In Case You Missed It Film Review Series: “War Photographer”

Originally posted on "Scattershooting":

With the recent murder of foreign correspondent James Foley we are reminded the danger war correspondents accept in their determination to report on wars and conflicts and in so doing share the suffering these bring to so many. I have reposted a review of a film that captures the heart of those who risk their lives to tell these important stories.

Watch “war photographer” here

“war photograper” is a powerful 2001film that takes viewers on a journey into the belly of hate and cruelty that are war and extreme poverty zones. James Nachtwey is perhaps the most influential war photographer of his generation. With a 25 plus year career documenting the effects of conflicts throughout the world, Nachtwey is the Lou Gehrig of war photographers, the “iron horse” in a profession known for high burnout and casualty rates. From Palestine to Kosovo, to Indonesia to Ground Zero, James Nachtwey has…

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Of Voice and Verse

Although the genesis and perhaps lion’s share of credit for the power in this inspiring scene from “Dead Poets Society” belongs with screenwriter Tom Schulman, it is the understated yet determined passion in Robin Williams’s delivery that carries the power and meaning of the words through the mind and plants it in the heart and spirit of the viewer. In this scene, if even for a moment, the window of wonder of many closed minds was opened to the intangible universe that is art, poetry, and thinking.

In my studies and life experiences I believe they could easily change the subject from poetry, to theology, literature, history, politics, sociology or any other thought and reflection based discipline. The fact that persons such as J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. could dare to propose a standardized assessment of poetry or determine the worth of a poem is, as completely demonstrated by Williams’s Mr. Keating, beyond imagination. Such an attempt to standardize something as immeasurable as poetry is a veiled attempt to control perception and thereby limit thought. The veil of such measure is removed later in the film when the school’s headmaster tells the young impassioned teacher to constrain free thinking on the part of the students, for to do otherwise is dangerous.

Unfortunately, some sixty years from the film’s setting, we seem to be pasting Mr. Prichard’s introduction back into the text that is society. There is a reemergence of fear, fear of allowing people the freedom to think and make decisions which is fostering a growing command of conformity in how to think, live and be. More and more in groups and greater segments of society, there is one way to believe if one is faithful, one way to vote if one is patriotic, and one group to associate with if one is loyal to one’s faith, country, state or civic group. Increasingly if one thinks outside social lines, thinks beyond the accepted standards of what is determined to be correct, then one is wrong and, at best, tagged as suspicious or, at worst, banished from the community or group.

One need look no further than Christ to see the that model of faith, discipleship and spiritual leadership is diversity and freedom to think and apply faithful discernment. Among the Apostles were a zealot, a tax collector, and others that would likely be considered mainstream or regular Joe fishermen. The last Apostle called by Christ after his crucifixion was even a fanatic Pharisee. Each of the Apostles, sent to be and build the body of Christ, had unique perspectives and manners of living faithfully as a disciple. As a United Methodist I need look no further than John Wesley who taught and preached that one is to read and study scripture, pray, and think for one’s self in gathering discernment as one journeys the sanctification path toward perfection.

Certainly in the midst of diverse and independent thinking there will be ideas and beliefs that are incorrect or unwarranted by scripture and social mores. Not every idea, thought or practice is correct or appropriate. Such missteps are where the community comes in to offer guidance in correcting false or incorrect assumptions or acumen. Rather than limiting thoughtful exploration of ideas and beliefs, the community is to offer correction through loving teaching and example when errors of perception and discernment are made.

Increasingly, communities, churches, denominations, political or social groups follow the opposite order and limit thought and expression first. Labeling and banishment of those who think outside guidelines has replaced loving correction of incorrect thought and actions, and increased mistrust of, and skepticism toward, the idea of community. While such a reversed order is more streamlined and safer because it carries fewer unknowns, it also is more constraining, less relational, and as such less loving; and is a tide that carries away passion and life. As Keating teaches “words and ideas can change the world,” but such ideas as Whitmann writes grow from the voices and verses we each add to the “powerful play” that is life and community. Without the freedom to think and act; without the freedom to receive loving praise, or when necessary gracious correction, passion dies in the lifeless, blank stare inducing recitation of what is deemed correct or great.

