Paul, Apostle Of Christ — A Movie Review

I generally don’t like Biblical fiction, either in novel form or on the screen. In regard to movies, non-Christians are most often behind the production and frankly, when you don’t believe in the supernatural, it’s hard to do a good job of portraying events in the Bible.

But Paul, Apostle Of Christ is quite different. While I wouldn’t say the movie ranks in the top ten all time, I also don’t feel as if I wasted my time. It really was worthwhile.

The Story. I was mildly surprised that the story centered on Paul’s last days—his imprisonment in Rome. Those, of course, are not detailed in Scripture, so in reality, it’s safest to fictionalize that part of his life than any other part. With flashbacks, the gist of Paul’s conversion story is incorporated, but his missionary journeys are pretty much brushed over.

What made up a good part of the story was the condition of Rome and the persecution of Christians during the time of Nero. In this movie Luke was spending time with Paul, interviewing him for his record we know as Acts.

Strengths. I thought the acting was believable, the setting was incredible, the feel of the movie was realistic. I had a much better idea of the persecution and the fear and the unfairness that surrounded those early Christians.

There were also some lines straight from Scripture that brought home the central point of forgiveness and love, even for the enemy.

At a couple points I thought the movie might bog down in rhetoric, but the pace immediately picked back up, and it was appropriately tense and intriguing.

One thing that the movie made particularly real to me was why Paul was so strong on the subject of grace. His own past, persecuting and imprisoning Christians and participating in Stephen’s martyrdom, would have been so hard to face if the grace and forgiveness of God weren’t so very real to him.

Weaknesses. My biggest concern was that some of the lines the Paul character told the Luke character to write down were actually from the book of Philippians and other parts of the epistles, like Romans. The impression, then, is that Luke wrote those letters too. In the movie he summed up the end of Acts, changing some of the “facts” we had just witnessed, particularly that Paul was in a dungeon, when Acts says he was in a house. And the movie character did it on purpose, as if the truth somehow needed to be hidden. In other words, the strong implication was that Luke played fast and loose with the truth in order to give the suffering Christians what he thought they’d be inspired by.

In addition, while the point of love and forgiveness were strong (at one point Paul defined love for Luke, in a very I Corinthians 13 way, though not word for word as recorded in Scripture. But close), I thought it was sort of light on the areas of faith and belief in Jesus Christ and the hope of the gospel.

While it was interesting to see the conflict of doubt and fear, when the Paul character experienced what might be close to PTSD for his earlier persecution of Christians, I didn’t think that was believable, given his clear statements of grace and faith and hope, stated in Scripture. Not to mention the times he himself almost died, how he’d traveled so much to spread the gospel. I just doubt he’d be caught up in remorse at this stage of his life. But, as I said, this is the part of his life that the Bible leaves open, so I can’t say speculation here was inappropriate. I just think the script writers missed it.

Funny thing I have to share. When I got home I checked Rotten Tomatoes because I was curious what other people thought. One person gave the movie something like 2 stars, saying . . . well, here it is; I’ll let you read it for yourselves:

We learn no more about Paul than we know from reading the Bible. It’s CRIMINAL to make what should literally be the greatest story ever told into a cheesy mostly made-up bunch of tripe.

I find that quite astounding! Does this person think the Romans were wearing body cams and the movie makers just suppressed them or something? What would the story have been if they told something about Paul that wasn’t in the Bible, if not “made-up”? I also take issue with the idea that anything was cheesy. Well, one scene could have been played more realistically—when Dr. Luke treated a certain patient, the ill person wasn’t particularly believable at one point.

One other mild “beef,” and this has to come with a SPOILER ALERT. Throughout the movie there was an ongoing discussion between some in the Christian community (they never called it the Church) there in Rome whether to stay or to flee. Ah, I thought, someone is going to come up with the idea to hide in the catacombs. But no. That never happened. And since we have all kinds of factual evidence that Christians actually did hide there, I wonder why the movie makers decided to go a different way. [End SPOILER ALERT]

But that’s why I don’t like Biblical fiction. I expect the historical facts to be immovable, and they seldom are. This movie did better than most. Much better than most, and would likely cause anyone who is not a Christian to look at those early Christians a little differently than they otherwise would have.

Recommendation. I’m very glad I saw this movie. The reality of first century persecution is sobering, and I think it’s a good kind of sobering. The movie makers handled it without any gratuitous violence, but the point couldn’t be avoided. The belief in love and forgiveness was just as obvious, and I thought we Christians (who probably were the greatest part of the audience) could benefit from hearing it out of the mouths of those suffering for Christ. Plus the realistic worldbuilding aspects made the first century come alive, I thought. I would say it’s a good one to see. Must see? I wouldn’t go that far, but I’d be poorer if I hadn’t seen it.

