Sunday, January 30, 2005


Stuff that bugs me (sorta)

I'm in a bit of an off mood lately. I've been spending an inordinate amount of time wrestling with the "Emergent" church, as presented in Resonate and numerous blogs, including Pernell Goodyear's. I have to say that, while there are a lot of good things about the Emergent church that I like (I think, for example, that there is no better way to spread teaching organically than simply pasting a link in an e-mail and sharing with 10 or 20 or more of your non-believing friends), I get a little concerned (and sometimes even annoyed) at their seeming wishy-washiness.

The overlying theme of the emergent church seems to be "come as you are". This is certainly in line with Christ's approach to ministry, as he would simply stand somewhere (a boat, a hilltop, a street corner) and preach God's Word. Anyone could stop and listen to him and not feel like they were out of place. More importantly, those who loved Christ and lived his message were just as welcoming. That's a wonderful feeling, especially for social misfits who don't quite fit with the "cool" people. This seems to fit the approach of the emergent, and not only do I applaud them for that, I think a vast majority of traditional churches could learn a valuable lesson about the God they claim to follow by watching the emergent work.

This comes with two very large "but"s:

But #1:

As was discussed extensively (in since-removed comments related to this post and this post) a few months ago at my good friend Al Baker's blog, emergent churches are susceptible to occasional bouts of humanness. People are ignored (intentionally or unintentionally), cliques form, and some people fall through the cracks. It is an inevitable byproduct of growth. The bigger an organism becomes, the harder it is to keep it tightly tied together. Hurt feelings happen, people come and go and I think it is almost impossible to avoid. This is a limitation of humanity that the emergent is just as guilty of as anyone else.

But #2 (and this is my bigger issue):

I fully agree that Christ welcomed anyone to listen, but there came a point where people had to buy into Christ's message or go the other way. A great example of this is Mark 10:17-23. This is the story of the rich man who, when told that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven he must give away all he owns, is unable to make the sacrifice and walks away from the Saviour. A relationship with Christ eventually must lead to a certain set of beliefs that transform the person. Whether it is conviction over the use of foul language, gossiping, an illicit relationship, alcohol and/or drug abuse, or whatever demons have control over an individual, Christ introduces us to the Father and imbues us with the Holy Spirit. This gives us power to be transformed and to become an instrument through which we can be used by God to serve and glorify Him. We could not do that before meeting Christ.

Distilled to a sentence, I do not believe that "come as you are" can continue to work as your walk with Christ deepens. Theology is nothing more than a set of beliefs, but they provide a structure upon which we can live. The Bible lays out the roadmap to living and Jesus Christ promoted a strict theology that can be presented in 5 simple verses:

"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)
"God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16)
"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that...we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4)
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16)
"Therefore, there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1, caps mine).

Sin must be cast off, life must be changed, existing beliefs must be closely examined and held up to the stern light of prayer and accountable fellowship. Activities within a "church" or associated with Christ's name must serve the purpose of always putting the Saviour first. Christ may have let bystanders come and hear him, but return visits ultimately placed people in the uncomfortable position of making a choice: Live as you do today and die or let me transform you today, tomorrow and for eternity.

People may be wrong in their theology (an example is the one "Jacob" posted in the comments to this post on Pernell's blog), and it is important that we are sensitive to Christ's leading us in how to correct people. Christ himself had to issue rebukes in a variety of ways throughout the Gospels, and we need to be sensitive to our responsiblity as a child of Christ to issue rebukes as well. Those rebukes may have the effect of shutting the door on a relationship, but the person shutting the door may not be one God intends to bring home anyways.

The simple fact of the matteris this: Jesus Christ offers every single person an opportunity to experience the single greatest experience this earth can offer. An opportunity to see your life transformed into one of service and giving. An opportunity to eventually spend forever in the courts of Heaven with some of the greatest men and women to ever walk the earth. We shouldn't short-circuit that opportunity in order to make sure everyone feels welcome because, when the rubber meets the road, there are some who will no longer feel welcome.

