Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0914798/

Based on the children’s book by the same title, the film is just as powerful. Two 8-year-old boys become unlikely friends in Nazi Germany — one the son of a Nazi commandant and the other an imprisoned Jew.  Seeing the Holocaust from the perspective of its youngest observers and participants really puts the atrocity in perspective.  We watched the movie instantly on Netflix.com, and you should see it any way you can.  It isn’t pretty at times, but it’s important.  We need these stories to remind us that we’re all humans and need each other.

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The Visitor

The Visitor.

Watch. This. Movie.

We did on Friday night at our weekly “homemade pizza and a movie” night, and we loved it.  So many great themes:

  • compelling look at the life of two “illegal” aliens living and working in our country
  • beautiful portrayal of a marriage bound by love
  • awesome story of transformation when the couple’s lives crash into that of a white professor (of economic development, no less)

You’ll laugh.  You’ll cry.  You’ll hurl think.  In my estimation, it would be hard to walk away from this movie saying, “That sucked.”  So queue it up on Netflix or get it from the library, if you’re so lucky.

Church and Tupperware Parties

First off, I review Bill Maher’s comedy, Religulous, over at the Jesus Manifesto zine.  Check them (the review and the movie) out if you get a chance.  On a related note, it’s interesting that apparently, folks associated with the film’s production created a fake Christian rock band to call for a fake Christian boycott of the movie in order to create more of a buzz around the film.  Check out the funny call to arms here.

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We’ve all known him or her at one point in our life, perhaps at this moment.  S/he is a regional salesperson of [insert product name here] for [Tupperware / Pampered Chef / Mary Kay / etc].  Remember the first few weeks s/he was selling the stuff?  How s/he kept inviting you to that sales event s/he was having at his/her house?  How everyone would receive the complimentary gift, and there would be no pressure to commit to buying anything?  How you either went to the party, bought something, and that was the end of that … or you didn’t go, haven’t bought anything, and subsequently dread every conversation with said friend since then?

Sound familiar?

I wonder if this is how many outside of Christian circles feel about their Christian friends, especially those who are super evangelistic.  You know, always feeling like they are trying to get them to buy something.  Trying to get them to come to some introductory meeting at their church building or house, where they may even receive a complimentary gift just for showing up. (a Bible, a CD of worship music, the Jesus Video…)  Like many “regional salespeople” of those catchy kitchen products, one begins to wonder if s/he is my friend because s/he cares about me, or if s/he is just trying to sell me something.  In way too many relationships, the agenda is painfully obvious, and the “potential buyer” is usually the one who gets flogged by it.

I’m finding it more and more difficult to “close the deal” in this way as it relates to my faith, instead just desiring to love people and be their friend for no other reason than to love them and be their friend.  (because Jesus said this was the sum of the law and the prophets)  On the other side of the coin, I want all my friends to experience the joy of life under the reign of loving Jesus and be assimilated into his mission.

This is perhaps my/our biggest tension right now.  Suggestions?

*my apologies to any of my readers who are “regional salespeople.”  My intention is not to knock your profession, but to underscore the difficulty of forming authentic friendships while trying to sell a product.  In the same way that not all Christians are “salespeople for Jesus,” clearly not all “regional salespeople” fit my description above.

planet earth

Has anyone else caught the Planet Earth series, either on BBC or the Discovery Channel? (I think it’s currently airing on the DC every Sunday night at 8 pm EST) We’re working our way through the 14-part series on DVD (from the library), and after watching the first two installments, I have to echo the critics in saying that this series is truly monumental and beautiful. You’ll see and appreciate the Earth in ways you never thought possible, thanks to 40 cameramen with never-before-used technology in over 200 locations around the world. This is as close to a “God’s-eye view” of the planet as we’ve ever had. You’ll marvel at his handiwork.

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Yesterday, we cracked open for the first time an anonymous gift we got this past Holiday season: The Bible Experience. It’s a complete mp3 audio Bible read by African-American clergy, musicians, and actors — including Denzel, Cuba, Samuel L., LL, Forest, Angela Bassett, and more — and backed up by a Hollywood-produced soundtrack. This is anything but the cheesy Bible-on-CDs you’ve heard in the past … the producers and readers took special care to make sure this was a project from the heart, and after listening to the first 7 chapters of Matthew last night, I can say that this is an achievement of monumental proportions and will be a valuable aid to many people’s devotional lives.