Published in: on April 10, 2018 at 5:48 pm  Comments (5)  

Movie Review – I Can Only Imagine

I’ve mentioned this movie before, but here’s my more complete analysis of it. Of course, I’m not a script writer or an expert on movies, so this review is more from the fan side of things than my book reviews might be.

The Story. One reason I like this movie is that it’s a true story. In short it’s really the story about the song “I Can Only Imagine,” written by Bart Millard, lead singer for the band MercyMe. But in the opening, the Bart character says he spent only ten minutes or so writing the lyrics. The Amy Grant character says, No, it actually took you a life time.

From that point the story centers on the elements in Bart’s life that brought him to the place that he wrote the song and eventually how the song came to a place of widespread recognition.

I’ve heard interviews with the real Bart Millard and he said more than once that he felt the movie fairly and accurately portrayed the events, and the actors got him right.

Strengths. I thought the acting was first rate in this movie. Each of the characters seemed truly believable. I understood their motives, felt for them, pulled for them. It was easy to forget that this was not a documentary or that the main character wasn’t playing himself. In fact, the friend I saw the movie with, asked that very question. The role of Bart Millard was J. Michael Finley’s movie debut, and I think he was outstanding.

The only character that threw me was the one played by Trace Adkins, the country singer. He has such a distinct look and persona that I had a hard time remembering he wasn’t playing himself. He was good, don’t get me wrong. Very believable. But he looked so much like Trace Adkins! And sounded so much like Trace Adkins! Sometimes I would forget.

The others in the cast were good, but the other winner was Dennis Quaid who played Bart’s father. He was exactly right at every turn. Such a good performance.

The other great strength of the movie was how the script writers, director, and actors played the elements of change. When an actor has portrayed someone who is angry and mean-spirited and violent, it’s no easy thing to show them as something else in the last act of the film and maintain the aura of believability.

These professionals did an admirable job, I thought, in showing the change in the characters who changed. They didn’t just snap their fingers and all things became new. As much as possible within the scope of the movie, I thought they showed the characters’ struggle to the place where they ended up.

Of course the theme of the film was a major strength. No one can miss what the movie has to say to all of us, and yet it does not preach the message. It unfolds before our eyes through the lives of the characters.

What to be aware of. First, this story involves abuse. It’s not always easy, and it may hit some nerves. Young children aren’t the intended audience.

Second, the band MercyMe plays in a number of Christian venues, and their songs are largely worship songs. Someone unfamiliar with praise music and the audience response to such might be a little uncomfortable. I don’t know.

Third, this story took place in Oklahoma for the most part and as a result the audiences were . . . not particularly racially diverse. Here in SoCal where streets and grocery stores and movie theaters and classrooms and church and workplaces are diverse, such a uniformity of race seemed a little startling. But maybe no one else will think that.

Recommendation. I hardly need to say it, I think. I suspect it’s pretty clear from the above that I think this is a great movie, one I highly recommend to anyone 14 and older. I’ve tried not to give any spoilers, because I think a movie is most powerful when you don’t know everything about it before you see it.

But actually, I did know quite a bit about Bart Millard’s life from the interviews I heard, and I still loved the movie. I’ve read some reviews that say this is one of the best faith-based movies ever. Well, I think it holds its own against other movies, whether faith-based or not.

I understand it had a much smaller budget than some of the other movies that came out that same weekend, and it didn’t have nearly as many theaters where it debuted, but it still came in third two weeks in a row, and then only fell one place, to fourth. People have reported packed theaters, but better is the report that some have come to Christ because of this story.

Now that makes the movie worth seeing, for sure.

When Evil Becomes Not So Evil

I’ve seen a number of TV ads for movies that will release this month, and I have to admit, I’m concerned. One called Jigsaw has this storyline:

Bodies are turning up around the city, each having met a uniquely gruesome demise. As the investigation proceeds, evidence points to one man: John Kramer. But how can this be? The man known as Jigsaw has been dead for over a decade.

There’s another one about a serial killer. Another that released on Friday is called American Satan and is about a pact with the devil. Then there is Happy Death Day and the one about a baby-sitter who is part of a satanic cult, looking to kill the kid she is supposed to watch.

Yet we have no idea why someone would shoot an automatic gun at a crowd of strangers.

I think there’s a disconnect in our society.

