Category Archives: Christianity

Lady Bird – Review

vMYzdmdmednGmEr0FZaLFZj2ptZLady Bird is the new film from director Greta Gerwig in a semi-autobiographical work staring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Mefcalf (Gerwig has said nothing in the movie happened to her, but the feelings and core of the movie did). The film is an exploration of the troubled relationship between a mother and daughter, struggling to find understand each other.

Longing

Lady Bird is not actually her name, it’s the name she’s given herself. She’s determined to find out who she is and be that, on her own, with no help from others. She has a profound longing in her soul to be known, loved, understood by herself and others. Her “Lady Bird” moniker is one of her many ways of trying to satisfy this lacking sense of being and belonging. Yet, as we see throughout the movie, her attempts to satiate her desire is through molding herself into what others want. She tries to be what different boys want, reading their same books, smoking what they smoke and this is not limited to just boys. Lady Bird does the same thing with girls, trying to be their friend but “hating” what they hate, telling lies about where she lives to seem “cooler” and shunning her actual life. Her search for meaning leads her from one quicksand to the next, continually finding herself drowning in the disappointment of another false identity.

She works to not only define herself through others, but wrestles with this internally. She  wants to be good at things she already knows she’s not. There’s a brilliant scene that exemplifies this when she’s talking to one the nun’s, at her Catholic school,

Lady Bird: What I’d really like is to be on Math Olympiad.
The Nun: But math isn’t something you’re terribly strong in.
Lady Bird: That we know of yet.

Of course we already do know she’s dismal at math, since we’ve already seen her in math class and the grade she received proves the nun’s point. Lady Bird, like many of us, seeks to be everything she is not because what she is, seems completely incomplete.

Lady Bird is not the only one with this sense of longing, permeating their lives. Her mother grapples with working double shifts at the hospital in an attempt to keep the family afloat. Her father’s depression has worsened because of his inability to find a job, in an culture that sees him as too old to contribute. Lady Bird’s best friend pines over her teacher who is nice to her,  a wishful desire for a father figure that is lacking her life. The film is replete with characters who are aching for something they might not even be able to put a finger on.

The end of the movie beautifully brings all this longing into focus. Lady Bird has gotten her wish to attend college in New York, “…where culture is…”. She’s at a party and starts a conversation with a guy, asks him if he believes in God, to which he says no, because it’s ridiculous and her reply is most interesting. She says, “People go by the names their parents made up for them, but they don’t believe in God.” The next morning, she wakes up on a hospital bed, not remembering how she got there. She leaves and as she walks the streets, asks a man what day it is, he say’s Sunday. She finds her way to a church and as she’s there, you can see the wheels turning in her head. Maybe life is not about being what others want me to be, maybe it’s about being who I was made to be.

To accentuate the point she calls her parents and leaves them a message on the answering machine. She calls herself by her given name Christine for the first time in the movie. She’s dropped all pretense about who she is and begun to accept it. Where she is from, how she was raised, her parents, all of it. It’s a powerful moment.

DI_0SwQVoAAQ9DzA bit earlier in the movie, she’s asked her mother if she likes her. Her mother says to her,

Marion McPherson: I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.
Lady Bird: What if this is the best version?

At the end, Christine accepts who she is, for who she is and it seems that it will actually free her to finally become the best version of herself. She recognizes the name that her parents gave her, which earlier she equated with a belief in God. Maybe she’s realized that the longing to be loved, known and accepted can be fulfilled, if she’ll will take hold of it. She’s been fully known from the beginning of her life. In that conversation with her mother, she wanted her mother to say something nice and her mother ask her, “Do you want me to lie?”. The ugly truth about love is that it does not lie to protect our feelings, it pushes us to see our faults and loves us too much to leave us in them. It’s only by knowing the bad news about who we are that we can be ready to accept the good news.  Tim Keller puts it this way,

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Conclusion

The more I think about the movie the more I like it and that’s always a good sign. It’s well acted and moving. I highly recommend Lady Bird, it’s rated four and a half out of five stars.

Advertisements

Christmas Matters

42a57c77-a432-4773-8e2f-9292ffcad870Advent is an interesting time of the year as a Christian. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the tinsel trinkets and festive facade of the season, lights, trees, presents and parties all vie for our attention but the original Christmas was quite different. I wrote this a few years ago and it’s been coming to mind all over again…

With these thoughts in mind, I’ve been traveling back to the first Christmas in the Gospels. What I have been struck by is how unfettered they are by the false facade we have built around this holiday. Think about it. A wearly couple arrives in a backwater Judean town on it’s busiest night in years. The census has created a metropolis out of this one-stop-light village. The sound of full inns and family homes bursting at the seams with noisy relatives spills out into the dusty streets as the couple look for any place to stay.

