“Dads” A Film Just in Time for Dad’s Day

dads 1

Apple tv+

“Dads” is an engaging recognition and celebration of modern fatherhood. Directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, celebrities including Ron Howard, Will Smith, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Kenan Thompson, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hasan Minhaj, among others reflect on the impact becoming and being fathers had on their lives. These reflections are interspersed around powerful, more in-depth stories of everyday men and how fatherhood changed their lives as well. “Dads” premieres on Apple +TV on June 19th and is a partnership between Imagine Documentaries, and Dove Men+Care. Unilever, Dove Care’s parent company is supporting fatherhood and has established the Paternity Leave Fund which offers grants to fathers who do not receive paid paternity leave. Dove Men+Care is donating a portion of the proceeds of “Dads” to this fund.

“Dads” includes the humor every new father encounters when he makes the transition from being the son of a father and mother to being the father of a son or daughter. These stories and scenes are funny and endearing, but what gives “Dads” its fullness are the dads 9powerful stories of how the lives of the men were transformed through their presence and active role in parenting their children.  Another source of the film’s richness is the diversity of fathers and families. In addition to the mix of celebrities and fathers who are not famous, there is diversity in economic and marriage statuses, nationality and cultural background, sexual orientation, and the health of the children.  Through this diversity the core message of the film is presented; engaged and present fathers are needed and possible in all circumstances and lifestyles.  The drive behind this message is not to just to bring out the importance of being a present dad for the children, something everyone is likely aware of, but it is to present the importance and transformative opportunity fatherhood provides the men. Being an active and present Dad is an important thread that adds much to the fabric of a man’s life.

“Dads” recognizes the reality that many fathers have to work two and three jobs and have to be away from their family and children more than other fathers. This truth, however, that does not mean these dads cannot be active and present for their children even when they are away. The reality is that men can be absent fathers even when they dads7are present and men can be present fathers even when they are absent. The connection established by being present in the life of one’s children can span the times when the father is away. Consciously or not fathers too often use the demands of work as justification for their absence from the lives of their children. In one of his reflections, Bryce’s father, Ron Howard, astutely cautioned fathers to make sure they were not using the demands of work to escape from being present in the lives of their children. Ron’s father, Rance, in a segment taped 3 years prior to the others, described how his suggestion to Andy Griffith regarding the portrayal of Opie (Ron Howard) changed the tone of the relationship between Andy and Opie Taylor and reflected a widower father ensuring his being present in the life of his son.

Some viewers may question the need for another film about fathers and fatherhood. That only nine percent of companies offer paid paternity leave and over 75% of new fathers return to work after only one week following the birth of their child indicates the need to move past the traditional understanding, image, and value of fatherhood. In our conversation, Bryce indicated the genesis of the project was her learning that a significant majority of men offered paternity leave do not take it or only take a portion of what they are offered despite wanting to take more. Many of these men expressed concern that there would be professional repercussions if they took the full amount.  This statistic, more than anything indicates the prevalence of the stereotyped understanding of fatherhood, where fathers are expected to provide for their families from a distance.  Such an understanding does not reflect the need nor desire of families and fathers.

FAITH CONNECTION:

dadsIn our conversation, I asked Bryce why the film was titled “Dads” rather than “Fathers.” Ms. Howard said the original title referred to fathers, but her husband suggested Dads was a term that better communicated the familiarity of men being active and present in the lives of their children.  Communicating this familiar, more intimate relationship and understanding of fatherhood is evident in Christian Scripture and theology.

The Gospel of Mark, chapter 14 documents Jesus’s time of trial and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  During this time when he was alone in the Garden, he prayed to God that the cup of the crucifixion might be removed. In referring to God, Jesus used the Aramaic term “Abba” which is a more familiar and intimate title for “father.” This reflects that the relationship between Jesus and God was close and personal rather than formal and distant.

Another example of an engaged father is offered by Jesus in His parable of a man with two sons. While most refer to this as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” the setting of the story indicates that it is more about the father. Jesus offers this parable after he has been asked about the nature of God. Jesus describes God by his relationship to His Children rather than by physical or other attributes. In the parable, Jesus tells of a younger son who brings shame upon his family and community by demanding he receive his inheritance immediately, whereupon he leaves the country and wastes his money living a life of debauchery. At his lowest point, starving and envying the pigs he was hired to feed, the son decides to return home with his shame and work as a servant for his father.  As the father sees his son returning he runs to greet him, embrace him, and order a celebration in honor of his return.  While local custom and law allowed the son to be rejected and even killed, the father restored him to the family and community.

That the father saw his son while he was still some distance away indicates the father often scanned the horizon in hopes of seeing his son return. From the father’s perspective, even though the son he had been away, he had not been absent from the dads 3father’s heart. The forgiving father was not one who stood on convention and formality but was one who was present with and for his family. This is the model of fatherhood as described by Jesus and is the model presented in “Dads.”

Activities:

Discuss what does the description of God in the parable of the Forgiving Father mean to you?

 

Have you experienced God in this way?

 

Children: Call your father and father figures.

Share memories and experiences with your father.

Fathers: Share your memories of your father as well as memories of your time and experiences with your children.

 

 

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Review: The Banker

The Banker 4

Apple TV

With high caliber star factor and a well-written script based on an important story too few are aware of, The Banker is a film that should be on everyone’s watch list. George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) directs Anthony Mackie (Bernard Garrett) and Samuel Jackson (Joe Morris) in the 1960s set story about the two successful African-American entrepreneurs who become two of the first Black bankers in the United States.  While Garret and Morris are not household names like Jackie Robinson and other more famous “first African-Americans to break the color barrier” in their chosen field, the importance of these men cannot be overstated.

During the Jim Crow era of segregation financial credit was virtually non-existent for Blacks in the South and border states.  Jim Crow laws and customs were established by state and local governments and other societal groups in order to continue indentured servitude of African Americans by putting limits on salaries, professions, travel, and where they could live. Limiting access to credit was one of the most powerful weapons used to curtail the advancement of Black America.  In Jim Crow areas there were no banks owned by African Americans and very few if any, White-owned banks would loan money to black families and individuals, which limited where they could live and their ability to own and grow a business.

Born in 1925 in a small Texas town, Bernard Garrett had an intellect and ambition that led him to leave his home and pursue greater opportunities to build a life free from the Jim Crow restraints.  After moving to Los Angeles Garrett met Joe Morris, a The Banker 3successful businessman who had connections with the Los Angeles and California business establishment. Even with the greater acceptance of successful black businesses, because of their race, Garrett and Morris faced limitations in the size and type of investment opportunities they could pursue and wealth they could build.

The Banker details how Garrett and Morris broke through these limitations to become two of the most successful businessmen in the United States. While visiting his home in Texas and seeing how little had changed regarding opportunities for African Americans, Garrett set about dismantling one of the most powerful tools supporting the Jim Crow status quo, a lack of access to capital.

the banker 2The script is fast-moving and, given the importance of the subject, surprisingly full of lighter moments and humor. One of the major twists in the true story is most engaging, and though it could easily have been mishandled in the film, it seems genuine and not forced.

Not surprisingly, Mackie and Jackson offer solid, well rounded and fluid performances, enhanced by their personal chemistry. The supporting cast also supplies energy and smooth performances particularly Nicholas Hoult as Matt Steiner, and Nia Long as Garrett’s wife Eunice. Unlike, The Green Book, another film that cast light on a subject with which many were not familiar, the book that listed places African Americans could stay when traveling throughout the country,  The Banker does not have the feel of a white savior story.

the banker 9In an interview with the director and co-screenwriter George Nolfi, I asked about the genesis of the story and his involvement. The details of Bernard Garrett’s career and his struggles against the systemic racism of his time were captured in taped interviews prior to his 1999 death. The rights to his life story were then purchased by another studio where the story languished for many years.  While Nolfi was directing Anthony Mackie for a scene in The Adjustment Bureau, Mackie pitched The Banker to Nolfi for him to take on the project. As is often the case, other projects intervened and it was another five or six years before things fell together for the film.