Mind you, I’m a writer, and I believe in the pretend. I don’t think imagination is bad. I don’t think we should whitewash stories so that all the bad parts are as good as bleeped out. On the other hand, I don’t think we should make the Wicked Witch of the West the hero in the story. I don’t think we should look at brutal killings as entertainment.

So am I condemning murder mysteries? Maybe I am. I have been a consumer all too often and maybe I shouldn’t be. Because I think the more we see the evil that man inflicts on man, the more we become callous to it.

For example, I’ve seen wild fire video year after year here in SoCal. Honestly, I don’t have the same compassion any more when someone standing in front of the burned ruins of a house says that they lost everything. I sort of shrug and think, You’ll rebuild your life in a few years.

It might be true, but it’s not compassionate to view people in that way.

That’s what I think this excess of evil as a form of entertainment might be doing to us. Serial killers, demon activity, evil babysitters—who cares? It’s all just for fun.

For fun?

When did people dying become fun? When did people making pacts with Satan become entertainment?

Well, as far as the latter is concerned, Faust comes to mind, the German legend retold by such writers as Christopher Marlow and by Goethe. In fact there have been plays and operas and symphonies based on this legend.

But what seems apparent is that the stories were once told as cautionary tales. Making a deal with the devil brought ruin.

Maybe the modern day movies depicting evil still have the same purpose. On TV the crime solvers still track down the perp. Shows aren’t generally about criminals getting away with crimes.

But I have to wonder, what about compassion? Are we becoming hard of heart because of our propensity to find entertainment in stories that deal with evil? Or are we reinforcing the “good guy wins” narrative?

Sadly, in the TV ads for this month’s movies, the emphasis is all about the death and/or mayhem, I assume, because that’s what sells. If we were watching horror because good wins out, shouldn’t that be the selling point?

Instead, I think movies and TV programs alike have become “darker” because what we watched fifty years ago no longer gives the adrenaline rush of fear that it once did. So now we need something more sensational, more graphic, more bizarre.

We are like the crowd going to the traveling circus to see what outrageous display they might have behind the curtain. Does it make people feel “normal” to see someone else who is so strange? Or did it harden their souls so that they had no compassion for those who dealt with disabilities they couldn’t imagine?

Same idea, I think, for us today. I suspect the more we watch evil, the less evil it seems, and the less compassion we have toward those who suffer—brutality or the compromise with evil or the loss of loved ones. Now we want something new. Something more dangerous. Something that will make us feel “normal.”

What do you think? Can we see so much evil that it no longer seems evil to us?

Published in: on October 16, 2017 at 6:06 pm  Comments (11)  
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Discernment And Culture

In a week or so Disney is set to release the movie Beauty And The Beast. Recently the news broke that one of the characters is gay and that a scene occurs in the movie that makes this fact clear. Talk has begun among some Christians that it’s time to “give up on Disney.”

In response, I wrote a post today at Speculative Faith that said, in essence, we need to realize that sinful acts take place in most, if not all, secular entertainment. We need to stop putting one sin on the top as if it’s the unpardonable sin, we need to open our eyes and see the sin in all the stories we read or watch, and we need to think about how those stories agree or disagree with what the Bible says.

On one hand people can take what I wrote about Beauty And The Beast and think I am being charitable toward a movie made by a secular company for a secular audience with a decidedly secular agenda as part of the story. In contrast, I raised more questions about The Shack, a movie written from a book by a professing Christian about a man who finds relationship with God, despite the great tragedy in his life.

So what’s with that? Are my expectations higher for a movie about God?

Maybe. But my cry is and has been for us to read and view stories with discernment. Discernment is even one of the topics under which I file my posts. In one older article I defined discernment and took great pains to explain what I believe about it and its importance.

I can summarize all that more succinctly here: discernment is the ability to spot truth and error. As a Christian I believe the only way to spot truth and error is by holding up God’s word, which is Truth, and using it as the standard.

So when discussing the two movies in question, I have to know first if the Bible says anything about the issues that the movies raise. In regard to Beauty And The Beast, the central issue is the nature of love. Does the Bible deal with the nature of love? It does in deed: parental love, God’s love, love between friends, love for an enemy, love for a spouse, love for a neighbor. Yes, the Bible speaks to the nature of love, so it certainly would provide a standard by which Beauty And The Beast can be compared.

And what if the movie agrees with the Bible’s standard for the most part but has errors in one minor relationship? This is where discernment comes in. My contention is that Beauty And The Beast deserves the same treatment as other books or stories or movies: we Christians recognize what is sinful, call it sin, expose it as behavior that is not desirable or godly, and weigh that fact along with the rest of the story. In some cases and for some people, the sin revealed outweighs any benefit. For others, it may not.

