Bathroom Wars and the Theology of Pious Retreat

ID-10018338Most of us have probably come across posts like this one on social media. Greg Gibson, creator of Veritas Press and lead planter for Veritas City Church in Washington, D.C., offers “eight reasons why [Christians] should not boycott Target, and why we should chill out a bit.” It’s characteristic of articles and posts I’ve seen from pastors, Christian friends, and hip millennial bloggers, all reacting to the transgender bathroom controversy with a resounding “meh.”

No doubt this outré attitude ingratiates these writers with their secular neighbors. It’s easy to accept pats on the back while looking down one’s nose at benighted culture warriors swinging the rusty cutlass of Jerry Falwell. But it’s a radical departure from how most Christians have always viewed our place in society—one reminiscent of another, very particular tradition. Knowing what I’m talking about could give you an insight on where we, as the church, are headed.

A piece in RELEVANT says it all: Christians Shouldn’t Be Culture’s Morality Police.”
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Max McLean Plays C. S. Lewis in 'The Most Reluctant Convert'

5744-rt-dc-1200x800-768x512One might say that Max McLean knows C. S. Lewis in ways that few other people do. Not only has he produced dramatizations of “The Screwtape Letters” and “The Great Divorce” (and starred in the former), but he’s now playing the man himself. His new show, “C. S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert,” has just had its world premiere at the Lansburgh Theatre in Washington, D.C. In it, McLean takes us through Lewis’s journey from childhood faith, to atheism, back to faith again, using Lewis’ own words.

“’Surprised by Joy’ is the basic outline of the piece,” McLean told me in an interview. In particular, he and his team at Fellowship for Performing Arts relied heavily on an early, “much more raw” version of Lewis’s spiritual autobiography. Additional sources included “The Problem of Pain” and Lewis’s letters and essays (the latter were particularly useful for providing dialogue). They strove to capture the fighting spirit of Lewis, the side of him that loved the “ruthless dialectic” taught to him by his old tutor, W. T. Kirkpatrick. “This Lewis is not a laidback Lewis,” McLean promises.
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Celebrating the Novelist Who Taught Generations about Character and Conviction

Bedford_JE_7When I met Jane Eyre for the first time in my sophomore English class, I met myself, too.

I had always been a bookish girl, but the central character of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre was one of the most realistic characters I had yet encountered. For, unlike most literary heroines, Jane Eyre is not striking, beautiful, or even pretty. In fact, Jane Eyre is quite remarkable in being quite plain. The fact is that Charlotte Brontë, born 200 years ago today, specifically set out to create just such a character, an act no less than revolutionary for a novel-writer of her time. Her friend, biographer, and fellow novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, reports Brontë proclaiming of Jane, “I will show you a heroine as plain and small as myself, who shall be as interesting as any of yours.”
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'The Jungle Book' Celebrates Human Uniqueness

jungle-book-2016-posters-mowgli-balooDisney’s 1967 animated “Jungle Book” was one of my favorite movies as a child—the music was fun, Phil Harris’ Baloo was even more fun, George Sanders’ suave Shere Khan was frightening and awesome. And as sad as it made me, the ending was brilliant: as with all coming-of-age stories, Mowgli has to grow up, and his series of entertaining adventures must come to an end as he enters real life in the man village and leaves his animal friends behind.

This year’s live-action “Jungle Book” is a coming-of-age story as well, in a different way. When Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is introduced, he is racing his wolf pack through the jungle. He tries to beat them by taking paths wolves cannot, but his plan fails, and he is beaten again. Mowgli’s mentor, Bagheera the black panther (Ben Kingsley), chides him for deserting the pack: “You were not born a wolf, but could you at least try to act like one?” Later, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), the leader of the wolf pack, corrects Mowgli again, when he frightens the other animals at a watering hole by pulling water to him with a bowl on a string, rather than going down to the water.