The important role Garrett and Morris played in laying the foundations that would redress one of the most savage and often used tools in limiting the opportunity of African Americans was what attracted George Nolfi to the project. More specifically, the willingness of Garrett, initially, then Morris to not rest safely on their laurels and success, but put their achievements at risk in service to others, compelled him to join the project.

the banker 10 In making the film, Nolfi came face to face with the reality that without the opportunity to build wealth, people are unable to truly experience freedom and stability in their finances and life.  He became more aware of the impact systemic racism had, and currently still has in society. Nolfi hopes this film will help viewers realize, that although they themselves may not be racist, the echoes and effects of systemic racism in the past and present continue to erect higher hurdles for persons of color. With such understanding, it will be easier to dismantle the surviving elements of systemic racism as well as the lasting impact from its past application.  Nolfi also hopes that learning of the injustices these men faced, and their willingness to take them on and set in motion events that resulted in their eradication,  others will be challenged and empowered to stand against current injustices and systemic hardships.

Faith Connections:

As was noted during the release of The Adjustment Bureau, George Nolfi endeavors to spark imagination and thought on the part of the audience.  Growing up involved in the United Church of Christ, this desire to spark thought and conversation extends to issues of life, faith, and discipleship.  The film is a reminder that the nation has not always lived up to the aspirations of its founding documents that all people are created equal and should be allowed to pursue happiness. Likewise, the Church has not always lived up to its commission to love Christ by loving all people, making disciples, and being the Body of Christ on earth.  The Banker challenges viewers to examine where they can do better in upholding what we claim to believe in.

The Banker 1The Banker has several touchpoints with Scripture.  As Moses was forced to leave his home in order to find peace and security and then after finding it was called to return to Egypt, (Exodus 2-4) Bernard escaped the land where, because of his skin color, intellect, and drive to succeed, he was a target. After Morris raised the risks associated with seeking to return and serve Blacks in his hometown, Bernard, like Moses, resisted the temptation to stay where he was, afraid of losing what he had, and returned home to help his community escape the indentured servitude that had confined them so long.

A second touchpoint with Scripture is with the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30.) Both Garrett and Morris had been given keen minds and abilities through which they achieved success.  Had they remained in California, content to live their lives and build bigger personal fortunes while so many others remained under the oppressive powers of Jim Crow laws and customs, they would have been like the servant who buried the talent the Master gave him to grow.  They had been given talents that led to affluence, and they were expected to use those blessings beyond furthering their personal wealth.

Lastly, the story shows the importance of remembering the location of true treasure. (Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 12:33-34, also Matt 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22)

True treasures are those in the Kingdom of Heaven. Kingdom wealth and greatness are built in serving others and living by the ways of God’s Kingdom rather than the ways and values of the world.  Garrett and Morris wanted their lives to have been measured by more than zeros on a financial statement. George Nolfi and others attached to the project hope the story enables viewers to be mindful and motivated such that their lives will be measured for things beyond a balance sheet.

The Banker is rated PG-13 and with the closing of most movie theaters, can be viewed on Apple TV+. #thebanker

The Banker

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Faith, In the Crown Study-“Aberfan”

This is a study of faith issues presented in the third episode season three of the Crown. It can be used as a group or individual study. If it is to be used by a group, it is recommended that group members screen the episode, answer the questions, and share answers via posts or however groups are meeting during the Coronavirus closure period. Descriptions and dialogue from the episode are included for those who are unable to view the program.

Season 3 Episode 3   “Aberfan”   NETFLIX

Themes: The Incarnation: The Presence of God in Christ

Healing and Wholeness Through Congregational Worship.

 

Setting: October 1966 following a disaster in Aberfan Wales where 116 children and 28 adults were killed when, following heavy rains, a 30-foot wave of coal waste slid down surrounding hills and buried the Pantglas Junior School.

Background: The mining waste had been removed from mines above the town and collected into a 111 foot, pile or “Tip.” The tip contained 300,000 cubic yards of waste and had been a concern of the town for several years. The National Coal Board threatened Aberfan with the closure of the mine if the town of 8,000 continued to complain to the Board and Government.

Episode three depicts the Prime Minister (Jayson Watkins) visiting Aberfan the day of the disaster and the Queen’s husband, Prince Phillip (Tobias Menzies) visiting within the week. Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) however waited 8 days and public pressure to build before going to the town and consoling the families and community.

The Aberfan episode received criticism by depicting the Queen as one who could not empathize or become emotional in the midst of tragedy. The Queen’s initial absence in Aberfan, for whatever the reason, was felt by the residents of Aberfan as well as throughout the nation. Queen Elizabeth has stated that the delay is one of her greatest regrets as Queen.

Discussion:

  • Incarnation

In the episode, after she was pressed by Prime Minister Wilson “to go” to Aberfan, Queen Elizabeth stated the presence of the Sovereign paralyzes communities which she believed was the last thing Aberfan needed. When pressed further by Wilson, Elizabeth asked: “What precisely would you have me do?”

Wilson responds: “Well, comfort people.”

Elizabeth replies:  “Put on a show? The Crown doesn’t do that.”

Wilson clarifies:   “I didn’t say put on a show, I said comfort people.”

Elizabeth replies by silently dismissing the Prime Minister.

In the episode, as in the historical event, the eventual presence of the Queen had a strong and comforting effect on the people impacted by the disaster. Queen Elizabeth developed a close relationship with the people of Aberfan and has continued visiting throughout her reign.

the crown study aberfan 2

Netflix

Why was her presence, not her words or actions, the source of comfort?

 

 

 

Have you experienced a time or situation where the mere presence of someone was a source of comfort and strength?

 

 

 

Incarnation is from the Latin term incarnatio meaning “to enter into or become flesh.” In Christianity, the Incarnation is a doctrine that the pre-existent Son of God became human in Jesus. As with the doctrine of the Trinity, the word “incarnation” is not in scripture but is a doctrine developed from teaching throughout scripture, most explicitly in the Gospel of John, 1:1-18.

Think of a story or two in the New Testament where the presence of Jesus offered strength, hope, and comfort to the disciples and other followers.

 

 

How does the Incarnation, the belief that the pre-existent Word of God “became flesh and dwelled among us” John 1:14 offer comfort and strength during times of tragedy and trial?

 

 

John 1:14 is better interpreted “The Word became flesh and ‘pitched His tent (or tabernacle) among us. In Jesus, God lived with us as us, fully human and fully divine, living not separated from, but among His people. This presence of Christ is experienced primarily in two ways, through the Holy Spirit, and through the church, that is the Body of Christ.  Consider and share how you have experienced or witnessed the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit whether in the midst of a trial, or joy?

 

 

Share how you have experienced the presence of Christ through the ministry of the Church.

 

 

 

Share a time when Christ was present through you, offering hope, strength, and care to someone struggling through a trial or crisis?

 

 

 

 

Have you experienced or witnessed Christ’s presence either through the Holy Spirit or through the Church during the Coronavirus Crisis?

 

 

 

TAKEAWAY:   Offering care and support is first and foremost a matter of being present, rather than doing something.

 

  • Healing and Wholeness Through Congregational Worship.

