“So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe). But when that day comes, it will be long overdue. I can see keeping some exemptions; hospitals, in particular, are an indispensable, and noncontroversial, public good. And localities could always carve out sensible property-tax exceptions for nonprofits their communities need. But it’s time for most nonprofits, like those of us who faithfully cut checks to them, to pay their fair share.”

(Mark Oppenheimer, “Now’s the Time to End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions,” 28, June 2015)

Skating on Thin Ice – Nonprofits and Tax Exemptions

“When Francis says economic poverty is at the center of the gospel, he is saying that it is not by faith in Christ alone that we are saved. He is saying there must be more—that we must ‘reach into our pockets’ or our faith is not genuine. But this contradicts what the Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9: ‘for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ Again, in Galatians 2:16: ‘So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.'”

 

(D.C. McAllister, The Federalist, “Pope Francis Doesn’t Get the Gospel,” 24 June 2015)

Francis Misunderstands the Gospel Message

Rest In Peace James Horner

It pains to read over The Hollywood Reporter (THR) article announcing the tragic passing of the film composer James Horner. Apparently, he died in a plane crash yesterday some sixty miles north of Santa Barbara. How this sad news escaped my notice beats the heck of out me given my activity on Twitter and Facebook. Horner is one my favorite film composers, who created two of my favorite movie scores for Glory and Field of Dreams.  Most of my readers and followers will know this composer for his Oscar-winning music and song to James Cameron’s mammoth, soap opera, Titanic. This epic, motion picture remains an amazing technical achievement, but it is Horner’s score and song, “My Heart Will Go On,” that everyone remembers.

When I examine Horner’s body of work, he has few peers in Hollywood from his generation. Right off the bat, only two composers come to mind who match him stride for stride: Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. The great John Williams and the late John Barry, who scored the Oscar-winning music to Dances with Wolves, are from the previous one. One of the injustices with the Academy Awards has to do with their maddening inconsistency. Sometimes an artist wins an Oscar because of the work’s popularity rather than its artistry. There are times when those two intersect. In my opinion, Horner won his Oscar for his most popular work (Titanic) rather than his most creative (Glory). I realize that this might be a controversial statement, but so be it.

Joel Franco is a good friend of mine from our film school days.  He runs a website that I have recommended folks check out in the past.  Like me, Joel is a huge fan of Horner’s work.  One of the things that he noted in our “text” conversation was Horner’s subtlety with his movie scores.  I hold the same opinion.  At his best, Horner exhibits artistic restraint, which only adds to the emotion of his work.  One of the best examples of this is his music score to Field of Dreams from 1989.  It is an emotionally, evocative composition that never goes overboard as it emphasizes the movie’s mysterious, spiritual undertones. Horner’s use of the piano is nothing short of masterful. It is a textbook example of artistic subtlety or restraint.

Horner has done rousing music scores, too.  He is not one dimensional, but an artist who exhibits diversity. His musical score for Aliens in 1986 has been sampled countless times for action and suspense trailers and television commercials. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart would lack the emotional resonance without Horner’s music, and those battle scenes would fall flat rather than inspire. When it comes to the meaning of inspirational music, his score for 1989’s Glory is the zenith of his creativity. Horner should have won an Oscar for it. In fact, I contend that his music for Glory boasts the most haunting use of a choir on film. It overwhelms the viewer simply because the music and singing build to such a crescendo rather than forcing the emotion.  Joel called Glory Horner’s masterpiece, and I agree with him.

I end this post with my condolences to Horner’s widow and their two daughters. We who live no longer look forward to future compositions from this great composer. That is profoundly sad. What we can do is revel in what he has left us to enjoy. Here are two samples from Horner’s scores for Glory and Field of Dreams:

Music from Glory

Music from Field of Dreams

Enjoy the music.

Christian Symbols from the 2nd Century AD

When my wife and I vacationed in Italy with Perillo Tours, our adventure began in Rome, the Eternal City.  Besides seeing the standard sights such as Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum and the ruins of Ancient Rome, we tacked onto our excursion the Catacombs of Domitilla.  Initially, these were underground graves used by some of the Roman nobles to bury their dead.  There were grave markers to identify the family crypt so to speak.  According to our tour guides, the Romans rarely buried their dead as they opted for cremation.  Over time, the Christians made use of these catacombs, eventually digging out eleven miles worth of tombs.

