Jesus Is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 3)

Read Part One Here.

Read Part Two Here.

 

Part III: Jesus was offensive in his teachings

 

If your message isn’t different than an atheist’s, it isn’t the Gospel 

The first time I heard Matthew 25:31-46 I found it offensive. Jesus speaks of treating the hungry, the prisoner and the stranger as if they were literally Jesus himself. By calling them “brothers” it sounds like he means outcasts who are Christians. Regardless of what he means, we know from the rest of Scripture that Christians are mandated to help the poor whether they are believers or not.

These days, while I believe the Church still has a huge responsibility to teach this and similar passages, it is not offensive to my ears. It has been taught so often and so passionately in my circles, and my church is so intentional about it, that the zing of it is gone. And while I could always do more to practice this passage, it has been a source for several articles I’ve written for REO, which you can read here, here and here. (I add that because our culture is so honed in on this teaching, often wielding it imprudently as a political statement[1. There is no question Christians should practice it but to what extent the government uses it as a policy guide it isn’t close to clear in my mind] that its offense has been greatly diminished on a broad scale. Even nominal Christians who do nothing for the poor likely aren’t offended by the suggestion.)

Additionally, the idea of “helping the poor” is something atheists can agree within a vacuum. So there are many other passages Jesus taught that are far more inherently offensive. If we are to understand Jesus as offensive, I want to focus particularly on things that will offend all people to some extent.


Christians, Family and Hate 

One of the most obvious to my mind is that Jesus taught that we are to “hate” our family if we are to follow him. Correctly, preachers and teachers for millennia have taught that Jesus did not mean this literally, as that would contradict a bevy of other Scriptures on loving your family. But what he did through the use of hyperbole is make it clear that if love your family more than you love him you are not his disciple. Is that offensive? It is to me, and essentially everyone in every culture of the world I would guess. In fact, I have a friend from China who left his family to come to the US to study to be a pastor and his family thinks he hates them because he chose Christ over them. That is how he filters this passage.

Another similar one is when Jesus taught to not invite your friends and family over to your house for dinner but to invite the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind. This to me is offensive because it is on a different level than “help the poor”. It’s one thing to go serve at the Pacific Garden Mission occasionally on a Saturday. It’s another to have those who are shunned by society sit at your dinner table as equals. That passage is in our Bibles and it doesn’t seem to be confusing in its interpretation or application. Yet a tiny minority practice it regularly in the U.S. I would guess. Because it is utterly offensive. 


Jesus Didn’t Always Aim for “Church Growth”

Perhaps the most obvious example in the Gospels of Jesus offending the masses is in John 6. After miraculously feeding the 5,000 Jesus later teaches them that they must believe him to be his disciple. They ask for a sign like the manna for their ancestors in Exodus. Jesus, as the master teacher, turns their words into a brilliant (if disturbing) illustration: to believe in him you must consider him the bread of life and in a figurative sense eat his flesh and drink his blood. The offense is not foundationally in the grotesque imagery, though it is that to any non-savage culture. It is offensive because as he did in Luke 14:25-35 above, he is demanding complete association with him to be his disciple.

And how do they respond? Most of this free lunch crowd confesses it is too hard a teaching and they walked out. I am not advocating modern churches practicing this often (nor am I saying not to), but what if we were willing to preach a Jesus or Jesus teaching so offensive, that the majority of our Sunday morning crowd decides they can’t accept it and do not come back? Even if we do not scare people off, at minimum people in the seats need to know that Jesus is offensive enough to accomplish that kind of mass rejection.

The point could be belabored because in nearly 100 chapters in our Gospels, Jesus offends people over and over and over by what he teaches: The rich young ruler walks away sad, unwilling to part with his wealth…the lawyer tries to justify himself and gets put to shame…Jesus claims Gentiles are important so a crowd prepares to stone him…Jesus fastens a whip out of cords and violently drives moneychanger out of the temple, rebuking them for making his house of prayer for all nations into a den of thieves…Jesus regularly preaches on Hell and final judgment for those who reject him…and on and on. Jesus was a compassionate man to those who were hurting and humble (and even then he wasn’t always, as we saw in the last article). But you cannot escape how often he caused people to feel anger, shame and conviction when he taught. It is no wonder that Peter and Paul both interpreted Isaiah to mean that Jesus was a rock of offense, causing people to stumble. 


Offensive Can Be Good 

One connotation issue in American English is that our word “good” seems often to be associated with things that are pleasant, nice or agreeable. These are not synonyms for good in a biblical sense. If I work too much and God needs to slow me down, he could cause me to become violently ill. And that would be good, even if not nice or pleasant. Similarly, in a few weeks my wife is going to give birth. My understanding is that event will be painful and undignified and the opposite of agreeable or delightful. But will it be good? According to many fathers I talk to, it will be the best.

That is how we need to process Jesus and his teachings. Offensive seems bad, and not good, if we have poor definitions. Jesus’ hard teachings are good as only God’s goodness can be. But they are not easy to accept. They will knock us to our knees, cause us to weep with conviction and make us feel deep shame if we let them. Jesus makes no sense to an unbroken, self-sufficient people. That is the heart of offense and that is what Jesus does.

May we stop trying to portray him otherwise.

 

 




Five Reasons to Meditate On Andrew Peterson’s “Labor Of Love” This Christmas

We at REO join a mighty throng of Christians throughout the ages in celebrating the enormous catalog of worship-inspiring Christmas music we have in English, often highlighted by timeless beloved favorites like “O Holy Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” We have done polls on our site on this topic and have written about modern additions like “Mary Did You Know?”

Today we celebrate a very recent yet worthy song that has captivated a significant number of Christians for years, Andrew Peterson’s “Labor of Love”. From the very first phrase, this song undermines one of the most popular Christmas song titles of all time and sets a tone that is completely perpendicular to most of our favorite carols and church hymns this time of year. By doing so it does the modern church a huge favor in not allowing us to get too comfortable with the story of Jesus, but instead, by pushing back against some popular conceptions, it forces us to think about the truth, however uncomfortable it may be.

We highly recommend the entire concert and you can read Phill’s short review of it here. It is a true Bucket List type of experience for Christians. Today we give five reasons why this contribution to that concert is so special to us and why we recommend meditating on it this Christmas season (and beyond).


1. Great songs are worth celebrating, and this is a great song

Before we dive into the implications of what the song teaches us, we would be doing it a disservice to not talk about the song itself. I am not a musician. I do not pretend to understand all that goes into creating a song like this, but I do know when I am hearing something beautiful and unique. The first time I listened to Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God”, this was the song that captured my attention. I appreciated the rest of the album and eventually fell in love with all of it, but from the beginning, I loved “Labor of Love.” It was so different from any Christmas song I had heard.

The song is deeply authentic – Jill Phillips sings with a passion that seems to channel the very emotions Mary felt that night. While other songs on the album go big with grand arrangements and productions, Peterson wisely opts to scale this song back to the basics – acoustic guitar, gentle piano, subtle rhythm section, and beautiful harmonies. It is not flashy. It is grounded and simple – which effectively complements the lyrics. This is, after all, a peek into a very human moment – the birth of a child. It is not about grandeur and glory. It is about a girl, who is away from her home, giving birth to her first baby. The only moment the song gives itself a little room to go big is when the lyrics focus on the Christ-child. It is a wonderfully constructed song, with every element working in tandem. Before you focus on what the song says, take some time to focus on how it says it.


2. It Creatively Helps Our Imagination With Details of That Night

Do we know for sure if Mary’s mother was there or not to hold her hand? No, but there is nothing wrong with using our imaginations to picture what happened that night. The image of Joseph holding her and praying while she is going through what was certainly the most traumatic event of her young life is a touching lyric.

