Archives For August 2014

Recently, I watched the movie Calvary (2014), which was one of the most powerful representations of the Gospel I’ve ever seen on film.

I don’t want to ruin the movie but go see it but see it with caution. Often truth in a movie like Calvary can hit us like a two by four. It is also R-rated and deals with some of the most serious issues in life.

 

LIke I would do with any good film, I shared my enthusiasm with a few people and the first question was typically,

“Well, is it a Christian film?”

My reaction?

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I knew this question was coming and I bury my head in my hands every time someone asks it. It brings up the greater question, “What is ‘Christian’ in all media?”

When you ask if it is a Christian film, what are we talking about?

 

Is it about Jesus, Christians, or the Bible in general?

Is it a movie that people pray on-screen or talk about Jesus? 

Does a person who believes and follows Christ have to write and/or direct it? 

Is it produced by a company or person who believes in Jesus? 

Does a church show it to their congregation? Is it endorsed by a popular pastor? 

Is there an altar call at the end of the movie?

Is it produced by an evangelical? What about a Catholic?

 

Sorry, but I don’t have a specific answer to what constitutes a ‘Christian film’. Only God knows but what I do know is that he created each human being to ultimately honor him and movies are a great way to do it. I believe that the arts, especially in music, books, and movies are a way to showcase God’s great story. The Godfather of movie storytelling, Robert McKee shares,

“A fine work of art – music, dance, painting, story – has the power to silence the chatter in the mind and lift us to another place.”

Christians have a funny way of trying to package things in a pretty box. What if that box isn’t genuine, though?

I am thankful that God gave me a passion for books and movies and how they can have a transformative power to change lives. I feel like I in the majority of movies, I can point out the Christ figure in the film that represents ‘redemption’. Most of my favorite movies are written or directed by people whom I don’t know where they stand in their faith. I am comfortable with that and I’ll explain why.

For example, I know a lot of serious evangelical Christians who love Eric Liddell’s story. They love the movie Chariot’s of Firewhich tells some of Liddell’s story as the famous Scottish runner who in the 1924 Olympics refused to run a heat for his best race because it was on the Sabbath. The movie is widely quoted in sermons, articles, and blogs. What most Christians don’t know is that Liddell was played by Ian Charleson, who was gay and later died tragically from AIDS in 1990. Regardless of where Charleson stood in his faith, does the fact of his sexual orientation make the movie invalid as a ‘Christian’ film? Some Christians would throw the movie into the fire because of this fact.

Along with Chariot’s of Fire, here are a few movies that have had a profound impact on my life yet do not fit a typical mold of Christianity.

I think when you have good writing and good visual storytelling, a film can change a life. Redemption is at the core of good story, after all. 

I am comfortable seeing God in the beauty he presents through a variety of people. Some people may not but I challenge you to give these a chance with an open mind and to pray for God to show you his heart. Then go to scripture and dig deeper. And, as much as I want to celebrate every openly evangelical film, I want people to recognize that each of those films may not be a true representation of the Gospel in all its grit.

We live in a brutal society.

We live in a world where people are being decapitated on broadcast television. Children are being molested. Men and women are raped. Politicians and bankers are cheating the poor. Pornography is more accepted by culture. We can dance around the truth or we can engage with it head on.

Years ago, Michael Card wrote a book and song titled “A Violent Grace”. I believe the chorus captures life best.

So ruthless, He loves us, So reckless His embrace
To show relentless kindness, To a hardened human race
The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face
And by His blood He bought a violent grace

I think this is why movies like The Passion of the Christ provoked so many people because it felt closer to reality of what Christ went through than previous movies portraying his sacrifice.

Scripture even backs it up in Isaiah 53:6 NIV

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Jesus’ death and sacrifice was brutal.

In order to follow Christ, we must engage with the fact that Christ died violently for us. There is no sugar coating it.

My encouragement is to pray for discernment when it comes to any information you take in any movie, book, or piece of music. Just because I am moved by the movies above, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything in them; the heart of the story is what I am after. N.T. Wright shares good caution from his book Simply Christian,

“You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.”

 

Here are some questions I ask myself and points I consider when I watch a film.

  1. Does it showcase ‘redemption’ well?

  2. Does it glorify sin? 

  3. What is the motivation of the film maker? 

  4. Does Scripture back up the heart of the story?

  5. Pray and ask God for discernment to show His way through these stories.

 

In the meantime, I challenge you to take risks and go see movies like Calvary. Let me know what you think.

What other movies have you watched that are not in explicitly Christian but have had a profound effect on your life? Why? 

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I was thirteen when my mother took me on a special trip through the midwest. She took me to two special historical homes of great midwesterners: Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois and Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri. As a kid, my mother introduced me to the stories of Tom Sawyer and like every young boy, I wanted to live the adventures just like Tom. As I grew up, I graduated to read more of his classics.