The unwed mother’s delivery is imminent as her frantic betrothed looks for any place he can find for her to rest and bring his adopted son into the world. They are alone; this might be their ancestral village, but there is no family left here to call on. The betrothed finally finds a place, its a stable. There is nothing cute or clean about this place. This is no Disney-ized version of a barnyard; it is smelly and dirty as animals wander in and out of the stable. The teenage mother is about to give birth and her betrothed must help. There is no midwife tonight and he will see things that most Jewish men of his time would not, the birth of his child. There is no glamor or calm, only the screams of a mother, ready to have her child out of her. She’s in pain and there are no drugs to help her and straw is only so comfortable to lay on.

It’s over, the baby is here and yes he’s screaming. The sound of his cries mingles with that of the animals as well as the city. The world is unaware of what just happened. The Word became flesh. To anyone that night, it was unremarkable, no one cared. The mother wraps her child in cloth against the night and the betrothed leans back in the straw, exhausted.

There are no carols or lights, no trees or parties, the Savior comes into the world and no one knows. That is at least until angels appear to social outcasts on the fringes of town and declare that the Savior, which is Christ the Lord has been born. The mother and her betrothed, so alone this night must have been shocked as these men come into the stable to worship their child. From the beginning, the Savior was healing the marginalized and reaching out to the broken. These miscreants were the first evangelists; heralding through the streets that night, to anyone that would listen, that the world was forever changed because of a baby born that night.

This year, the church that I’ve been attending with my wife has been going through the 5th chapter of Romans for advent and it’s been a blessing to be reminded how much Christmas truly matters. It’s easy to get lost in the fairy tale nature of the Christmas story but when you pair that with the culmination of the cross and resurrection as Paul lays it out in Romans, the majesty of Christmas comes to life all over again.

jesus-resurrection-walking-out-of-tomb-900Death in Adam, Life in Christ Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21 ESV)

Christmas is not about the fantasy that it’s been made, it’s about the reality of God, reaching down to man and creating the way that we could be made whole again. Talk about Joy to the World!

The Magnificent Seven – Review

mag7_926x1460The 21st century has seen a serious lack of westerns in theaters as they have gone out of style in favor of superhero films. So, who better to bring back the swagger than Antoine Fuqua, director of films like Training Day. This remake of the 1960’s movie stars Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm, Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday, Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne, Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, a Mexican, Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen and Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue, the film’s villain. What follows is a tale of good vs. evil in a western that’s more progressive and just down right fun.

Bad Religion

The movie begins with Bartholomew Bogue terrorizing Rose City in the town church as the city had gathered to discuss what to do about his threats. He marches into the meeting, flanked by gunmen, and proceeds to preach his twisted version of religion. To him, America, capitalism and God go together, and to oppose him is to oppose all three of those things. It’s a distorted corruption of religion for the benefit of one man. It’s nothing new.

What makes the movie different than most is the way in which it counters the perversion of religion by showing true faith at work. In the center of Rose City stands the church, and because the pastor there is a man who firmly stands with the people of that city, the church is a beacon of hope. The pastor is willing to lay down his life for the people in the town, to help buy back their freedom. It’s a beautiful picture of faith in action.

There is one more nice dichotomy at work between these two world views. As Bartholomew Bogue makes his speech in the church, he talks about how the gold he is mining outside the town is the true meaning of life. In fact, it’s the thing that the townspeople will live for as well as their children. Yet, midway though the film, after the first wave of Bogue’s men have been driven from the town, there are a few nights of normalcy. The preacher talks to Sam Chisolm and thanks him for bringing back this simple pleasure to the people, if only for a moment. Life is so much more than gold in the bank–the true riches are the small moments between people that happen every day. Lastly, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne lives out John 15:13 as he mentions to the rest of the seven that there is no place he would rather be than in the service of others with men he respects.

hero_magnificent-seven-tiff-2016

Phoenix Rising

Sam Chisolm and Goodnight Robicheaux have one of the most interesting relationships in the movie. Sam, a black man, saved Goodnight, a Rebel soldier from a group of Yankees who were going to beat him to death. Sam explains his reason to Goodnight by saying, “The war is over for us”. By the time of the movie, Sam and Goodnight are fast friends and they have this saying between then, “What we lost in the fire, we find in the ashes”. It is a timely reminder that after the wars we fight, we have to move on, learn the lessons of the past and work to rebuild, together, something better out of those ashes. There can be beauty from ashes, but it always takes work to make it so.

Conclusion

The Magnificent Seven is fun, but it also has some interesting things to say along the way. While not perfect, it’s a reminder that the western still has a place today and here’s to hoping that we get more. The movie is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

Life Matters

1057-3

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31 ESV)

What we are seeing is about the systematic disrespect of life. The moment you can dehumanize a baby in the womb or a creed or race or a profession you loose the respect for life. Respect for life can only come from the belief that all lives are crafted and created by God, made in his image and therefore have supreme value. Without this as the foundation, life is cheap, meaningless and utterly devoid of meaning. All lives matter to God and therefore all lives matter to me.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16 ESV)

Let us come together, anger, hate, fear only lead to more of the same, so let us live by the words of Christ, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 ESV).

