Ike’s Farewell Resonates Powerfully Now

img_3401This 16-minute speech is President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation. As supreme allied commander in Europe during World War 2, Dwight Eisenhower bore as heavy a responsibility as anyone in the 20th Century. This, one of his final acts after 50 years of service to the nation is very much worth the time to watch.

With the 1960 election, much of the nation desired to pass the torch of leadership to the rising generation. Many at the time considered Eisenhower a sleepy, out of touch grandfather, whose time had passed. Though far from a great communicator, what he lacked as an orator, Dwight Eisenhower more than made up for with his vision.

img_3400Known as the “Military Industrial Complex” speech, President Eisenhower’s farewell address goes far beyond that issue in addressing the challenges the nation would, and we now face. Central to his call is the place of statesmanship and the need for balanced cooperation between the private and public sphears. He also challenged the nation to resist the temptation to use fear as a tool of governing and put the needs of the nation above personal and partisan benefit.  Perhaps he was not in touch with the time of Camelot, but this speech shows Eisenhower was very much in touch with the challenges facing our nation through the ages.

 

 

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Won’t You See, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Please?

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Photos by Focus Features

I hate that I was late in seeing Won’t You Be My Neighbor.  I hate when life intrudes on my movie “to see list,” but better late than never.  I have one thing to say to anyone who has not seen the latest film by Academy Award-winning documentarian Morgan Neville, go out and see this film. I was a bit old for watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.   By the time it was available on PBS I was older.  I grew to respect Rev. Rogers later in his and my life.  Of course, as an adult and pastor who appreciates someone who loves and genuinely cares for children and their healthy development, I am grateful for all the lives Fred Rogers impacted.

From the film critic point of view, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is an engaging and entertaining film that offers something to those very familiar and those unfamiliar with Mr. Rogers and his program. As a documentary film, it provides both a 30,000-foot view as well as an intimate portrait into the life of Fred Rogers and those in his personal and production family.  The film has entertaining interviews with family and others connected to the program, thus offering insight into the man and his message.  As with any film that addresses periods in time, one cannot help compare eras. Produced in the last year, fred rogers 3Won’t You Be My Neighbor offers a contrasting voice and message to what is in the air today. The film is not obvious in pointing out the differences; it doesn’t have to be.  There was an audible murmur when they showed tape from the first week of the program in 1968.  The video showed the puppet character King Friday the XIII fearing the “Changers” and requiring reluctant subjects to build a wall to keep people who wanted to bring change out of his Kingdom.  The clip ended with the human Lady Aberlin sending balloons with “signs” calling for peace and acceptance of others over the wall to the King.

fred rogers 4Even though Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian clergy, he never mentioned it on the air and rarely in public. Rather than saying he was ordained, he presented the face of Christ to children and the world. His genuine love of children led him to take time to be with and listen to children and then offer them a non-anxious, calming presence. He respected children, and he fearlessly addressed topics that all others avoided.  When RFK was assassinated Mr. Rogers addressed the issue, explaining what assassination was and the fear and sadness that the nation was feeling. Mr. Rogers knew that the children would know something had happened and wonder why parents and others were sad and scared. To avoid talking about the issue would only make the children’s fear more pronounced.  He loved children too much to allow this. Loving and engaging children like this are exactly what Jesus intended when he called for his disciples to allow children to come to him.

fred rogers 5A week after there were news reports and film of a hotel owner chasing African Americans out of the hotel pool by pouring bleach into the water to “clean” it, the neighborhood of Mr. Rogers showed him sharing a footbath with Officer Clemmons, portrayed by Francois Clemmons, an African American member of the cast. There was no mention of the hotel incident. there did not have to be.

Every disciple has a duty to present the person of Jesus to others. I cannot think of anyone who has reflected the face of Christ more genuine and lovingly than Fred Rogers. Because Won’t You Be My Neighbor models this call to all disciples of Jesus Christ, and indeed children of God of all faiths, it is the most impactful faith film I have seen.

Beyond the realm of faith films, when considering  the struggle and brokenness so prevalent in our time,  Fred Rogers’s faith-driven desire to build or repair genuine community by caring and loving others,  Won’t You Be My Neighbor is one of the most important films in my memory

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is rated PG-13 and is in current release.