I was born in Missouri and spent my formative years there so Mark Twain has a special place in my heart. I have made it a goal to re-read The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn every couple years to be reminded of the importance of learning about people who are different than me and look at life as an eternal adventure. I read it again this past week and watched Ken Burns’ 2001 Documentary on Mark Twain so he’s fresh on my mind. Every time I read a book by ole Samuel Langhorne Clemens (his real name), I learn something new about him.

Twain possessed a wisdom and originality that was unmatched.

Based on learning about Mark Twain, here are Mark Twain’s top five secrets about life.

Mark Twain

1. He traveled.

Early in his life, Twain recognized the power of ‘travel’, living on the Mississippi River. Early on in his writing and reporting career, he ventured out to the western United States and then Hawaii, Europe, and other places throughout the world.. This inspired him to write classics like The Innocents Abroad and Following the Equator. He was inspired by travel to write and learned more about other people by doing so.

2. He never forgot his roots.

After writing great travel classics like The Innocents Abroad, he would go back every few books to write about his life. He mastered the idea of ‘write what you know.’ His heart was all over the world but it started on the Mississippi River in Missouri. Start reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, and The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn to see.

3. He took time to get to know people who were very different than he.

Once, Twain supported a young African American to pay his way through Yale and then law school. That man was one who later mentored a young Thurgood Marshall, our first African-American on the Supreme Court. Twain used his writing style and influence to help shape post-Civil War America.

4. He failed and he failed.

Throughout his life, Twain published numerous books. Not all achieved the success of The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn but he continued to write. I work in publishing and most books fail to achieve an acceptable level of financial success. He was not immune to failure with his books but he kept writing and trying new things until the day he died.

5. He found humor, even in the dark.

Mark Twain was known as one of the first stand up comics. He dreaded speaking tours but he treated his lectures became like standup comedy. Laughter is what makes life special and he was the master of his day.

The Quotable Mark Twain

Mark Twain is one of the most quotable people to have lived on earth. Here are some of my favorite quotes from him.

“Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

“I would rather have my ignorance than another man’s knowledge, because I have so much more of it.”

“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either.”

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

“Classic: A book which people praise and don’t read.”

“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.”

“Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.”

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”

“There’s one way to find out if a man is honest: ask him; if he says yes, you know he’s crooked.”

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Take some time this year to read a book by Mark Twain and study his great life.  Enjoy his wit and be inspired by his adventures.

It is that time of year when many of us send our children back to school. It brings back great memories to me about my education. I reminds me of what I love about the learning process and the teachers who made it all worthwhile.

I was a decent student but I always needed someone to push me to become better in my studies as well as in life. I would not have made it through my education without the help of my mother who is a teacher by trade or by a handful of great teachers who inspired me along the way. Unfortunately, teachers are often some of the most hard-working, unappreciated and underpaid people in our society, so I tip my hat to them. They should be treated well because they have the power to motivate students to find greatness. This is my attempt to honor them.

Movies can be a helpful way to learn and be inspired, especially for a teacher. Here are some of my favorite inspirational movies about teaching in no particular order.

1. Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

Seeing the potential in every student, no matter how distant he or she may be, is a key message of the film. In the movie, Mr. Keating played by Robin Williams does this uniquely with his students to help them understand that they are passionate, young men ready to “seize the day.”

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2. Renaissance Man (1994)

This is a movie that flew under the radar in the 1990s. It follows Danny DeVito, who is simply trying to find a job. He lands one helping out soldiers at a military base who need basic life skills, especially in the English language. He is teaching adults who should have learned many simple English reading and writing skills earlier in life and revealed in the process why it is important. My grandmother tutored English to adults and young students until the day she died at 93. This movie reminds me that there are always people who need a good teacher, no matter how young, old, rich or poor.

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3. Finding Forrester (2000)

A teacher can be a mentor in life as well. In this case, famous recluse author William Forrester spends time with a young student from a rough part of town teaching him not just about writing but about how to handle himself in life despite incredible odds. Often times, the student is also teaching the teacher like in Finding Forrester.

“You write your first draft with your heart. You re-write with your head.”

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4. Stand and Deliver (1988)

Every student is worth the investment to find their potential. Jamie, the teacher, does the unthinkable by teaching calculus to an inner-city Los Angeles school. Based on a true story, Jamie brought humor and fun into the classroom to teach a very complicated subject.

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5. School of Rock (2003)

This movie is a reminder that music education is essential to a broader renaissance education. When you bring Jack Black in to teach, it is even better. School of Rock also serves as a reminder that in order to be a great teacher, you must absolutely love the subject you teach.

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Other great movies about teaching worth watching:

Lean on Me, Good Will Hunting. Pay it Forward, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Yoda-Luke), Precious, Mr. Holland’s Opus, The Karate Kid, Summer School, Dangerous Minds, and Half Nelson

 

What is your favorite movie about teaching?