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June 6, 2007


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AliasRecently, Moriah and I finished watching all five seasons of Alias, which Moriah had found cheap at a secondhand store.  There was a lot we enjoyed about Alias.  What interests me, however, is that it seemed to us as if we weren’t exactly tracking with the makers of the show.

Spoiler alert: If you plan to watch the show, you’ll probably want to stop reading at this point.

For instance, consider the characters.  Moriah and I liked the main character, Sydney Bristow, well enough at first when she was still smiling and had friends.  As the show progressed, however, she grew darker and more serious.  I don’t recall her smiling as much.  She didn’t seem to have a life outside of her work.

Plus, she was involved with Michael Vaughn, originally her CIA handler.  I’ll say more about Vaughn later, but for now I’ll just say that Moriah and I couldn’t stand him.  Perhaps it was due to the limitations of the actor, though I suspect it was more the limitations of the script, but he seemed to have two ways of acting: either he was mopey, with sad eyes, probably intended to seem sensitive, or he was angry, angry, ANGRY.  His character didn’t develop; it was never more than two-dimensional.

As a result, we really didn’t want the two of them to be together.  Sydney’s old friend, Will Tippen, would have been a far better match for her.  But instead, we had to put up with Sydney and Vaughn gazing into each other’s eyes, Vaughn looking sensitive.

Furthermore, the show seemed to want us to believe in the rightness of their love, to think there was something beautiful and special and right about the two of them being together.  But Moriah and I thought they were ill-matched and frankly dull together, especially compared to Weiss and Nadia.  Besides, in one season Vaughn was married and it seemed to us that the show wanted us to hope that the marriage would fall apart so that Vaughn and Sydney could be together.  I know, I know: Vaughn’s wife turned out to be bad.  But I resent it when a show tries to make me disdain marriage.

The characters Moriah and I liked best were either the minor characters or the bad guys.  Marshall Flinkman was in some ways a stock character, the brainy geek who can do anything on the computer and who says strange things because he’s off in his own world and is socially inept.  In some episodes, he was simply a stereotype and was included for some comic relief.

On the other hand, from time to time, he developed as a character.  My favorite moment in the entire show, I think, was when Marshall, who hates flying, is taken along on one of Sydney’s missions.  Afraid, he invents a suit jacket parachute with an extra belt so that if the plane goes down, he can save Sydney, too.  The plane, of course, doesn’t crash.

But Marshall gets captured by a villain.  When Sydney tries to rescue him, she gets trapped with him in a building, forty (?) stories up.  There’s no escape. Or is there?  Marshall tells her to smash the window.  She reminds him how high they are.  He tells her that the jacket he’s wearing has the parachute and that the parachute will support her weight, too.  And then he says the line he’s always wanted to say: “My name is Marshall J. Flinkman, and I’m here to rescue you.”  Perfect.

But again, the show doesn’t give Marshall the respect he deserves.  He can’t get respect from the other characters most of the time and all too often the show reduces him to a stereotype.  Only rarely does he get to shine.

The same is true of Eric Weiss.  Weiss starts off as Vaughn’s partner.  When everyone else is overly serious, Weiss is cracking jokes, usually self-deprecating ones.  He’s considerate and thoughtful.  For a while, it seemed as if the show was going to do something with him.  He didn’t simply have to stay at home; he got to go on missions.

Eventually, he even got a girl and, as I mentioned above, his relationship with Nadia is full of laughter and fun.  It seemed as if we were supposed to view their relationships as somewhat juvenile, compared to Sydney and Vaughn’s serious love, though it’s actually that sort of mopey love that’s more characteristic of the high school soap opera than the true and humble delight in each other that Weiss and Nadia display.

Finally, we come to Arvin Sloane.  I don’t know how the show expects us to view Sloane, but Moriah and I generally liked him.  We didn’t always like what he did: he is a villain much of the time.  But he was also usually the most mature person on the show.  Compared to him, the other characters sometimes seemed like cardboard cutouts, including Sydney.  When reviled, Sloane didn’t revile in return.  When hated, Sloane responded with faithful love.

And so the makers of Alias ended up with Sloane being either their biggest failure or their biggest triumph.  He’s their biggest failure if they wanted us to hate him all along, if they wanted us to feel about him the way that Sydney and the other characters do.  I couldn’t: I liked him too much.  But he’s their greatest triumph if they intended him to be a tragic character because what made the tragedy work was precisely the grandeur of Sloane’s character and the fact that we liked him.