And there's absolutely NOTHING you can do about it.

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"
Neil Peart, Rush, "Freewill".


Wednesday, January 19, 2005


How Hollywood should be run (according to FORTUNE)

Fortune Magazine has written an interesting article on how G- and PG-rated films are generating the lion's share of income for studios, despite being the smallest percentage of films created in 2003. Here's the highlights:

940 films were released in North America in 2003 (an average of nearly 19 per week)
29 films (less than 3%) were G or PG, 646 (nearly 70%) were rated R
Of the top 20 highest-grossing films, only 4 (Matrix Revolutions (#9), Matrix Reloaded (#4), T3 (#8) and Bad Boys II (#11)) were rated R (about 2/3 of 1%).

Fortune posits that, since G-rated films have a higher return on investment(ROI), Hollywood is misunderstanding their audience and should be creating more G- and PG-rated films, since more people will buy tickets and/or DVD's. I think they're way wrong. The success or failure of a film depends on three things: buildup of demand, repeat viewings and run longevity.

Allow me to explain. By way of information sourcing, I am using 2003 Domestic and 2003 Worldwide grosses as presented by Box Office Mojo.

In the modern movie world, there is almost nothing more important than the opening weekend box office grosses. The success or failure of a movie is almost universally predicated on the three-to-five day period following its release. This tells the studio a number of things - did the hype pay off, is the star/studio/product still bankable and is this sequel-worthy? The answers to these questions can change after release, but it doesn't happen often. Let's look at the top 10 opening weekends (domestically) of 2003:

1. Matrix Reloaded - ($91 million - 32% of final gross)

2. X2 (X-Men United) - ($85 million - 40% of final gross)

3. Return of the King - ($73 million - 19% of final gross)

4. Finding Nemo - ($70 million - 21% of final gross)

5. Bruce Almighty- ($68 million - 28% of final gross)

6. Hulk - ($62 million - 47% of final gross)

7. 2 Fast 2 Furious- ($50 million - 39% of final gross)

8. Matrix Revolutions - ($48 million - 35% of final gross)

9. Scary Movie 3 - ($48 million - 44% of final gross)

10. Pirates of the Caribbean- ($46 million - 15% of final gross)

Each of the above movies had some form of hype attached to it, whether it was a built-in audience (1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9 are all sequels), a reliable brand (#4 is a Pixar film, #6 is a cartoon character), a name actor (#5 starred Jim Carrey), or awesome promotion (#10 is a Disney thrill ride and had an awesome promo commercial). These films were bound to open huge and, as a result, got all the attention and all the headlines. However, each of these films also came with enormous price tags, meaning they needed something else to deliver good ROI.

There are hundreds of movie reviewers out there and I think there are 3 people on the planet who base their decision to go to a movie on the opinions of said reviewers. People will go to a movie if one of the following is true: They like the actor, they like the series, they like the genre or a friend tells them it's good. Good word of mouth leads to two things: more people going and repeat business. The percentage of gross listed next to the top 10 movies is very telling on this score. Three films in the top 10 (ROTK, Nemo and Pirates) earned less than 25% of their total grosses on the opening weekend. A more recent example of this is The Polar Express, which needed a few weeks to find an audience, but has remained steadily in the top 5 week-to-week for a few months. ROTK and Nemo benefited from great advance hype, strong word of mouth and hordes of loyal Tolkeinites and Pixaronians coming back again and again. Pirates made its way almost entirely on strong word of mouth (another example of this is Titanic). It doesn't matter what a movie is rated, if it sucks, it sucks, and the moviegoing public will make sure that it fails miserably.

This is one case where the family-friendly argument holds water, as a family buying 4 tickets to Finding Nemo is spending more than 2 twentysomethings going to Matrix Reloaded. Where non-family films catch up is ancillary business, as twenty- and thirtysomethings with disposable income and spare time will not only attend the movie in a theater (often more than once, if the film is really good), but will buy the special-edition DVD, a t-shirt, register on the website, and jump into various other money-sucking promotions. The family of 4 identified earlier may bypass spending $50 to take everyone to the theater and wait 6 months to buy the DVD for $25 at the neighborhood Wal-Mart.

