Dunkirk: The movie…and our calling

Yesterday evening we went to see Chris Nolan’s new film, Dunkirk, where the British and French armies were forced to pull back to the beaches in the face of Hitler’s army.  The movie powerfully shows the terror of 338,ooo men pinned down on the beach waiting and trying to evacuate to England across the channel. Overhead the Luftwaffe bombed the hospital ships and destroyers loaded with men and strafed those still on the beach or in the water.

But the movie leaves out much of the larger story. Right when they had the Allies in their tank sites, the German army halted their advance for three days.  They believed the Allies were doomed and they took the liberty to consolidate their position. A British officer cabled home a curious message that signified nothing to the Germans, but dire distress to the British populace who were familiar with the King James Version of the Bible: “But if not…”

The message quoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they faced the furnace of the Babylonian king (Daniel 3:17-18: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, let it be known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

The troops faced a fiery ordeal. They needed a miracle.

La La Land Now Streaming: How do we decide between his dreams vs her dreams vs steadfast love?

April 25th DVD release for the Oscar winning movie

If you just watch the first half of La La Land, you’ll find yourself swept into the blue-sky, sunshine, and citrus colors of Hollywood dreams. The opening big production number on the jammed LA freeway introduces us to Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), off to a prickly start but eventually falling in love and cheering each other on. He wants to revive the lost art of pure jazz in his own club; she wants to become a famous Hollywood actress.

Just as Silverado tipped its hat to the iconic features of Hollywood westerns, so La La Land pays fresh tribute to the romantic musicals of the past. The film’s editor, Sara Preciado, put together this fascinating 2-minute video showing a side-by-side comparison:

Part one concludes with Seb and Mia’s Boy-Gets-Girl kiss in an iris fade so typical of bygone Hollywood Happy Endings. But, as in life and postmodern stories, the kiss is not the ending. Life and the movie goes on. The cost of pursuing their dreams rises and each one must choose how much to sacrifice for the other–a tension common to most couples, especially to women.

I’ll Take Narnia’s Aslan over The Shack’s Papa Any Day: What William P. Young is Missing

This week The Shack is (still) #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list and, after three weeks, still in the top five at the movie box office. With unforgettable images Young draws a picture of God’s compassion for a bruised reed of a man who has lost his little girl in a crime of unspeakable violence and murder.

The God of all comfort prepares Mack’s favorite food in the kitchen. Skips rocks across the lake with him. Wears old flannel shirts. Young’s story takes us inside Mack’s grief and shows how God’s tender, creative soul-care heals and restores.

Throughout almost thirty years of rheumatoid arthritis, the wanderings of a prodigal, and the inevitable conflicts and rejections of the pastorate, Jesus has lavished me with his tenderness and mercy. Yet in times of deepest sorrow I find the portrait of God that CS Lewis has drawn in Aslan, the lion-King in his fictional world of The Chronicles of Narnia, even more comforting than Papa in The Shack.

When the Weird Christian Becomes the Awesome Hero

2017 Best Picture Nominees Retrospective-Hacksaw Ridge

Do they still make movies with that story line? Yes they do. Even though the stereotype of Christians as weird has become so ingrained in today’s culture that Tracey Ullman can give it a cheeky send-up in this 2-minute sketch, “A Christian’s Job Interview.”

For every Christian who is a bit weary of this not-so-subtle bias, Hacksaw Ridge offers two hours of stand-tall validation of a real believer’s faith and a real God’s faithfulness. And thanks to the superb film-making skills of Director Mel Gibson, it was even nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Contrast Ullman’s clip with the movie trailer…

What Meryl Streep (and we) can learn from Alabama v Clemson Football and the “Fixer Upper” Gaines

On Sunday night Meryl Streep disappointed millions when she used her professional platform at the Golden Globes awards show to hammer Donald Trump and drive a bigger wedge between deeply divided Americans.