I’ll give a for instance. When I was in college I had to read Emile Zola’s Germinal for a history class. It was not a pretty story, but I learned more about how someone who is hopeless thinks and feels and looks at life than I could have ever learned apart from going through such an experience myself. For me, I could identify the sin and grieve over it for those poor lost people—fictional characters who nevertheless represented real people. Would I recommend that book to everyone? No. It’s sort of like staring at a head on collision on the freeway. Some of us look away because the images will stay with us in an unhealthy way. (I saw enough of those crashes in Driver’s Ed to last my lifetime).

But back to the two movies in question. The second, The Shack, deals with the relationship of man with God. That’s the whole story really. In the midst of pain and suffering, where is God and does He matter?

Clearly the Bible has a LOT to say about a relationship with God. We have examples (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, and more). We have prayers and answers to prayer. We have prophets reporting what God says, what His judgments are, and why. We have Jesus, God in the flesh, the image of the invisible God, the one who told His disciples they knew the Father because they knew the Son.

So, yes, we can hold the Bible up as the standard by which we can measure a story about a relationship with God.

Again, discernment is in order. First, we need some working knowledge of the Bible if it is to be our standard. Just because something touches us on the emotional level does not make it true! I was so happy for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she fell in love with . . . the John she’s spent a week with! It was a true Prince Charming story because he rescued her out of prostitution. After he used her as a prostitute for a week! I mean, really? Is that true love? But it was heart warming and had such a happy ending. Didn’t that make it all an example of what true love looks like? NO!

So one of the important things, maybe one of the hardest things, in discernment is to recognize that an emotional response does not validate the truth or the error depicted in the story. What validates truth is the solid rock of God’s word. So how does The Shack measure up to the truth about God revealed in Scripture. And I don’t mean the peripheral things—the metaphorical representation of the trinity, for instance. I’m thinking more about what the movie says about Jesus Christ and His payment of the debt each of us owes because of our sin.

I haven’t seen the movie yet (and may or may not see it), but the book seemed to be more about God’s acceptance rather than about reconciliation with Him because of what Jesus did at the cross. That’s the key I’d look for. Does the story tell the truth about the means to our relationship with God. Is Jesus central to the story of grace?

Can the movie get most of it right but miss on a few points and still be worthwhile? Again, that’s an issue for each person to decide. What I hope is that when either movie misses, Christians will speak up and point out the ways the movie achieves something true and the ways in which it falls into error.

If we close our minds and go with our heart, we’ll potentially fall for all kinds of deception. Better if we watch with eyes wide open and our minds filled with the truth of Scripture.

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 6:15 pm  Comments (15)  
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I’m Not Ashamed – The Story Of Rachel Joy Scott


Today I went to see I’m Not Ashamed, the motion picture made of Rachel Joy Scott’s short life and tragic death when she was the first person killed during Columbine over sixteen years ago. Well, it’s not really about her whole life. It’s more of a look at her spiritual life during her last year.

[Below: an interview with Masey McLain and Ben Davies, the two actors who starred in the movie.]

Of course, many critics find fault with Christian movies because they aren’t well made or because they are preachy, and there are critics of this film too. One review I read said it exploited a tragedy to get its faith based message across:

To use the senseless death of a school shooting victim to promote one’s warped political agenda is, to use a trendy term, deplorable. One should expect nothing less from the odious low-budget film company Pure Flix . . . Their latest, I’m Not Ashamed, bends the horrible tragedy of the Columbine massacre into a false narrative of Christian martyrdom. (The Guardian)

This and another review read into the film a number of things that simply aren’t there. Here’s one issue:

The movie begins almost immediately with news footage of the shooting (including from the security cameras), with a broadcaster noting: ”What everyone is looking for now is a reason.” Anyone familiar with PureFlix films won’t be surprised that the answer is unambiguously evolution. God’s Not Dead took a whole segment to lecture against its evils; here, Dylan and Eric’s eyes light up when a teacher waves a copy of Mein Kampf in the classroom while lecturing on social Darwinism. Even if it’s true that Harris wore a shirt saying “Natural Selection” the day of the shooting, it’s still a very slippery moral slope to imply that teaching evolution rather than creationism will lead to school shootings. (“The faith-based biopic I’m Not Ashamed blames Columbine on Darwin”)

Since the movie never once mentions evolution, this criticism is an unbelievable stretch that shows the criticism isn’t about this movie at all but about PureFlix and possibly Christianity or at least about perceived Christian beliefs.

