stage. If they had done that, it would indicate that they trust their audience to put the pieces together and it would also add greater depth to the story. I am not against a character going to a prostitute; I am against a director trying to use sex to sell his story. If he wants to do that, he should go join the porn industry.

Now to the meaning of the story.

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By In Culture, Film, Interviews, Politics, Theology, Worship

Top Ten KC Posts for 2017

Here is a list of the most popular articles from Kuyperian Commentary in 2017.

We will begin with a few honorable mentions that we thought were important to our vision.

In June, there was a broad discussion on how to teach Christian Worldview that Dustin Messer was part of. He wrote A Few Cheers for Worldview Education interacting with a number of bloggers on the issue and in particular Rod Dreher’s critique. There were two posts in this series with Dustin defending the purpose and goal of worldview discussions. Here is the second part which lists out several of the key bloggers in the discussion.

A second honorable mention goes to David Koyzis. He joined the Kuyperian team this year and he had a series in August on Abraham Kuyper and Pluralism: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and  Part 4. In these pieces, he sketches the pluralism we find in our world and suggests a way forward by looking at how Kuyper would view this issue.

Now to the countdown:

10 Uri Brito, our founder, wrote a post titled 10 Ways to Keep Easter this Easter Season. Lots of good practical ideas here for that season of the year.

9 Steve Macias wrote a post about The Prayer of Humble Access. This is a discussion on one of the prayers for communion that is found in the Book of Common Prayer.

8 Steve had another popular post on The Unlikely Ascension of Jesus. This article unpacks the significance of this moment in Jesus’ life and how the message of the gospel is that Jesus is seated as king right now.

7 Steve also took a swing at Feminism arguing that it is a Self-Defeating Movement. Feminists have sought to throw off submission to particular men and have looked to the state to give them this freedom. The result is that they now find themselves in subjection to “The Man”.

6 Dustin Messer wrote a piece connecting the Disney musical from this year and Revelation: Beauty and the Mark of the Beast. In this piece, he argues that the movie emphasizes the importance of waiting on redemption just as the Beast lets Belle go even though she is his last hope.

5 Uri was back with a post on Musical Segregation. In this post, he makes the claim: “Churches that segregate musically are bound to segregate corporately.”

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By In Culture, Theology, Wisdom

For the Sake of the Church, Don’t use Transgender Pronouns

The Gospel Coalition published an article last week by Stephen West titled “Speaking the Truth in Love: Can Christians use Gender-Neutral Pronouns?” This article was appalling in a number of ways.

Stephen West is wrong on this issue primarily because he fails to see the bigger issues involved. He takes such a narrow view that he seems to think this issue is merely an academic discussion about the placement of a grain of sand: should it go here or over there? Meanwhile a tsunami is heading our way. This discussion is not primarily about loving people who suffer from transgender dysphoria. This is about the reality of the world and how our culture is trying to reject that basic reality. California already has a law on the books forcing doctors and nurses to refer to patients by their “preferred” pronouns. The law says it is illegal to “willfully and repeatedly fail to use a resident’s preferred name or pronouns after being clearly informed of the preferred name or pronouns.” If this isn’t a law straight out of 1984, then I am not sure what is.

West says he is aware of this larger cultural issue: “I certainly do not believe that Christians—or anyone else—should be coerced into using gender-neutral pronouns. I think that we are seeing an abuse of power by people who support an extreme left-wing ideology. Christians need to speak up and take a stand for biblical morality, God’s design in creation, freedom in society, and the danger of Orwellian thought-police using human rights’ tribunals to force people to use invented words.”

But then West fails to realize that the very advice he gives is setting things up so that the “left-wing ideology” can “force people to use invented words”. He seems to think that we can maintain these basic freedoms by freely agreeing to use these invented words. How is that not being controlled by these people? He is suggesting that we don’t have to be coerced to use these words, we will do it gladly ourselves. The title of his article should actually be: “How to use the pronouns the thought-police want us to use.”

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By In Books, Culture

The Not So Clean Sea Breeze of the Centuries

There is a glorious reformation happening right now in education called Classical and Christian Education. As a teacher in a Classical and Christian school, I am thankful to be a part of this important work. But at the same time, I see temptations that the movement is prone to. One of those dangers is what I would call reverse chronological snobbery. C.S. Lewis (whom I will talk about in a moment) coined the term chronological snobbery and he used it to talk about the fallacious argument which claims that something from an earlier time (e.g. philosophy, literature, etc) is inherently worse than that of the present, simply because it is from the past. There is also an inverse version of this fallacy (some would call it by the same name) which would claim that something from the past (e.g. philosophy, literature, etc) is inherently better than that of the present, simple because it is from the past. Both claims are incredibly dangerous but it is this second error that is particularly tempting to Classical and Christian schools. This error is tempting because the movement has purposefully shifted its gaze back to the past and is trying to bring the best of the past forward. The difficulty lies then in recovering the best of the past without bringing the worst along with it.

In a wonderful essay by C.S. Lewis “On Reading Old Books,” he argues that we need to read old books because they can help us correct mistakes in the thinking of the modern era. We can see things more clearly in older thinkers because they are further away from us. One of the difficulties of our age is that we live in it. It is like we are standing in a forest and trying to see which parts of the forest are good and which parts are dead and dying. Inside the forest, we can see individual trees but it is almost impossible to see large sections of the forest. But if we were out of the forest and looking at it from a distance, it becomes much easier. Distance gives us perspective.

At one point in the essay, Lewis offers a poetic argument for reading these old works: “The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”[1] This is a wonderful and persuasive image that he employs but it is incredibly easy to overemphasize the palliative nature of these old works. The sea breeze of the centuries is not always so clean.