In writing and designing Aberfan, the producers sought to present the events of the Aberfan tragedy, the emotions and experiences of the town and family members as accurately as possible. The episode is starkly divided into the day before and 8 days following the disaster, and as such it tells the story in a way that feels more like a reliving, rather than a retelling of the tragedy.

Aberfan opens at the school the day before the disaster. Children are given their assignment for the next day and released to go home. Families are then depicted going about their routines of family life that are familiar to any family, thereby establishing an intimate connection with viewers. Many of the images of the disaster’s aftermath, including images and elements of the memorial service and burial, were replicated as closely as possible. (People from Aberfan including some present during the tragedy were extras in the episode. Counselors were provided during the production to work with people impacted by the loss. Even after 50 years, many had never discussed the events of the landslide.)

The crown study aberfan 3

Netflix

In the episode, Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) is present for the burial service of the majority of children killed in the disaster. The service included the following Scripture (KJV) readings:            (Read the Scripture out loud)

Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Isaiah 40:11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

Zechariah 8:5 And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.

Malachi 3:17 And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.

Revelation 7:1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth…..

And I Heard…. Then the Congregation began singing the Charles Wesley hymn Jesus, Lover of My Soul:    (Sing the hymn or read out loud.)

Jesus, lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly,
while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
safe into the haven guide; o receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
leave, oh, leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.

All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want; more than all in Thee I find;
raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy name, I am all unrighteousness;
vile and full of sin I am, Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound; Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;
spring Thou up within my heart, rise to all eternity.

 

What was your response to this scene?

 

 

 

What Scripture do you turn to for comfort and strength in times of trial?

 

 

Have you read Scripture for comfort and strength during the Coronavirus Crisis?

 
Upon his return from Aberfan, the Queen asked her husband how his visit went. Philip responded:

    Extraordinary, the grief, the anger, at the government, the coal board, at God too.                    81 Children were buried today: the rage on all the faces, behind, all the eyes. They                  didn’t smash things up. They didn’t fight in the streets.

Elizabeth: What did they do?

Philip:  They sang, the whole community.  It’s the most astonishing thing I ever heard.

Later Philip offers his reaction to the worship and singing in particular.

Philip:     The fact is anyone who heard that hymn today would not just have wept, they                         would have been broken into a thousand tiny pieces.

 

Philip mentions the anger of the people at God. While anger at God is not justified, it is human, and God forgives us. Can you think of Scripture references where the people of God expressed anger or lament toward God?

 

 

 

Have you ever felt such anger?  How did you experience or find peace with God?

 

 

Philip seemed surprised by the response of the town and families, singing in the midst of their pain and anger.  What do you think of their response?

 

 

 

What do you think of Philip’s comment that those hearing the singing would be broken into a thousand tiny pieces?

 

 

How do this scene and congregational singing in general, reflect the truth of the incarnation?

 

 

Jesus, Lover of my Soul is considered one of the most influential of Charles Wesley’s hymns. There are several stories regarding the story behind his writing the original poem. As it was just after his justification, many scholars see it as Charles reflecting his salvation process, including the times when he faced peril, sailing through a dangerous storm during his return from a difficult mission in America as well as the times he was attacked and threatened by crowds who disagreed with his preaching.

Which verses or phrases of the hymn speak most to you.

 

 

 

Reading or hearing Scripture read can offer hope and comfort when one is anxious, wounded, or broken.  For many, there is an added, perhaps more powerful dimension in congregational singing, in hearing or joining the voices of others, that powerfully restores wholeness in the midst of brokenness, and instills peace in the midst of worry.

Share a time if, in the midst of brokenness or fear, you have experienced healing, wholeness, or assurance.

 

 

 

 

What hymns or songs offer you healing and hope?

 

 

 

 

The song All Things Bright and Beautiful is very prominent in the episode. As with many schools in that time, it was sung frequently at the Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan. While adding to the poignancy of the episode, how do the lyrics speak to the nature of God?    (Look up for additional verses)

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.
.
Each little flower that opens, Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors, He made their tiny wings.
All things bright …

The purple-headed mountain, The river running by,
The sunset and the morning, That brightens up the sky;−
All things bright …

 

 

 

Share other thoughts and responses to this episode?

 

 

 

How do you experience the presence of Christ, and the peace that passes understanding when in His presence during these days of social upheaval and interruption in life?

 

 

 

 

Watch the closing credits sequence. The way the scene is lit emphasizes the shadows of the children of Aberfan playing on the school’s playground. With regards to presence, the image and sounds indicate not only that the children are present here, in our memories, but they are present with us and all the Communion of the Saints in the Kingdom of God.

 

 

 

the crown study aberfan 8

Aberfan Following Collapse  Photograph: BBC/PA  

Aberfan Funeral

Inhabitants of the Welsh mining village of Aberfan attend the mass funeral for 81 of the 190 children and adults who perished when a landslide engulfed the junior school. (Photo by George Freston/Getty Images)

 

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Faith, in “The Crown” Study

This is a study of faith issues in the sixth episode from the second season of The Crown. It can be used as a group or individual study. If it is to be used by a group, it is recommended that group members screen the episode and answer the questions prior to meeting together. Specific parts may then be replayed during the meeting and discussion.

Season 2 Episode 6   “Vergangenheit” (The Past)   NETFLIX

the crown study 10

NETFLIX

Theme: Christian Simplicity, Living a Discipled Life, Forgiveness

Setting:  Episode six of season two is set in 1954 during Britain’s first exposure to and surprising emotional embrace of the Ministry of Rev. Billy Graham. While her mother, husband, and leaders of Government bemoan and ridicule the emotional reaction of the British citizens to the preaching of Rev. Graham, the Queen joins her subjects in embracing the preaching and call to live out the teaching of Christ in their daily lives and relationships. Within this setting, the former King, the Duke of Windsor seeks to reestablish a presence in England by serving the Government in some official capacity. Upon considering his request the Queen is made aware of the Duke’s sympathies and possible collusion with Adolf Hitler before and during World War II.  The Queen’s desire to be a simple Christian and the preaching and counsel of Rev. Graham challenges her to live out one of the fundamental calls of Christianity, forgiving others.

Background: The Duke of Windsor was the elder brother of Queen Elizabeth’s father King George VI. Upon the death of King George the V, the Duke became King Edward the VIII. After 11months as King, Edward abdicated the throne so he could marry Wallis Simpson, an American who was twice divorced. The Queen, her mother and most of the family believed George VI’s early death was the result of the pressures of being King, a position for he was not naturally suited but took on out of duty to the Crown and country after his brother’s abdication.

Questions and Considerations:

  • Call to righteousness and Repentance:

the crown study 6Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and her mother Elizabeth (Victoria Hamilton) watch a news report of Billy Graham’s first Crusade in London. In his sermon Rev. Graham (Paul Sparks) defines revival as living out the teaching of Christ in one’s daily life through relationships with others. Part of revival includes living out a Gospel of hope in the certainty of God’s love and triumph rather than living a Gospel of despair in the midst of worldly uncertainty. This Gospel of hope extends to the individual, society, and all the world.

To what extent is your life filled with the hope of the Gospel and what extent is it filled with despair?

 

 

What are your triggers for living into despair?

 

What grade would you give yourself in living out the teachings of Christ in your daily life?

 

In what circumstances do you find living the teachings of Christ challenging, and where do you find it comforting?

 

 

How or where can you overcome these challenge dimensions of faithful living?

 

 

Rev. Graham warns the congregation and TV audience that the hallmark of sin is turning away from God’s way/desire and towards one’s own way.

          When you close your eyes, close your ears to God’s way you will soon prefer

          your own ideas to the ideas of God. You come to a state where your own evil

          seems to you good and God’s good seems to be evil.   