At any rate, the negative comments dealt more with what the reviewer thought the movie was saying than with the actual movie. Was it exploiting Columbine to deliver a message? Was it preaching against evolution? Did it have an implied political agenda?

I didn’t see any of that.

Admittedly, at the beginning I was aware of every possible scene or word that could be construed as awkwardly overt or preachy. I also felt a little disappointed because the trailer I’d seen had revealed so much of the opening of the movie.

But somewhere in that first half hour I forgot about critiquing. I forgot I was watching a “Christian” movie. It was the story of one girl’s inner struggle and seemed so familiar, I thought high schoolers today could understand what this girl had felt. That she was struggling to live publicly what she claimed to believe privately, is the story of identity. That she grappled with being genuine, not fake or plastic, while at the same time longing to be accepted and to fit in, is so realistic and identifiable.

Did the movie exploit the school shooting? Not at all. You could take out the few scenes that showed the shooters. You could take out the end, and you’d still have the core of the movie. But Columbine gave context to this girl’s life. The things she struggled with, the decisions she made were magnified because her life ended tragically at such a young age.

Finally, the technical aspects of the film were on a par with your average movies. The acting is spot on—believable, realistic, natural. I particularly liked the two lead actors, Masey McLain and Ben Davies.

I don’t know anything about cinematography, so I can’t comment on that, but one review criticized the sudden jump cuts from one group of students to another. Those were in the movie. But jump cuts are common in today’s film making. Maybe there are rules to make them seem smoother, or something. I don’t know. I honestly wouldn’t have given them a second thought if I hadn’t seem the comment in the review.

What amazed me was how the movie has lingered in my mind. This is one I won’t quickly forget—maybe because it was true, maybe because of Rachel Joy Scott herself, maybe because the story involves spiritual matters. All I can say—I hope it lingers in the minds of the reviewers, too.

[Below: an interview with Rachel Joy Scott’s mother who made this film possible by making her daughters letters and journals available.]

Published in: on November 2, 2016 at 6:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Insurgent – Not A Review

InsurgentAs you might expect if you read my post on Cinderella, I am choosing not to do a formal review of the movie Insurgent, based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, because it’s been out so long, undoubtedly all the review-ish things that could be said have already been said. No point for me to repeat them.

Rather, I’ll give my rambling, disorganized thoughts as they come to me.

First, I was surprised. I liked the movie a lot more than I expected to. I was glad I saw the first in the series, Divergent, but I didn’t think it was particularly well done. I thought there were plot holes and unexplained world issues. This second installment didn’t have the same problems, I didn’t think.

I still didn’t find myself particularly attached to Tris. She’s lost her mother, her father, any number of friends, is being hunted down, turned away by other factions, abandoned by her brother, made out to be a liar and a criminal, but the person she hates is herself. I didn’t connect with her feelings, I don’t think.

Her self-hatred is an internal struggle that’s played out consistently throughout the movie, but I missed knowing what her external goals were. Mostly Four made the decisions and Tris went along, until she decided to turn herself in and until she decided to stay and open the box. Those were actually spur of the moment decisions instead of goals which she struggled to achieve. In fact, once she made up her mind to act, there really was no struggle preventing her from achieving what she had determined she needed to do.

So there really wasn’t a lot for me to cheer her toward. I wanted her to survive, but I didn’t feel as if I was in her corner, pulling for her to succeed—mostly because I didn’t have a clear idea what “succeed” would look like.

The theme of the story was crystal clear—forgive yourself. It’s a nice sentiment, but the thing is, our offenses aren’t only against ourselves. Tris had killed one of her friends—not out of anger but as a matter of survival. He was acting as a hypnotic drone and didn’t realize what he was doing when he followed orders to kill her. She defended herself and killed him instead.

Was she guilty of murder? No.

The thing was, many other people died, too, and yet it was this one death that haunted her because she knew this guy and called him a friend. His death, and all the others, had far reaching effects. Other people loved and needed him and the others. But the most important thing, according to the movie, was that Tris forgive herself.

So on one hand the deaths of all the others were devalued, and on the other, Tris’s sense of guilt was elevated to a position of primary importance. There was no confession, no repentance—only regret—and yet you know she would do the same thing again if put in the same set of circumstances.

In the end, “forgive yourself” is a false message, which we Christians know, because if forgiving ourselves was all we needed, then Christ didn’t have to die.

But He did die because the only way our actual sins can be forgiven is with the unblemished, spotless blood of the sinless Christ Jesus who became our sacrifice, once for all, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.

