Category: Movies and TV

Hell & Mr. Pearson (A Review of Come Sunday)

Come Sunday starts off with a familiar scenario. Our main character is seated on a plane next to a woman, and because he knows she’ll burn in hell for all of eternity if he doesn’t say something, he has to engage her in conversation in order to lead her to salvation.
Syndicated from Hippie Heretic


Love is the Only Way: Why I Loved the New Paul Movie (And I’m Not into “Christian Movies,” Typically)

This past weekend was full. Perhaps it was for you too. Before I tell you about my experience with the Paul movie, it is worth mentioning the most meaningful weekend of the Church calendar. It started off with two Good Friday gatherings. We read the passion narrative and intentionally didn’t take communion (which is a […]

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Syndicated from the Pangea Blog

“The Scaffold Sways the Future”

A few nights ago, I went with some friends to see the latest superhero film, Justice League. As a rule, I find this genre of movies rigidly formulaic and not terribly interesting, but my wife tells me that I’m not supposed to be antisocial so I went along for the ride. Also, I figured that no matter how awful the movie was, I would at least have the pleasure of listening to Jeremy Irons deliver a few lines. 
My low expectations were (barely) met. Lots of two-dimensional characters with capes and shields and fine looking bodies in special suits flying around, cracking atrociously bad lines, flexing their muscles and using their superpowers to save the world from the really bad guy (an individual named Steppenwolf, in this case, who I must confess often just made me want to chuckle) bent on destroying the world. Yawn. Rinse and repeat every few months and you have a tried, tested, and true Hollywood formula for raking in millions.
Whenever I leave one of these films, a simple question occurs to me. Why? Why do we bother with these utterly predictable and unimaginative stories? What accounts for the popularity of these kinds of films? I suppose among the more parsimonious explanations would be that a lot of us are fairly uncritical viewers and have appallingly bad taste. Or we’re just looking for a mindless escape from the drudgery of every day life. Or we just like seeing explosions and have a lust for sex-tinged violence. There’s almost certainly some truth to each of these explanations.
But I think there’s more to the story. A few years ago, I wrote about what I think that “more” might be. I argued that these kinds of films give us narratives of good and evil within which to negotiate our hopes and fears, particularly in a mostly secular context. I even suggested that going to the movies is partly analogous to an act of worship. As I read what I wrote five years ago, I still mostly agree with myself (which is by no means a guaranteed outcome when I trawl through past archives on this blog!). The kinds of stories that we pour our time and money into is indicative of what we are afraid of and what we hope for. We’re always worried about the end the world, at least on some level, and we’re always waiting for a strong man or woman, or a league of strong men and women to ride in from the clouds (or the sea [Aquaman] or the grave [Superman]) to rescue us. And if our rescuers happen to come with lean, attractive bodies with cool tattoos that we can stare at while the saving is taking place? Well, so much the better for us, er, I mean the planet.
Every Wednesday evening, I gather with a handful of seniors to study the bible. We usually just read the passage or passages that will be read the following Sunday during worship and then talk together about what we think it/they might mean. This week’s passage was Ephesians 1:15-23. It talks about Jesus in pretty lofty, power-drenched language. He possesses “immeasurable greatness” and “great power.” He is seated at God’s “right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” He has “all things under his feet” and is “head over all things.” There’s no mention of a cape or big muscles, and it’s doubtful there is any kryptonite or cool tattoos involved, but still. Sounds pretty impressive.
Of course, the interesting question is another simple one: How? How does Jesus come to inhabit all of this lofty language? It’s not because he flexed his muscles and forced the evil powers to bend to his will. It’s not because he rode in from the clouds swinging his sword (or his trident) in a display of righteous vengeance (although some Christians still greedily anticipate such a spectacle, no doubt). It’s not because Jesus is the most kickass of all the superheroes. Jesus’ authority and power comes, paradoxically, through self-sacrifice, through dying at the hands of his enemies, through forgiveness and a determined love that stretches far beyond the parameters we would prefer or choose.
One of the guys that comes to bible study loves to quote poetry. Sometimes he will leave poems in my church mailbox or just recite them to me in the foyer. Last night, as we were talking about the nature of Jesus’ authority in a world addicted to narratives of violence and the exercise of a particular expression of power, he said, “It reminds me of a line from a poem.” He paused, struggling to remember. Then he said, “it had something to do with wrong being on the throne but the truth being on the scaffold. And the scaffold sways the future.”
I looked up the poem this morning. It’s called “The Present Crisis” and was written in 1844 by the American poet and ardent abolitionist, James Russell Lowell. It’s a long poem, but the part my friend quoted last night goes like this:

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

I love that line: The scaffold sways the future. This crucified king has arguably been more influential throughout history than anyone else. The one who refused to respond with force to force, the one who willingly laid down his life, the one who embodied the deepest truth our planet can ever know, that the Creator God’s very identity is self-giving love—this is the one who has shaped history. And God still hovers in the shadows of our violence and our hunger for more impressive heroes, swaying the present and the future, keeping watch over his own.