Many details of that night are not for us to know, at least through Scripture. But we can imagine them and I think that is a good thing, especially through our art.


3. It cuts through the serene Christmas night imagery to communicate the harsh yet beautiful truth about the night Christ was born.

Let’s be clear, our lives in 2018 are completely foreign to what Mary and Joseph experienced in first century Palestine. If you are reading these words right now, you have access to the internet, which means you probably have air conditioning, running water, and all sorts of other amazing technological and societal advancements. Their day-to-day lives would look impossibly hard to us. Yet that in no way should diminish what they went through leading up to the birth of Christ. The journey itself – over 90 miles. The lack of a place to stay – no room in the inn. Going into labor and giving birth in a foreign place. Regardless of what their lives were like back then, what they went through that not was uncommon, even for people of that time.

All those things are captured so effortlessly in this beautiful song. “It was not a silent night.” It was difficult. It was uncomfortable. It was beautiful and wondrous and sacred. In a season justifiably filled with light, joy, and hope, it’s good to be reminded that the event that is at the root of all it, was bloody, lonely, and very human.


4. It is an appropriate yet sobering testimony of Mary and Joseph

Mary and Joseph do not need to be exalted as their child was, but they do need to be celebrated as significant players in God’s plan of redemption in history. We need to tell the world of their integrity and sacrifice. Those things can be messy in real life. For the plan to work how God intended, some young woman had to give birth, an undignified even if glorious experience, and suffer the pain it brings. Some man had to be the one who supported his wife even though the baby wasn’t biologically his. And this song reflects what Matthew 1 and Luke 1-2 tell us about these two incredible servants of our God.

It is a song of worship and praise of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But we would be remiss if we didn’t see it as a significant way to see it through Mary’s eyes and ears. The title alone tells us that.


5. It magnificently contrasts Christ the Sovereign God with Christ the Helpless Baby.

This is a crucial aspect of our theology and this song nails it:

For the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

He was 100% God—He created the world and everything in it and had the authority to move mountains, and to give that authority to us by faith; He was 100% Man—He existed as a flesh and blood baby, supernaturally conceived yet very naturally carried and born. Amazing. That should never become something we fail to contemplate with awe. “Immanuel” is very much a Christmas name. God was with us, in humble baby form.


“Labor of Love” is a beautiful and genuine statement of faith and love in action. The focus shines on the role Mary and Joseph played in the story of redemption but wisely, and masterfully, ends with that focus shifting to the very source of our redemption – “the Author of the faith” that was in Mary’s womb. In a perfect world, “Labor of Love” would be a Christmas classic loved by believers everywhere.

 

 




Jesus Is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 2)

Read Part One Here.

 

Part II: Jesus was offensive in his language

 

I am thankful that some modern Christian leaders wisely advocate for graceful speech to others on social media (and off social media for that matter) when we disagree. Especially about politics. I myself have done so for REO, even linking an article by Tim Keller that helps deal with polemics in a mature and nuanced way.

So I want to be clear that, generally speaking, I think name-calling and demeaning language are not things Christians should practice. Quite often I would say they are sin since we are mandated by God to speak gracefully and to consider others more important than ourselves.


Sticks and Stones

Yet, when we read the Gospels, we discover that Jesus had zero issue calling people insulting names and being harsh in his speech in general. This, as much as anything, is proof that the real Jesus—and not the Politically Correct, Flannelgraph, Buddy-of-Sinners American Jesus—can be quite offensive to our ears and sensibilities.

One of the most obvious examples is how he referred to the hypocritical Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs” and children of Satan. That is pretty debasing language. But I’d like to spend more time in this article on other examples of this type of behavior from Jesus because one thing even the “Just Love Don’t Judge” crowd has no trouble recognizing is that Jesus was harsh to the Pharisees. The high and mighty religious crowd is the obvious exception. Often the Inoffensive Jesus advocates see the modern parallel for the Pharisees as Christians who preach even the judgmental portions of the Bible.

This is erroneous thinking. And even if it weren’t, Jesus’ scathing words to the Pharisees don’t begin to cover it when it comes to ways Jesus talked to people that can shock modern ears. A few others that are significant to me:

“At that time some Pharisees said to him, ‘Herod Antipas wants to kill you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow…'”

‘Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. ‘Get away from me, Satan!‘ he said.” 

Then Jesus said to the [Gentile] woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel…It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.’”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”

“Then Jesus replied, ‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!‘ (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)”

None of the people on the receiving end of these insults could be described as the “religious crowd,” at least not in the typical New Testament Pharisaical sense. You have a follower who abandoned Christ and (I believe) ended up in Hell, a follower who remained faithful to death, a woman who was a complete stranger and foreigner and just needed help, a general crowd of people including his apostles, and a Gentile ruler. In each case, Jesus is not graceful with his speech, but downright rude at best and vicious at worst. If Jesus is our example, this really turns the “Love Thy Neighbor No Exceptions” T-shirt on its head.


Trying to Rationalize It

Now I know in the case of the Syrophoenician woman, that a rejoinder is that Jesus did end up helping her and perhaps came across as curt and even racist to make a point to her to be persistent. Yet can you imagine, in that case, or any of the above, a modern comparison? Christians calling our governmental leaders and former leaders names is extremely common on social media. But if I seriously called one of my church staff “Satan” in one of our meetings, I would be confronted for being a jerk. Even worse (and this is incomprehensible), if a woman of another ethnicity came to my church and asked for help and I used a slur about her people as I at first refused to help, I’d get fired. Even if I did help her eventually.

Let me again be clear that I do not think people reacting by confronting or firing me in those cases would be wrong. This is really what I’m getting at: Jesus was, and is, offensive in ways that we should not be. At least not normally. And while we do not always mimic him, we do accurately portray him. And that is what I fear that American Christianity fails to do quite often. When we make Jesus the nonjudgmental guy who only showed compassion, we misrepresent him. And that is a frightening thing to do.


As far as it depends on you

If you read Paul, he can seem to contradict himself at times. As in Galatians 1 when he said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Contrast that with 1 Corinthians 9 when he says, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” How is this reconciled? 

Well, I think in large part the two passages are explaining two things. In one Paul is talking about preaching the Gospel. In the latter. he is talking about how he lives before lost people. That is a huge difference and it can be applied in 2018 this way: People absolutely should be offended by my Christianity. But they should be offended by Jesus, NOT by my behavior, attitude and even the way I talk[2. Both Peter and Paul advocated being respectful and gentle when sharing our hope or correcting opponents and Paul instructed to live as peace with others as far as “it depends on you”.]. I aim to remove every obstacle to the Gospel I can (especially cultural ones) but I cannot remove Jesus. And as Jesus himself noted over and over and over, HE is the offense. That is why people will hate us.

Now, Paul did refer to false teachers as “dogs” so I cannot say for sure that insulting language is always wrong[2. False teachers, in my opinion, are a special case of people who merit far less compassion and patience, biblically speaking, than other lost people but that is an essay for another day.]. But I can say for sure that generally speaking, people should not be offended by me. And equally as important–they should be offended by Jesus. It is the height of lamentable irony that we want to make Jesus inoffensive when he himself assured us that he is the worst offense there is. The kind that produces hate. I absolutely love my neighbor as myself, per Jesus’s command. But if I expect that to mean I will get along in perfect harmony with lost people, then I do not understand Jesus at all. He said himself that he came to bring a sword and divide people. It’s his name, his message, that people hate.

So do I speak the way Jesus spoke? Not necessarily. But do I preach him and his words—pure, unedited and without shame? Absolutely. It doesn’t make a nice T-shirt. Because you can’t be offensive and nice at the same time.