At the end of the movie, the big reveal informs the characters and the audience alike that the entire life lived in the city, divided into factions, was a grand, social-engineering experiment to see if they could achieve peace. Supposedly the existence of one individual, a divergent with all the traits of all the factions, was proof that the experiment worked.

I’m not sure how the social engineers figured that one out. It simply wasn’t true. The woman in charge planned to squelch the explanation of their existence in the city and kill the divergents who were supposedly the mark of success. The city, quite frankly, was a shambles. It was a ruins from one end to the other except where the faction headquarters were. I think they forgot “construction workers”—those social engineers—because everything was falling apart.

But I did like the movie. I did. It’s given me some interesting things to think about. 😉

Published in: on June 18, 2015 at 7:40 pm  Comments Off on Insurgent – Not A Review  
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Cinderella – Not A Review

Cinderella posterI don’t see the point in reviewing a movie that has been out since March, but I do think the newest iteration of the Cinderella story is worth talking about.

Thanks to a local two-dollar theater, I was able to see Cinderella the movie today. It’s interesting to watch a story that you’ve known since childhood. At first I was curious to see how this non-animated movie version would compare with the fairytale I grew up with. I soon realized I was watching the same story, revised only to add a sense of realism.

For instance, this movie gave character motivation that answered questions like why did Cinderella’s step-mother hate her so and why didn’t Cinderella simply leave? It also added more interaction between Cinderella and the prince to make their attraction to one another a little more believable.

Inevitably I compared this version of the fairytale with one of my favorite movies, Ever After, also a Cinderella re-telling. What Cinderella did that the Drew Barrymore movie didn’t attempt, was to preserve the magic. I suppose being a fantasy person, I appreciated the fact that that which we do not understand, always believe, and can’t control played a significant role in the story.

Ever After, with its “I don’t need the prince to rescue me” heroine, carried more of an “I AM WOMAN” message, flavored with a touch of “I can do for myself.” It was entertaining because it treated the story as historical and this telling, the real account which sorted fact from myth.

Cinderella, on the other hand, accepted the myth and the magic and made both come alive. In that context it developed a strong and clear theme: live life with courage and kindness. Though repeated often enough not to be forgotten, the principle arose from the events of the story—Cinderella’s dying mother instructing her pre-teen daughter to live life with those qualities. Cinderella, in turn, committed to living out her mother’s wisdom even in relationship to her step-mother and her step-sisters.

Not surprisingly she passed on the core principles to the prince in her first encounter with him, and it was this—her inner beauty—which first drew him to her.

Courage and kindness. Not principles many could call into question. They have universal appeal. But those weren’t the only things this movie encouraged. Surprisingly, given our current cultural trends, the movie is quite pro-marriage. The movie called Cinderella’s biological family perfect or ideal. The idea was, she and her parents had such a great love for each other, it couldn’t have been better.

Later, Cinderella and the prince have the same kind of connection, and the king acquiesces and gives his son his blessing, saying that he should marry for love, not political gain. In contrast, the step-mother is trying to pawn off her daughters to whatever rich lord might accept them (and of course, the prince would be the greatest catch of all if she can finagle it). The juxtaposition of the two approaches makes a very pro-relationship statement. People—spouses—shouldn’t be used to gain power or wealth. They are to be loved and cherished.

There’s a great deal of hope in this movie: hope that courage and kindness will take you through grief and mistreatment, hope that love is better than manipulation, hope that the small can survive without compromising what’s right.

Yes, there was magic, and I know this might trouble some Christians. Where magic cropped up, wouldn’t it be better, more true, if God replaced the fairy godmother?

But God doesn’t wave magic wands, and unfortunately, there are Christian stories out there that make it seem as if He does. Instead of a fairy godmother showing up to turn a pumpkin into a coach, mice into horses, and so on, a Christian story might have Cinderella pray and then miraculous things or coincidental things happen. Which isn’t far from saying, God waves His magic wand and fixes things.

Except, we all know of situations we’ve prayed for that God didn’t fix. So the stories are misleading. Yes, sometimes God does bring a miraculous end to suffering, but a lot of times, believers simply grow stronger in their faith as they endure the suffering. (Agent Karen Ball wrote an awesome blog post on this subject today).

So I’m fine with the pretend fairy godmother who could create a temporary coach, horses, coachman, and footmen, but a permanent glass slipper that only fits the foot of its rightful owner. It’s awesome to make believe. And it’s awesome to wish for what is not. It puts a longing in our hearts that C. S. Lewis identified as a longing for the world put right. We want good to win. We want the young woman who suffered greatly and responded with courage and kindness to have the happy ending, not the woman who suffered and responded with self-protection and bitterness.