Syndicated from Rumblings

TV show review: PURE (CBC)

Back at the beginning of the year, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation released a new TV show called “Pure.” It was set in a Mexican Mennonite community in southern Ontario, similar to mine in a lot of ways (and different in some key ways too). It’s a rare privilege to get that kind of media attention, but since the fictional community was involved in the cross border drug trade, most of the Mennonites I know were quite critical of the portrayal.

Since there were only six episodes, and there is no word on a second season, the odds are that if you were going to watch it, you would have already, but in case you are holding out until now, I’ll help you decide if it would be worthwhile for you. All six episodes and some extra features are still available on the CBC website here.

This show is not for everyone, including a lot of Mennonites I know. A lot of people, because of their values and sensitivities won’t be able to enjoy Pure. So, if you are disturbed by the sight of people getting shot, dead bodies (including children) being dragged away to be disposed of, or inaccurate portrayals of Low German Mennonite culture, you probably shouldn’t watch this show.

There was a clear parallel between this show and Breaking Bad (which I haven’t watched, but read people’s tweets about it); an unlikely figure gets caught up in the drug trade out of desperation, and through a combination of virtue, determination and cunning, stays one step ahead of the evil knocking at their door (or do they?)

A lot has been written about the cultural inaccuracies. Their depiction of clothing, transportation, and acculturation are inconsistent with Canadian Old Colony Mennonite life. I suspect those choices were made intentionally to appear believable to the mainstream Canadian audience, rather than a lack of research by Pure’s producers. The use of Low German in the show proved that they had done research, and the actors were clearly coached, and while I wouldn’t expect them to get the accent right, some of the Low German scenes were quite good.

Like most shows, it’s easier to enjoy it if you simply watch it for entertainment without reading cultural statements into the content. That’s just easier to do when you aren’t part of the cultural group being depicted. While lots of people pointed out that their use of horse and buggies was inaccurate, nobody was offended that they didn’t use Chevy Suburbans instead. The offense was because of the insinuations that producing and distributing drugs and the murder and corruption that comes with it is commonplace among Mexican Mennonites. In their defense, the CBC did base this story on real events. There continue to be Mennonites in Mexico being used as mules to bring drugs across the border into the US and Canada, just like there are Mennonites here that produce, sell and consume those same drugs, but that isn’t the majority and shouldn’t be the only story that is told of my people. Fortunately, most people watch TV for fun, without attaching cultural labels. Very few Harry Potter fans are trying out real witchcraft and Breaking Bad fans aren’t asking their local chemistry teachers for drugs.

The truth is that for the Mennonites to be used in this story this way is a compliment. The corruption of these Mennonite characters is the ongoing twist of the show. You don’t expect them to be involved in drugs, but they are. Just like you don’t expect the bad guy to be good, but he sort of is, and you don’t expect the inept policeman to be capable and determined, but he is. The whole story hinges on the positive reputation of the Mennonite people. It would be an easier compliment to take if the opposite wasn’t also true.

The CBC also recently produced a TV show called “Little Mosque on the Prairie” which was based around a Muslim community in a prairie town and their daily struggle to reassure their neighbours that they weren’t terrorists. While it was a comedy and Pure was a drama, the underlying question was the same; have you ever considered that your stereotypes of this religious minority are inaccurate? The Old Colony Mexican Mennonites in Canada aren’t as crooked as the characters in Pure and the Muslims in Canada aren’t as quirky and charming as the characters in Little Mosque on the Prairie. I have met fantastic people in both communities, models of hard work, graciousness, religious devotion and piety. I’ve also met people in both groups that fall short of their own communities’ standards. It’s just that if your culture is going to be portrayed inaccurately, you would hope it’s a positive portrayal.

In order to get the most out of your Pure viewing experience, you need to be prepared to walk the fine line between valuing the Mennonites’ positive reputation and acknowleging that it isn’t always true. You have to want them to make good decisions and then be prepared when they inevitably make bad decisions to discuss what other bad decision they would be more likely to make.

I regret not watching and analyzing the show sooner, but the experience has given me a lot of food for thought, so this will be the first in a series of blog posts about the show.
Syndicated from ThirdWay

Blade Runner 2049: in the ruins of christianity (spoilers!)

The future is bleak in Ridley Scott’s original 1982 sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner. Considered ahead of its time, the original saw its now classic status only after seven different edits, and nearly thirty years of space. Starring Harrison Ford, the future depicted in the film is simultaneously technologically advanced, and dirty, where violence is assumed and sex is as public as a casual stroll through the park. (Although there isn’t much that is “casual” in Scott’s dystopian world!) Humans created a workforce of robots who eventually betrayed their human masters and needed to be forcefully shut down.

The first film was a lot of *free will versus deterministic* argumentation, with empathy being the true victor. But the sequel succeeds in making it less of that, and more about pure existence. In fact, its revelations bear a resemblance to the first astronaut trip to the moon, where the men looked back at the earth and felt that seeing the big blue ball, hanging suspended in the black mass of the universe, was the unexpected majesty to turn their gaze. They set out to go to the moon, but found themselves marveling at the splendour of the world they had just left behind.