So why am I blogging about this?  Needless to say, I don’t blog about every show I watch.  But Alias sparked some reflection in me about the way the story worked and the way I was expected to respond, and I’m curious.  Was I supposed to respond the way I did?  Did other people respond to Alias the same way Moriah and I did?  Or was it just us?

Posted by John Barach @ 1:38 pm | Discuss (7)
May 28, 2007

Moscow Vacation

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Last Thursday, Moriah, Aletheia, and I left Medford for a vacation, the first vacation I’ve taken in over a year.  We drove up to Canyonville first, where Moriah had an Avon meeting at the Seven Feathers casino conference room.  (What a depressing thing a casino is.)  During her meeting, Aletheia and I explored downtown Canyonville, ate at a Mexican restaurant, and spent some time at a park, where Theia enjoyed the swings, a slide, and a little helicopter which Theia pretended to fly after patting the seat and insisting that I climb in to be her co-pilot.

When Moriah’s meeting finished, we continued our trip up to Portland, ate supper with Doug and Amy Hayes, and then flew to Spokane, where our friend Pat Greenfield met us and drove us down to Moscow, Idaho, where we spent the next week.

The town was pretty quiet since the school year was over and most of the university and college students had gone home.  The exception to that general quietness was an incident on the Saturday night after we arrived: a man opened fire on the courthouse and sheriff’s office, which are only a short distance from the house where we were staying.  We were already in bed or getting ready for bed and we didn’t hear the shots.

We were able to see a lot of friends, which was something we had been looking forward to.  I especially enjoyed spending some afternoons sipping cortaditos at Bucer’s and reading.  I’d taken along some books that I’d been looking forward to reading, so I spent some afternoons with Gene Wolfe’s The Wizard, C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, Eric Hoffer’s The Ordeal of Change, and Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran.

But the highlight of our time in Moscow was probably our meal on Wednesday evening at West of Paris, a French restaurant owned by our friend, Francis Foucachon.  It was probably the best meal we’d ever had in our lives.  We’ve been talking about it ever since, and I’m sure Moriah will describe it on her blog soon.

We returned home on Friday refreshed and eager to get back to work here.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:19 pm | Discuss (0)
March 2, 2007

Your Temper & Welcome

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Something for fathers by Doug Wilson: “Your Temper is a Doctrine of God.”

And, though Paul Buckley has been blogging since September, I only just discovered his blog.  Paul’s a journalist who used to work for the Dallas Morning News and is now a student at Westminster in Philly.  I met him at a conference a few years back.  So welcome to the world of blogging, Paul!

Posted by John Barach @ 1:31 pm | Discuss (0)
February 14, 2007

Emerging Worship 1

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Today, I started reading Dan Kimball‘s Emerging Worship.  Kimball is one of the major players in the emerging church conversation and so, having spotted this book in the library, I thought I’d give it a quick read to see what Kimball thinks worship ought to be like.

After a meandering foreword by David Crowder (why did he even bother writing it?), Kimball starts by talking about what an “emerging worship service gathering” is.  He makes the point that when many evangelical Christians hear “worship” they think “music.”  When people say, “The worship at my church is great!” they usually mean “The worship band rocks!”

(I’ve sometimes said that the difference between evangelical churches and specifically Reformed churches is that the former say, “What did you think of the music?” and the latter say “What did you think of the sermon?” which is not necessarily better.)

Kimball rightly maintains that worship is broader than just music (p. 2).  Furthermore, he’s right to insist that worship is not all about doing something that makes us feel good (pp. 2-3).  But then he stumbles when he says about a worship service: “It is not about God’s service to us.  It is purely our offering of service and worship to God — offering our lives, offering our prayers, offering our praise, offering our confessions, offering our finances, offering our service to others in the church body” (p. 3).

While I grant that worship is what we do and that it’s okay to apply the term “worship” to the whole of what we do in the service (even though the biblical words translated “to worship” generally mean something like “to bow down”), I’d want to maintain that worship isn’t the whole of the service.  Or, to put it another way, we aren’t the only ones who are doing the serving when we assemble as a church.  In fact, our service is not the primary service.  God serves us first and we serve Him (and each other) in response.

It’s not wrong to come to church wanting to receive something.  All of us come to church needy.  Specifically, as James Jordan has pointed out, we need the three gifts that God gives in the liturgy: glory, knowledge (or wisdom), and life.  While it sounds better to say “We don’t worship to get; we worship to give,” it isn’t accurate.  We have nothing to give until we first get.  We come needy, God supplies our needs, and then we give in response.