 

When, where, and in what circumstances do you close your eyes and ears to God’s way?

 

 

What are some resulting ideas, ways, and life choices that are yours rather than God’s desire for you?

 

 

 

 Individual ways of being and acting correspond to the ways of the world.  One could describe this attraction as the gravity of worldly ways pulling against the righteous way God calls and empowers disciples to follow and live.

What is the source of this gravitational pull of the ways of the world, in general, and specifically for you?

 

 

This turning away from God’s desire is the basic definition of sin for both individuals and the community. In contrast, repentance is defined as, turning (literally), away from the sinful direction one has chosen for themselves, and back toward the path God desires. Following the desires of God is defined as righteousness.

What is the most challenging aspect of repentance for you?

 

 

 

How can you break the gravitational pull of the ways of the world and return to God’s way and desire for you?

 

 

 

How can you maintain this righteous course of life to which God has called and placed you?

 

 

 

  • Call to Offer Forgiveness:

the crown study 3After hearing Rev. Graham preach on television, Queen Elizabeth invited him to preach at Windsor Castle. Following the worship service, Queen Elizabeth met privately with Rev. Graham where she expressed the pleasure it was for her to worship as Elizabeth, not as Queen and the head of the Anglican Church. She shared with Graham that it was her desire to be a “simple Christian.”  As it turns out the idea of being a simple Christian is complicated. The Queen’s dilemma with her uncle and former King will reveal to her that being simply Christian is anything but simple.

While many leaders and citizens were sympathetic to Edward VIII, most of the Royal Family and others in government saw his abdication as the ultimate betrayal.  In stepping down from the throne he was placing his personal desires above his duty to serve the Crown, Country and God.  For some in the family, this betrayal was made all the worse because of the toll it took on George VI, who was not naturally suited to serve as King, and the probability that it led to his early death.  Of the senior members of the family however, Queen Elizabeth was more sympathetic to Edward.

the crown study 7The Duke of Windsor’s (Alex Jennings) request to re-enter English society and service to the Crown and country led to the Queen’s discovery of the depth of Edward’s sympathies with and rumored support for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party against his country and former subjects. With this new revelation, Queen Elizabeth struggled with the Christian command to forgive her Uncle. To assist in her struggle, the Queen asked for a second meeting with Billy Graham.

the crown studyIn this meeting Elizabeth asks about forgiveness; “are there any circumstances do you feel where one can be a good Christian and yet not forgive?”  Rev. Graham responds that “Christian teaching is very clear on this. No one is beneath forgiveness. Dying on the cross, Jesus himself asked the Lord to forgive those who killed him.”   After a discussion on whether the forgiveness of those who crucified Jesus was conditional given they did not know what they were doing, Graham still maintained that and lack the strength and perfect love of Christ, as recipients of God’s forgiveness, it is required that Christians forgive.  Although humans are mortal, Graham says, “We need not be unchristian ones.”  Seeing the Queen struggle, Rev Graham offered a solution for her and all people. If there is someone she cannot forgive, she should “ask for forgiveness for herself, humbly, and sincerely, and then pray for the person she cannot forgive.”

Consider situations when you have had difficulty offering forgiveness.  What were the circumstances, personal injury or insult, betrayal of confidence, financial?

 

 

What is the hardest part of offering forgiveness, especially to those who have caused great pain?

 

 

Do you believe that offering forgiveness in some way accepts or diminishes the wrongdoing?

 

What was or is the result of withholding forgiveness?

 

 

the crown study 4While holding on to anger can lessen the pain, it does not address nor reverse the effects of the harm. As pain relievers simply mask the symptoms of injury and can allow further damage to occur, so holding on to anger can lessen emotional pain in the short term but it damages one’s spirit.

Have you experienced damage or ongoing pain by holding on to anger and not forgiving one who has trespassed against you?

 

 

Consequences:  

The episode concludes with Elizabeth spending time in prayer and communion with God. Based on her countenance and spirit in the final scene, do you believe Elizabeth forgave her uncle?

Put in Elizabeth’s position, what would you have done?

 

 

the crown study 2Although Elizabeth may have forgiven Edward, and other members of the family did forgive him, the consequences of his abdication were continued exile from his country and desire to serve.  Edward, known to family and friends as David, shared with another King David the reality that though forgiven, he had to live with the consequences of his actions.

 

Additional Questions and Scripture teaching regarding forgiveness:

In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How do you interpret this portion of the prayer?  Are we asking that God forgives to the extent that we forgive, or declaring that we (will) forgive others as God has forgiven us?

 

Consider the order of the Lord’s Prayer. There is recognition that God is our parent and, as God, is Holy and deserves our worship. There is a request for God’s Kingdom to be completed and a recognition that God’s will be lived out on earth as it is lived out in heaven. God provides us daily sustenance and forgiveness and then deliverance from evil. Forgiveness and forgiving, therefore, come before deliverance from evil.

Consider why it is necessary to forgive before receiving deliverance?

 

How does not forgiving someone lead to evil?

 

 

In Matthew 18:21-22 Peter asks Jesus whether seven times is enough to forgive someone in the community? Put another way, Peter seems to be asking when can one start not-forgiving their neighbor?  Jesus responds by saying seventy-seven times, (or seven times seventy, 490).  Can one truly forgive if one is counting? The 77, or 490 times means that if you are counting, you are not forgiving.

The following parable, Matthew 18:23-35, tells of a King who forgave a subordinate official an unimaginable debt, 10,000 talents. That official then refused to forgive another person a debt 100 times smaller.  How does this parable speak to you?

 

Is such forgiveness something to truly live by and aspire to, or is it something that would be nice if it were possible?

 

Share other thoughts that reflect faith you saw in this episode.

 

the crown study 5

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Movies With A Message Series

Movies with a message Series Cross Roads                            movies with a message series CLS

Movies With a Message Series

For Communities of Faith

Presented by Cross Roads Faith and Film in association with Cinema Libre Studio.

At Cross Roads Faith and Film, our goal is to help faith communities use film as tools to spark meaningful thought and conversation of faith and faithful living in today’s society. We connect faith communities with films that reflect and address issues of life and faith resulting in spiritual reflection, faith development, and ministry engagement.

The Movies with Message Series is a highly curated package of films from Cinema Libre Studio with accompanying discussion guides. Churches and faith-based communities can schedule, promote, partner with other community agencies and organizations, and host screenings around their schedule and ministry initiatives. Each film may be pre-screened online by church leaders and pastors to ensure films will match congregational expectations and ministry focus.

Attached is information about the initial films in the Movies with A Message Series available for the remainder of 2020. The films include AFTER THE END, THE ADVOCATES, IMPRISONED, REBUILDING HOPE, SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN, UNDER THE TURBAN. These six films offer a wide range of faith and ministry themes and film genres including documentaries and a Hollywood thriller that address issues of social justice, cultural and ecumenical education, faith amidst conflict, and pastoral care.

  • Cinema Libre Studio will provide the films via digital stream or DVD.
  • Participating congregations may not charge admission but may accept donations to cover licensing expenses.
  • Discounts are available to groups that subscribe to three films throughout 2020.
  • Unlike traditional studio licensing agreements, where groups pay based on anticipated or RSVP’d attendance, congregations will be allowed to pay after the event based on actual attendance. Payments may be made by check, PayPal, or credit card. There is a discount for screening multiple films.

Attendance based rates are as following:

  • 1-25 Guests – $50
  • 26-75 Guests – $100
  • 76-100 Guests – $150
  • 101+ Guests – $200

Please contact Program Administrator, Rev. Kenny Dickson, by email kenny@crossroadsfaithandfilm.com to request a link to pre-screen films, schedule screenings, or answer any questions including subscription pricing discount.