So, I think I've proven my argument that buildup of demand, repeat viewings and run longevity are the three pillars of movie success. Fortune's argument goes on to state that Hollywood is mismanaging their studios. I think they're wrong and here's why:

Fortune states that 4 R-rated movies are in the top 20. This is correct, but it's important to note that only 3 films (Nemo, Elf and Cheaper by the Dozen) in the top 20 are G- or PG-rated. 13 films (including Mojo's #1, ROTK) are rated PG-13 and I wouldn't take my kids to see any of them. Moreover, 37 of Mojo's top 100 are R-rated, while only 24 are G- or PG-rated films. Granted, if there were more G- and PG-rated films, the ratio would probably change by sheer volume. I also question Fortune's source number, since 940 seems awfully high. Mojo lists the top 507 highest-grossing domestic films, so I suspect that includes a number of straight-to-video and arthouse films, many of which are fringe-extreme in their content and receive R ratings. That skews the statistics a bit.

It is also important to note the Worldwide grosses. No studio could reasonably expect North American take to move many of today's overpriced films to profitability, so the global market must be considered. Take 2003 champ Return of the King, which cost $144 million to make and market, but only earned 34% of its $1.1 billion dollar gross in North America. Using Mojo's 2003 Worldwide grosses as the basis, the top 20 consists of 2 G-rated films (Nemo and Brother Bear), 1 PG film (Elf), 7 R films (both Matrixes, Last Samurai, T3, Bad Boys II, Love Actually and American Wedding) and 10 PG-13 films. Elements of films that lead to sterner ratings in the states play better in other parts of the world.

Finally, let's look at some actual ROI figures for 2003. Calculation is very simple: Gross/costs (costs are production + marketing):

ROTK Domestic 262% Worldwide 777% (This means that ROTK earned almost 8X what it cost to make the movie)
Nemo Domestic 261% Worldwide 665%
Pirates Domestic 169% Worldwide 363%
Reloaded Domestic 141% Worldwide 369%
Bruce Almighty Domestic 209% Worldwide 417%
X2 Domestic 143% Worldwide 271%
Elf Domestic 298% Worldwide 379%
T3 Domestic 63% Worldwide 180% (Arnie plays better overseas)
Revolutions Domestic 75% Worldwide 230% (So does Keanu)

So, Fortune, I think Hollywood's got it right and you need to do a bit more research.


Wednesday Morning Ranting

I have to tell you all, I really love blogging. I also find it a bit upsetting that I cannot seem to find time to do it. I have all this stuff running through my head all throughout the day on a wide variety of topics. I'd love to get it written down. So, here's what I am going to try to do (call it a New Year's Resolution):

On Wednesdays every week I am going to put together a post of quick-hit thoughts on all the unimportant stuff that manages to captivate me day-to-day. Then, on Fridays, I'm going to focus my attention on a longer post speaking to something more relevant. We'll see how this goes.

Off we go, then. Yes?

This is why I am not a sportswriter

1 for 4 on the playoff games last weekend (and if it wasn't for the atrocious kicking performance by the Jets' Doug Brien, it would have been a goose egg). Philly and Atlanta both looked great dismantling the last two playoff pretenders (Minnesota and St. Louis, respectively, who I both picked as upset specials) and I am curious to see what kind of defensive scheme Philly employs to stop Warrick Dunn and Michael Vick, who combined for over 300(!) yards rushing against St. Louis. I think Philly may wind up playing only 10 guys on D, since the 11th will have to spend his day spying on Vick and keeping him confined to the pocket. Mind you, Vick has been known to occasionally cough up a hairball in games, so maybe he'll make Philly's life easier and try to do too much in the biggest pro game he's ever appeared in. Regardless of what Vick does or doesn't do, however, I think this is the year for Philly to get over the hump and make it to the Super Bowl after three years of crashing and burning in the NFC Championship Game. Call it 20-14 Philly.