All of which is to say that, while I appreciate Kimball’s call for a more holistic understanding of worship — one which goes beyond just the music — I don’t think Kimball goes far enough.  We need an understanding of the service which goes beyond worship, beyond what we do, to what God does for us.

On another note, Kimball’s call for churches to move “away from a preaching-and-singing-a-few-songs worship service model to a multi-sensory approach to worshiping God” (p. 5) suggests to me that much of what he appreciates is a reaction to a rationalistic sort of model (church is a lecture hall with some pre-lecture and post-lecture songs).  It’s a reaction to the approach which emphasizes only the sense of hearing and (primarily) the posture of sitting.

In short, it’s a reaction to the church’s failure to practice a fully-orbed, biblically-based liturgy, a liturgy with various postures (sitting, kneeling, standing) and with lots of congregational involvement (not just in singing but also in the prayers), a liturgy which culminates every week in the Lord’s Supper.  And so, when he presents questions for church leaders to ask about their services, one of them is this: “Did we take the Lord’s Supper together as a church regularly?” (p. 10).

Posted by John Barach @ 5:24 pm | Discuss (8)
November 21, 2005

Unhand That Lady!

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Peter Leithart defends Jane Austen from Andrew Sandlin.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:28 pm | Discuss (0)
June 23, 2005


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I’m pleased to be able to welcome one of my long-time friends, Glenda Mathes to the blogging world. I met Glenda when I was interning at First Christian Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, where she was the church secretary. She is an award-winning Iowa poet and now works as a freelance journalist.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:31 pm | Discuss (0)
November 6, 2004

Mark 1:2-3 Sermon Notes

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Mark 1:2-3
(August 29, 2004 Sermon Notes)

Mark doesn’t simply tell us the story of Jesus. Like Paul (Acts 13; Rom. 1), Mark starts by referring to prophecies which look forward to the beginning of the good news. He wants us to know that the story of Jesus is the climax of a much longer story. Jesus is the culmination of the whole Old Covenant.

But what Mark is doing here is far from straightforward. What he says sounds like Malachi 3:1 followed by Isiaah 40:3. But Mark doesn’t quote Malachi 3:1 word for word. He modifies it.

Malachi 3:1 says, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” But Mark 1:2 says, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare the way before you.”

Mark isn’t misquoting Malachi. Rather, Malachi 3:! is itself a modification of Exodus 23:20 (“Behold, I send a messenger before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared”). Mark is blending both of these passages together to show how they speak of Jesus.


In Exodus 23:20, YHWH promises to send his Angel to protect Israel and bring Israel into the Promised Land. From other passages of Scripture, we know that this Angel is YHWH himself. He’s God the Son. His presence with Israel, as YHWH goes on to say in Exodus 23, means that Israel must listen to him if she is to inherit the land. The Angel’s presence is an assurance of victory to all who heed his voice.


But Mark doesn’t simply quote Exodus 23:20. He blends that verse with Malachi 3:1. In Exodus, Israel is in the wilderness but in Malachi’s time Israel is back in the Promised Land after the exile in Babylon.

But Israel was no longer obeying YHWH’s voice and was in danger of being cast out of the land. And now YHWH says that he is coming to judge them. Now it’s YHWH who is invading the land to conquer all the spiritual Canaanites and restore the land to his faithful people.

But before he comes, he is sending his messenger (the Hebrew and Greek words for “angel” also mean “messenger”). The messenger will prepare Israel so that not everyone is destroyed when YHWH comes.

Mark identifies that messenger as John the Baptist. Drawing on Exodus, Mark is presenting John as the “angel’ (not divine but human) who brings Jesus, the new Israel, into the Promised Land. YHWH has sent him and his coming is a promise of victory for Jesus and for all who follow him. If Israel wants to inherit the land, she must listen to John’s message.

Drawing on Malachi, Mark is also presenting Jesus as YHWH himself, driven away by Israel’s sins but returning to judge his people and to purify them. Bur who can endure the day of his coming? And so YHWH sends John before Jesus to prepare Israel lest she be destroyed. There is no room for unholiness in the presence of the king who is YHWH himself. But there’s victory for everyone who trusts in YHWH and rejoices in the coming of the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4).