Full disclosure: I have been a solid Meryl Streep fan for years. Any actor who can play “the devil” wearing Prada and a no-talent, deluded socialite in Florence Foster Jenkins displays a tremendous range. (I reviewed her “formidable talent” in Florence here.)

The thing is, I get her critical remarks about President-elect Donald Trump. Although I think she chose the wrong example. Trump’s attack on a disabled reporter is in deep dispute. However there are plenty of other examples that aren’t. I’ve posted about how his philosophy of hitting back twice as hard comes off as alienating. Even bullying. It opens him up to people believing Streep’s version of what happened.

Streep said, “And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone [Donald Trump] in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose…”

Just when she could have had me, she lost me. In a great ironic turn, Streep did the very thing for which she criticized Trump. She used the power of her position to dump a big dose of disrespect on millions of Americans.

My Top Ten Faith and Culture Blogs of 2016

Happy New Year!

Part of the fun of ringing in 2017 is that I can look back at my stats and discover what you were most interested in last year. Here are your favorite blog posts from 2016:

#10 When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election How to describe the presidential election of 2016? Bizarre? Shock and awe? The caucuses and primaries began on February 1st and by March 1st (Super Tuesday, when this blog was published), unless you were an early fan of Donald Trump, you were starting to feel the stress.

The Loyal Lie vs. The Painful Truth: Florence Foster Jenkins, Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant

florence-foster-jenkinsTo me, one of the signs of a two-thumbs-up movie is when I find myself thinking about a movie for days afterwards. Florence Foster Jenkins is that kind of movie. Yes, it’s hilarious, but it also challenges us to consider – how do we move forward if we have far more passion than gifting? Is life all about following our bliss?

Many of us have the friend or family member with a passion for something – painting, singing, home decorating, for which they really have no talent. Do we humor them with insincere praise? Do we protect them from honest critics and real-life consequences? At what point do we help them with a reality check? Or do we play along forever?

At what point should truth trump loyalty?

One big cultural reason for Trump’s success and what it means for our future

There’s this scene at the end of the movie of The Truman Show where Jim Carrey, who plays the unwitting star of a reality show about his life, finally figures out that none of it is real. Like the voice of God speaking out of the “sky,” The Truman Show producer tries to persuade him to stay, “You were real,”…that’s what made you so good to watch.”

Truman/Carrey pauses at the foot of a stair case leading up and out of the giant dome of his set, then takes his final bow and makes his exit. The millions who have watched him since he was a toddler explode into cheers, hi-fives and laughter. In the control room the order is given, “Cease transmission.” All the TV sets go to crackling “snow.”

Two security guys eating pizza look at each other. “What else is on?” asks one.
“Yeah let’s see what else is on.”
“Where’s the TV Guide?”
And the credits roll.

Because the show is over. Transmission has ceased. Time to change the channel. Those of us who have followed the 2016 Great Republican Presidential Race Reality Show find ourselves in the same place. Some breathless with the thrill of victory. Others incredulous over sixteen defeats. Millions of us a bit deflated that the primary “show” is over.

Many of us are trying to parse how such a promising field with so many good candidates has ended with the choice shaping up before us.

Many Beautiful Things Movie: Why have we never heard of Lilias Trotter?

A remarkable artist chooses a hidden life of love over "success" and celebrity.

“This film is a miniature masterpiece.”–Os Guinness…“The whole world should see this movie.”–Michelle Dockery…One of the most lovely and personally inspiring films ever–Lael 

A new movie, Many Beautiful Things, introduces us to a true-life young beauty of means in Victorian England. An extraordinarily gifted artist, she is mentored and celebrated by John Ruskin, the leading art critic of the era, an Oxford professor and founder of its drawing school. He hailed her as one of the most potentially celebrated artists of her time. Ruskin’s challenge: “to give herself up to art.”

If she would dedicate herself to this great gift she would take her place among the cultural elite of England. She would change minds, as she had changed Ruskin’s, about the potential for women to paint great art.