 

movies with a message AdvocatesTHE ADVOCATES: Documenting the changing face and causes of homelessness in America, THE ADVOCATES presents the struggle to uphold a “care in community” ideal and serve this most vulnerable population amid a changing and increasingly punitive policy landscape. Set in Los Angeles, “Ground Zero” of the new homelessness in America, The Advocates follows three case managers from three social service organizations as they struggle to assist persons in finding housing, services, and security.

Trailer: AdvocatesFilm.com

 

movies with a message AfterAFTER THE END: Following the stories of people who have each experienced the death of a loved one, the film explores what it means to lose someone without losing ourselves in the process. The filmmakers journey across America, speaking with hospice coordinators, bereavement specialists and experts on grief counseling including: Alan D. Wolfelt, author, educator and founder of Center For Loss & Life Transition; and Rev. David M. Smith, as well as sharing archival video of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the author of the seminal work on grief issues, “On Death and Dying.    Trailer: Aftertheendmovie.com

 

movies with a message ImprisonedIMPRISONED: This prison thriller contrasts the transformative power of love and grace with the destructive power of hate and revenge. Dylan Burke (Juan Pablo Raba), inspired by the love of his life Maria (Juana Acosta), has moved on from his days as a criminal and become a successful and contributing member of his community where he works to help other ex-cons succeed in life after prison. His new life is interrupted by the vengeance of the new local prison warden, Daniel Calvin (Lawrence Fishburne) who has not forgiven Burke for an old crime. Though a non-fiction film, IMPRSIONED shows the real-life purpose of forgiveness and the consequences of holding on to anger and resentment. Rated R for violence, disturbing images, some sexuality and language.             Trailer: TheImprisonedMovie.com

 

movies with a message shadowSHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN: Although the site of the longest war in American history, the story of Afghanistan and its people remains a mystery to many Americans.  This is the epic story of a nation’s history of war and occupation through the eyes of an Afghan warrior, independent filmmakers, and a small group of independent journalists, two of whom died covering this story. Twenty years in the making, the film documents the Soviet occupation, the exile, and the suffering of millions of citizens, a violent civil war and the fatal alliance of the Taliban with Al Qaeda. As one hears more of the history of Afghanistan, one understands better the Afghan people.                                                                                          Trailer: https://youtu.be/FuWq84019nA

 

movies with a message HopeREBUILDING HOPE: Three boys fled their villages in South Sudan due to civil war, among thousands of others soon nicknamed “The Lost Boys” upon resettlement in the USA in 2001.  Now in their 20’s, they return to Sudan to discover whether their homes and families have survived, what the current situation is, and how they can help their community rebuild. Rebuilding Hope is a powerful record of their quest to finding surviving family-members and rediscover and contribute to their homeland.  It also sheds light on what the future holds for South Sudan in its precarious struggle for peace, development, and stability.
                                             Trailer: https://youtu.be/W24GFItn_kI

 

movies with a message TurbanUNDER THE TURBAN: What makes one a Sikh? When nine-year-old Zara Garcha asks such a question, her family answers it in a most extraordinary manner—embarking on an international journey to learn about their heritage from modern-day Sikhs. From Italy to India to Great Britain, Argentina, Canada, and the US, Zara and her family traverse the globe and meet some of the most interesting, generous, and compassionate people on Earth. And in so doing, they remind us that, to fully understand our fellow human beings, we must judge not solely by what is on one’s head, but by what is in one’s heart.  For Christians, ecumenical awareness not only increases knowledge of other faiths but also one’s knowledge                                                       and depth of the Christian faith.                                                                                                   Trailer: UnderTheTurbanMovie.com

 

 

 

 

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Review: Burden

Burden film 6

101 Studios

Burden is a film that is aptly named on three fronts as it shows the burden of hating as well as the burden of asking, receiving and offering grace and love. Lastly, the film is about Mike Burden, (Garrett Hedlund) an orphan raised by white supremacists to become a leader of the local KKK chapter.  Rev. David Kennedy ( Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) pastor of a Black Baptist Church shares Mike’s burden as he seeks to live out the teaching of Jesus by loving members of the Klan who seek to destroy his church, the town of Laurens South Carolina, and even take his life.  Both Burden and Kennedy face the burden of going against the wishes of their families, Michael’s for turning away from the Klan, and Rev. Kennedy’s for offering grace and love to a person who has brought such pain, suffering, and humiliation to his family and community.

Based on the true story of an opening in 1996 of the “Redneck Shop and KKK Museum” in Laurens South Carolina, the film is a twenty-year labor of love for writer/director Andrew Heckler.  Heckler read a story of the opening of the shop and museum and like most he could not believe that such a shop had opened in the waning days of the twentieth century.  The story became even more unfathomable when just over a year later Heckler read another story about the sale of the building to Rev. Kennedy, the pastor of a Black Baptist Church in Laurens, and because the deed prohibited the eviction of the museum as long as the founder was alive, the pastor became the landlord of a shop dedicated to strengthening the notion of white supremacy and membership in the Klan.

burden film 10Upon reading the second story, Heckler drove to South Carolina and spent time with both the members of the church and black community as well as supporters of the museum. After his time in Laurens, getting to know the people involved, Heckler experienced the humanity of the members of the church and their supporters as well as the supporters of the shop and Klan. While he was not surprised to see the humanity of the former, he was surprised to see that the latter were not beasts, but rather humans who had the capacity to love and care, yet had been taught to hate and live life in anger and fear of others.  Following this experience Heckler says he knew he had to make a movie telling the story.

burden film 12Burden starts out feeling like another cliché film about rednecks in a small southern town. Hedlund’s stilted, downcast performance is initially off-putting as it seems to be a caricature of a young illiterate southern “redneck.” As the film proceeds it is evident that Hedlund is not reflecting a lack of intelligence but rather Mike’s inner turmoil. Similarly, Andrea Riseborough’s performance as Judy, Mike’s girlfriend and inspiration to leave the Klan and his life of racist hate should not be judged by her initial appearance. There is in Riseborough’s performance a determination that reflects the strength and faith of real-life Judy.

Burden film 5Forest Whitaker’s Rev. Kennedy succeeds in reflecting the reluctance that often accompanies righteousness. While Kennedy knows his Lord is calling him to offer love and forgiveness to those who are persecuting him, his family, and his community, he also feels his human instinct to reject this calling. For Kennedy, this also carried personal weight as his great uncle was lynched in Laurens by the Klan (Photo below). Rev. Kennedy’s decision to offer grace and support only makes sense through his faith in the ways of God and life in God’s Kingdom. What initially seemed to be another film empty of anything but stereotypes, Burden ends as a powerfully presented parable of the promise and perils of seeking redemption as well as offering grace and love to those who repent and ask for forgiveness.

Although rated R for language, violence, and depiction of hate crimes, Burden is a powerful faith-film. As it depicts the brokenness of humanity at its ugliest core, Burden contains the ugly language and actions of our brokenness, not in an attempt to be exploitative, but in an effort to be as honest to this particular story and all the similar stories of hate and hate overcome by the love and grace of God. Were the film’s language and violence watered down to make the film more palatable or family-oriented, the experience of conviction, confession, forgiveness, repentance, and redemption would have been significantly less if not lost. Lost also might have been the realization of some audience members of their need to ask for or offer Christ-like love and forgiveness in their life circumstances.

burden film 8That Burden was a labor of love is appropriate to the themes of confession, grace, and forgiveness being the pathway for redemption. Forgiveness and grace, if offered as Jesus commands, is nothing short of a literal labor of love. The film depicts in no uncertain terms the difficulty of loving others in the way Jesus loves and expects His followers to love and live. Following Jesus and loving one’s enemies means not only standing against the hate of one’s enemies, but perhaps also standing against the anger and resentment of one’s family, friends, and community.