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The Shape of Water

The shape of water 7I thought I would review The Shape of Water, the winner of the 2018 Academy Award for Best Picture in a different way, a text log between me and my niece.
Niece: Have you seen The Shape of Water?

Me: Yes, you?

Niece: Just saw it. What did you think of it?

Me: I like it… Had it a little bit above 3 Billboards at Oscars…

Niece: It was interesting.

Me: You like it?

Niece: I can’t decide. It was filmed beautifully, but I don’t get what the point of the story is. What is the point?

the shape of water 5Me: People/govt. afraid of difference in others…other people united, by what makes them different…Allowing what unites them to overcome their difference.

Niece: Ohhhh okay, now that makes sense

Me: Something the United Methodist Church could learn

Niece: You are right about that

The shape of water 4Me: I thought Sally Hawkins’s performance was extraordinary…

Me: The creature was a Christ figure…different, beyond understanding and therefore a    threat to the Government/General, yet he offered a new life, a transformed life to the mute woman who had been marginalized by many,,,

Niece: Sally Hawkins did do a great Job!

Me: Yes she did. I’ve never seen her before…or don’t remember her…

Niece: I didn’t even see him as the Christ figure, but it does make sense and I could see how you could pull that from it.

Niece: I don’t remember her either. She isn’t normal Hollywood beautiful, but she gave a great performance with no words!

Me: Yes she did. I thought she has a look that is very expressive…

Niece: Very true and I love the use of the sign language…

the shape of water 9In addition to the Best Picture Oscar, Guillermo del Toro won the Oscar for Best Direction. The Shape of Water is a beautifully photographed film where the acting is just as impressive, and as with most fantasy films, The Shape of Water allows, if not demands for continued contemplation and application to one’s life and circumstance. It’s not a film everyone will relate to or enjoy, but it was worthy of winning the Best Picture award.

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Living Biblically

Pilot

Photos Courtesy of CBS

CBS and producer and writer Patrick Walsh have gone where angels fear to tread, producing a religious sitcom. No other subject matter is as open to criticism as religion. While there are enough persons of faith to support a show built around living one’s life Biblically, given the increasingly fractured and antagonistic nature of “the faith community” one has to thread an ultra-small needle with an ultra-thin thread in order to appeal to a healthy-sized audience. For many persons of faith, that narrowness is the difference between laughing with and laughing at faith and persons of faith.

In addition to the issue of the faith presentation tightrope, not too deep so as to be boring, not too simplistic so as to be vapid, there was for me the issue of being a film/television snob.  Too accessible and it is painted by numbers. Too subtle and it is, well, too subtle.

Not having read the Book, The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs, I viewed the three-episode preview package of Living Biblically with no context of what kind of program it was.  Needless to say, I was a bit surprised, and initially put off when in the opening seconds it was evident that it was an overly, LOL, track driven situation comedy. (After mentioning the laugh-track was way too loud and noticeable for my taste, I was told the program used a live audience.  I can only imagine that a shocking device is connected to the Laugh sign that is flashed almost continually during the show.)  Aware of the real possibility, make that probability, of my theological and film critic double bias, I asked some others to preview the episodes on my laptop.

Their response was more generous than my initial reaction. These “civilians” also acknowledged the challenges of doing a sitcom about a “None” one of those who profess “none” when asked about religious preference. But, they came away with a favorable impression.  Yes, it is simplistic in many ways. Yes, there are the prerequisite stereotype jokes about faith and clergy, but it does have a place and voice to speak to those who have either drifted away or were never in a faith orbit.

living biblically 3The program stars Dallas native Jay R. Ferguson (Mad Men) as Chip Curry, a film critic who experiences two life-changing events that led him to reconsider his life trajectory.  Chip decides he will attempt to live his life as prescribed by the Bible. To help him in this endeavor he develops relationships with a Roman Catholic Priest and a Jewish Rabbi, who meet regularly in a restaurant/bar for interfaith support.  This God-Squad helps guide Chip in applying ancient teachings and practices in a modern context.