I was so stoked for the Colts-Patriots game, thinking I was going to see a classic. I love the Colts' high-octane precision offense and was looking forward to watching it go against a depleted Patriots secondary. Little did I know that the Colts would employ a weather-based, short-field strategy requiring their receivers to basically run through the Patriots' awesome collection of linebackers. End result, Patriots win, Indy looked awful, and a potentially great game was flushed because the Colts were scared of the snow. So now we get Brady vs. Roethlisberger for what I expect to be a berth against Philly in XXXIX. Big Ben looked pretty weak against the Jets and the Steelers were lucky to escape to play this week. If it's just playoff jitters, maybe Roethlisberger gets over them. However, I'd bet the house that the Pats put 5 or 6 in the box on defense and dare Roethlisberger to beat them with his arm. This will be a big test for the Pats' weak secondary, so I expect at least one linebacker to drop back and help. I think the Steelers will fall short this year, as the Pats go on to defend their title in Jacksonville. Patriots 17-13.

The best show on TV

It's great having 24 back on the air. The writers seem to have changed tack a little bit this year, focusing the first few hours on developing characters essential to the total plot, which leads me to think that there won't be that period of transition between hours 12 and 16 that has dragged down the past seasons. I am also pleased at the decision to toss the entire supporting cast from previous years and add a new cast around Jack. I really like William Devane as SecDef Heller and, especially, Shoreh Aghdashloo as Dina Araz. Dina may be the most evil Mom to ever appear on TV. This week's episode was pretty much a placeholder, as Jack's pursuit of Khalil ended when Khalil decided to drive head-on into a cement truck, martyring himself. We also had the dismissal of Chloe, which allows for an all-new team to start causing intrigue at CTU, the arrival of Erin's schizophrenic daughter at CTU, which will cause problems somewhere along the line, and further development of Marianne, who is going to raise some kind of ruckus at CTU before too much longer.

By the way, a note about Chloe (played by Mary-Lynn Rajskub). In Season 3, I thought she was the most annoying character on TV. Now that I'm re-watching season 3 on DVD, I find that she is probably the best-defined character. Occasionally mouthy and always blunt, she is smart and focused and (next to Michelle Dessler-Almeida) probably the best-defined female character in Season 3. If her dismissal on Monday is final, she is a character that will be missed, but I don't see how they could have done much more with her, other than having her continue to be an irritating PITA to those around her.

OK, enough of that.


Is it me, or is CSI losing its luster? I cannot, no matter how hard I try, get into CSI:NY. Miami is really inconsistent (although Monday's episode was top-drawer) and I have just lost interest in Vegas this season. Maybe I'll get into it more when the seasons come out on DVD and I can watch the episodes back-to-back.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Wow, is there a LOT to cover here

The good just keeps on coming as far as global outreach for those affected by the tsunami tragedy. Yesterday, Hamilton's CH TV ran a telethon of sorts and viewers donted close to $1 million. Well done.

I was deeply saddened by the tragedy. I really put this into perspective when I thought of the number of dead being larger than the population of Burlington. Imagine waking up to find out that Burlington had been wiped out. Pretty jarring.

The other thing impressed on me is the heights of good that people can reach and the depths of indifference and outright evil that people can sink to, as evidenced in news reports since this happened.

Other things less relevant but much more fun to talk about:

Fearless picks for this weekend's NFL Divisional Semis:

AFC: Colts and Steelers
NFC: Rams and Vikings (upsets GALORE!)

MLB is having an awesome offseason of player movement, as a lot of big names are switching teams and changing the whole landscape of the game. I like what my Yanks have done, bolstering the pitching staff with the Big Unit, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. I'm also impressed with the Mets, who added Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. The whole Shawn Green to Arizona drama was pretty interesting, and the Cubs' ongoing issues with Sammy Sosa continue to captivate. Gotta feel bad for the Astros and the Cardinals, though, who have taken some pretty significant hits this offseason.

Lots more to cover, but I'm workin' here. Gotta go.