Burden film 4In the conclusion to my conversation with Andrew Heckler I shared with him that the film, particularly the ending reminded me of the vows of Baptism I confirmed for myself as a youth, and as a United Methodist pastor have asked others coming for baptism into the ministry and church of Jesus Christ. Burden depicts the living out of these vows, and the challenges inherent in being a disciple of Jesus.

On behalf of the whole church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

burden film 14These are the expectations Christ has for membership in His Church and these are the challenges and actions Mike Burden faced when he sought to repent from a life of hate and accept the love, grace, and redemption from God and those he persecuted. These are also the expectations Christ has for Rev. Kennedy when presented with the opportunity to offer grace and love to those who have and seek to persecute him and his family. At times living by these vows will be a burden for all disciples, yet God supplies faith to follow them, and grace when one stumbles and then repents.

Burden also stars Academy Award Nominee Tom Wilkinson as Tom Griffin, Michael’s adopted father as well Tess Harper and Usher.

Note: It is appropriate that the film is opening, if only in Los Angeles and New York on the first weekend of Lent, as it is a reminder of the brokenness of all creation and the ability of God’s love and grace, as most evident in the sending of Christ, to offer the hope of transformation.

The Filmmaker is also supporting efforts to turn the Echo Theater into the Echo Project, a multi-cultural community center open to all people for the purpose of personal growth and to celebrate diversity.

Racist Store Redeemed

Rev. David Kennedy in front of the former KKK Museum holding a photo of his great uncle who was lynched in Laurens South Carolina.

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1917

From its earliest days, films have depicted people and the lives they live. December 28th 1895 is considered the birthday of cinema as Luis and Auguste Lumière first projected a moving image onto a screen, a train pulling into the station in La Ciotat France. The image was captured by the Lumieres when they placed their Cinématographe, a device that both recorded and projected images, next to the tracks and recorded a train pulling up to the platform. Since then, showing the lives of people, whether in documentary or dramatic form, has been the driving force behind Cinema.

In his film 1917, writer/director Sam Mendes takes the audience back in time as he shows people struggling through a horrendous place and time, the Western Front during World War 1.  1917 depicts two British infantrymen given a most dangerous mission, to work their way beyond the trenches through “no man’s land,” into and through territory the Germans had just evacuated yet was likely still populated by pockets of enemy soldiers, and deliver a message to save 1600 men from a German ambush. Although the story is about the two men on a dangerous mission, there is a third person on the journey, the viewer. Mendes’s goal in the film is to expose the audience to the experience of one of the most brutal and tragic events of the 20th Century, “The Great War.”

To increase the sense of the viewer’s being there, Mendes uses a series of very long, single-shot sequences that give the feeling that the film is taking place in real-time. Other directors have sought to make films to appear as one shot, but none have attempted it on such a grand scale. While the Lumière brothers set up their static camera on the La Ciotat train platform, Mendes snakes his camera through the trenches, battlefield, bombed-out farm, and war-torn city, showing the viewers where the war was fought and where soldiers and non-combatants lived and died.  Although the energy of the film is experienced in the combat sequences, Mendes offers glimpses into the other experiences of war, the downtime boredom, hunger, and human connections that arise when people of different lives, cultures, families, and nations are thrown together.

While Mendes is rightly receiving praise, and awards (Golden Globe Winner for Best Direction) much of the weight of the film rests on the shoulders of the two leading characters, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal  Schofield (George MacKay.) Regardless of the technical wizardry, masterful sets, planning, and direction, the success of the film depends mostly on the ability of Chapman and Schofield to grab the audience’s attention and keep it for the entirety of the two-hour film.

MacKay and Chapman deliver powerful performances conveying an array of emotions including cynicism forged in the fog of battle and the mistakes of command, courage amidst fear, tender generosity within utter brutality, and determination to fulfill the mission and keep a promise.  While both actors more than accomplish this, MacKay should be in conversations for best actor awards. Colin Firth (General Erinmore) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Col. Mackenzie) lead a large supporting cast, who given the fluid nature of the film, appear briefly in single scenes. Claire Duburcq, as the only woman in the cast, offers a touching performance as a young woman trapped by the fighting in what was once her home town.

Another masterful accomplishment in 1917 is the production design (Dennis Gassner) and staging. The moment Blake and Schofield go over the wall of the trench into no man’s land they enter a world as alien as another planet, and they take the viewers with them.  All around is death, whether it be the bomb craters, tangled, flesh-hungry barbed wire, human and equine corpses, or the foraging rats which, although alive, represent death.  Death also lingers beyond no man’s land, but it is mixed with the signs of life and nature that seem to mockingly remind the combatants and viewer of the goodness and beauty of life that used to flourish.

In addition to the visual feel, Thomas Newman’s beautifully haunting score effectively mirrors and enhances the drama and emotional peaks and valleys throughout the film. The inclusion of a soldier’s (Jos Slovick) mournful offering of “Wayfaring Stranger” prior to a battle articulates the feelings, fear, and place of those consigned to face the ultimate manifestation of human brokenness.

Viewers familiar with the war film genre will recognize elements of other war films. Echoing Paul in the World War 1 Film All Quiet on the Western Front, Schofield shares how the war has changed him and more importantly, his experience of home. There is also the tension of urban combat where the enemy could be around every turn and in every bombed-out window as shown in Full Metal Jacket and American Sniper among others. There are the surreal sensory experiences that accompany the transformation of a typical town into a monstrous battle jungle, and humanity into a beastly caricature depicted in Apocalypse Now.  From Saving Private Ryan there is going forward on a seemingly impossible mission as well as the intimate nature that can accompany the life and death struggle of hand to hand combat. The extended tracking shots also recall the film signature of Stanley Kubrick in his World War 1 masterpiece, Paths of Glory as well as the earlier mentioned Full Metal Jacket.

Given the intimacy and real-time presentation of 1917, the viewer feels perhaps the most difficult part of surviving combat, leaving behind those who fall. What is the most personal and solemn occasion in life is often hardly noticed on the battlefield. When death comes in wave after wave there is little, if any time to mourn the loss nor sanctify the place of the fallen. Combat does not allow for such luxuries as another fight seems always to be calling.

The film is dedicated to Alfred Mendes, Sam Mendes’s grandfather who served in the war as a Lance Corporal in the British Army. Unlike most veterans, he shared his stories and experiences with this family. Through the film, Mendes preserves the memory of this tragic conflagration, the suffering and sacrifice of combatants, family, and civilians. Perhaps it also calls viewers to give pause to the thought of war as a way to settle national and cultural disputes.

1917 is worthy of Best Picture consideration.

Faith Connection:

1917 calls persons of the Jewish and Christian faiths to truly consider the Ten Commandments, especially not killing, coveting, or worshipping false gods such as material wealth and worldly power. Additionally, the film challenges Christians to consider as authoritative the teaching, and command of Christ to love even one’s enemies and return love for insult and injury.

Although Jesus offered no exclusions to this teaching and His life example, too often His followers dismiss them as aspirational, something not possible in the “real” world. While it is easy to dismiss this teaching as unrealistic, what is then list is consideration of how following these central instructions could prevent escalation of social or political tension into combat.

There is no greater example of such escalation of conflict into combat into conflagration than the First World War. Of course the Armistice of 11/11/1918 was only a 21 year pause to the decimation that was Second World War. This escalation cycle continued through the Cold War and the proxy-wars that continue to this day.