 

 

 




Jesus is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 1)  

You’ve probably seen this T-shirt floating around social media:

Let me be absolutely clear that, without further context, I agree with it. When it’s time to shovel my neighbors’ snow, I should not for one second allow their religions or sexuality determine whether I serve them. Or when I’m at Aldi and the person behind me has two things to buy while I have a cartful, these things don’t matter for me to allow them to go ahead of me.

But if you dive deeper behind much of American culture, even in the Christian subculture, my fear is that we limit what “love your neighbor” is to things that are as above, completely non-offensive and by most measures the opposite of offensive in that they are welcoming.

Further, the life and work of Jesus Christ is at the core of this thought. Because, after all, Jesus was a “friend of sinners,” right? Well, the truth isn’t nearly that simple. It typically is not.


Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)

To be completely straightforward, my aim in this series of essays is not to blaze a new trail on the topic. Encouragingly, I have heard sermons and read internet articles that try to push back against the Inoffensive Jesus. My goal here to help with that. Based on the temperature of American Christianity, we are not going to lack for correction on this topic. We are a nation that thrives on offense being the worst thing in the world. Think just for a second about terms that have been added to our vernacular that seemingly crept in overnight but now are everywhere (especially social media): triggered, safe space, snowflake. 

I’m guessing that some people associate those terms with political views. That is not my desire here. My point is simply that the culture at large has begun to qualify with its vocabulary how much we loathe being offended. This is prevalent in the church also, where people seem content with coming just to big gatherings on Sunday and never getting deeper into the community (as is modeled for us in Acts 2), all for fear of being known and judged.


Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? (John 6:61) 

I acknowledge that much offense, like racism, is terrible and in that sense needs to be battled. But in Christianity, offense is at the heart of our message. That cannot be changed. When people say Jesus was a friend of sinners I do not think they always represent that correctly.

There is work behind interpreting and applying the Bible and my efforts in understanding the passages that use that phrase do not leave me with a sense of “Jesus went out and showed great compassion to the disenfranchised tax collectors, refused to judge them and just loved on them.” No, I do not get that impression at all, even though that is often how I feel people want it to be applied.

Instead, in Matthew 9 we find Jesus calling Matthew to come follow him. We know when Jesus called people, he was as offensive as could be. He told them to forsake their families and to die to themselves. And just a few chapters prior Jesus demanded repentance from those who wanted to follow him. When people accused Jesus of hanging with the bad crowd, Jesus replied that he came to call those who were humble enough to need a doctor. How absurd would it be to imagine a doctor with a cure for a major disease partying with his patients and never telling them what is wrong with them or how to fix it? (I also hasten to add that I have at times heard people claim Jesus was only offensive to “religious” people, but that is nowhere close to the truth and I will deal with that myth in later essays.)

Jesus wasn’t Matthew’s drinking buddy. Nor was he merely “hanging out” with his friends and loving them in innocuous ways. I have zero doubt Jesus spent time with these people to preach to them. Since the core of the Christian life is a relationship (as seen by the Trinity), he didn’t just preach. He communed with them. How many of them were saved? I do not know. But I have no doubt Jesus didn’t commune with sinners without offending them.


And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me. (Matthew 11:6)

Jesus is far less offensive to the humble than to the proud. And the issue with the T-shirt above could be that I know that many of those neighbors that I am supposed to love by shoveling snow see zero need of Jesus in their life. At some point, they need to be offended by the truth of Jesus Christ. Isn’t this the most loving thing to do?

Jesus is the greatest proof that loving and offending can overlap. If my child needs a shot from the doctor, is it loving to prevent it because it hurts?  If the building I’m in is on fire and there is only one door to escape from certain death, is it offensive to try to tell people other ways out are wrong?  That’s a little simplistic but the point is true in Christianity, which claims quite offensively to be the only way to salvation.

So buckle up, REO readers. This year for Christmas we want to encourage you to block out all of the cultural noise and false “no offense” prophets and see Jesus for who he truly is. Because the truth is that he can be terrifying at times, and difficult to accept. Since he is by nature God, even clothed in humanity, we should expect him to be.

Part 2 coming next week.

 

 




An Indefinitive Ranking of the Rocky Movies (Part 2)

Read Part One here.  Let’s dive right in with the rest of the list…

 

4. Rocky II (1979)

I was one year old when this was released and part of me hates it that I didn’t get to experience the hype of knowing this movie was coming after what a rousing success the original was.

Regardless, it’s hard to imagine that throngs of people walked out of the theater 39 years ago disappointed in what they saw. No, it doesn’t surpass the original. But it compliments the original in a way the other movies didn’t: by perfectly maintaining the Rocky persona from the first one and by showing us how Rocky and Adrian grew together and established a foundation for their exceptional marriage. (Rocky proposing at the zoo after Gazzo’s driver talked smack to him about it in the first one is a wonderful touch. I”ll never be able to say enough about how extraordinary a writer Stallone was in the big arcs and in the details and nuances.)

Before the last two movies were made, Rocky fans could pretty well be divided into two groups. While everyone hated 5, there were those who preferred 1 and 2 and those who preferred 3 and 4. There really is a stark transformation between the two pairs of movies. In the latter two, Rocky became (to quote Mick in III) “civilized”; Adrian became outspoken. Before that, you had two meek people in very meek circumstances. In Part 2 they are figuring each other out as newlyweds in the midst of the normal array of trials that life throws at you. From financial issues, to getting laid off, to pregnancy scares, we get to see the Balboas as real characters. We all can relate to something that happens in the first two acts of this film. To me the strength of the first two movies is the character building and then they used the rest of the series to take chances with character changes and with plot direction.

And not to be overlooked is that Mick’s best moment to me in the series is the speech he gives Rocky in the chapel when Rocky is consumed by Adrian’s hospitalization. The way he affirms him in his unique Mick way is special, and it is this speech that Rocky goes back to in V when he’s on the ground while fighting Tommy. Then we get the Adrian “Win” quote and it feels like the fight is just a footnote after the rollercoaster of emotion this movie takes us on.

But the fight is spectacular and emotionally consuming. That cannot be overstated. I have almost never seen any of my brothers cry, but I know of one of them who tears up pretty good at the end of this movie.

 

Favorite Quotes:

The truth? I seen you beat that man like I ain’t never seen no man get beat before. And the man kept coming after you. Now we don’t need that kind of man in our lives.
–Tony, trying to talk Apollo out of the rematch

You know I was wondering, what do you think you’re doing the next 40 or 50 years?
–Rocky, proposing to Adrian

“I just wanna say one thing…Yo Adrian, I did it!” 
–Rocky


3. Creed (2015)

There is no doubt that even though this isn’t Stallone’s brainchild this is a Rocky movie and continues the story. Just with a necessary new focus.

And what a Rocky chapter it turned out to be. I was pumped about this movie but as I’ve heard mega fans of different franchises express numerous times in anticipation of sequels, prequels, reboots and the like, I was extremely cautious. This could’ve been a disaster. It was the opposite. I give Coogler all the credit in the world for bringing this franchise into the modern era in a way that 69-year old Stallone knew he could not, but doing it without losing what made the Rocky story so special. Explicit and obscure references to the prior films are all over the script and scenery (including “Gonna Fly Now” and chasing the chicken). Even the heart of Philly is at the story’s core.

My favorite thing about this movie is the balance of screen time between Rocky and Adonis. Neither upstages the other and that is exactly how it should be. Rocky is the star of these films. Stallone created this timeless, inspirational world centered around the greatest character of all time. But Donnie is getting the torch passed to him in a fascinating story about Apollo’s illegitimate child figuring out who he is as a fighter and as a person. Michael B. Jordan is a sensational actor, whom I gush about quite often. Either man dominating the fore would have made for a lesser movie. They are in tandem, not in competition.