So to those who seek to limit freedom to think and explore by mandating conformity, I say “Be gone J. Evans Pritchard!”

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Film Reveiw: “CALVARY”

Film Reveiw: "CALVARY".

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Film Reveiw: “CALVARY”

calvary picAny film entitled “CALVARY” whose subject is the travails of a good man trying to be a good priest by ministering to challenging people in a difficult time will carry the weight of significant expectations. In discussing the title, writer / director John Michael McDonagh speaks to the dual meaning of the word, that Calvary is both the place where Christ was crucified as well as a burden one must bear or a difficult time one must endure. “CALVARY” carries such weight and shares the burden of both meanings with the audience. With a cast of small town, quirky Irish characters and exceptionally witty dialogue there is a significant comedic component to the film, but it is by no means a comedy or even a dark comedy.

“Calvary” is a heavy film that examines life, faith, discipleship, community and the Church in a compelling, thought provoking way. The film pulls the viewer in and shares the weight in the first seconds of the pre-credits opening scene when a Roman Catholic priest, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), calvary pic 2discovers during confession that one of his flock was sexually abused for 5 years by a now diseased priest, and that person will exact revenge by murdering Father James in one week. The voice states that he is killing Father James, not because he is a bad priest but because he is a good priest, and his death will make bigger news.

Growing up as a PK, I shared with my minister father my method of rating sermons was how long one remembered them. Hopefully they were at least parking lot sermons, and preferably lunch or even dinner sermons, meaning one at least got out of the Church or to lunch before they faded from thought. Especially good sermons were overnighters where one thought about them that night or even longer. Because of the weighty subject, hauntingly beautiful photography, a supremely textured script, and impeccable acting performances, “Calvary” is not only an overnighter, but an all-nighter.

The first of the major themes is the state of the Church. Set in Ireland amidst the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church there, the film projects the impact of the scandal. The Church is seen by many there as feckless at best, and at worst a hypocritical, greedy institution whose sole concern is for increasing its wealth, status, and control of others. This range of attitudes is reflected in the various persons of the small town where the film is set.

Aiden Gillen as acerbic atheist Dr. Frank Harte

Aiden Gillen as acerbic atheist Dr. Frank Harte

The town’s people unload their feelings that range from cautious skepticism, to mildly veiled hostility. All the characters are shown receiving the Eucharist at the beginning of the film, however this scene is used more to introduce the characters rather than indicate a level of faith or religiosity. The true feelings of the people towards the institution and perhaps God are displayed in their treatment of the Father James which range from cynical sparring to the ultimate threat of physical harm depicted in the opening scene.

While “CALVARY” is located in Ireland during the post-sexual abuse scandal of the Roman Catholic Church, it does not have an anti-Catholic feel, and does have a word to say to the greater Church. Even for the protestant church in another country, “CALVARY” is a canary in the coalmine, a harbinger of the impact of becoming irrelevant. Whether disconnect comes as the result of scandal, schism, in-fighting or any other sense of detachment, the people whom the church serves will reject and turn against the mission of the Church when there is a perceived countenance of hypocrisy, when the walk of the church is misaligned with its Word.

Father James, and through him the audience, realizes in his Gethsemane moment, when he must decide to flee or face the danger, that the worst thing is not the antagonism of those hurt by the failure of a person or the institution; rather it is the complete loss of an awareness of what is right and proper, holy and unholy. It is worse when someone is “un-respectful” or unaware than those who are purposely disrespectful and combative. If the church surrenders its place and mission, antagonism and hostility toward it will cease but the individuals and society will be much worse off.

Though not a lawyer in the 1930’s American South, Father James walks in the same shoes as Atticus Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” James is caught in the middle of upholding what is right against the onslaught of a community who rejects righteousness and rejects him for striving for righteousness, which holds them accountable for their failure. He also refuses to compromise to those who would buy out his integrity, and their guilt, through significant financial gifts.