She would also have an extraordinary platform from which to expand her work on behalf of poor and disenfranchised women–prostitutes whom she coaxed into the fledgling YWCA for shelter and job skills, the working women of London forced to eat their lunches on the streets, until she helped build London’s first public restaurant for women.

But another Voice was calling her.

Walking Away from Baseball: $13 Million │ A Little Divine Affirmation: Priceless

Adam 2014

Jack and I visit with Adam before a 2014 game at Turner Field in Atlanta.

A friend and a timely dream encouraged White Sox hitter Adam LaRoche in his decision.

“I had the strangest dream,” my husband Jack told me at breakfast last Tuesday. “I dreamed I was walking with Adam down a long corridor headed to the field and he told me he was retiring from baseball.

“It was unlike any dream I’ve ever had, extremely vivid and high-def. Adam was sad so I put my arm around him to comfort him. I prayed for him. Then he walked on down the corridor and out onto the field to make his announcement.

“After all these years that would be sad,” I said.

“And then I woke up. It was only 5:30 am so I took it as a prompting from God to pray for Adam.”

Jack and I have known Adam since his family joined our church back in the 90’s. He baptized Adam and took him on his first hunt, a squirrel-control patrol. We’ve attended his Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals games. His mom is one of my best friends. So we didn’t think it all that unusual for Jack to have a dream about Adam. Until later.

Captive the Movie: WOW

A serial killer and his hostage grapple with God's purpose in their crashing lives

On March 11, 2005 the Atlanta police locked the city down in a massive manhunt for Brian Nichols, an escaped convict who had bludgeoned his police escort, burst into the courtroom, murdered his judge and, before the day was over, gunned down three others.

Across town a meth addict widow, Ashley Smith, makes yet another promise to her recovery group and her daughter that she will show up clean. Hours later she holds a packet of crystal meth over the toilet…then rolls up a dollar bill and inhales it.

Of all the women Nichols could have captured that that day and forced to hide him, he chose Ashley. Of all the books Ashley could have been reading, the one on her kitchen table was Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

“Read it to me,” Brian orders. The words change both their lives.

90 minutes in Heaven: Is it credible? My movie review

90 minutes“I died on January 18, 1989. Immediately after I died I went straight to heaven. While I was in heaven a Baptist preacher rushed to my lifeless body and prayed for me. At least 90 minutes after the EMT’s pronounced me dead, God answered that man’s prayers. I returned to earth. This is my story.”—Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven, 2004

Maybe you’ve read one of the Christian leaders advising others NOT to go see the new 90 Minutes in Heaven book-based movie, released Thursday. “You dishonor God and the Bible if you need this kind of outside verification.” “Bad theology.”

I don’t think so.

My many reasons why began Friday, March 22nd 2003. I was in the “bullpen” at the Mt. Hermon Christian writer’s conference in California. At break time a handful of us news junkies were watching the US military unleash its “shock and awe” campaign on downtown Baghdad. “I can’t help but notice your limp,” I eventually said to one of the guys. “After twenty-three years of rheumatoid arthritis I limp sometimes too, so my antennae are fairly sensitive to that.”

“Yes,” he replied, “I was in a car wreck.”

A Prayer for Josh Duggar: God’s ruthless exposure of secrets this summer

Ashley MadisonSince I wrote last May about the disclosures of Josh’s inappropriate touching of his younger sisters (and a friend) when he was fourteen and the ensuing scandal, my thoughts turn again to him and his family today.

Now we find out that for years he’s been leading a double life, addicted to porn, getting on the Ashley Madison website that facilitates adultery and has been unfaithful to his wife.

“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have been unfaithful to my wife,” he wrote in a public apology. “As I am learning the hard way, we have the freedom to choose to our actions, but we do not get to choose our consequences. I deeply regret all hurt I have caused so many by being such a bad example. I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”

Sorrow upon sorrow. So disheartening for the body of Christ. And another shot across our bow to turn from our failures and indifference and draw near to a God who reaches out in terrible, loving rebuke to draw us to himself.