Their chemistry lights up the big screen. The moment where Donnie shows up to Rocky’s restaurant and knows things about him and Apollo is one of those awesome entertainment moments where the first time I watched I stopped breathing I was so captivated. The theater could have been on fire and I would have not noticed. The contrast in Adonis as the young, modern, west coast professional and Rocky as the middle-class inner-city old man (highlighted by Adonis explaining to a bewildered Rocky that his workout regime was in the “Cloud”) is hilarious. And they’re becoming fast family and showing the world exactly what synergy is does my Rocky fan heart good. There is nothing they could have done to make this film more relevant to past and current generations. Coogler built a beautiful bridge with this work.

Lastly I add that in a game vs. Portland in 1992 (the year he retired) Larry Bird went off on National TV for 49 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists in 54 minutes and on 19-35 shooting, including a clutch, off-balance three that sent the game into overtime. While playing on a destroyed back, a bum thigh and a messed up Achilles. THAT was Stallone in this movie. In the twilight of his career, he gives a throwback performance for the ages. Since 1976 this man has been bringing the emotion, making me as a guy feel deeply. I don’t know that he has ever been better.

Favorite Quotes:

Adonis: I can train at your house.
Rocky: No, I don’t know. Nobody’s been to my house in a long time. You might not be comfortable there. 
Adonis: What? You walk around naked?
[Later]
Rocky: You better not walk around naked either! 

“Women weaken legs.” 
–Rocky, recalling Mick

“You can’t learn anything while you’re talking. That’s a fact of life. As long as you’re talking, you’re not listening.” 
–Rocky


2. Rocky III (1982)

If you asked me which of these films I would most want to watch, I would say IV or the original. Or maybe Creed. But if we are ranking them based more on merit than a feeling, I have to say this is the second best Rocky movie.

The reasons are legion. Mr. T gave the performance of his life as the volatile, trash-talking Chicago brawler, Clubber Lang, who was different enough from Apollo simply in how scary he was. Mick’s death was a poignant punch in the stomach, complete with Rocky’s immediate meltdown and subsequent introspective reaction to it, as the “Mick” music plays behind him. Star Wars and The Sixth Sense may have the best plot twists of all time, but Apollo becoming Rocky’s manager has to be up there right behind them. The series excelled at keeping Rocky the underdog, which is hard to do with a man who was on top so often. Watching Rocky get manhandled by the toughest of 80s icons while his manager was dying got the job done. It’s just a superbly written, cast, and executed movie.

Not only was Apollo’s return a stunning development, the story arc of him helping Rocky to get his edge back before the rematch with Clubber really deepened the emotional impact of the movie. By taking him to his old training stomping grounds in L.A., the whole tone of the movie is altered. The Rocky series has race and cultural differences all over it (every single ring fight is between two different ethnicities), but it never ever was about that. This is as close as they came to shouting, “Hey everybody! Apollo is black! Rocky is white!” And it was not superfluous at all. What Apollo did was genius and it worked. It wasn’t preachy in the slightest but it did remind me that we can learn from people and cultures who are different than us. Rocky had to change to beat Clubber. Apollo facilitated it.

As stated above, Adrian was much more understated in the first two movies than in the next three. She disagreed with Rocky in Part 2, but she didn’t really argue with him. This movie debuted Argumentative Adrian. And it was magnificent. Every movie from this one until V featured a Rocky-Adrian face-off that I honestly want for my real-life marriage. The scene on the beach where she gets him to admit that he’s scared is brutally honest, raw and transparent. The cards were on the table. In his words, she breaks him down. All to help him, which it does. It’s one of the two or three best scenes in all seven movies to me.

And let us never forget that this movie started and ended with the greatest sports inspirational song of all time in “Eye of the Tiger” AND gave us a whole scene cameo of Hulk Hogan. Those two things are major bonus points.

(And we won’t get into the awkward beach hug.)

Favorite Quotes:

“I’m afraid! Alright! You wanna hear me say it?!? You wanna break me down?…For the first time in my life, I’m afraid.” 
“I’m afraid, too.”
–Rocky and Adrian

“Pain.” 
–Clubber’s one-word prediction for the second fight


1. Rocky (1976)

Winner and still champ, the original Rocky is nearly impossible to dethrone. And it’s not just because it’s the genesis of the character and story. It’s because its story and character development reign supreme by any criteria. The Oscar nominations and wins speak for themselves. And seeing as how much Stallone had going against him to make and star in this movie, we know every accolade was earned.

After over 3,000 words in this two-part article, I probably have exhausted nearly all of the good adjectives English has to offer. But there is still one left: Greatest. That is what this movie is. To today’s culture, this movie is slow in developing. But to people like me who grew up with it and sometimes want it to “take me back,” we know just how special something slowly prepared can be.

That is this movie. It’s a simple story. A down-on-his-luck boxer, who proclaims himself a bum (a term that comes to mean something throughout the series), falls for a very shy girl he sees at a local business. They have an extremely awkward first date. But she comes to trust him. He in turn bares his soul to her in subtle but profound ways. If you are not paying attention you can easily miss how important it is when Rocky confesses to her that Apollo’s insults did bother him, after laughing them off in public. That is more significant than the boxing is to me, especially in the series beginning. Rocky and Adrian are just so lovable and humble. In a word, they are human. And what makes their relationship enthralling is that they fill each other’s gaps.[1. Several women in my church claim Rocky is a chick flick.].

Rocky as the title character is as good as it gets. He is a tough guy from the streets with minimal education, but he’s not simplistic. He is a hero in the little things in life, like knowing people in the neighborhood, looking out for children and hobos, and simply not thinking he’s better than he is. He is the most unassuming person you can meet. Everything Rocky becomes later in the series is built on this foundation. And it’s perfect. You can even see how he comes full circle as Rocky in Balboa and Creed is much closer to this version than in III or IV (V is basically the transition back after they lose all of their possessions). It’s remarkably endearing. Far more than any actor in any other role, Sylvester Stallone is Rocky. There is no one in fiction to me like him. I can’t get enough of him. They could make 100 of these movies and if Rocky’s in it, I’m there on opening weekend.

The love story and central character development eventually cede to what the movie supposedly is about: the main character getting an unprecedented shot at the boxing title from the champ himself, flawlessly portrayed for four movies by Carl Weathers. Yet even before the fight, Rocky captivates us with his character. Very few images are as iconic to me in this series, among the two dozen that are, as Rocky pounding the frozen beef at Paulie’s job.

And then there is the defining moment in the whole series to me, just before the final fight. Rocky can’t sleep and he confesses to Adrian that he doesn’t care about winning as much as “going the distance”. Because no one had gone the distance with Creed. That is Rocky in a quote. It is no coincidence that in half of the movies that end with a ring fight, the main character does not win[2. In Balboa, he doesn’t even stick around to find out if he won and the crowd cheered for him as if he did win.]. Because it’s not about winning. Rocky, even up to the Creed chapter, is about heart, about chin, about character-building and storytelling. The means will always be more important than the end. I’m not one to bash the current generation like a crotchety old man, but this is a timeless truth everyone needs to learn.

So that’s why it is number one. They have given us phenomenal subsequent chapters to this story. But ain’t nothing like the original. It can’t be replicated. And it can’t be beaten.

Favorite Quotes:

“Ah come on, Adrian, it’s true. I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight… ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”
–Rocky to Adrian

Where’s your hat?
–Rocky’s first comment to Adrian after going the distance with Creed

I don’t see no crowd around you neither.
–Rocky to Paulie

“No, I think I invented it.”
–Rocky when interviewed about punching the freezer meat

“He don’t know it’s a show. He thinks it’s a fight.”
–Tony, to Apollo, after Rocky knocked him down in the first round

“I don’t know. She’s got gaps, I got gaps. Together we fill gaps.”
–Rocky about Adrian

 

 

Thoughts, reactions, complaints and comments are welcomed below!