1917 serves serves as a suggestion that, in the midst of the repeated failure of the ways of the “real” world, it might be time to give the Way of Christ a try.

1917 is rated R and opened in wide release December 12.

 

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Little Women

little women 5Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved book Little Women deserves the accolades and overwhelmingly positive reviews it has received. There is probably no greater challenge in filmmaking than adapting beloved literary works. Typically there have already been film adaptations as well as the original book against which the film will be measured on both artistic and emotional levels.

For devotees of the original work, there is typically a love-hate relationship to filmed adaptations; they appreciate the validation that their beloved book merited a film version but they hate the surgery to the story that film length and budget usually require. More subtly, adapting from one medium to another, literature to stage, film, or visa-versa, necessitates a degree of translation as each medium is experienced and processed by the audience in different ways.

When done well, adaptations of classic stories present the essence of the original story’s themes, which typically reflect the author’s world view and life experiences, seasoned by the modern artist’s life experience and worldview. Gerwig’s adaptation of the Alcott novel falls into the well-done category. The affinity Greta feels toward Alcott is obvious no doubt because she also faced and overcome the challenges of being a female attempting to break into a male-dominated industry.

Little women 8Set during the American Civil War, Little Women is a story of family love, hope in the face of challenges, and the power of community to support, nurture and overcome life’s trials. Led by the untiring matriarch Marmee, the March family endures anxiety of the absence of the father who went to war as well as the day to day financial challenges of a family now without a primary source of income. In the midst of these and other challenges, the sisters maintain their close bonds. In addition to their commitment to each other, the family learns through their mother to respond to the call to serve others who are less fortunate and equipped to endure hardship and want. Marmee models that serving does not begin until the service and giving are sacrificial. Even when such service calls to them to make greater than anticipated sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, they retain their spirit and refrain from sliding into bitterness and anger that accompanies loss and grief.

In the March family, particularly the 4 sisters, there is a spirit of living life to the fullest. Individual differences of personality, as well as strengths and weaknesses, are seen as more complementary and necessary to the family than clashing and distinguished for the individuals. While competition and conflict that bends some of the relationships are unavoidable between four sisters, the March sisters do not allow such to break the family bond of love and devotion.

In addition to serving others as an act of discipleship, the film effectively presents Alcott’s overriding theme that individuals are to live their lives rather than live out the roles and expectations others place upon them. Though not stated, the film presents the  Biblical understanding that individuals have their specific talents and interests and each person should live into the passion and calling given to them by God.

little women 6Saoirse Ronan makes the perfect Jo as she commands full attention whenever she is on screen, and even sometimes when she is not. Saoirse does not take all the oxygen in her scenes, she is the oxygen. Florence Pugh also offers a strong performance as Amy, the artist sister and, as Aunt March (Meryl Streep) christens her, the family’s “only hope” to marry well and assure the family’s financial and social status. Eliza Scanlen depicts the fragile Beth with the right amount of delicacy and vulnerable innocence. Emma Watson is functional if a bit young as older sister Meg. Laura Dern shows appropriate strength and miracle worker talents as Marmee, the mother and chief cat-herder of the rambunctious four sisters.   The supporting cast, led by Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, and Bob Odenkirk are, unsurprisingly, strong and greatly add to the nuance and depth of the story.

The cinematography is exquisite as is the costuming. Gerwig was committed to recreating the look and feel of the time period in the film and spent time researching in the Metropolitan Museum where she received ideas from portraits and paintings from the time period.

One criticism of the film is that it is can be difficult to distinguish the different times when the film flashes backward and forward in time. While the use of this technique adds texture to the telling of the story, it can also be a source of confusion, particularly for those unfamiliar with the story and characters. Casting others to portray the sisters in their younger years or some other visual clue would have helped avoid confusion, especially toward the beginning of the film.

Little Women is on many best films of 2019 lists and has received many nominations including Golden Globe nominations for Saoirse Ronan for Best Actress in a Drama. The film is rated PG and is appropriate for older elementary-aged children an older.

 

Relative Scripture for discussion:

Matthew 25:34-40  Serving the least of God’s children.

I Corinthians 12:4-26  One Body with many members and talents.

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Review: A Hidden Life

a hidden life 8For those who imagine what would have happened if the SS monsters chasing The Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music had captured them in the Abbey’s graveyard, Terrence Malick’s latest virtuosic film, A Hidden Life offers a possible answer, if Captain Von Trapp had stuck to his convictions.

Winner of the Ecumenical Jury Award at the Cannes Film Festival, A Hidden Life is based on the true story of Franz Jäggerstätter, (August Diehl) an Austrian farmer, WWII conscientious objector, and Christian martyr. After receiving mandated military training, Jäggerstätter refused to swear an oath of allegiance to Adolph Hitler, as was required of everyone serving in the German Armed forces. Though he offered to serve the nation that absorbed his homeland as a non-combatant medic, to the German High Command he was a traitor because he refused to pledge loyalty, not to a nation, but to the leader of that nation.

a hidden life 13Although filmed in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy, A Hidden Life depicts the lush pastoral countryside and village of St. Radegund Austria, the home of Franz, his wife Franziska (Valarie Pachner) and his young daughters. Malick does not let any of the indescribable beauty of the Alps go to waste. Cinematographer Jörg Widmer captures the area in such a way that the viewer has the sense they are at one with the landscape and therefore experience a greater connection to the story and film. With but a bit of imagination, the viewer feels both the flowing beauty and peace of the setting.

a hidden life 15The viewer might also experience the simple, communal, and peaceful life of St. Radegund as presented at the beginning of the film.  Initially, the community was close nit as families cared for and worked with one another to make a life together and help supply food and dairy products for the nation. This bucolic life and sense of community, however, falls victim to the Anschluss of Austria into Germany on March 12th, 1938 and the beginning of World War II.

Unlike most war films that show the massive destruction war inflicts on cities, towns, and homes, St. Radegund is spared from the physical destruction of the war, but it does not escape the destruction of the sense of community that made it such a special place for the inhabiting families. As if to symbolize human responsibility for the horrific destruction of war, the preservation of the pristine, natural beauty of St. Radegund and the surrounding region makes the human ugliness of the war stand out even more.

A hidden life 5As he did with the scenery, the director also focuses on the characters. In contrast to the vastness of the pastures and mountains, Malick frequently photographs the individuals in tight shots, seemingly violating personal space boundaries. Such intimacy in shot selection symbolizes the personal nature and effects of the characters’ decisions and actions. The technique also pulls the viewer further into the narrative, making them more of a witness than a distant, disconnected observer.

As his village experiences and gives into the first winds of war, Franz seeks to stand against the gale. After first opposing the annexation of his country, Franz then opposes the brutality German fascism inflicted upon the Jewish population in Austria and others who were designated “different.” As the majority of St. Radegund favored the annexation of their country and village into Germany, Franz also opposes the marginalization and antipathy of life-long friends against him, his wife, and even his children. Lastly, Franz Jäggerstätter has to decide whether to maintain his beliefs or surrender to pleas and even taunts from others for him to go against his beliefs and swear an oath to Hitler.

While he consults the village priest, for whom he served as an assistant in the village’s church, as well as the area Bishop, Franz has to decide for himself whether he will a hidden life 14adhere to his belief, or declare, if only in words, the allegiance. For Franz, this decision amounts to whether he will remain righteous or oppose God’s desire for him. Despite all he has to lose, and the impact of his decision upon his family, Franz decides righteousness and responsibility to God surpasses all other calls and responsibilities in life.