13592162_10154628125889415_2661540889818362933_n

I highly encourage the reading of Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice. The best book I have ever read on social justice.

Help for the Helpless

unborn-baby-imageThe single greatest travesty of our time is that people think there is something more important than protecting the most helpless among us, the unborn. If you do not star there, you cannot say you respect life. All life has to be respected from beginning to end. If someone is willing to sacrifice the most helpless among us on the alter of convenience, what else will they be able to sacrifice. David in Psalms reminds us why we protect the unborn, because it is not some parasite or collection of cells it is God own creation,

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
(Psalm 139:13-16 ESV)

And we reflect His image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
(Genesis 1:26 ESV)

How you deal with the most helpless among us shows where your character lies and what your moral standard is built on. Ours is build on the author of all creation. Jesus calls us to take care of the needy,

‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV)

There is none that is more in need than the unborn. Now this means we, the family of God, have a responsibility to care for the mothers who find themselves in this position. We need to be the ones they know they can run to for help because our arms are open to all that are in need. Love has to be our heart and what guides our actions. We should not be judging them but loving them, they need someone to walk beside them and help them make the most difficult decisions of their life knowing that they will be supported throughout the entire pregnancy as well as in raising their child if they decide to not give it up for adoption.

Christ’s words also call us to care for those in need, whoever they are. We are called to generosity and open arms. We must care for people from birth to death, physically, mentally, spiritually, in a word, holistically.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17 ESV)

Here is our call believers, here is our mission, to support those in need from the unborn to the elderly and everyone in between. Forgive me Lord for failing at this for so long and give me the strength to take up the work you’ve left for us to do. Fight the good fight, run the race remembering,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)

Lions, Babies and Death; Oh My

Michelangelo-Creation-of-Adam-hand

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31 ESV)

From the beginning of time, we have been charged with caring for the earth, its plants and creatures and filling it with descendants that can carry on that mandate. Our goal is to be God’s representation on earth and govern well the gift we have been given. We are to treat with respect, this planet and it’s inhabitants in our care. To do that we are called to raise families, have children that will take up that mantle and carry forth the mission.

cecil_the_lionMuch has been made in the last few days about a man who hunted a lion in Africa. I have no problems with hunting if the end result is someone is going to eat the meat that animal provided with it’s death, but I would argue that killing for sport goes against our second mandate from God, to have dominion over the earth and care for it as God would. So it is tragic when an animal dies but for no other reason than to prove a man with a firearm can kill a defenseless animal.

One does not have to look hard to see that before the command to take care of the earth and it’s myriad of creatures and plants, there is something else, something paramount to allowing the completion of the second: humans are to be fruitful and multiply (that’s Biblical poetic language for have sex and babies).

plannedparenthood3Longer than the story of the lion, there has been something else lurking in the news shadows, videos of Planned Parenthood doctors discussing the sale of aborted baby parts. The very idea seems like something out of a Nazi-infused nightmare. It should come as no surprise. To make palatable the wholesale murder of innocent human life we have conveniently devalued it by calling it a fetus and “questioning” whether it is really human or proto-human or just some kind of parasite that may become a human. The argument has been leveled that science has not determined when life truly begins, therefore it is acceptable to take the life of a fetus within a certain time frame. But is this how we define life or humanhood?

There is no scientific reason for defining life by existential means such as an organisms ability to survive. Speaking scientifically, biological history is riddled with organisms that weren’t able to survive. It did not define whether they were alive in the first place, only whether they’d continue living. As for a scientific argument we might look at verifiable evidence rather than a philosophical conjecture that is not falsifiable. A fetus contains DNA. A full grown adult also contains DNA. The DNA code that determines exactly what species, deficiencies, or anomalies an organism will be and have never changes. So, speaking scientifically, there is no demonstrable difference between an organism as a fetus and the same organism full grown other than replication of the genetic code stimulating the growth and development of the organism. So I’m afraid your definition of life is not a scientific one, but a philosophical one that rests squarely on existentialism. Neither verifiable nor falsifiable. – Steven Nelms

The road here is full of danger. If the argument of humanity is based on anything other than the DNA of science, it becomes too easy to begin rationalizing, as Peter Singer has, the death of a child up to two years old or euthanasia. The slope here is more that slippery, it is a black hole and moral abyss the likes that have been seen before. It is no different than the treatment of anyone the Nazis found lacking, they changed their name, devalued them and made it acceptable to treat them as nothing more than animals or worse. And let’s be honest here, this same attitude that use to be applied to African-American slaves so as to morally legitimize their treatment as mere cattle or in many cases worse.