 

 

 




An Indefinitive Ranking of the Rocky Movies (Part 1)

“Why do you wanna fight? 
“Because I can’t sing or dance.” 
–Adrian and Rocky

 

 

 

Growing up without Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and with just a pedestrian affection for Star Wars (I thought I was a big fan until I went to Welch College and met people who watched the prequels like 15 times on opening weekend), Rocky was as close as my brothers and I got to the geek level of fandom. We watched the movies over and over. We owned boxing gloves and pretended to be the characters. We listened to the soundtracks nonstop.

So I definitely have an opinion on the movies and how they rank against each other, though I would be quick to add that when people ask me my favorite movie of all time, I say “Rocky” and mean the whole story and not just the 1976 original. It is a saga to me divided up seven ways, with tomorrow debuting the 8th piece of this perfect American story pie. Nevertheless, when ranking them I do not want to do the typical American thing and presume that the opinion of one 40-year old man is “definitive”. This is absolutely up for debate. Yet I want to write about how I consider them, from least great to the individual movie GOAT.

But before I get to the main list of movie rankings, here is my personal opinion on the rankings of the climactic fight in each movie. Every movie ends essentially the same because, let’s face it, these boxing matches were what brought the crowds to theaters and inspired people:

7. Balboa—A visually spectacular fight with plenty of drama. The fact that it brings up the rear is a testimony to how legendary the Rocky fights are.

6. Creed—Thanks to cinematic advances it is more realistic than any other fight in the series. Yet the competition is just too fierce. The defining moment in this one isn’t as special to me as most of the others. Perhaps because Adonis, while a brilliant character, isn’t quite Rocky.

5. Rocky V—People did not like this fight being a street fight instead of a ring fight. But I give it huge props for not being derivative and for the quotes that it gave us (see below).

4. Rocky III—Would be higher but it is literally the only ultimate fight in the entire Rocky catalog that doesn’t go the distance, which feels significant given the heart of these films. But Rocky trash-talking Clubber as he whips him is epic.

3. Rocky—Rocky with a stunning knockdown early on, after Apollo had never been knocked down…the look on Apollo’s face when Rocky gets up in the 14th round and begs for more…Rocky going after the ribs in the 15th….there are no English words for emotion to describe it. Of note: Rocky won an Oscar for Best Film Editing for this fight. They put on the 15th round makeup on Stallone and Weathers and shot the fight in reverse as they took the makeup off.

2. Rocky II—I’ve watched this fight at least 30 times and it gets me every time. The ending draws me in as though I were watching a real sporting event. The advantages this one has over Balboa-Creed I, other than the heart-stopping finish, are not only the advanced cinematography and better choreography (not to mention we get to see nearly all of the fight instead of just five rounds as in the first one). But it also wins points for the clever gambit Mick used that ultimately decided the fight: Rocky fighting right-handed before switching back in the 15th. Mick’s boxing acumen won this fight. Well, that and Apollo’s off the charts hubris. Chills on top of chills for this masterpiece.

1. Rocky IV—I don’t think any final match or game in any sports movie touches the war that was Balboa-Drago. When Rocky cut the Russian in Round 2, the entire nation jumped out of its chair, took off its shirt and waved the American flag, chanting “U-S-A!” like Homer Simpson. It was electrifying. It was outrageous. It was beautiful. What a moment! And there is no sports plot twist like the Russians changing their allegiance to Rocky near the end of the fight. If you were alive in the 80s you know how significant this (literally) incredible and ridiculous moment was. It’s like if North Korea or ISIS today sent a basketball team over here and we started cheering for them over Steph Curry and LeBron James. It was as fantasy-level unbelievable as anything that happens in Narnia. And no one cared. Peak American cinema.

 

Now to the film rankings. Note that my inability to keep the word count down on this, my favorite movie franchise of all time, means I have divided it up into two parts.  Numbers 7 to 5 are today. The Top 4 will follow tomorrow.


7. Rocky V (1990)

This movie is so hated, Stallone made Balboa 16 years later just because he was tired of hearing about how hated this movie is.

I confess I genuinely like it. It clearly brings up the rear in the Rocky canon but the other six are all great to exceptional movies. It has great highlights to me: Rocky flashing back to Mick giving him the cufflinks, a hilarious Don King ripoff, Rocky standing up to Tommy at the end, Adrian ripping into Duke over and over, a classic Rocky-Adrian no holds barred conversation (contrast Adrian from this movie to the one in the original—THAT is character development), etc. And this movie is absolutely as quotable as any of the others.

In my opinion, it was panned so universally in large part when it came out because Rocky doesn’t fight in the ring. It broke the formula and people weren’t ready for it. Also, this is the only Rocky movie where Rocky isn’t clearly a boxer or clearly a trainer and that made the plot a bit awkward. It was really too much of a mishmash of Rocky’s role in 1-4 and his role in Creed. And it just didn’t play well. For me, I do not deny it has weak aspects, notably that Sage Stallone and Tommy Morrison were terrible actors (May they rest in peace). Still, it’s a good movie and my wife and I watch it in sequence with the rest. And let it forever be known that having Elton John co-write and sing “The Measure of a Man” (a pretty unknown song that wasn’t played on the radio) over images from all five movies to that point to end gave us the best closing credits of all time. 

Favorite Quotes:

Large Men at Bar: Hey, Rock, you need help?
Rocky: No guys, this ain’t no pie-eating contest.

Rocky [to Tommy]: You knocked him down, why don’t you try knocking me down?

Duke: IN THE RING IN THE RING TOMMY GUNN ONLY FIGHTS IN THE RING.
Rocky: Yeah? My ring’s outside.

Rocky [repeating Mick]: Yo Tom-my!  I didn’t hear no bell.

Mick [in flashback]: Get up…because Mickey loves ya.  

 


6. Rocky Balboa (2006)

This is a safe movie if there ever was one. After a decade and a half of Stallone hearing complaints about V, he finally got his final Rocky chapter off the ground. (Creed nor Creed 2 were both created by Stallone). And he brought about his personal closure playing it as close to vest as he could: making it so similar to the original that Rocky fans would feel like they were taking a trip down memory lane. And unlike The Force Awakens, the obvious similarities were not controversial. After I watched it with my brothers and my dad, my brother Tracy commented, “Now I can die in peace with how Rocky ended.”

There is a walk down memory lane with Rocky and Paulie visiting all the places that meant something in the first movie, to honor Adrian’s death (which Stallone wrote in to give the movie more emotional punch, and it worked). Stallone even brought back little Marie, all grown up now and much more respectful to Rocky, and opening scene opponent Spider Rico.

Still, the movie has some unique personality. Rocky’s passionate speech to his son Rocky, Jr. (played by the inimitable Milo Ventimiglia[1. And how much it meant to see Sly Stallone guest star on This Is Us and for Jack’s children to rave about how much their dad loved Rocky!]) about not making excuses is not something we saw in any previous movie. Same for Rocky’s diatribe to the boxing commission after they rejected him for a license. Stallone’s performance in Creed was better, but he really held nothing back here and nails these character-defining scenes. Like a man who at the time thought this was his last chance to play such an iconic character.

I also adore Max Kellerman’s reaction to witnessing a “Rocky” fight for HBO, whom he works for in real life. I’m sure his reaction was not acting, but instead was a legitimate response of awe as a real life Rocky movie fan, and produced a fascinating moment where life and art collided.