(Honestly, the movies are way better than the book written by Philip K. Dick. What? I know. But it’s true.)

The sequel (2049) carries this theme with a compassionate gravitas. But what it improves upon from the original most is the aesthetics. Denis Dellineuve, the director of the sequel, creates a frame in which the viewer envisions a possibility; at once exciting and terrifying. The statues are submerged in sand, and as I see it, the ruins of a failed attempt at being a human society which has given way to an experiment in replicant versus human dialectic.

Jared Leto’s character perfectly embodies the non-human human. He is caught up in designing a workforce; and in the act of creation, he loses his humanity, resulting in the need to master the environment, rather than blessing it. (As I see it, mastery and blessing are what separates the true craftsman from the powerful frauds.) He is no longer “human,” but is more of a powerful robot, incapable of compassion or empathy, therefore divorced from his humanity. But the opposite occurs with the replicants: their search for the real is taken up again, and this time by a synthetic brain ruled by endless combinations of four numbers. Thus, once again, the search for the spark of innocent humanity is left to another kind of creature. The future, as they say, is in the rearview mirror.

The emerging dialectic is between corrupted humans and innocent replicants in this story, but in all of its excess and visual splendor, it is still a drama surrounding the ancient Christian story of the incarnation. And I know that it may seem like a stretch, given that the director is not a “Christian,” so I don’t want to say that this is the true meaning of the story, but I do want to stress how the themes affected me while struggling to watch the film at midnight.

(The “incarnation” is God becoming man, joining himself with man in such a meaningful way that by his very participation in humanity succeeds in reversing the curse of sin and death, revealing what it means to actually become human.)

Sin perverts (twists) the fabric of humanity, making us less than human; not “more” human. It renders the image of God unintelligible. Why would the world follow Jesus if His followers can’t seem to exude the most basic of human decency and compassion, whether in conversation or in generosity? Truly, our greatest problem is not in the prevalent nihilism of materialist atheism, but in the lack of Christian “humanist” witness.

(Yes, I’m using the word “humanist” on purpose. But don’t go away just yet.)

The ‘Blade Runner’ in the movie is the embodiment of the god-man; the one who grapples the tension between heaven and earth, and in this case, human and robot. Harrison Ford’s original take was about a human who discovered empathy in the eyes of a Replicant he loved. Ryan Goslings character is actually a Replicant, not a human. He is an angel come down to the grime who is discovering, in a secretive way, what it means to be a feeling creature. He does this through that very Christian genre of fiction, mystery. He’s a detective whose job it is to find answers to complex questions. We watch in awe of his ability to crack the code of his own creation through the conflict of another rogue Replicant he has had to “retire” – a nice word for assassinate.

Yes, it’s violent. But it is the right kind of violence: the kind that reminds us that heroic individuals make a leap of faith. And we discover our true nature by choosing to look long enough to see something previously overlooked.

The entire movie is a kind of journey that sees the future in the rear-view mirror, where robots (Replicants) discover their own humanity, and all at once we, the viewers, are reminded not of the possibilities of A.I., but of the hope of what it means for a corrupted society, driven only by greed, lust, and desire, to become human once more.

After sitting through the entire 2 hours and 30 minutes of BR2049, I was struck by the mode of storytelling. While there is action, it is more of a visual dream. Each scene is a frame of beauty and devastation, harkening to Dellinueve’s style of symbolic representation that you can keep getting the more you watch the film. It is only after subsequent viewing that the full scope of the work comes into focus. The engine of the story is its beauty amidst the ruins, full of a few characters seeking to renew the creation by first experiencing true compassion, empathy, and individuality.

How do you know you are not simply responding to a code that has pre-determined what you will say, think, and eventually do?

Goslings “Officer K” violates the code. And the way he accesses it is through real memory. A memory of a miracle birth is transmitted into K’s hardware in order to allow him the opportunity to feel the very human anxiety of not being remembered.


The Blade Runner is a creature that lives in a world not unlike our current one: reveling in the freedom of subjective choice, two-stepping around the ruins of modernity, the very faith it relies upon as the foundation for its own transcendent humanism. The ruins are too strong to be buried forever, and a movie such as this demonstrates the revelatory power of reclaiming the ancient truth of love, empathy, compassion, and coherent identity.

As author Yuval notes in a Ted talk, one on one, a human is not much different than a chimp. But put one thousand chimps together and one thousand humans together, and the humans will emerge victorious.

Here are a few reasons humans are the most unique of the species:

Humans are capable of asking questions.
Humans can work together in huge numbers with complete strangers.
Humans are concerned with other humans across the world.
Humans inquire of the meta-physical in order to give meaning to their lives.
Humans share stories in order to make sense of their lived experiences, individually and corporately.

BR2049 is such a story we need to tell ourselves. It is the story of becoming human again, once society has redefined its parameters to the point of non-existence. We must learn to exist, again. and in our trip upward, we might find ourselves looking back for what we left behind as the truly marvelous thing we were missing all along.

The end.


Syndicated from Jon Beadle


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