After citing Exodus blended with Malachi, Mark then quotes Isaiah 40:3. Again, as with the Exodus and Malachi citations, Mark wants us to understand the whole passage he’s citing as speaking of Jesus. Isaiah 39 ends with the proclamation that Israel will go into exile. But Isaiah 40 proclaims a return from exile.

More precisely, Isaiah 40 proclaims that YHWH will return to his people to forgive them and bring them home. First comes the messenger, urging Israel to prepare YHWH’s way. And then YHWH himself will come. Mark wants us to see Jesus as YHWH the king, rescuing his people from the power of their enemies and restoring them to his favour.

Jesus is YHWH, coming to conquer and save. But first he sends a messenger to prepare his way, to call Israel to repentance, so that his coming doesn’t lead to destruction for the whole nation.

Today, we celebrate the good news: YHWH has come and has conquered. He has led us into our inheritance, the kingdom of God. We share in his great Exodus and we’re following Jesus in the great Conquest. But who will share in that inheritance and that victory? Only those who repent, who continue to make his paths straight, and who follow Jesus on the way of the Lord.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:37 pm | Discuss (0)
November 4, 2004

Happy Birthday, Moriah!

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Happy birthday, Moriah!

I’ve known you now for almost a year and a half. I’ve been married to you for a little over four months. And the longer I know you, the more I love you. I look forward to many more years together!

Posted by John Barach @ 5:11 pm | Discuss (0)
November 3, 2004

Discerning the Body

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As parents teach their children with each administration of the Lord’s Supper, one of the central things they must teach is how to discern the Lord’s body. This does not mean that the children (or anyone else) should try to “see” the Lord’s body up on the table in front of the church. That is not the “body” being referred to. Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for failing to see the body of Christ in one another. This is why he points to the one loaf being a symbol of the congregation. We have one church, and that’s why we have one loaf.

This means that children should be required to learn how to see the body of Christ in their fellow Christians. A good place to start is with their brothers and sisters. As they repent of a squabble in the car on the way to church, they are discerning the body. As they look up and down their family row and out across the church, they are learning to discern the body. They are in fellowship with these people and must not be upset with any of them. This is something that a small child can understand and do. — Doug Wilson, My Life for Yours, p. 116.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:37 pm | Discuss (0)
November 2, 2004

Mark 1:1

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Mark 1:1
(Sermon notes for August 22, 2004)

If you’re watching a TV show and your wife comes in halfway through, she has to ask a lot of questions before she can understand what’s going on. When we read Mark’s Gospel, we’re coming in more than halfway through. Mark assumes that we know the Old Testament and that we’re familiar with its symbolism.

He also assumes we know Matthew’s Gospel. The earliest evidence we have indicates that Matthew wrote first. Most likely, he wrote a few weeks after Pentecost.

Mark builds on Matthew. Matthew presents Jesus as a new Moses, a priest. Mark presents Jesus as the new David, the king. The books of Moses end with Joshua about to lead Israel into the promised land. Matthew ends with Jesus as the new Joshua sending His new Israel to conquer the world with the gospel and that’s where Mark starts, with Jesus as the king. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is the prince who becomes king on the cross, the son of David who inherits the land and then reaches out to inherit the earth.


Every word in Mark 1:1 is significant. What does Mark mean by “gospel”? He isn’t referring to a book about Jesus (e.g., the Gospel of Mark) or about justification by faith alone. What is the good news?

In the ancient world, “gospel” was the word used to announce an birth or enthronement or victory of the emperor, who was seen as a god. An inscription from 9 BC speaks of Augustus’s birth as “the beginning of the gospel.” Israel used the word in a similar sense. In Isaiah, the word “gospel” refers to the announcement that Israel’s God is coming to be Israel’s king, to rescue and rule and reward His people (Isa. 40:9; 52:7).

By using the word “gospel” to refer to his message about Jesus, Mark is indicating that Jesus is Israel’s God in person, the new world emperor, the rival to Caesar, who is returning to His people and taking his throne to rescue them and give them peace. Believing this message results in forgiveness of sins and changed lives. But the gospel isn’t simply about those things. The gospel is the announcement that there’s a new king, that he’s conquered his enemies, that he gives peace to all who align themselves with him.


We must not let the familiarity of the words in Mark 1:1 keep us from examining them to appreciate what they mean. Mark tells us that the new king is Jesus, the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua.” Mark wants us to see Jesus as the new Joshua, leading his people into the Promised Land. In his life on earth, Jesus leads his followers to victory in Israel; now he is leading us to victory in the world.