 

Favorite Quotes:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. 
–Rocky, to Robert

Italian food made by Mexicans ain’t that special.
–Paulie

You one crazy old man.
–Mason Dixon, to Rocky, before the last round


5. Rocky IV (1985)

Let me say it again: Everything about this movie is over-the-top ludicrous…the cheesy 80s music, the Apollo dance number, Rocky climbing a mountain while training, the amount of steroid-enhanced bombs Rocky takes the head without dying, the fact that the Russians turned on Drago in the fight and began cheering for Rocky…and on and on.

But that really doesn’t matter. This is a breathtaking, sublime 90 minutes of film. I know no other ranking on my list will cause as many howls of protests as putting this one fifth, which again, testifies to the depth of the franchise. And to show how razor thin the difference is in the top five, you could ask me to rank them again in six months and I might have this one #1 or #2.

So why do I have it so low at this moment? Well, as many critics have pointed out, once you take out the training montages and that outrageous ending fight, this movie is like 23 minutes long. That’s barely an exaggeration. There is not much plot or character development to this installment and that is totally fine because this movie had the mammoth shoulders of three prior transcendent chapters to stand on in that regard. We knew the main players so it just fed us rapid plot points and twists like a Red Bull being injected straight into the entertainment veins: Big Russian wants to box, Big Russian kills Apollo, Rocky decides to fight Big Russian in Russia, Rocky wins. That’s it. That’s the movie. And it’s glorious from start to finish. I have watched Rocky 4 more than any of the others. It never ever gets old.

If there is any movie that deserves a spot on, hilarious, fictional 30 for 30 on how its plot ended the Cold War, it’s Rocky 4.

 

Favorite Quotes:

Announcer 1: “He’s cut!  The Russian’s cut!”
Announcer 2: “And it’s a bad cut!”

“You cut ‘im!! You hurt ‘im!! You see?!?!  You see?!? He’s not a machine!! He’s a man!”
–Tony

“And a few cheers now for Rocky Balboa…”
–Announcer, somewhere between Rounds 11 and 12

“No TV? What about my Rose Bowl Game?”
–Paulie, adapting to Russia

“He’s not human. He’s like a piece of iron.”
–Drago, about Rocky


So that’s it. That’s the first half of the list. Go here for my ranking of the four greatest Rocky movies of all-time. Comments on these installments are welcomed below.

 

 

 




500 Words or Less Reviews: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

*This review will be spoiler-free.*

 

One of the biggest complaints I heard about the original Fantastic Beasts movie was that it was so far removed from the original series, it didn’t feel like a Harry Potter story. To me, it still had a good plot and great characters and is worth rewatching, but I sympathize with that complaint.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald gives us much more of the original canon in subtle and overt ways, but still does a fine job of keeping the narrative separate from Harry’s era at Hogwarts so that it can stand on its own legs and tell a fresh story without the weight of massive book scrutiny.

Eddie Redmayne is back as the peculiar Newt Scamander, who another character aptly describes as a man who doesn’t care for power or prestige but for what is right. Scamander may not ever rise to the level of characters like Hagrid and McGonagall in my mind but he is a welcome addition to the Harry Potter universe.

They chose Newt’s book to be the title of these films and while the films themselves are not truly about the beasts that he loves so much, they do play a significant role in plot development. And Newt unleashes a new, wondrous, Jim Henson-esque creature that steals some scenes.

Johnny Depp is surprisingly quite modest in his titular, antagonist role. For a man who has made a living off of being magnificently weird as unique characters, he doesn’t try to do too much here. I suppose the backstory from the original series, the characters “look” and the script are enough and he doesn’t have to be outrageous to bring Grindelwald to life. If anything, I thought he was too subdued.

Jude Law is as brilliant as you would expect and Dan Fogler reprising his role as Jacob is even funnier and more sympathetic than the first go round. The rest of the cast is a mixture of decent to bland.

There are twists galore in this movie but I must see the rest of the series before I can judge them.

On that note, without revealing anything, I will conclude by saying the ending will have people talking until the third part is released. And my only comment in this review is to say that it is imperative to me that they do not make the same mistakes that were made with The Cursed Child. As mentioned, a significant part of what makes these movies work so far to me is that they are separated from the seven-book/eight movie story enough that they can let these movies breathe without fear of them clashing with the original. They may be nearing dangerous waters.

The Harry Potter brand is clearly at a crossroads. The crucial plot decisions of these next three movies will swing the post-book series material either into the “It was nearly all terrible” or “Fantastic Beasts was fantastic and we barely remember The Cursed Child.” I’m eager to see the result.

 

Three stars out of five.




The Game of the Century…That Didn’t Matter At All

I guess it was the Game of the Century only if the right team won.” [Lou Holtz]

 

Maybe if Florida St. had a decent kicker to beat Miami, it would have been different.

Back in the early 1990s, the college football world watched with pity as folksy head coach Bobby Bowden repeatedly lost to Miami to cost them multiple national championships. 1991 was a classic example. The Seminoles were the favorite that year to win it all, played dominantly all year long and came into the Miami game 9-0 and ranked #1. Yet their kicker missed a 34-yard field goal—Wide Right you may recall if you are reading this—as time expired and Miami won, 17-16.

The next year was the same, except a missed FG—Wide Right, of course—cost them a chance to tie Miami.

Then 1993 came along. Bobby Bowden had his best team yet it seemed and dispatched of Miami—finally!—early in the year. They were boat racing the ACC, winning against recent conference champions Clemson and Georgia Tech by scores of 57-0 and 51-0. With the curse of Miami behind them, nothing could stop the pollsters from finally voting Bobby Bowden, I mean FSU, #1.

Right?

As November approached, one more huge game loomed. Notre Dame, led by fiery, witty and extremely accomplished head coach Lou Holtz, stood undefeated as well. And when the week of the game approached, the teams stood 9-0 and 10-0 and were ranked #1 and #2 in the country. It was billed, as college football games periodically were back then, the “Game of the Century”.

I don’t think many people were giving Notre Dame much of a chance, however. Even at home. Not only was FSU winning games by 50 points but they were the sentimental favorite since Bowden had come so close before and still hadn’t won it all. With an offense guided by Mark Richt and eventual Heisman winner Charlie Ward, it seemed that fate was on his side.

The environment for the game could not have been more picture perfect. Playing in Notre Dame Stadium, where the ghosts of Fighting Irish past stood to intimidate every visiting team, 59,000 raucous fans were primed. (Back then Notre Dame was the team with all the history: 11 National Championships and seven Heismans. At that point, Florida St had zero of both.) NBC had the telecast and Bob Costas and his golden voice gave a memorable introduction to the game as music from the Rudy soundtrack played behind. It was an immaculate Saturday afternoon for college football between the two top teams in the nation.

Notre Dame made it clear quickly that they would not be stampeded like the ACC and Miami were. FSU did indeed score first, and quickly, to go up 7-0. But then Notre Dame punched back and started controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides. Lee Becton gashed the FSU defense over and over again for 122 yards that felt like 172. The Irish defense swarmed Ward and mounted up sacks and turnovers. And ND reeled off the next 24 points. By late in the fourth quarter they led 31-17 and invincible Florida St. was on the ropes.

Florida State rallied, behind a lucky bounce on 4th and 20, to pull within a TD. Then after a quick Fighting Irish three and out, they had the ball for one last chance to tie the game. It was not to be, as one of the most familiar images etched in my mind to this day, Ward’s last pass in end zone was batted down. Holtz, as he had so many times with N.C. St., Arkansas, Minnesota and Notre Dame, had engineered a massive upset.

End of story, right?

Nope. It never is in college football, as champions used to be awarded based on beauty pageants and odd logic as much as on the for on-the-field results.