Because these early Christians believed in the resurrection of the dead, they abhorred the Roman practice of cremation.  To these ancient believers, it demonstrated unbelief in the bodily resurrection; therefore, cremation was unbecoming of those who followed Christ and his teachings.  I was struck by this factoid even though I have embraced a similar perspective like my forbears.  At the present time, I do not take such a strong stance.  To put it another way, I do not see this as a hill to die on between Christ followers.  My thinking is as follows: whether by fire or by decay, my body turns into dust and ashes (Genesis 3:19, ESV).  In the end, I leave the notion of whether to cremate or to bury one’s dead to his or her own conscience in conjunction with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

All that aside, below are two pictures that I took of grave markers used by these ancient Christians.  These are found throughout this labyrinthine network of Domitilla catacombs:

Anchor - Christian symbol

 

Fish - Christian symbol

 

The bottom picture shows a fish with Greek text.  This ancient symbol of the Christian faith endures right up to today.  There are bumper stickers, t-shirts, magnets, key chains, bracelets, and the like, which display this ancient symbol without the Greek text.  What really fascinates me about this symbol is that the text transliterated into English means ICHTUS.  According to the following website, ICHTUS forms an acrostic: I = Jesus, C = Christ, TH = God, U = Son, and S = Savior.  The center or focus of the Christian’s faith is Christ.  He is the author and finisher of it, which echoes the words from Hebrews 12:2.  These early Christians knew what they were doing.  Before anyone starts to yawn, there’s more to come.

Our tour guide pointed out to us the meaning or the significance of the top picture, which displays two fish clinging onto an anchor.  In the early church, these Christians depicted salvation as an anchor.  I love this image.  What keeps me secure or prevents me from drifting out to sea so to speak?  My faith in Christ sustains or anchors me through highs and lows.  This is exactly the meaning of the two fish holding onto the anchor.  These early Christians understood that their faith was secure in Christ.  Where did these first Christians get the idea to depict their salvation as an anchor?  The biblical support for this symbol comes from the New Testament letter to the Hebrews.  Here’s the passage:

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20, ESV).

There is one final point to note about that these early Christians.  They did not employ the cross as a Christian symbol until 400 years after Christ’s death.  This article sheds some light on this subject.  I think it is important to remember that the early church faced intense persecution in its infancy.  Both the fish and the anchor symbols served to unite these believers around their confession of faith and the suffering that resulted from it.  One word that comes to mind is solidarity or unity.  Enjoy these ancient, Christian symbols of truth.

“But with bleak honesty Jubal admitted to himself that the Universe (correction: that piece of the Universe he himself had seen) might very well be in toto an example of reduction to absurdity.  In which case the Fosterites might be possessed of the Truth, the exact Truth, and nothing but the Truth.  The Universe was a damned silly place at best…but the least likely explanation for its existence was the no-explanation of random chance, the conceit that some abstract somethings ‘just happened’ to be some atoms that ‘just happened’ to get together in configurations which ‘just happened’ to look like consistent laws and then some of these configurations ‘just happened’ to be the Man from Mars and the other a bald-headed old coot with Jubal himself.  

“No, Jubal would not buy the ‘just happened’ theory, popular as it was with men who called themselves scientists.  Random chance was not a sufficient explanation of the Universe–in fact, random chance was not sufficient to explain random chance; the pot could not hold itself.”

 

(Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, “His Preposterous Heritage,” Part 2, Chpt. XIV, p 159, uncut edition, 1991)

An Insufficient Explanation of the Universe

“As a devout agnostic, Jubal consciously [assessed] religions, from the animism of the Kalahari Bushmen to the most sober and intellectualized of the major western faiths, as being equal.  But emotionally he disliked some more than others…and the Church of the New Revelation set his teeth on edge.  The Fosterites’ flat-footed claim to utter gnosis through a direct pipeline to Heaven, their arrogant intolerance implemented in open persecution of all other religions wherever they were strong enough to get away with it, the sweaty football-rally & sales-convention flavor of their services–all these ancillary aspects depressed him.  If people must go to church, why the devil couldn’t they be dignified about it, like Catholics, Christian Scientists, or Quakers?”

 

(Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, “His Preposterous Heritage,” Part 2, Chpt. XIV, p 159, uncut edition, 1991)

Sweaty, Football-Rally, Religious Services