In the end, Cinderella forgives her step-mother. I don’t remember that in any of my fairytale versions. But it’s another positive this movie slips in under the radar: winners don’t have to gloat or exact revenge. They can forgive.

Would that we had more fiction flooding the movie and book industries like Cinderella. These are the kinds of stories that can prepare the soil of the human heart to hear the true message of lasting Hope.

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Christian View Of Culture: The Secular/Sacred Divide

    Nothing for the Christian is essentially secular. It can only be secularized by leaving God out of it or by engaging in that from which God, by his nature, must be excluded.
    The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias (p. 145)

mud_poolI’ve read any number of times that one of the problems in the church and in Christian fiction is a propensity to divide life into camps—secular over there, Christian over here. Often times this line of reasoning comes from someone decrying the term “Christian fiction.”

However, the thought usually goes more along these lines: God created the world and everything in it; therefore, everything has a touch of the divine if we will see it—mountains and mud puddles, priests and prostitutes.

Interestingly, the quote above from evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias agrees with the idea that we have constructed an artificial divide. There’s an interesting wording difference between Zacharias’s phrasing and what I’ve read before. Rather than saying all is sacred, he says none is secular. I think that might be significant.

On one hand, those suggesting we do away with the “Christian fiction” distinction say all is sacred. There seems to be a period there. The implication is that all can be enjoyed or utilized by a Christian whether or not God shows up.

In contrast, Mr. Zacharias stipulates that nothing is secular but anything can be secularized by leaving God out

But what does it mean to include God in the picture? Are we supposed to see Jesus in Avatar, for instance? Are we supposed to read Watership Down (Richard Adams) and see some end times message?

Not at all. I think including God means I first see the object or person or piece of writing before me for what or who they are. Jesus, for example, understood exactly who the woman at the well was—a Samaritan, a “seeker,” a divorcee, a sinner in need of a Savior. He didn’t dismiss her as too far gone for God and He didn’t dismiss her as already one of the family of God.

I guess what I’m thinking is this: we don’t need to force God into places.

I remember when I saw the first two Star Wars movies. I started to see Christian parallels and began to wonder if possibly Lucas was using intentional symbolism to convey a Christian message. Maybe he was saying the Force was God. Maybe our hero was a type of Christ.

In reality, I was forcing my worldview onto the movie.

Then where is God in Star Wars? Are they simply “secular,” something I can enjoy apart from my Christianity?

While I can enjoy them, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do so apart from my Christianity but because of it. As I think on God and His Son, I am filtering my culture through the lens of my Christianity.

For example, I can look at the Force and compare that to God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—a personal, loving Heavenly Father. While the Jedi knights could say, “May the Force be with you,” they could never say, “May the Force comfort you in your time of grief” or “May the Force hear your prayer” or “May the Force extend its grace and love to you.” God transcends the Force by His nature, by His personhood.

So I can come away from Star Wars entertained but also thankful that I know a personal loving God and do not have to trust to an impersonal, distant Force.

That’s only one example. Other possibilities include a conviction to commit to God … Or a willingness to mentor someone new in the faith … Or a determination to stand against evil regardless of the strength of the opposition.

You get the idea.

Nothing is secular unless I leave God out.

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This article is a reprint of one entitled “The Christian View Of Culture” published February, 2010.

Star Trek And Besetting Sin

star-trek-into-darknessI realize I’m late to the party, but at long last I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness. (The good news is, I saw it at one of those incredibly low discount theaters and only paid $2.00! The screen was truly BIG, and the chairs literally shook whenever the Enterprise went into warp drive.)

The short version of the story is that young Captain Kirk chases after a murderous, vengeful “superman,” named Kahn, who was genetically enhanced. In many ways, Kirk and Kahn are alike. Both are captains willing to lay down their lives for their crews. Both have suffered loss. Both feel murderous rage as a result. Both initially seek revenge. Both are capable of formulating intricate plots to get what they want, acting as renegades to pull off their schemes.

But what separates them makes all the difference. Kirk has a friend, Mr. Spock, who tells him the truth. And he listens. Kahn, on the other hand, places himself above all other humans.

While Kirk accedes to Spock’s urging to reject the role as judge, jury, and executioner, Kahn embraces it with no regard to the hundreds of people who will die in the process of carrying out his revenge.

The common thread running through both men’s lives is more than their similar circumstances. They both have what some might call a “hero’s complex.” They think putting things right is up to them, and they both are willing to disregard regulations or safety concerns or common sense to do what they think needs to be done.

Another way of saying this is that both men have a huge ego. They think they see things right and everyone else needs to catch up, shut up, or give up.