This year was no different. After the game, Notre Dame moved into the #1 spot in the polls. FSU dropped only to #2, ahead of undefeated teams like Nebraska, Ohio St., West Virginia and even Auburn, who was on probation and ineligible for the postseason. There was already talk of a ND-FSU rematch in the Fiesta Bowl. You could sense even at that point that the Seminoles were basically given a mulligan for the game. It was being spun, even by Florida State brass, that they played the #1 team tough on the road and so they must be the #2 team. If it played out like FSU was lobbying for, Notre Dame was going to have to beat them again.

Then something happened to spice up the pot even more. The very next week, Notre Dame was upset on a last-second field goal by #12 Boston College. The polls were a dumpster fire, as Florida St. resumed its spot at #1, ahead of all the undefeated teams still, and Notre Dame fell to 4th. Five different teams got first-place votes that week. (To be noted as well is that the following week Notre Dame didn’t play and still dropped to 5th in the polls.)

 

Bowl season loomed and it was apparent that Notre Dame was going to need a myriad of things to break right to win the National Championship. They more or less needed undefeated West Virginia to lose and for FSU to beat undefeated Nebraska in an ugly game in the Fiesta Bowl, while winning their bowl game vs. Texas A&M. And luck of the Irish, it all happened. Notre Dame beat A&M 24-21, Florida throttled WV 41-7, and Florida St. barely scraped by Nebraska 18-16 in a disjointed but thrilling contest, after the Cornhuskers missed a long FG on the last play that would have won it.

As a result it was clear that only two teams really could stake claim to the National Championship: Notre Dame and Florida State. (Auburn remained undefeated but was de facto excluded for being on probation.) Florida State took 48 of 60 first-place votes in the AP and 36 of 61 first-place votes in the Coaches poll, winning both championships. The argument that the coaches and media seemed to favor was that the two teams had the same record and that the Seminoles had the “better” loss, losing on the road to #2 instead of at home to #12. Holtz’s rejoinder was one of searing logic that, in my opinion, put all of those FSU voters to shame: They had the same record and one team beat the other. Head-to-Head is the most fundamental tie-breaker there is. Most voters ignored it.

Adding to Holtz’s ire was that in 1989 a similar scenario played out, except in reverse. Miami and ND both had one loss at the end, and the voters favored Miami because Miami won the game the two teams played. Holtz could not wrap his mind around why things all of a sudden changed four years later and was not shy about expressing it: “I really and truly felt we would win [the championship] when I went to bed,” Holtz said the Sunday after the bowl games. “Even Bobby Bowden said he felt that Nebraska outplayed them. I just felt that based on 1989 and the logic given then, and the head-to-head competition, I felt in my heart there was no way we would not win it.” As time passed he never wavered on this, later adding, “We played Florida State in the season and the game obviously didn’t mean anything. Everybody said it was the game of the century. I guess it was the game of the century if the right team won.” To this day, Holtz considers 1993 a “sort of” National Championship for Notre Dame.

Here’s what gets me as a college football fan, even 25 years later: So often in that era of college football, the two best teams did not play each other and we were left wondering who would win if they did. And typically, they split the two polls and both were given recognition as National Champions. It happened in 1990 with Colorado and Georgia Tech. It happened in 1991 with Miami and Washington. It happened in 1997 with Nebraska and Michigan. It even happened in the BCS era in 2003 with LSU and Southern Cal.

Yet in all of those splits, neither team could say of the other, “We beat them on the field where it mattered.” That is not true of 1993. Notre Dame won. And it didn’t matter. In my humble opinion, the vote in both polls was greatly impacted by how much people loved Bobby Bowden. He had never won, so they gave it to him. A similar thing happened the very next year when Nebraska and Penn St. both were undefeated and both polls gave the championship to previously ringless Tom Osborne of Nebraska.

So the Game of the Century? More like as meaningless a loss as any in the history of Florida State football. College Football has a history of injustice in determining its champions. To me, this was one of the worst. In my mind, Notre Dame won the biggest game and deserved the championship.

Then the game actually would have meant something.




Five Neglected Comedies from the 80s We Highly Recommend

The 80s had its problems but it gave us a lot of awesome things like Lunchables, the Transformers, trapper keepers, the Rubik’s Cube, and the list goes on. One of the best of the best (to some) is the excellent lineup of comedy movies throughout the 80s. Many of these are very well known and still loved. However, REO is horrified with the greatest of all horrors that several of our favorites have been forgotten, forsaken in the dusty, grimy back alley of cinematic history. Here are our recommendations of five great but relatively forgotten comedies from that decade.


The Private Eyes

Don Knotts and Tim Conway were a legendary comedic duo, yet it seems this movie is far more under the radar than anything else they did. And that is a shame. Because it is hilarious from start to finish. Released in 1980, my family owned it on an old VHS tape and I watched it so much I had essentially every word of dialogue memorized as a child (which interestingly made my mother quite proud). It was such clever writing for that era and Knotts and Conway, as the bumbling Inspector Winship and Doctor Tart, brought the humor to life with once in a generation talent and chemistry.

Rife with samurais, hunchbacks, gypsies, mysterious shadow figures and Wookalars (you have to watch), this comedic murder-mystery set in England really keeps you on your toes. And in typical Knotts and Conway fashion, shows us how easy it is to love “two idiots what going to leave their mark wherever they go.” Not counting cameos, this is the last ride for these two men. And they went out in style. With a Wookalar!! (Gowdy Cannon)


Fletch Lives

Fletch is widely considered one of the great comedies of the ’80s. It’s witty and razor sharp and Chevy Chase is at his sarcastic best. Fletch Lives, the sequel that came a few years later is widely derided as a pale imitation of its predecessor. I find that opinion to be ridiculous. No, Fletch Lives does not reach the highs of the original but it admirably captures its tone, style, and humor. Chase is given a chance to play a handful of memorable “characters” – Ed Harley and Claude Henry Smoot to name a couple. The supporting cast included screen legend R. Lee Ermey as a smiley, smarmy televangelist and Cleavon Little as Calculus Entropy, perhaps the best side character in either Fletch movie. Seriously, I would watch multiple films about Calculus.

If I were handing out grades, Fletch gets an A+ and Fletch Lives gets a solid A-. To put it more bluntly, for all the Fletch Lives haters out there, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where Fletch Lives never got made. Perhaps I’m wrong. If so, I can only respond like Fletch would, “It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. I am NOT a big man.” (Phill Lytle)


The Gods Must Be Crazy

My parents spent time in Cote D’Ivoire as dorm parents at a missionary school for about half of the 90s. While there they fell in love with a movie called The God’s Must Be Crazy. They came back, introduced it to me, and I’ll be dogged if I didn’t fall in love with it too. To be honest, much of the camera-work of the movie is not great. This is possibly because it was extremely inexpensively made from donations from local sources. That location: South Africa. It isn’t set there though. It is set in the nearby country of Botswana with the Kalahari Desert playing a crucial role. If you can get past the somewhat shoddy cinematography, you will find the entirety of the writing and plot chock full of wit, charm, and a variety of different kinds of great humor. This is particularly true when it comes to the main character, a bushman named Xi (played by an actual bushman named N!xau). The central plot begins with an empty Coca-Cola bottle discarded by a pilot flying over the Kalahari. It lands where it is discovered by Xi’s tiny, peaceful family tribe. In the ensuing greed and jealousy that erupts, the tribe determines that the bottle is indeed an “evil thing” sent down by the gods to test them. Brave Xi then sets out on a quest to cast the “evil thing” off of the ends of the earth. Then the real madness and insanity begins. (Ben Plunkett)


¡Three Amigos!

I’m pretty sure no movie of the 80s made me laugh more than this one did. In my circles, it is hard pressed to call it “underrated” because so many people I know love it. But it didn’t make a ton of money and it has a very mediocre rating on IMDB.com, so I think it fits in general.