Like Atticus, James sees not just the actions of his antagonists, but the humanity behind their pain fueled actions. Even though they belittle, oppose, and threaten him, he knows they need him and the ministry Christ called him to offer. It is this nature of ordained ministry that is a second major theme.

calvary pic 6Writer/director John Michael McDonagh captures the prophetic weight of ordained ministry. Journeying with people during their difficult times, opening oneself to experience suffering through the travails of others is sharing the weight of their brokenness and that of the world. Most clergy know this is part of accepting the call to ordained ministry. When, in addition, one must share the added weight of anger, fear, resentment of the people projected on the Church or God, and perhaps the failure of the institutional church to provide support, the weight becomes cavalry, a burden that when not processed grinds and wears the bearer down.

Given the title and subject it is obvious that Fr. James is a figure of Christ, and as the film is set from one Sunday through the next, James’s experiences will reflect some of the experiences of Jesus during his last week. Gleeson’s masterfully nuanced performance reflects the growing weight and burden Father James takes on as he carries the cross through the course of the film, his holy week.

Director / Writer John Michael McDonagh

Director / Writer John Michael McDonagh

“CALVARY” is a very good film. It is a film that captures the realities of a world that is fallen and rejects the very faith it needs and it shows the challenges of faithfully ministering to those burdened by the brokenness of sin.

“Calvary” is rated “R” for adult language and content and one instance of graphic violence.

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Carrying the Cross and Dropping the Crowbar

captial punishment 6One of my favorite scenes in the movie “Field of Dreams” is when Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, is trying to convince Terence Mann, played by James Earl Jones, to go with him to a Boston Red Sox baseball game. When Terence Mann shuts the door in Ray’s face Ray Enters Terence’s apartment uninvited and tries to kidnap Terence at the point of his finger, inside his jacket pocket. Terence responds by threatening Ray with a crowbar. Backing off and stumbling Ray tells Terence “you can’t do this, you’re a pacifist.” Being reminded at the last moment of who he is, Terence grudgingly puts down the crowbar and reluctantly listens to Ray.

When it comes to the death penalty I am often in Terence’s shoes, crowbar or club in my hand or my hand on a switch. I strongly supported the death penalty for the first 18 years of my age of reason. I have now opposed it for 20 years. In fact this was one of the two changes I experienced in seminary, when I studied Christian ethics. In short, when asked to reconcile the death penalty to the life and teachings of Jesus, I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to and tried.

Avoiding the, in my mind, compelling evidence that the death penalty is not a deterrent to capital crimes, and looking at it through the teaching and life example of Jesus, I cannot find a single instance that indicates it to be anything other than incompatible with Christ’s teaching and actions. Yes the eye for and eye practice opened the door to capital punishment in Israel, though the purpose of the law was to limit the practice. As Jesus is the fulfillment of the law however, his practice and teaching indicate the desires of God, and his teaching and practice is contrary to this earlier practice.

When asked which commandments one should follow, Jesus responded, love The Lord with all one’s heart, mind, might, and spirit, and then love your neighbor as yourself. One cannot love God with everything and then kill one of God’s children, even when that child is a brutal murderer. That person, as evil and fallen as they are, is beloved by God and is a neighbor to love as one loves oneself.

When asked how often one should forgive, Jesus said 70 times 7. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached that those who offer mercy and make peace are blessed as are people who suffer for righteousness sake. Yes showing mercy and forgiving can yield pain and suffering in the short-term, but they ultimately yield blessing if Jesus’s teachings are to be believed. Jesus also preached that disciples are to love enemies and pray for those who persecute them.

When betrayed and arrested, Jesus prevented his followers from using force and told them that when one lives by the sword / violence, one dies by the sword / violence. While some have said Jesus’s halting the execution of the woman who had committed adultery was in response to her not being properly tried, he did not say, let those cast the first stone after a proper trial, he said let one who has no sin, who is not in need of forgiveness, cast the first stone. When on the cross, Jesus modeled the way of the Kingdom and actions of disciples when he prayed for God to forgive those who crucified him. How can we, ourselves guilty of the capital crime of sin, ask Jesus for a release from what we deserve when we are unwilling to give the same to someone else, even if that person has commuted evil acts?