Except Kirk realizes at one point that he was wrong. Besides listening to Spock and putting his desire for revenge behind him, he apologizes to Scotty and elicits his help. He even admits that he doesn’t know what to do to get them out of trouble, that Mr. Spock is more fit to be the captain.

And despite Kahn’s talk, it is Kirk who actually acts on his proclamation that he would give his life for his crew.

Nevertheless, what I found fascinating in the movie is that both the hero and the villain shared the same besetting sin–the old problem of pride common to Humankind. Pretty interesting for a movie that got in at least one anti-supernatural line.

It seems that literature cannot deny the truth that in all of Humankind there is the likeness of God, mixed with the sin of Satan–the pride and desire he put before Eve to be like God. And how ironic–they who had been created in God’s image, desiring to be like God. Apparently they didn’t realize they already were like Him. Instead, they settled for willfulness, selfishness, self-centeredness–things which Kirk and Kahn shared. Things which all humans share.

Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 6:20 pm  Comments Off on Star Trek And Besetting Sin  
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

kinopoisk.ruI’m not going to give a formal review of the Peter Jackson movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey because (a) lots of other people have already given far better reviews than I could muster, (b) people already know the story, and (c) the trailers have already hooked viewers, or not. Oh, and the movie has been out for three weeks, so lots and lots of people have already seen it. I do have some thoughts about the movie, though, some in reaction to what I read in reviews.

First, I liked the beginning. I thought it was a masterful segue for those who might not be familiar with the story but who had seen the Lord of the Rings movies. Some of the material was straight from the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring.

It made me think once again that Jackson, had he known beforehand how popular Tolkien’s stories would be as movies, would have divided the trilogy into six movies. It would have been a good decision financially, but also literarily (after all, Tolkien divided the story into six “books” though they were published in three volumes). I would love to have seen the parts the movie makers omitted or condensed, fleshed out as they are doing with The Hobbit.

I enjoyed the dwarfs and agreed that they were wonderfully particularized, which made them seem quite real. I liked Bilbo very much and felt for him much as I did the first time I read the book. Seeing the dwarfs’ presumption and his confusion and Gandalf’s circumspection showed how disruptive this entire adventure was to his settled way of life.

I liked the fact that the movie showed Bilbo’s struggle to carry on once he realized the difficulties and the lack of faith Thorn had in him. I like the way he came to realize the need the dwarfs had to retake their home.

At the same time, I wonder how down-playing the dwarfs’ desire to reclaim their treasure will affect the later movies. This one certainly showed their wealth before Smaug invaded, and their efforts to squirrel away the trolls’ treasure (though I think they left a lot lying around), so perhaps that’s enough.

My biggest surprise might have been the appearance of Saruman the White. Since I just finished reading Return of the King, it was hard for me to look at him as a character the others respected. Actually, I think Peter Jackson may have had a hard time with that too, because I don’t think Gandalf and Galadriel actually did seem to respect him much. In the books, however, I think he was thoroughly convincing to those opposing the Evil Lord–which is why they accepted his counsel and did not try to root Sauron out of Mordor until it was too late.

I have to admit I thought some of the orc chase scenes seemed needlessly drawn out. When I read The Hobbit, the orcs seemed like a bigger threat somehow. More frightening, anyway. Bilbo’s big fear was to evade the orcs, not to escape Gollum. Only after Gollum went back to his island (which he didn’t do in the movie) did Bilbo realize he might have found Gollum’s Precious and that he was in danger.

Gollum in The Hobbit movieOther than that, though, the scenes with Gollum might be my favorites. They were so well played. Brilliant. They showed his dual personality beautifully. And Bilbo’s decision to stay his hand and escape without killing him was done so well.

I thought the movie makers did a good job bringing this first part to a satisfying conclusion. It wasn’t the cliff-hanging ending I feared, though obviously there’s more to come.

I thought the pacing was excellent. Some people said the first twenty minutes were slow, but I didn’t find any of it slow.

I also heard come mild criticism because of the segment with Radagast the Brown which does not exist in the novel. In some ways the character reminded me of Tom Bombadill. I thought perhaps Mr. Jackson drew on another part of The Fellowship of the Ring which he left out of that movie.

All in all, I found the movie to be happily satisfying. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but in looking forward to something, I realized there was the potential for it not to live up to my expectations. Not so with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It was thoroughly delightful. And yes, it made me want to read The Hobbit again. Another book on the To Be Read pile. 😀

Published in: on January 4, 2013 at 7:11 pm  Comments (3)  
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