This summer I’ve been reading the prophet Ezekiel.  I’ve been struck by how God ruthlessly exposes the sin of his people, especially their leaders, before he brings down horrific destruction.

Beach Boys, Love and Mercy movie, and the Lost Gospel of Brian Wilson Part 2

Love and Mercy portraitThe funny, sensitive musician has reflected that he lost his sense of humor in the 60’s. Combined with his own insecurities and mental fragility, his quest for drugs-and-music-drenched enlightenment  took a fearful and paranoiac toll. Which makes the redemptive story of Love and Mercy all the more amazing. (view Part 1 here)

In Smile Brian was reaching for music that would take the listener into totally new spiritual experiences–transcendent, epic and yet intimate at the same time. Brian was no philosophical-art-student John Lennon, but in Van Dyke Parks he found a Lennonesque collaborator to put lyrics to the great art and music in his soul.

For months they pulled drug-fueled all-nighters at Brian’s famous piano in the sandbox and conceived a musical mosaic to guide listeners on a journey through American music, beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Diamond Head. It would incorporate the elements of earth, air, fire and water as an image of ego death and oneness with the all.

On one of the instrumental tracks Brian worked to created the musical experience of fire–“a dark, booming, reverb-drenched blur of sound.” An “eerie whine that grew into a giant conflagration…the weirdest was the crash and crackle of instruments smoldering for the final time.” Listening to the final cut of “Mrs. O’leary’s Cow,” the musicians marveled at what Brian had produced.

Then, a couple of days later, a building across the street from the studio burned down and there seemed to be a rash of fires in the LA area.

Beach Boys, Love and Mercy Movie and the Lost Gospel of Brian Wilson

love and mercy LP poster

So there I was cruising down a woodsy road in the balmy summer twilight, stereo cranked…”You gotta help me Rhonda, help me get her outta my heart bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom…”

Most of us associate the Beach Boys with summer-soundtrack songs about surfing, cars and girls on the beach. And their staggering 100,000,000 records sold. (More @ my presentations on Brian Wilson and the Quest for Cool here)

Back in the 60’s, outside the music business, we didn’t realize that Brian Wilson, the creative genius who wrote most of their music, was taking his place among American greats like George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Burt Bacharach.

We just knew that when we pulled the sun roof back and crooned along on “Don’t Worry Baby,” something deeper reeled us in: the sheer beauty and increasing complexity of the music.  The constant shifting from major to minor chords that somehow captured our exuberance in the major theme of life’s joys and our longing for love and mercy in a fallen, minor-themed world.

The movie Love and Mercy chronicles the story of Brian Wilson in two narrative arcs. Paul Dano plays twenty-something Brian in the 60’s at the height of his creative genius.

John Cusack plays Wilson in the 80’s—a damaged soul who slips a beautiful Cadillac saleswoman a note with three hastily written words: lonely, frightened, scared. The movie seamlessly weaves together scenes from both periods to show how Brian fell into the minor theme and couldn’t find his way out. Yet it leaves the larger story of why unexplored. 

Getting over the Duggar/Jennar outrage…for the common good

In Touch DuggarsImagine if *you* were Jim Bob or Michelle Duggar. Imagine the InTouch reporters and editors who broke the story on your son’s dishonoring innocent young girls turning up at your door and asking you for a personal interview. Now imagine that you gather your tribe together and knock yourselves out to serve them dinner. And afterwards you serve up coffee and strawberry shortcake and sit down to answer at least a few of their questions.

There’s a great precedent for such outrageous kindness. It’s what Christians have been famous for through the ages. Consider church father Polycarp (AD 69-155). When a cohort of Roman soldiers arrived to arrest him and take him to be judged in the amphitheater in Smyrna, Polycarp calmly greeted them. Noting they must be tired, he asked them if they would like to refresh themselves with food and drink while he took the hour to pray.  They agreed and he accompanied them without protest to his death.

And then there was Jesus.