How can a disciple see past the position of one killed by lethal injection?

How can a disciple see past the position of one killed by lethal injection?

For me, the most compelling reason for a follower and disciple of Jesus to deny support of capital punishment is that I cannot endorse the practice that killed the one I claim to love.

Given this sampling of teaching and actions of Jesus, and there is more, I do understand the desire to execute persons guilty of heinous acts. I would say that every fiber in me wants to swing a crowbar, push a button or throw a switch. But every time I have that feeling, I see a cross I am reminded, “I am a disciple of Jesus,” and I reluctantly drop the crowbar and lock away my desire to live by my worldly nature in favor of living by God’s Kingdom standards. In doing so I also trust God that Kingdom standards, Kingdom ways of living and being best cares for the victims of the crime and their families. Not exacting revenge, even when it is deserved, is a part of living in the peace of and from God that we do not understand. Such peace does not make sense because it is not of this world but is of the Kingdom that we receive through faith.

All of this is beyond hard to understand, accept and certainly practice, but as a disciple of Christ, it is what I am called to do. This is not easy. Jesus said following him would be hard because it requires one to deny oneself, pick up and carry a cross. One of the things denied in carrying the cross is the worldly satisfaction of taking an eye for an eye.The reality is that in order to swing a crowbar or throw a stone I have to put down the cross that I am carrying out of my love for and devotion to my Lord. I can do one or the other, I can’t do both.

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“Son of God”: Script over Scripture

son of god Speaking for their film “Son of God,” producers Roma Downy and Mark Burnett spoke about their desire to update the epic Biblical films of the 1950’s and 60’s to better fit with today’s audiences. With greater technological tools at their disposal, “Son of God” is sharper and crisper than the epic narratives of 50 years ago, but the experience and feeling watching the film is very similar. There is no doubt that “Son of God” has touched many of the millions of persons who have seen it, served as a conversation starter for families and individuals, and friends and led unchurched, or formerly churched viewers to reflect and consider or reconsider faith, all of which are good things.

Though positive, these benefits do not mean that the film offered a complete portrayal of Jesus or accurate presentation of the Gospels. As much as they wanted to update the portrayal of Christ from the presentations of the 1950’s and 60’s, outside of the filmmaking craft, “Son of God” retains much of the feel of the earlier epics where the divinity of Jesus overflows and overshadows the humanity of, and connection with, Jesus. With a weaker presentation of the fully human Jesus, will the responses of individuals to the film, especially the unchurched, lead to transformation or evaporate as the emotion of the moment fades?

At six feet, three inches and combined with his model appearance, Diogo Morgado stands out, literally heads and shoulders above everyone. This casting decision, as well as the directorial decision to repeatedly utilize sweeping helicopter shots of Jesus, and the post production decision to accompany such photography of Jesus with an equally grand musical score creates emotional and physical distance and lessens the intimacy between the viewer and Christ. Such distance is contrary to the intimate Jesus as presented in the Gospels. Intimacy by Jesus with the people, especially those cast out or devalued by the society of the time is one of the most important teachings of the Jesus in The Bible. The prologue to the Gospel of John describes a different Jesus to the overly dramatic Jesus depicted in “Son of God”, “And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” The translation of dwell is actually, “pitched his tent” among us. son of god 2

Jesus, the Word made flesh, did not live around us and like us; he lived among us, as us. To depict him in such a soft focus yet grand manner antagonizes the purpose of God’s incarnation and echoes the early church heresy of Docetism, where the humanity of Jesus was denied as he was described as spirit in human form. It is not necessary to depict Jesus as larger than life because as the Word, the creator of all things, Jesus is life. Grand presentations of Christ, while usually done as an effort to respect and honor of his divinity, are in contrast to the purpose of his life and ministry, and ironically echoes the first century misconception of what the Messiah, the Son of God, should look and be like, and was a major factor to the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus.