As anyone who has attempted a significant lifestyle change knows, the change impacts others in the orbit of the individual.  In Chip’s case, it includes his non-believing wife as well as nominal or non-believing co-workers.  When anyone changes and begins living differently, the one who is changing, as well as the friends and family have to re-orient their relationship. Those who have done this know it is easier said than done. For the sake of retaining characters in the show, this aspect of adjusting their friendship, and making changes in their life, is portrayed much easier than it is in real life.

living biblically 4Based on the preview shows, it seems each episode will explore an issue of life and faith such as loving thy neighbor and the allure and challenge of modern idols, i.e., cell phones.  As with all TV, resolutions come much quicker and easier than real life. Crimes are rarely solved so fast, and trials are never completed in such a timely manner as they are on TV. So it is that theological awareness and discipline are rarely established and accepted so readily as they are on Living Biblically. But the show does address issues of life and faith that may be a first step for persons.

In an interview with producer and writer Patrick Walsh, (2 Broke Girls, and Crashing) I asked about his decision to make the show a situation comedy. Patrick believed, in spite the risks of being perceived as making fun of the Bible or faith, that comedy would be the best vehicle for allowing the ideas and concepts to be presented in a way that would be approachable to most viewers. He was appreciative when I told him of the reactions of those I had asked to view the episodes.  I also asked Patrick what type of character and narrative arc he envisioned in subsequent seasons. Did he see the show evolving as M*A*S* H and other situation comedies?  He responded that once the show is established, he believes the characters and storyline would change as both the characters and audience grow.

After watching the three preview episodes I was reminded of a sermon I heard Bishop Will Willimon, then Dean at Duke Chapel, preach when I was in seminary.  He was taking a road trip and stopped at a service station. The person working at the station found out that Willimon was a “preacher,” and asked if him if he knew the radio evangelist.  Willimon admitted to having some unflattering thoughts about that evangelist until the attendant said that the evangelist had changed his life. Because of that preacher, he was a better man, husband, and father. Dr. Willimon doubted he could have had a similar impact on the man.

Living Biblically may or may not be one’s cup of tea. But it likely will be someone’s first sip of thinking theologically that leads to something more substantial and filling.

Living Biblically premieres tonight, 2/26 on CBS at 8:30 CST

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Film Review: 12 Strong

12 strong 2

12 Strong photos courtesy of Warner Brothers

12 Strong is a conundrum of a film. For what is presented on the screen, it accomplishes what is expected from a film about military combat. After setting the scene by introducing major characters and the nature and complexity of the conflict, there follows adrenalin-inducing, sensory assaulting sights, and sounds that seem to put the viewer in the combat zone. The film’s significance is enhanced by the fact that the film is based on a true story that until recently was known only vaguely by the public.

12 Strong is depicts the first response of the United States to the 9/11 attacks. The film tells or reminds viewers that only 2 months following the infamous terror attack, the United States struck back against those who planned, protected or condoned the strike that changed this nation. On the tip of the spear that struck into the heart of Afghanistan and the Taliban who had terrorized and murdered Afghans, as well as provided protection for al-Qaeda terrorists, were the Green Berets of the United States Army.

 

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Chris Hemsworth             Michael Shannon

Chris Hemsworth stars as Capt. Mitch Nelson, leader of the elite, 12 man Special Forces unit and Michael Shannon as Warrant Officer and Hal Spencer. Now declassified, the story of the mission is one of extreme bravery on the part of every member of the unit as well as the other units who vied to be the first American soldiers to enter the Taliban controlled area of Afghanistan. The mission before the unit was to be dropped into the remote mountains of Afghanistan, join up with members of the Northern Alliance of Afghans fighting against the Taliban and assist them by calling in airstrikes against Taliban forces.  Due to the lack planning time and the limited intelligence from the region, the unit was sent on the mission blind, knowing very little details about who they were joining up with or how the mission would be conducted.  One such element was that they would be the first American Servicemen in 80 years to ride horses into combat.

 

Shot in New Mexico, the film offers a hint at the rugged terrain, brutal weather conditions, and isolation of the team. The film also offers a glimpse into the initial challenges of serving with the Northern Alliance, which seemed at times to be an alliance in name only. It is here where the film’s action orientation fell short in conveying perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the actual mission.