When he meets Baloo (Bill Murray), Mowgli is finally encouraged to use his “tricks,” in order to help the bear collect honey from a high cliff—and this signals an important development in his character and in the story. But in the meantime, Mowgli is being hunted by the injured tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who wants to kill him before he can become a man, like the one who burned the tiger’s face.

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Hank Williams Biopic Fails to Grasp the Troubled Genius

I-Saw-the-Light-1"Hank Williams is the father of contemporary country music," according to his bio at CMT.com. The museum built to honor him calls him "the first Country Music superstar" and "one of the most powerful iconic figures in American Music." Williams' biographer Colin Escott wrote, "His premature death left what is still the most important single body of work in country music, as well as the tantalizing promise of what might have been."

There's a lot of truth in all that praise, but the new film about Williams' life, "I Saw the Light," does little to show us exactly why. Read More >
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Is This Any Way to Launch a Franchise?

batman-vs-superman-info-tagFor over two years, fans of DC Comics’ top stars have been waiting for the fight of the century. Ever since May of 2014, when the first image appeared of Ben Affleck in the new Batman costume standing next to the new Batmobile, both excitement and trepidation have been building. Facebook friends have been debating the interpretation of the heroes glimpsed as a series of trailers were released. News stories revealed that not only would we see the first two stars of the DC comics universe in "Batman v Superman," but also Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) would make her debut along with other DC heroes—hence the subtitle “Dawn of Justice” (as in League).

Since I’ve written about Batman adaptations, many friends asked me beforehand, “Why are they fighting?” The film attempts to answer that question, but one’s reception of its answer depends on one’s perception of the characters of these two superhero superstars.
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How 'The Young Messiah' Helps Faith Take Flight

saraandadamBecause the Bible is silent about so much of Jesus’ life, people have always speculated about what His childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood might have been like. The new film “The Young Messiah” offers an imaginative, insightful take on part of those missing years.

Based on a book by bestselling novelist Anne Rice, “The Young Messiah” shows us Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal) as a child, leaving Egypt with His family to travel to Nazareth, and then traveling to Jerusalem. Though these journeys do have a factual basis in Scripture, this is one of those areas where the Bible gives us few details. So we have the opportunity to come up with a story about what might have happened along the way—including what might have happened to show Jesus His true identity and abilities.

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A Q&A with Filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson

mbt-poster-previewWhen Laura Hinson was still a student, she directed a movie called “As We Forgive about the healing and reconciliation that took place after the Rwandan genocide. That film won a student academy award. Since those student days, she's gotten married and had two children, but she's also continued to exercise her craft and art as a filmmaker. Her movies often focus on women. Her latest effort is “Many Beautiful Things: The Life and Vision of Lilias Trotter.”

Lilias Trotter was a rising star in the art world of the late 19th century in England. She was the protégé of John Ruskin, who was arguably the most famous artist and art critic of that era. The reason most of us today have not heard of her is this: She turned her back on what was likely to be international art world fame to become a missionary to Algiers.

Laura Waters Hinson's film tells the story of Lilias Trotter, but also explores what it means to have to choose between fame and fortune—the temptations of the world, and the calling to serve God.

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It's Time for a Talk about Onscreen Nudity

deadpoolA Christian Facebook group I belong to spent the better part of last month in a civil war over “Deadpool,” the hard-R shoot ’em up based on Rob Liefeld’s salty, wisecracking comic book mercenary-antihero of that name. This group (normally devoted to theology and beer) broke into a firefight over whether it’s acceptable for Christians to see the movie.

Why the debate? Because “Deadpool” includes some of the most graphic sequences of nudity and sex the R-rating has ever endured. But a sizeable minority of Christian men in this Facebook group saw no problem with plunking down 12 bucks to watch it. Many planned on taking their wives or girlfriends.

They’re not alone. The Christian blogosphere has developed a penchant for defending nudity-as-entertainment. A lot of Christians are arguing that the Son of Man would have no problem joining them in front of a 50-foot screen dominated by flesh.