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By In Culture, Film, Theology

Wonder Woman vs Elastigirl: What is the Ideal Female Superhero?

In a recent interview, director James Cameron criticized the movie Wonder Woman as hindering the conversation about what a female main character should be like. He accused the movie of taking a step backward. He suggested that all the praise for the movie was just “self-congratulatory back-patting” because the movie had both a female lead and a female director. People were so tied up in the genders of the people behind the story that they didn’t really give much thought to the story itself.

But while Cameron might have brought up a possible problem with the hype around the movie, he didn’t have much to offer when the interviewer asked, “So then why are movies still so bad when it comes to depicting truly powerful women?” Cameron’s response was telling: “I don’t know.” He tried to point to his own work, Sarah Connor from the Terminator series, as an example of a strong woman: “She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit.” In Cameron’s eyes, Diana—Wonder Woman—didn’t have any of those qualities and so fell far short of this bar.

While I take issue with Cameron’s ideas (and his suggestion about Sarah Connor), I think this interview provokes important questions about what the ideal female superhero is. Does she have to be a troubled, terrible mother? Or can she be a noble and virtuous goddess? Also, what is the place of weakness in a female superhero?

Alastair Roberts has argued that we should jettison the “strong female character” and instead look to the multiple examples of women in the Bible and how they impacted the world. Roberts writes:

“The dawn of the great new movements of God repeatedly occurs in women’s spaces. The choice of Jacob over Esau occurs in Rebekah’s womb and Rebekah is the one who ensures that God’s choice is honoured. The births of the twelve children of Jacob—who would become the twelve tribes of Israel—are narrated in terms of God’s dealings with and remembering of the wives of Jacob. The story of the Exodus begins with the heroism of women in bearing and rescuing Moses and other Hebrew boys.”

Roberts is onto something important here. God begins new movements in places where women dominate, like birth and childbearing. This is something that Christians seem to have a hard time catching on to. If nothing else, we should be telling more stories that imitate God’s story. And it would also be great to see more movies doing that as well. A few good examples come to mind: Children of Men (2006) and Arrival (2016). Childbirth plays a central focus in these films which were both very successful.

But is childbirth the only female dominated space? Surely that is not the only feminine setting or quality to focus on, is it?

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By In Books, Culture, Theology

The Benedict Onion

Don’t get me wrong. I love onions. You can ask my wife. So when I suggest that the Benedict Option is really just an onion I am not saying that it was a terrible book. I am saying that I like it a lot. But I came away from the book wondering: where are the meat and potatoes?

I think Dreher is on to a lot of really good stuff in this book. For example, his call to leave the public school system is wonderful. Yes, Christians should get out and get out fast. I also like how he gets the big issues (Homosexual marriage, the LGBT agenda, etc) and he presses his readers to see how society has turned against Christians. We are in a war and if you don’t see the red dot aimed at you then you need to look in the mirror more often.

Society has run so far from the truth that even little daily things that I do are now extremely counter-cultural. For example, my four year old daughter will tell me that I can’t wear dresses because I am a man. And I say yes, that is correct. She says women wear dresses and I say yes, good. Such simple truth that is apparently so radical. Gosh, I feel edgy. Or another example is all the godly Christian wedding ceremonies that are happening in our country. Each one is a fire shot at larger society. Each one is a bold statement that we do not agree with the intoleristas and that we will resist their confusion tooth and nail.

These kinds of black and white issues offer great clarity to Christians. Just yesterday I saw a Christian on Twitter explain why he is sending his young daughter to a public school: he wants her to experience racial diversity. What a lame reason to send a child into a lion’s den. If you are sending your child to a public school for the reason of diversity then you are inviting the gender bender bologna in and you are part of the problem.

Dreher is good at explaining and warning about the problems. His book is solid on that.

The area where he is weak is his solution, which we have to admit is everything. If you can see a problem but you don’t have a real solution then you aren’t really helping much. It’s like a doctor that tells us that we have a brain tumor and then he writes us a prescription for some vitamins.

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By In Podcast, Pro-Life

Episode 11: Abortion, Courage and Blood Money

In this episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Jesse Sumpter interviews Pastor Toby Sumpter to discuss the Christian’s responsibility on the abortion issue. Pastor Sumpter believes, “We need to pass laws outlawing abortion in our states and then we need to refuse to show up in federal court.”

In June of 2017, Pastor Sumpter penned an article entitled, “Courage & Blood Money: A Proposal toward the Abolition of Abortion” for his blog on Crosspolitic. In this cutting blog post, he criticizes Christians for failing to demonstrate the courage to challenge the federal government on abortion.

“What would happen if the Feds started sniffing around the Colorado or Washington State marijuana laws?” asks Pastor Sumpter. “Or what about states that have declared that they will not enforce illegal immigrant laws? I’m pretty sure the states wouldn’t give the Feds the time of day.”

The Idaho pastor notes that current efforts to make progress against abortion are often undermined by the cowardice of American Christians. “We think we need to be nice — but that is not a fruit of the Spirit,” said Sumpter. “We need to be patient, to be kind… but what we need to recognize is that there are more options and tools at hand.”

Another significant obstacle for states like Idaho is the amount of federal funding that the state depends on each year. A legal breech between the state and federal government could jeopardize the billions of dollars the federal government gives to the state. According to Pastor Sumpter, “the feds are paying us to murder 1300 to 1400 babies every year in the state of Idaho… they are bribing us to murder our children. We ought to say ‘no’ and that we won’t sacrifice the life one child for all the money in the world.”

Toby J. Sumpter serves as a minister at Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho and is the author of the commentary Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory and Blood-Bought World. He is married to Jenny and they have four children.

Podcast music and editing by George Reed.

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