While these criticisms of “Son of God” may be stylish in nature, the scriptural inaccuracies are substantive and point to the decision of the filmmakers to put the needs of script over the accuracy of scripture. Why did the film show Jesus entering the tomb of Lazarus and kiss his forehead to raise him rather than depict Jesus standing outside the tomb calling for him to come out? Why was Lazarus not wrapped in burial strips and his face not covered? Why was Jesus shown standing, rather than kneeling and writing in the dirt, when presented with the woman accused of adultery? Why was Thomas shown to be in the upper room when Jesus first appeared, rather than outside, and still have doubt? Most importantly, Why did the film depict Peter fully understanding, without the benefit of revelation from Jesus, the nature of the resurrection, and explaining the risen Jesus through the breaking of the bread in the upper room? Had the filmmakers wanted to introduce the Eucharist as a means of recognizing and experiencing the risen Jesus, why did they not depict the powerful Emmaus narrative, where Jesus revealed himself through the breaking of the bread?

Such scriptural differences may seem unimportant, but in scripture, each of these details has meaning and purpose in revealing God and the Kingdom. These alterations of scripture reflect the determination by the film’s producers, and apparently pastoral advisors, that the scriptural narrative was dramatically lacking, and the use of such alterations place the needs of the script, to drive the drama, above the teaching purpose of scripture. Such decisions are more disappointing given that a major purpose for making the film was to reach out to persons unfamiliar with Jesus and the Gospel. These inaccuracies are now a part of their knowledge base and misunderstanding of the life and story of Jesus. As the film community is entering a new era faith or Biblical films, faith-based filmmakers who desire to film Biblical narratives should remember, to truly impact and contribute in the Kingdom, when drama or legend contradict scripture, film the scripture.

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“On The Pulpit Floor: Sermon Points That Time Denied”



In their 1973 song, Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) The Rolling Stones are singing about an “accidental” shooting in New York City. Given the history of that, and subsequent times,  it’s not hard to imagine that the lyrics refer to racial tensions between communities of color and the police.  The other incident is the overdose death of a 10 year old girlwho is basically forgotten and abandoned by society and who “never had a chance.”  These incidents and the cultural components that enabled them, judging persons by how they look or what community they are from or considering people disposable, breaks the heart of Christ. 

The thing which I had to cut out of the sermon due to time, was the part the music played.  Those who know the song, know that the tune is fast paced, with a fun, funk feel and wonderfully driving and upbeat use of horns.  This in the midst of the vocal bridge,” Doo, doo doo doo, doo doo” are in direct contrast to the very heavy, heartbreaking lyrics, and symbolize further the tendancy of society, or in a theological sense, often the Church, to whistle past the cemetery or deprived parts of our cities and world so as not to hear the cries of the suffering. 

My lyrics were written from the view point of Christ. If one hears the original lyrics / story, summerized above, also from the perspective of Christ you can sense the similarities between the pain our denial and betrayal of Christ as disciples causes him today and the heartbreak Jesus felt with the betrayal of Judas and betrayal of Peter.

If you are not familiar with the tune, it might help to download or listen the Stone’s original. 

“Heartbreaker”  to the tune of “Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)  The Rolling Stones

See the struggles in every city, all the pain that is so stark.

Sin has swallowed your identity, my light world seems forever dark, 

Heart breakers with your idolizing you want to tear my world apart.

Heart breakers with your idolizing, You want to tear my world apart.


Your world’s divided tween 2 colors, angry blue and seething red.

People’s problems ping ponged side to side, Only empty words and blame abides,

blame abides.

Heart breaker, heart breaker, you steal my joy from every heart

Heart breaker, pain maker, you drain my love from every heart.

 (Oh yeah) Doo doo doo doo doo


Grace is absent towards each other, though you ask of it from me.

Busy lives drain your faith away,then you ask what’s going on, going wrong.

 Heart breaker, heart breaker, your choices pulling us apart,

Heart Breaker Pain maker, you drain my love from every heart.


Why don’t you take the love I give you? Instead of fighting me in vain.

Only through the love you crucified, can you hope to lose the stain, end the pain.

 Heart maker, pride breaker, you have no hope if we’re apart,

Heart maker, world shaker, my grace can cleanse you back to start.

 Doo doo doo doo doo



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