Where else can you hear Cuba Gooding Jr. as Jonah AND Judas? (gives new meaning to “show me the money!”) Or Samuel L. “Snakes on a Plane” Jackson reading the voice of God in the New Testament? Sinbad as an Angel in the Book of Daniel? Judge Mathis as Solomon? (seriously!) Blair Underwood reading Jesus’ lines? LaVar Burton as John? Kirk Franklin as Paul? Denzel Washington and his wife, Pauletta, reading Song of Solomon?

Yeah, it’s good stuff. =)

Ben Witherington had a good review of TBE back in December, which is worth a read.  You can listen to sample passages by clicking on the link above.

(and if our anonymous giver is reading this, thanks!)

weekend roundup

Had a good weekend. Busy, but good.

Dad beat me to the post, but we saw SiCKO, Michael Moore’s documentary on the ills of the American healthcare system, on Friday night. To be honest, I was floored. It wasn’t typical inflammatory Michael Moore … he simply let the stories of those affected negatively by healthcare in this country speak for themselves. For those of you who have seen SiCKO, what did you think? If you haven’t seen it, please refrain from commenting on the movie. (because it’s probably quite different than you think) Questions for everyone: What is right/wrong about healthcare in America? Do the poor get shafted by our system? What, if anything, could/should the church do about this?

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Yesterday (Sunday), we joined many close Boston friends in blessing and sending off our dear friends Aaron & Amy Graham. Aaron and Amy are moving to Washington, D.C., where Aaron will serve as the National Field Organizer and Justice Revival Coordinator at Sojourners / Call to Renewal. The Grahams have been über-active in the Boston community the last several years, planting a church in Dorchester (a rather dicey neighborhood, crime- and poverty-wise), earning master’s degrees at Harvard (Aaron, public policy) and Boston University (Amy, social work), running an inner-city community house and internship program, organizing international development projects and trips around the world, and starting from the ground up the Boston Faith & Justice Network. Yeah, they’ve been busy.

Aug.jpgOn a personal level, the Grahams were some of our best friends over the last year, and their presence in our lives this first year in Boston has been such a help and encouragement. Last March (2006), we sat in Aaron & Amy’s living room and shared the vision God had given us about participating in His work in Boston. We realized then and there that God was indeed doing something mighty in this city, as was evident in the similar calling on the lives of the Grahams and many others they told us about. And as couples, we clicked immediately … in a big city, it is vital to find other God-seeking couples with whom to spend time. The time we spent over the last year with the Grahams has been precious.

But as it always is in the church, “goodbyes” don’t exist. It is merely “see you later.” If not in this life, then the next. But we definitely plan to stay connected to this amazing couple in this life as well.

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Last night, we wrapped up a year of service on the leadership team of the Boston Faith & Justice Network. We have decided not to renew our spots on the team for another year. Our reasons are twofold: 1) We’re trying to commit to less outside of our neighborhood, in an effort to connect more deeply with our immediate community; and 2) The organization’s emphasis on political and corporate advocacy, which I’ve questioned before on this blog.

We transition off the team with mutual understanding (I think) with the other leaders, as well as a year of deepened relationships and work toward Christian justice in our city. As I shared with the team at our year-end reflection meeting last night, this experience has exposed to us a remnant of Christ-followers in Boston who are committed to “preaching good news to the poor.”

Praise God.

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Finally, the following prayer was shared last night as we closed.  Pretty powerful stuff:

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

&emdash; attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577

jesus camp

We finally got around to watching Jesus Camp tonight. It took a while for it to be our turn on the library queue … apparently this is quite the popular DVD. If you didn’t catch the buzz when it was in the theaters, here’s the description from Magnolia Pictures:

A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement.

JESUS CAMP, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, directors of the critically acclaimed The Boys of Baraka, follows Levi, Rachael, and Tory to Pastor Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” summer camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years-old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in “God’s army.” The film follows these children at camp as they hone their “prophetic gifts” and are schooled in how to “take back America for Christ.” The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America’s political future.