At a time when Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short were all extremely funny actors, they brought it together for a ridiculous yet heartwarming masterpiece of comedic cinema. From the very opening where they hold out the first AH sound in “Amigos” for a stupidly and hilariously long time, to their discussion of what “infamous” means to their unforgettable “My Little Buttercup” song and dance in front of a terrified cantina, the Amigos make sure the laughs do not stop in this movie.

Not to be outshone, even a little bit, is the superbly named and utterly outrageous villain El Guapo. He is truly one of the greatest antagonists of all time in this genre. His overdone machismo and his scathing one-liners are the stuff of legend to me and my friends. And he even has a perfect sidekick, Jefe. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have told Phill, “I am still here El Guapo!” to encourage him that I stand behind REO 100% (Thankfully Phill hasn’t shot me like El Guapo did Jefe.)

On the short list for the most quotable movie of all time to me (“Can I have your gun when you are dead?”, “Good night, Ned!”), I couldn’t get enough of ¡Three Amigos! in 1986 and, unlike most 80s movies, it still holds up well today. It has made me laugh until I have cried. (Gowdy Cannon)


The ‘Burbs

I think The ‘Burbs is one of Tom Hanks’ best films and one of his best performances. I realize how absurd that might sound to a lot of people. The ‘Burbs is a ridiculous comedy about a group of nosy and meddlesome suburbanite neighbors. They come to believe their new neighbors, the Klopeks, are mass murderers who are burying their victims in the backyard. The film is populated with hilariously colorful characters – from Bruce Derns’ insane Lt. Mark Rumsfield[1. You can read more about him here.] to Rick Ducommun as the hapless conspiracy nut Art Weingartner. Not to mention Carrie Fisher’s great performance as the patient and slightly exasperated wife. The film provides laughs on multiple levels – pratfalls, subtle quips, and clever wordplay. But the glue that holds it all together is Hanks. He is equal turns the voice of reason and the most paranoid of them all. His final monologue where he defends the odd Klopek family is delivered with such authenticity you actually believe it deserves to be in a much more serious film – except that Hanks is in on the humor and absurdity and makes sure all of that still comes through loud and clear. I’m happy to report that The ‘Burbs has found a small fanbase after it’s lackluster reception in 1989. In a perfect world, it would be considered a classic. (Phill Lytle)


Those are our picks. What are yours? Let us know in the comment section. Thanks for reading.

 

 




The Invisibles: Bible Characters Christians Never Discuss, But Should

One of the most popular articles in the history of REO is our “Top Ten Favorite Bible Characters“. On that list, you find some of the most amazing humans that ever lived and we are blessed to get to read about them in our Bibles.

But that list was quite predictable, on purpose. The most well known Bible characters are so for a reason. They did incredible things and lived exemplary lives. Today, however, I want to go beyond the obvious and talk about a few Bible characters that deserve accolades but almost never get them. These people also did incredible things but because they weren’t as prominent as Moses or Paul, they rarely get taught about in Bible studies or discussed among the great people of the faith.

Today I want to give them their due. Here are a few people in the Bible that rarely get discussed but deserve full sermons dedicated to them.


Bezalel and Oholiab

Listen to what Exodus says about these men:

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills…

Now let me pause here and wonder if a person doesn’t know the rest of the chapter, what kind of call would you think Bezalel had on his life? I mean, he is filled with the Spirit and wisdom and understanding. Is he a priest? A Levite? A prophet?

None of the above. Here is what he and his chosen assistant Oholiab were filled with the Spirit and with wisdom to do…

to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan0, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.”

They were filled with the Spirit and wisdom to work with their hands! Christians need to understand and teach the biblical significance of men and women laity who do blue collar jobs (and any non-pastoring jobs). In the Old Testament, they were spiritually qualified by God to the highest level, using phrases we’d use for the most significant spiritual offices. And since the New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers, I’d say all Christian accountants, janitors, teachers, and electricians are today as well.

We need to teach jobs as ministries. These men help us do that.


Onesiphorus

I owe Tim Campbell the credit for teaching about this man to a chapel full of students at Welch College 20 years ago. Other than a greeting in 2nd Timothy, the extent of what Paul writes about Onesiphorus can be found in two verses in 1 Timothy:

“May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.”

What a short, but significant tribute! Not everyone gets to be Paul, but to be the person that loves and encourages Paul like this? That’s someone worth teaching Christians about. May we all be the kind of person who refreshes others, who isn’t ashamed of them even when they are rejected by others, and who seeks them out. I long for that kind of testimony.


Asaph and the Sons of Korah

It is important to note that just because a Psalm is “of” someone, it does not mean that the person or group wrote it. It could be dedicated to that person or something similar. Yet I think it is very likely that Asaph and the sons of Korah wrote the psalms that bear their names in our Bibles.

Considering how deeply music speaks to our souls, confirmed by God by inspiring our biggest Bible book to be a hymnbook, we should know who wrote the greatest songs of the faith that Israel praised God with. Between Asaph and the sons of Korah you find many of the Psalms that have inspired some of the great modern Christian worship songs, like Psalm 42 (“As The Deer”) and Psalm 84 (“Better Is One Day In Your Courts”) and even the less well known but profoundly lyrical Psalm 73, which is found by that name in Indelible Grace Music. I give a shout out to Dr. Matthew McAfee for introducing that song to my church years ago. Few Bible passages wrestle with the unfairness of the world and the justice of God as this one does. What a privilege to sing it.

But even more important to me, Asaph and the sons of Korah penned several heart-wrenching lament psalms, like Psalms 44, 80 and 88. Psalm 80 contains the refrain, “O Lord God of hosts, cause your face to shine on us, that we may be saved” three times, which Michael W. Smith turned into a modern hymn as well. As far as I know, Psalm 88 has not been turned into a popular modern song, but perhaps that is because it is one of the few psalms that doesn’t end on an up note but remains in the darkness. For that reason, it may be my favorite psalm of all.

Both Asaph and the sons of Korah played a huge part not only in writing but leading Israel in musical worship (1 Chronicles 15, 2 Chronicles 20). These are men who should be known.


Micaiah

No, not Malachi or Micah. Micaiah, a prophet so unknown that my computer is giving me the red squiggly line under his name right now. He prophesied during the time of King Ahab and what a thankless, demeaning job that must have been. We get a taste of what his life was like in 1 Kings 22 (and its parallel, 2 Chronicles 18) when Ahab calls him in to advise him about going to war with Ramoth Gilead. It is obvious that Micaiah never prophesies anything good for Ahab because the wicked king says so plainly. It appears that this is the case because Micaiah intends only to speak the truth. And this obviously happens over and over and this has to weigh on his psyche.

It’s possible we even get a bit of sarcasm here from the noble prophet because at first he tells Ahab to go to war and Ahab knows he’s not being serious. But Micaiah then speaks the harsh predictive reality to him and instead of receiving thanks for the warning, he ends up with a smack to the face. A mere four chapters after Elijah calls down fire from Heaven, another similar prophet is taking inglorious shots to the face in a rather mundane existence. For this, he deserves our respect.


Zelophehad’s Daughters

Because the cultures of the Bible were so demeaning to women by our modern standards, we very much need to preach stories like these women standing up to Moses on behalf of giving them their father’s inheritance. Zelophehad was a righteous man but had no son. So they boldly stood before one of the most significant leaders in the history of the world and asked for justice. And God took their side. There was no doubt about that because he spoke directly in the passage to affirm their position.

Justice gets thrown around so much in American Christian vernacular I hope we don’t miss what it really is. It has been and always will be doing right by those who are denied things they deserve. That is the heart of these few verses in Numbers. So here’s to Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah–women of great character that we should honor.


So, at least for today, that is my list. What are some under-appreciated Bible characters you wish we talked more about?