Jesus is also the “Christ.” “Christ” is a title, not a name. It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Messiah.” It identifies him as the anointed one. In the Bible, “Christ” or “Messiah” is a royal title. Samuel anointed Saul and later anointed David. The anointing didn’t make Saul or David king. There was a long interval between David’s anointing and David’s enthronement. But the anointing is the basis for the enthronement (Ps. 89:19ff.).

Here in Mark 1:1, Mark announces that the good news is that Jesus is David’s heir, the Messiah, the anointed king, who would inherit the nations (Ps. 2).

Jesus is also “the son of God.” Jesus is God the Son who is God himself. Everything he does, including his death on the cross, reveals who God is. But in the Bible, “son of God” refers to Israel (Ex. 4:22-23) and then also to Israel’s king and representative (2 Sam. 7:12ff.; Ps. 2; 89:26).

When Mark says Jesus is the “son of God,” he’s identifying him as the king of Israel and he’s summoning us to follow him and trust him and share in his victory.


Mark is giving us “the beginning of the good news of Joshua Messiah, God’s son.” This verse is a heading to the first part of Mark’s Gospel, the story of John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism. It also serves as a heading for the whole book: the whole story of Jesus is the beginning of the gospel, and the church’s proclamation is the continuation and advancement of that gospel in all the world (16:15).

Mark’s Gospel is the story of how Jesus became king. He did so, Mark says, following “the way of the Lord” (1:2, 3). Throughout the book, Jesus does things “on the way.”

The son on the way to kingship ought to remind us of Proverbs, in which the king teaches his son and trains him to rule as king. The “beginning” of that way is the fear of Yahweh (Prov. 1:7). Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is being trained by his Father to walk in “the way of the Lord,” the way of wisdom and humility, the way of kingship and dominion.

And throughout this book, Jesus is teaching Israel and us to follow him on that way so that we also can rule as kings. As we learn “the beginning of the good news of Joshua Messiah, the son of God,” we’re learning the beginning of wisdom. We’re learning to follow our new Joshua, our new David, to dominion.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:21 pm | Discuss (0)
November 1, 2004

For All the Saints?

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It’s All Saints Day, and there could be no better occasion to recommend N. T. Wright’s recent short book For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed.

In this book, Wright is reacting to recent trends in the Anglican church (and perhaps others, too) toward vague language about the state of those who have died, language which often flows from a return to some sort of belief in Purgatory. The liturgical expression of this trend is found, Wright points out, in the addition of All Souls’ Day on November 2, following All Saints’ Day on November 1, as well as in the invention of something called the “kingdom season” in the church calendar, spanning the time between Trinity Sunday and Advent.

Against this trend, Wright argues strongly that all Christians are saints and that all Christians, when they die, go immediately to be with the Lord.

Now that may sound like plain vanilla Protestantism. Well, it is vanilla, but it isn’t plain. This is French vanilla with real pieces of vanilla bean mixed in. Which is to say that in the course of this short book Wright includes a lot of valuable and helpful biblical analysis and presents it all in a very readable manner.

There are a couple of areas where Wright’s presentation is a bit weak (notably his brief treatment of hell), but all in all I highly recommend this book, especially since this is All Saints’ Day, a day on which the church celebrates the fact that all (not just some especially godly ones) who die in the Lord are triumphant in Him and on which we remember that those who die as well as we who remain are still the Church Expectant, looking forward to the great day of the bodily resurrection.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:19 pm | Discuss (0)


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However a family is clothed, a father and husband has a scriptural responsibility to provide his wife with the wherewithal to do her duty in this area. I am sorry to have to press the point, but men need to understand this means money for shopping. The money ought not to be given grudgingly or as a last resort whenever a clothing crisis erupts. A man needs to be provident; in other words, he should anticipate things like winter (an event which should not be a surprise by now), and the household budget should contain room for the necessary provisions.

The flip side of this, for the wives, is taking their responsibility in shopping seriously. Buying a bunch of unnecessary items is not saving the household money even if all of them were twenty percent off. But if a wife takes her calling and vocation seriously, she will do her husband good in this area, and she will do so all the days of his life (Prov. 31:12-13). Wives who shop responsibly are a tremendous asset to their homes. If I spend too much time in a department store (as in, more than five minutes), I start to feel like something hot and wet is crawling up my back. The fact that my wife is gifted in (voluntarily) going from one of these places to another in order to save our household unnecessary expense is priceless. — Doug Wilson, My Life for Yours, p. 132.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:06 pm | Discuss (1)

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