Here are some of the recurring “buts” I’ve seen.
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'The Guest Room' Tells a Hard-Hitting Story of Human Trafficking

51CgIrXmddL._SX327_BO1204203200_"Richard Chapman presumed there would be a stripper at his brother Philip's bachelor party."

That's the opening sentence of "The Guest Room," the latest novel by bestselling author Chris Bohjalian. Few opening sentences have done a better job of capturing the zeitgeist.

Richard, we soon find out -- we find it out in the same paragraph, in fact -- is a family man with a nice home and a good job (working in mergers and acquisitions). But Richard has been asked to host this bachelor party, and although he isn't "especially wild about the idea of an exotic dancer in his family's living room," he also doesn't want to be a "prig" and "put a damper" on things. There's a sort of unspoken agreement all around that men must engage in one last night of debauchery before they get married, and that it's the duty of other men to help them do it. So his wife takes their little girl away for the weekend, and Richard gets ready for the party.

By the time it's over, two men are dead, two girls are on the run, and Richard Chapman's quiet, comfortable life is shattered.
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This Faith-Based Film Takes Nonbelievers' Concerns Seriously

file_607174_risen-trailerA movie about faith couched in a narrative of doubt. What a refreshing concept.

With excellent acting, historical details, cinematography, and overall production values, “Risen” is a significant step toward reconciling the disparity between Christianity and Hollywood: providing an accessible faith-based film that deserves to be embraced beyond its target audience. A respectable opening at the box office this weekend signals that this is exactly what's happening.

“Risen’s” virtues were all the more prominent, as the movie followed a series of trailers for films that seemed designed expressly to put off any viewer in the theater not familiar with evangelical culture: "God’s Not Dead 2" and "Miracles From Heaven." Both made me shift a little in my theater seat, as their advertisements seemed more blatant propaganda for the converted than accessible tales for the seeking.
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Some Things to Remember in Election Season

ID-100260030"The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He will.” Daniel 4:32

Character matters in every sphere of life. It is the ground of decision-making of all kinds. It determines what kinds of relationships we will have, and with whom. It is the basis of trust and respect on the one hand, or manipulation and contempt on the other.

This is as true in the political arena as everywhere else. History is fraught with examples of men and women in various government capacities whose low character has led in some cases to horror (Stalin, Hitler, Mao) or simple graft (both parties at every level of governance can boast myriads of such examples).
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Re-examining Cultural Engagement with the Next Generation

ID-100391359If the church is always one generation away from extinction, as is commonly said, then it makes sense that the next generation would be an important mission field for Christians. Groups like Child Evangelism Fellowship, Evangelism Explosion, Youth for Christ International, AWANA, and many more seek to stave off generational extinction by sowing to the future. But while youth culture is often seen as primed and receptive for the Gospel, it is also perceived as existing within a rather narrow window. Which is why Jay Kesler, former president of Youth for Christ International, once said, "Any evangelism after high school isn't evangelism. It's really salvage."

As contemporary culture has changed, so has evangelical engagement of youth.
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The CMP Videos Reveal as Much about the Church as about Planned Parenthood

ID-100110690_1Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?” ~ Lawrence Durrell


Many assumed that the release of the Planned Parenthood exposé videos from the Center for Medical Progress would rouse a long-slumbering church at last to raise a sustained, united cry of virtuous outrage to help turn the tide of public opinion against the great evil of our age, abortion.

Such assumptions, it seems, were overly optimistic.

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'The Hateful Eight' Is a Bloody, Disgusting Masterpiece

The-Hateful-Eight-Kurt-Russell-and-Samuel-L.-Jackson-2The curtain opens, and the credits roll. Bold, old-fashioned Western music plays behind a static screen—a wagon before snow-capped mountains. The unsuspecting audience settles in for a classic-style Western, totally oblivious to the carnage, crudity, and conflict to come.

Okay, fine. The Hateful Eight is a Quentin Tarantino film, so the audience expects blood, gore, death, violence, entertaining dialogue, and visions not meant for children. And boy, do they all come—but only step by step, and only after lulling the audience into a false sense of security.

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