12 strong 4The film would have benefitted from detailing and presenting more of the relationships established between the unit and their allied Afghan forces. After the screening I attended, there was a Q&A with the men Hemsworth’s and Shannon’s characters were based on, Captain, now Major Mark Nutsch and Chief Warrant Officer Bob Pennington. While covered in the film, the full story of the relationship between the members of the unit and the leaders and members of the Alliance group was stirring and added much to the film’s impact. Also, the cultural and political differences that Nutsch, Pennington, and all members of the team had to address and overcome were as vital to the success as any of the weaponry and tactics brought to the mission. As dauntingly impossible as the scope of the mission was, and as dangerous as the combat was as depicted, more details given to these relational and cultural requirements and accomplishments, at the expense of some of the combat sequences, would have reflected better the true and amazingly successful outcome of the mission.

In the Q&A Nutsch and Pennington talked about how they hoped the film conveyed the spirit and dedication of the Green Berets. This dedication includes care and concern not only for each other, or even American citizens, but also those with whom they fought and the Afghan people who were, and continue to be terrorized by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations in the country.

In addition to hearing from Major Nutsch and Chief Warrant Officer Pennington during the Q&A, I was also able to speak to them by phone.  In our conversation, they discussed many of the elements they would address at the screening.  Part of our discussion was the make-up and spirit of the unit. Given Special Forces units are smaller and stay together longer, the members grow to know each other better.  The age of the members also is older so 10 of the 12 were married and had families. The families also grow close and care for one another. Hearing the two Green Berets describe the closeness and reliance members of the unit, and the extended unit of the families, had for one another, I thought of the reliance and care members of faith communities offer, or are called to one another, and others.

12 strong 7At their best, faith communities are devoted to one another and care for each other, at times more than they care for themselves. Members of faith communities draw strength from one another, teach and when necessary offer accountability to one another. Another commonality between armed forces units and faith communities is the devotion to the mission. Once given an assignment, the successful completion of the mission becomes the primary if not singular focus for members of a military unit or squad. Such should be the case for faith communities. In units, there is neither room nor patience for thoughts, opinions, habits or other things that distract from completing the mission as assigned. Christian faith communities would do better to follow this example and put the mission of loving and serving Christ by making disciples, above all things.

12 Strong is in wide release and is rated R for violence and language

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Darkest Hour: A Different Kind of Christmas Movie

darkest hour title

Photos Courtesy of Focus Features

Christmas is one of the most important seasons for the film industry. With schools out and adults taking days off, people go to movies. Christmas is the movie season for big-budget titles, possible Oscar contenders, as well as Christmas themed films. Darkest Hour is a big budget film with Oscar potential. It is also, a film that reflects themes of Christmas. While not a film that is set during the Christmas season or a film that tells the Christmas story, Darkest Hour speaks to hope faith, and the need for light, especially in dark times.
The blitzkrieg beginning of the Second World War, where Germany conquered nation after nation at speeds never before witnessed, seemed for all those opposing the Axis powers of totalitarianism, the darkest time in hundreds of years. In the spring of 1940, after taking over most of Europe, Germany was on the brink of capturing all of France, and much of a British expeditionary force.

Darkest Hour depicts the time western civilization was on the brink of destruction. The film begins with Parliament debating the fate of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after the German invasion of Norway, Belgium, and France. Members of Parliament, as well as much of Britain, were holding Chamberlain accountable for his policy of appeasement that produced the failed 1938 Munich Agreement, a treaty between Germany, Italy, and Britain, that allowed Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia on the promise they seek no more land.

Instead of Chamberlain’s claim that he had achieved “peace for our time,” the agreement had given Hitler time and opportunity to prepare for his complete takeover of Europe. After invading Poland on September 1, 1939, Hitler continued the assault on the Continent, and by May of 1940, Germany was poised to take over all of Europe and capture much of the almost 400,00 British troops that had been sent in a futile effort to defend France. With their backs to the Channel, the British army faced annihilation and capture, and the island nation faced the threat of a successful invasion by the Germans.

darkest hour 12In the midst of this, perhaps the darkest hour in the nation’s history, Winston Churchill, a fiery orator with a reputation for recklessness, replaced Chamberlain. Gary Oldman is rightly receiving Oscar attention for his transformational performance as Winston Churchill. Kristin Scott Thomas also gives a strong performance as Churchill’s wife Clementine, one of the few persons the bulldog PM turned to for strength and counsel.