When you see this film — if you can stomach it — you’ll be reminded that there exists in this country a movement of people whose sole metaphor for their role in our society is war, and who see this battle being waged almost completely in the halls of Congress, on the Senate floor, in the Oval Office, and in every bloody battle in which the U.S. is involved. To these people, America is God’s chosen nation, and it can do no wrong (including the current bloodbath in the Middle East), but only when a president of their mindset is at the helm. Militaristic in every sense of the word, this triumphalist group is training children from a young age to take up the sword rather than the towel, attempting to change the world for Christ by force. Filled with unquenchable passion and inspiring innocence, these children do their teachers’ bidding without question. This film depicts an entire generation being used by those much older than them to do their own, narrow-minded bidding, but wrapped in God language, of course. In essence, the triumphalists’ intentions are less about forming young people into the image of their Savior, but about organizing them into a voting block for their own agenda.

On the other side of the coin, the film depicts young children passionate about the faith that they’ve been passed. They are preaching, praying intently (more than I can say for myself at times), and sharing their faith. The film depicts this faith as being less about “fully living for today,” and more about the avoidance of all of life’s contaminents, but alas — truncated gospel or not, I was often touched by the fervor of these believers at such a young age.

So, I am conflicted. If part of this post sounds angry, that’s because it is. In fact, the more I think about the first part of this post, the angrier I get… I should go to bed. What do you think?

[Note: I posted on Jesus Camp when it was first released in theaters, linking to some good reflections from Greg Kendall-Ball]

documentaries about kids in precarious situations

It turns out that kids in brothels and Amish communities make great subjects for documentary films.

Untold millions of children in the world are born to sex workers. Tens of thousands of children in America are born to Amish families, who purposefully segment themselves off from the outside world to lead lives of radical simplicity and discipline.

Neither group chose their families. What will happen to them? Will they follow in the footsteps of their parents — either in lives of prostitution or in devout piety — or will their lives take a different path?

Two documentaries tackle these two seemingly different — yet surprisingly similar — topics.

Born into Brothels tells the incredible story of eight Calcutta children who live in a brothel, and the photographer (Zana Briski) who moved in and began teaching them to take pictures. She had intended to reach out to the prostitutes themselves, but the children latched onto her so much she couldn’t ignore their pleas for attention … her love for these children is evident throughout the film. She also didn’t plan on shooting a documentary — she invited a filmmaker friend over to India after she realized the unbelievable opportunity that existed to tell these kids’ story.

This film is not as depressing as the title suggests. The overall emotion the movie elicits is hope. Hope in the ability of the world’s poorest children when they are given a vision and license to fully utilize their creativity. Hope in the compassion of those “to whom has been given much” to share what they have been given with the less-fortunate. OK, I’ve said enough — just watch this movie.

Director Lucy Walker was given unprecedented access to the Amish community in several states to shoot and direct Devil’s Playground, a film about the choice teenagers have to either “go English” or join the Amish Church. During Rumspringa (which literally means “running around” in the native Pennsylvania dialect), Amish 16-year-olds are let loose (the have to “be back” before their 21st birthday) to experience the pleasures of the outside world and decide which world they will choose. One non-Amish teen said, “The Amish throw the best parties. They have tons of people, tons of beer.” A “preacher’s kid” begins to use and sell crystal meth. Complete debauchery is practiced by almost every Rumspringer and nearly encouraged by the rest of the Amish community. Some desire more than a “taste” of the outside world and decide to leave the Amish community for good. Most, however, move back in with their parents, begin working in the fields or warehouses or barns, and commit the rest of their lives to this devout and truly fascinating form of Christianity.
I was shocked at the tradition of Rumspringa and the actions it brings about in previously squeaky-clean Amish kids. I was shocked by the institutional loyalty among the Amish, not unlike that seen in the Catholic Church (these kids were not choosing or rejecting Jesus, they were choosing or rejecting the church). At any rate, this documentary — though fairly crudely shot and on the shorter side — is worth a look. The subjects themselves make the movie, and you’ll be drawn into their lives and their dilemma. If you’re like us, it’ll make you think about the ways more mainstream Christians disciple our children and approach the subject of salvation.

[I was also shocked to find out that nearly 90% of Amish teens join the church after Rumpspringa, and the retention rate is the highest it’s been since the late 1800s. That kills the retention rate of most mainstream Christian churches!]