As people who want to follow Jesus we honor the image of God in everyone. We have been champions of the image of God in the unborn. Champions of the weak and dying. But we tend to fall off the wagon in between. As the heat turns up over the the Duggars, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and the anticipated gay marriage ruling by the Supreme Court, we get angry. We attack. We mock. We say things on Facebook that make Jesus weep. How can we champion the image of God and the common good in the weeks ahead?

Some Deep Thoughts on San Andreas

San AndreasIt’s a disaster movie designed to be a roller coaster ride–the kind of scary fun you expect from summer blockbusters. Not quite a Spielberg roller coaster, but still, pretty intense, with a story of family reconciliation to boot.

My original title for a short post was going to be, “San Andreas: There is no thoughtful cultural commentary to offer on this movie. Just have fun.”

But even insurance companies acknowledge that earthquakes are “acts of God,”  so it’s natural to see a link between earthquakes and earthquake movies and God.

But first, the movie…

Before we throw stones at the Duggars…and some advice from a CPS pro

It’s been a terrible, no good, very bad week for the Duggars and their 19 Kids and Counting reality TV show. A few days ago a celebrity gossip tabloid reported that twelve years ago Josh, the oldest child, fondled 5 young girls, several of them his sisters. He was 14 at the time. The tabloid took the police report public and the web has exploded with condemnation.

19 KIDS AND COUNTING 7

19 KIDS AND COUNTING

(August 22, 2010 update: With Josh Duggar’s confession of unfaithfulness and holding an account on the Ashley Madison website that facilitates adultery, I’ve written a sequel to this post.)

Parents Jim Bob and Michelle have been publicly shamed for calling it a “very bad mistake” and covering it up. Last night CNN’s Don Lemon and his guests slammed them for dealing with Josh through a religious lens of sin and repentance rather than acknowledging “the reality”: his actions are a crime and he should be reported to the police. (Really? Keep reading…)

The Learning Channel is deciding whether to continue producing the show. Viewers are deciding whether they will continue to watch it. Or permit their children to watch it. Many of us are listening to the uproar wondering how to respond to fellow-believers with wisdom and grace. And no doubt many families with a similar experience are watching this unfold in horror of what this all means for the way they handle their own children.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Boomers Take On Aging and Death

(“Best of” blog, review of the original Marigold movie, reposted as the sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel releases)

best exotic marigold hotel“What will you do in the end?” asks the prophet Jeremiah. Sonny, a young Indian entrepeneur has an answer: “Outsource aging to India!” Where they respect their elders and where, instead of a tiny beige flat, your thirty-year civil service pension can afford life in his luxurious hotel.

In this movie seven retirees and widows with different baggage and longings accept the offer and fly off to spend their golden years in India.

OK, so it turns out to be a run-down, covered-in-dust and peeling-paint hotel. Photoshopping your brochure works better for Sonny than his guests.

A fine cast, including Judy Dench, Bill Nighly, Tim Hathaway, and Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton from Downton Abbey, shows us what happens to those who choose to work, love and overcome the losses of relocation and aging and those who choose to stay inside and read a book. What will YOU do in the end? Marigold explores several options. (Spoiler Alert)

Fifty Shades of Blue

Last Sunday at the 2015 Grammy’s our friend Brooke Axtell appealed to women trapped in abuse to raise their voice and escape like she did.

Brooke at Grammys

When the man she loved began to abuse her she said, “I was stunned…I believed he was lashing out because he was in pain, and needed help. I believed my compassion could restore him and our relationship. My empathy was used against me. I was terrified of him and ashamed I was in this position. What bound me to him was my desire to heal him.” The Grammys audience erupted in applause as did The Washington Post, ABC News, Time magazine, Salon, Slate and many more news outlets. You can watch the one-minute video here.

Not a week later 50 Shades of Grey opened in theaters across the nation. Do you have a friend or a daughter who is intrigued by the movie? Or maybe you are…Ask them or take one minute to watch the video of Brooke’s speech and compare it to this paragraph from the New York Times review: