One of the joys that comes from the challenge my wife and I have given ourselves in seeing all the Best Picture nominations each year is answering the question, when someone asks, “What would you recommend?” That question invariably leads to a conversation where I am free to express my values, preferences and worldview. This year, for a number of different reasons, I would recommend any of them: some films marvelously expressed the importance of family, others wonderfully demonstrated the indomitable human spirit, and still others powerfully depicted the troubling consequences of marginalizing the outcast. If you would like a more in-depth conversation, get in touch with me and we can talk.
Making recommendations can be tricky. The points and plot-twists that I appreciate are just that, what I appreciate. Every film I watch is filtered through my own eyes, which have witnessed particular life experiences that are exclusive to myself, and you will not see things in the same exact way. There might have been aspects of the story that found deep resonance in your heart that went by unaffected to mine. When we add into the mix the complex variables of theatrical genres, directorial choices and subject matter, discussing what another person should consume can be difficult. Recommendations are, by nature, suggestive and thus require consideration of the audience.
Around this time of year, I become a ‘movie evangelist’: someone who shares the good news of cinematic perfection and encourages others to experience the joys I have come to know. I do not take this task lightly. I consider my audience (their temperaments and tastes) and convey a recommendation. Want to see a great family movie? “Little Women”; a cinematic masterpiece? “1917”; an unexpected delight? “Jo Jo Rabbit”; a cautionary tale? “The Irishman” or “Marriage Story”.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24:27 (NIV)
Most of us could talk about our favorite movie for hours. I have been praying that we would be as conversational about the Gospel as we have been about cinema. I long for those around me to have the same fervor to tell others what they have been reading in the Bible and share with them how it reflects the good and bad aspects of our society. I desire a church community that sees the benefit in conversing with others about the riches that could be taken away from the truths expressed in God’s word. I wonder what would happen if we talked about Jesus the way we talk about movies or (if you are not a cinephile, i.e. a movie lover) the way we talk about sports or fashion or books.
What part of the Bible would you recommend I ‘see’ and why?
For the record, I would be happy to see “1917”, “Ford v. Ferrari”, “Jo Jo Rabbit” or “Little Women” win the Oscar on Sunday night and, for posterity, I predict “1917” will take home the statuette.
Tomorrow is my father’s 80th birthday. Happy birthday, Dad!
Sunday is Oscar® day, when the Academy Awards are presented. Hooray for Hollywood!
The above-stated occasions may seem to most as two random calendar entries, but to me, they are inextricably linked. For those who are unaware of my upbringing, my parents separated and divorced when I was in grade school. While the intervening years have dulled my memory, I do recall a number of weekend matinees that my dad took us to see: “Robin Hood”, “Pete’s Dragon”, “Superman”, “Star Trek” and more. I remember the hours in the dark at the General Cinema Theater at Westgate Mall and the Brockton East Twin Cinema. It was in those moments that I gained a love for movies – good movies, bad movies, all movies.
In thinking about these memories, some more than four decades old, I am reminded of the love my dad had (and has) for my siblings and me, and the love I have for him. While we spent few nights under the same roof, we spent hours together every weekend. I remember waiting for him to pick us up (making a game of counting cars of a randomly particular color) and I cannot recall ever being disappointed when he never arrived. We had inside jokes (ordering “pine tree floats” at MerMac’s and trying to spell the name one of his old bosses, S. Gunnar Myrbeck), ate hundreds of hamburgers and watched dozens of movies.
A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother. – Proverbs 10:1
As the years have passed and the miles have grown between us, my meetings with my dad have grew more infrequent, but my love for my dad and my love for the movies have remained. I appreciate all those afternoons, with or without popcorn, that we shared watching the silver screen. I think about that as I take my children to the movies, tell the same corny jokes and buy the same fast food. I love you, Dad.
Thinking about my dad taking me to the movies all those years ago makes me wonder why I love the movies so much. I am sure it has something to do with those deep-seated emotions of my childhood. It also has something to do with the escape the darkened theater provides: a diversion from the daily grind to exotic and fantastic places. Mostly, I reckon, it has to do with the story – dozens of accounts of love and loss, risk and rescue, life and death. Thank you, Dad, for giving me all that. I carry a part of you every time I buy a ticket. Happy Birthday! Maybe one day soon we can catch one more movie together.
For what it is worth, after seeing most of the nominated films (there’s still time to finish the challenge), I would give the Oscars to “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri”, Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell. Knowing my track-record, I’m due to be right.
As I mentioned in my prior post, my wife and I have attempted to see all the Best Picture nominees for this year’s Oscars©. With the broadcast of the awards on Sunday, I am proud to report that our attempts have been successful. In the four years that we have done this we are constantly amazed at the stories and settings we are able to visit through cinema. This year, the scope of settings – from the late 1800s North American wilderness to the surface of Mars, from East Berlin in the 1950s to Dorchester in the 2000s – we have been places familiar and unfamiliar and introduced to fascinating characters.
This year, unlike others, all the story lines and the characters have been haunting. Each movie, in different ways, has left me with the same question: what can I do, what must I do – as a human being, as a Christian and as a pastor – in light of the needs represented by these films. What do I do for (taking the movies in alphabetical order) those crushed by the housing crisis of 2008, those imprisoned for political reasons around the world, those who immigrate to America looking for a hope they cannot find at home, those trapped through human trafficking, those abandoned and alone, those damaged by the murder of their child, those traumatized by sexual and psychological abuse and those, once abused, who have been silenced or dismissed by ‘the system’? This year’s Best Picture nominees are a hodgepodge of social ills that need to be addressed.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34-40
My take-away from the cinematic experiences of the last month and my movie-going is that while I cannot do everything, I can do something. One of the movies, Spotlight, was filmed in our neighborhood and depicts the plight of those reporting on the clergy sex abuse scandal in my town; I surely know someone affected and I could do something. The news is rife with reports on immigration, political prisoners, kidnappings and human trafficking; surely I could do something. Then there are people broken by life – those who have lost a home, lost a child, been abandoned by friends; surely I could do something. In fact, surely, I must do something, anything, to offer hope, healing and haven to those in pain.
I am grateful for Hollywood’s reminder that there are good people and there are terrible circumstances, occasionally meeting and alleviating suffering; may we be those who help those in need.
For what it is worth, I think my favorite picture was Room, the sweetest picture was Brooklyn, the best writing was The Big Short, the most beautiful picture was The Revenant and the Oscar for Best Picture will go to Spotlight (maybe I am biased for Dorchester). Now, for me, there will be no more movies for a while – hopefully I will be too busy helping those whose stories now haunt me.
People say that I look at the world differently. Positively, some compliment me for my ability to see spiritual parallels in everyday occurrences and activities. Negatively, some criticize me for sermonizing current events and pop culture. Whether it is admirable or annoying, it is the way I have always seen my surroundings – recognizing the gospel in the movies of my childhood (especially E.T. and Return of the Jedi), witnessing the ‘hand of God’ in a number of otherwise ordinary things, and appreciating the bigger picture displayed all around us. I readily admit that I may be odd, but I like it that way.
I’d like to think that God is still speaking to those He loves through the channels of nature and culture. I’d like to think that God has not changed and what was true in the days of the early church are still true today: that His truths can be transmitted through tales about weddings, construction projects, family dynamics and botany. There are references in scripture to contemporary writings and secular personalities; why can’t we draw insights of our Creator based on the same. Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling did not give us inspired writings, ut they might enable us to gain a glimpse of God’s wisdom.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
I subscribe to the premise that Paul is stating in this excerpt from his letter to the church in Philippi that there are a great number of resources God can use to share His truth with us. Not everything is beneficial (after all, some things are not noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy) but some secular things are all these things. The grace of God could be experienced by walking through a spring meadow or a winter storm, gazing upon the Mona Lisa or Starry Night, reading To Kill a Mockingbird or The Hunger Games, or watching “Les Miserables” or “Downton Abbey”. The One who spoke through a donkey can certainly speak through any number of authors, poets, musicians or painters.
So, I will continue to look for the spaces between the lines of our contemporary existence where God may be breaking through. Without a doubt, at times the connections will be strained and at other times the connections will be strong. I will continue to share where I see God’s fingerprints as He moves around us to reveal Himself. He can be sensed with every reed squeak played by a school band, every great work of fiction or fact gracing the bestseller list, every great composition heard on the radio, very personal victory and every personal defeat.
Maybe you, too, look at the world differently. Maybe you’re able to connect the dots of life to the revelation of God or maybe you’re not. Either way, perhaps God is seeking to break through to you also and using the things in your life to do so. If so, do me a favor and enjoy what God is showing you.