Can we not see that our lack of historical understanding has lead us to the greatest crime perpetrated by humanity on itself? How often we become our own worst enemy.

Houston-1Is it not our duty then as human beings then to err on the side of life? If the DNA is the same and science has proved that, does not science cry out that it is always a human, from conception, nothing more, nothing less? On top of that science is medical science that is allowing babies as young as 20 weeks to survive outside the womb and fetal surgeons to repair defects in babies in as young as 18 weeks. The contradiction is astounding, Why would it matter if this is not a human? Science is proving the point for us, from conception it is a human and therefore deserves out respect and care.

We should be outraged when life is lost because of deliberate death, all deliberate death of innocent beings. The lion was as helpless as the baby, each one is at the mercy of someone else to protect it. What is unimaginable is that the violent reaction from the world has not been for the death, dismemberment and sale of human babies, but instead a lion. I mourn the death of one of God’s creatures because of “sport” but my heart bleeds for the 125,000 abortions per day around the world. And unfortunately you will see no pictures on celebrities Instagrams of babies or aborted babies, but you will see a lion. The most helpless among us and we do nothing to protect them, what does that say about us?

Our call, from the very beginning of time has been to have children and raise them up in the way they should go so that when it is their turn they can care for the incredible planet God has given us. We’re failing at both.

adorable-affection-child-cute-lion-Favim.com-121203

Mr. Holmes – Review

ad1c3134-1bce-465d-a9f7-108076bf5551

It is often remarked that Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed movie character in the history of cinema. One might question the validity of another movie about him and yet none have been so person as Mr. Holmes staring Ian McKellen. He plays the famed detective in the twilight of his life, memory is failing and one last case that must be solved; a case that may just be the most important of his life, enough to alter his future.

Missing the Point

Holmes is the original Spock. He is cold emotion and facts wrapped in a smoking jacket. He’s able to deduce the most minute detail about a person, observe what others cannot see and crack cases no other could. Yet, with all this knowledge and logical deduction there is something that is missing, wisdom and heart. Spock says to Valaris in Star Trek VI that logic is only the beginning of wisdom. Holmes becomes acutely aware of this in the most dreadful way. A husband of a distraught wife comes to Holmes, pleading with him to figure out what is wrong with her. Holmes quickly deduces the woman’s case, finding that she is overcome by the loss of two children from miscarriages. What she wants is to spend time with Holmes. She senses that he’s lived a solitary life and is seldom understood. She desires to just spend time with him to ease her loneliness. Holmes, unable to see past his logic to the emotion to the heart of her despair sends her home to her husband, only to find out the next day that she’s committed suicide.

Mr-Holmes-Ian-McKellen-Hattie-MorahanKnow and Loved

Holmes begins to understand the depth of his mistake and the loneliness that he’s felt his whole life. Even Watson never really knew him. Watson had chronicled the life of a character he’d created, not the man he never really knew. Watson thinks he knows Holmes, yet Holmes is jut playing the fiction that’s been created around him. He personifies the expectations fiction has placed on him, never truly able to reveal himself for fear of alienating readers, fans and in the end friends. Holmes lacks the courage to be himself as well as the safety of a true friendship with which to do so.

After the incident, Holmes retires to the country in exile. It is there that he meets his redemption in Roger, his cook’s son. Roger is smart, like Holmes he has a sharp mind and a quick wit. His father was lost in WWII and he’s grown up with only vague memories of him from his mother’s stories. He and Holmes strike an unlikely friendship over the care of bees. Together they become the person that knows the other like no one else can. We’ve all experienced it, knowing that certain someone who gets you in ways others just can’t. It feels as though you’re more complete because finally you’re understood to the core of your being. Holmes finds that missing piece of himself in the most unlikely of places and it changes him forever.

mr-holmes-ian-mckellen-860x442The beautiful thing is that Roger is changed as well. For him, Holmes is the father he never had. Holmes is able to stimulate Roger intellectually and spur him on to a life he’d never have if not for the way he’s known by Holmes. The film beautifully reminds us that cloistering ourselves away hurts not only ourselves but others. It’s when we risk and interact with those around us that true life happens. There are many Proverbs about the importance of friendship yet one stands out as relevant to the film, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes echo just as loudly when he says,

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

We are strongest when we are not only together, but know fully, deeply and intimately.

Conclusion 

Mr. Holmes is the perfect antidote to superheroes, explosions and dinosaurs. None of these have been bad things, but Mr. Holmes stands above these with it’s reminders of the importance of community and truly knowing those around us and allowing ourselves to be known. Go see Mr. Holmes and revel in the quiet mystery of a film doing what the medium does at it’s best, teaching us through a good story and good characters.