Director Joe Wright accentuates the drama of the story with a liberal use of crane, overhead, and tracking shots. Viewers expecting the typical number of action sequences may be disappointed by the film’s pacing. There are several scenes that examine the doubts Churchill and others have for his plans to rescue the British troops in Dunkirk, and his refusal to seek further negotiations with Hitler through Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. But the patient viewer is rewarded with a depth greater than one finds in most action or war films.

Darkest Hour is an important film because it depicts one of the most crucial times in modern history. While the most casual student of history may know of this dark time, the film allows the viewer to feel a bit the reality of the darkness that was the evil and threat of fascism. Knowing the facts of history is not the same as knowing history. darkest hour 5Experiencing, even in the slightest way, the feeling of facing such darkness offers viewers a greater understanding of what Churchill, and all of Britain, went through in this pivotal time when Britain was the last dim light in a darkening world. Winston Churchill provided much of the energy and hope for that light through his determination and the power of his oratory. Darkest Hour also reminds viewers living through the current uncertain and dark times of terrorism, aggressive despots, as well as political and social division the necessity and importance of political courage, and placing the welfare of the nation above personal or political party interests.

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brokentobreathless.blogspot.com

Much of the narrative of the Christian Faith is a story of conflict between light and dark. In the prologue to the Gospel of John, Jesus, the incarnate Word, is described as light and life, a light that the darkness of sin did not overcome. In the first Genesis creation account, God created light, declared it good and separated it from the darkness. This first Light was not the light of the sun but the even greater Light that was of God. In Scripture as well as art and other belief systems, light is associated with life, hope, and knowledge. That the incarnation of this, the Light that would inaugurate a new age and transform all of creation into the Kingdom of God, came into the world in the most humble manners is indicative of the power of this dim, by worldly stands, Light to overcome all darkness, including the darkness of sin.

holiday candlelight service or memorial vigil

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During the Christmas season when Christians belief the Kingdom of God was inaugurated, the hope of Jesus Christ is symbolized by candlelight. The highlight of Christmas Eve services for millions of Christians is holding candles up and enlightening a darkened sanctuary. In so doing followers are reminded that even the smallest light pierces the deepest darkness, and as children of that Light, followers are to take and uphold that Light even in the midst of the deepest darkest times and places in life.

Darkest Hour reflects and offers a worldly example of the Christian belief and power of righteous hope to triumph, even in the midst of seemingly overwhelming darkness.

Darkest Hour is rated PG-13.

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The Young Messiah: Interview with Director Cyrus Nowrasteh

During this advent season, 2017, my church is studying the book, “Faithful” by Rev. Adam Hamilton. “Faithful” examines the role of Joseph in the life of Jesus. This interview with Cyrus Nowrasteh, the Director of the film “The Young Messiah” touches on the life and place of Joseph within the life of Jesus as is depicted in the film. “The Young Messiah” may be viewed by DVD or on Google Play, and iTunes.

CrossRoads Faith and Film

Interview with Cyus Nowrasteh director of The Young Messiah, a film, based on the Anne Rice novel, Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt. The Young Messiah Opens March 11 and stars Adam Greaves-Neal as Jesus, Vincent Walsh as Joseph, and Sara Lazzaro as Mary.

cyrus 2All Photos Courtesy of Focus Features

The Young Messiah imagines a year in the life Jesus during the missing years of his life where there is no Biblical narrative, the time between his birth and Luke’s Gospel account of him as a 12 year old child teaching in the Jerusalem Temple. During this period the Holy Family had been forced into exile in Egypt in order to protect Jesus from Herod the Great who sought his life to the extent that he had murdered innocent children in the hopes of killing this new King. After Joseph was told of Herod’s death in a dream, the…

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