In the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus enters Jerusalem. Very soon after he entered the capital city on what is now celebrated as Palm Sunday, Jesus received word from two of his disciples that there were some Greeks who wanted to meet him. As with many others in the city, they heard that Jesus had raised Lazarus from his grave four days after he had died and been buried (Ch. 11.) Upon hearing this request, and perhaps within earshot of the others wanting to meet the One who could restore life to the dead, Jesus spoke about his future as well as the future and expectation for those who would follow Him:  25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

For most people watching the A Hidden Life, this teaching of Jesus calls them to give up comforts, habits or fears that keep them from living a righteous life of faith in Jesus rather than the perceived protection and comfort of worldly power and authority.  Although there are people today for whom this passage is a matter of life and death, for most viewing the film it is a matter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s teaching to die to oneself, by putting to death personal desires and distractions that lead one away from God.

a hidden life 10Franz Jäggerstätter took John 12:25-26 and other teaching and life examples of Jesus and early followers with most seriousness as he believed that to swear an oath, if only in word, to Adolph Hitler was to join the Peter by the campfire when the Apostle denied his Lord. For Franz, the issue was less about losing his salvation than about betraying his creator and redeemer. Though he became known for his struggle and sacrifice, the title of the film acknowledges Franz was not alone in his decision. Through the centuries there have been many hidden lives that chose righteousness over life in this world.

a hidden life 16Throughout the film, Franz resisted offering judgment against those who had given their loyalty to Hitler. It was a personal matter and decision.  For Franz, his resistance mattered because he believed it mattered. In his heart, he believed that to offer his loyalty to Hitler was to take it from Jesus. If others did not agree with his belief, Franz withheld judgment. This refusal to judge others extended beyond the screen and into the theater. It is difficult to imagine anyone could watch the film without asking, “What would I do?”  As the viewer asks and considers this question while watching Franz wrestle with his dilemma, one senses Franz would call the viewer not to do what he is doing, but to do what the viewer, after intentional discernment, believes God desires them to do.

While the film may not judge those who believe righteousness would not prevent them from offering a hollow, disingenuous allegiance to worldly leaders and then work to serve their God in others ways, one does feel the film offers judgment against those who do what they know is wrong for convenience or safety’s sake.  

As A Hidden Life is released in a time when there is much discord and challenges for citizens and leaders to consider their beliefs and actions in accordance with cherished principles and laws, the actions of Franz Jäggerstätter challenge and call individuals and nations to genuinely consider what is righteous and then hold fast to their discernment and conscience.

A hidden life 6Although he has a devoted following, Terrence Malick is not every film lover’s cup of tea. As much as any working director, viewers either take or leave Malick’s films, and A Hidden Life, will prove to be no exception. Whether it is the challenging nature of the story or the slowly evolving, three-plus hours length, there will be many for whom this bell will not toll. But for those who appreciate or savor deeply personal storytelling, superb Oscar-worthy acting, and unsurpassable cinematic beauty, A Hidden Life is not a film to miss.

A Hidden Life Opens on December 13th 2019 and is rated PG-13

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All Are In Need of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Beautiful day photo 11

Focus Features

The 2018 documentary film about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is one of the finest films in recent years.  Even though it was not in the genre of Faith Films, its presentation of Fred Roger’s quiet, humble faith and his faithfully living out his discipleship call to present the love of God to others (the calling of people of all faiths) it was the most effective faith film I have seen. Additionally, given the anxiety, anger, and division of our time, the film’s depiction of Mr. Roger’s genuineness in caring for others and living a life of peace, Won’t You Be My Neighbor remains one of the most important films of our time.

Given this impact of Won’t You Be My Neighbor, I remember as I walked out of the theater being skeptical about the announced, upcoming biopic about Mr. Rogers, even if it was starring Tom Hanks. My thought was how could an actor, even as talented as Tom Hanks present Fred Rogers better than Fred Rogers?

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Sony TriStar

Walking out of the screening of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood I thought, Director Marielle Heller, writers Micah Fitzman-Blue and Noah Harpster, and Tom Hanks had threaded a very small needle as “Beautiful Day” was not only a very good film, it was a wonderful companion to Won’t You Be My Neighbor.  Although both films have commonality in their depiction of Mr. Rogers and his program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, when looking at both films together, “Neighbor” offers more of a macro, cultural perspective of Fred through his PBS Program, while “Beautiful Day” offers a micro view of the impact of Fred Rogers’s way of living on an individual. In so doing, it serves as a role model for living a peaceful, faithful, loving life.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on the true story of the friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod who met when Junod was assigned to interview Fred Rogers for a series of stories on Heroes for Esquire Magazine. In the film, Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a character based on Junod. With a reputation as a top A Beautiful Day pic2investigative reporter, Vogel is resistant to accept the assignment to interview a man who is known for his sugar-sweet children’s TV program. Later, Vogel discovers that all of the other “Hero” subjects refused to allow him to interview them because of his reputation for attacking the subjects of his stories. Mr. Rogers not only agreed to allow Vogel to do the interview but Rogers sought him out.

The overarching theme for the film is the same as Fred’s iconic program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, having love for neighbors. Though unspoken, the ordained Presbyterian minister uses the definition of neighbor offered by Jesus. A neighbor is not just those who live next door or even those in the same family or community. A neighbor is any and every person. Rogers also follows the command in both the old and new testaments that one is commanded to love one’s neighbor as one loves themselves.

Beautiful day photo 7In order to be able to love a neighbor, one has to take time to see and get to know them. Where the other Heroes of the Esquire spread saw Vogel as an attack journalist who wrote with a laptop as well as a hatchet, Rogers saw Lloyd as someone living an angry, pain-filled life. Taking the time to literally read between the lines, Rogers saw in Lloyd someone who had life-wounds that were still raw. Upon recognizing this anger and injury, Mr. Rogers shared more than just information about himself with Vogel, he shared himself by establishing a relationship with Lloyd. As with any friendship, Fred took a risk in sharing who he was and what he believed. One of the most important depictions of “Beautiful Day” was Fred Rogers had the rare attribute that he was what he believed. And, what Fred believed was that all persons are special children of God who deserve to be loved and cared for, especially when they are wounded and even angry. For Fred, and all persons of faith, a difficult personality or situation does not release one from their duty to care for others and in doing so, share God’s peace.

beautiful day photo3In addition to a commitment to love one’s neighbors whether they be next door, family, friends, strangers, and even enemies, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood also depicts Fred Rogers’s living a peace-filled and peace-filling life. While many, including Lloyd, assume that the persona of Mister Rogers is a role for Fred Rogers, Lloyd and the audience discover that the man and the character are the same. Fred Rogers truly lives life at peace, even in the midst of a world that is so often in conflict. Put in a theological perspective, Fred lives a life of Shalom, peaceful wholeness even in the midst of tremendous conflict and uncertainty.

In the film, Rogers prays for his neighbors, and their loved ones, by name every day. Though unstated explicitly, the message conveyed is that spiritual disciplines such as prayer, scripture reading, and reflection, as well as serving others draws one closer to God. The closer then one is to God, the more apt one is to realize the certain, faithful presence of God. This certainty of God allows one to live peacefully even in the most uncertain circumstances.

beautiful day photo 12By risking and reaching out to someone he knew was struggling, Fred Rogers helped Lloyd Vogel (Tom Junod) live more peacefully and experience the beauty that is the neighborhood of God. “Beautiful Day” is for fans and those familiar with Fred Rogers as well as those who never once stopped by his neighborhood. As with those who watched PBS staple, all who watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will be better off for it.  

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is rated PG for minimal mature language and one physical confrontation.

 

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