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What Has Hollywood to Do with Jerusalem?: Production Values and Proclaiming the Gospel in the “Ark Encounter” and Ben Hur

What Has Hollywood to Do with Jerusalem?: Production Values and Proclaiming the Gospel in the “Ark Encounter” and Ben Hur

If size matters, the new theme park in northern Kentucky, the Ark Encounter, is a massive success. The center-piece of the park, which opened in mid-July, is a full-size replica of Noah’s ark, over 500 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. It is, according to the Ark Encounter website, the “largest timber-frame structure in the world.” The first phase of the park also includes “Ararat Ridge Zoo (with a petting zoo), a 1,500-seat restaurant, a gift store under the Ark, and a zip line.” Future attractions will include “a pre-Flood walled city, the Tower of Babel, a…

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I Wanna Know What Hipness Is

TOP-Hipper-CoverI recently re-discovered a band that loomed over my childhood. Tower of Power, a brass-based soul-funk big band explosion used to make an annual headline performance each summer at the San Mateo County Fair when I was growing up. The band was local, from Oakland, which is across the Bay. As is often the case, lyrics of songs that washed over me when I was too young to understand often blow me away when I hear them again for the first time as a grown man.

Take for instance “What Is Hip” from Power’s Hipper Than Hip (Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow) LP. The song could almost be a riff on the collect for the fifth Sunday in Lent (or the Fourth Sunday after Easter, depending on which Prayer Book you’re looking at): “Grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.”

Power is tapping into the same idea on Hipper Than Hip, asking what actually is hip anyway (I wanna know). It’s really a perennial question, observation, and reality check. During a time when it seems everyone is an indie hipster creative, we ought to allow “What Is Hip” to live a second life. Watch this amazing recording of Lenny Williams leading the band in a live(ly) performance of the song on Don Cornelius’s Soul Train—hey, people all over the world, remember Soul Train!? Watch, listen, pay attention to the lyrics, and be convicted of your need for Jesus because “sometimes hipness is, what it ain’t.”

What is hip
Tell me, tell me, if you think you know
What is hip
If you’re really hip
The passing years will show
You’re into a hip trip
Maybe hipper than hip
What is hip

Phi-lippin’ Philippians: Tony Hale and Stephen Colbert Play Bible Games

As someone who has intentionally watched every episode of The Late Show w/ Stephen Colbert and followed the trajectory of a man who came out of one of the best examples of American satire into the “normalcy” of late night, I find the best moments of his new incarnation are when religion pops up. Thursday (Aug. 25) was scattershot with Philippians verses which started with Sen. Tim Kaine–who was a Jesuit missionary for several years–and continued when Mbird favorite, Tony Hale, called out their “Bible games.” What follows is Tony Hale potentially being the only guest to seemingly out-Bible Stephen Colbert.  The moment is full of hilarity especially when placed in the context of Hale’s creation of The Haven, a meeting place in NYC for Christian artists who were outcasts from the church in his earlier days. Check it out. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

A Treatise Against Christian Hypocrisy

A Treatise Against Christian Hypocrisy

Because I am an immediate devotee to anything Mark Burnett produces, I suffered through an entire season of Fox’s Coupled this summer. If you aren’t familiar with this romantic tale, then pat yourself on the back for being a better person than me. The premise is simple: twelve single women get to filter through a lot of men to see if they can ultimately be “coupled” off. You know the drill: island location, loads of Mai Tais, one affront to feminism after another.

There was one character that had me rapt for the entire season. Her name is Alexandra “Alex” Clark,…

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Bad People in The Good Place

In case you missed it during the Olympics, NBC will have a new Thursday night sitcom this fall: The Good Place (I went to high school with Michael Schur!). It’s about an abominable woman (Kristin Bell), who, by some cosmic error, ends up in Heaven.

Not surprisingly, the show appears (admittedly from the 2-minute trailer) to propagate the notion that good people go to the “good place” and bad people go to the “bad place” (although I hold out hope that the creator of Parks & Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine will be a bit more insightful). Of course, this is the Law, not the Gospel. It is Karma, not Grace. In contrast, the New Testament affirms that the only Good Person went to the bad place so that bad people could go to the good place.

This Week: Come See Stars in My Crown With PZ in Stamford, CT!

You Are Invited: This Wednesday Aug 24th at 7:30pm to the final installment of our summer film series, “Religious Hope From the Movies”, at the Avon Theater in downtown Stamford, Connecticut. To whet your appetite our host, Paul Zahl, produced the following blurb:

stars-in-my-crown-movie-poster-1950-1020537482I’ve never met someone who didn’t fall for this movie. We’re talking about a Hollywood Western entitled Stars in My Crown, which was released in 1950 and starred Joel McCrea. Stars in my Crown was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who made many movies you’ve heard of, such as Cat People (1942) and Out of the Past (1947).

Interestingly, Stars in my Crown was Joel McCrea’s favorite movie in which he acted, and Jacques Tourneur’s favorite movie that he directed.

You’ve got to come see this movie with us next Wednesday at the Avon Theater in Stamford.

Why?

Well, it presents a Christian minister who is the essence of grace in practice. Somewhat episodic, Stars in my Crown tells the story of a sincere, delightful, and persistent minister who is faced with problem after problem after problem in the small town where he has planted a church — from the strong resistance of the local doctor, who is a rationalist, to a power play from the town’s “big man” (and also the Klan) against an African-American senior, to an inward assault upon the minister’s own faith and confidence when a typhoid epidemic brings his ministry to a standstill.

Stars in my Crown is one of the few mainstream movies — together with the French movie Leon Morin, Priest (1961), and a small handful of others — that depicts a minister or priest with accuracy, empathy, and sympathy — in short, with Christian understanding.

At 7:30pm PZ will introduce the movie — which we featured, by the way in Mockingbird at the Movies (2015) — and right after the movie’s over, we have a special guest. Our special guest is Peter McCrea, son of Joel McCrea, who will talk about his father’s spirituality, and why it is that Stars in My Crown was his dad’s favorite.

Hope you can come.

Bad Moms, Odd Moms, and Everything In Between

Bad Moms, Odd Moms, and Everything In Between

I’m a mom, so I run primarily on adrenaline and guilt. Throw in some coffee in the AM, some wine in the PM, and you’ve covered the structure of most of my days–but I’ll be damned if anyone but me reduces my life to a cliche. I’ve seen some pretty bad representations of the pulled-in-all-directions nature of motherhood, so when the trailer for Bad Moms popped up on the internet a few months ago, I approached it warily. A major Hollywood studio accurately portraying my constant ambivalence? A script penned by two men (the writers behind The Hangover, no less)?…

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The Blessing of The Cursed Child

The Blessing of The Cursed Child

A quick disclaimer before reading: I will be giving a positive review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I will, in the words that follow, go so far as to recommend Harry Potter fans read it. So there. If you’ve already decided that the seven books will be the only books, that you will never touch the apocryphal supplements that come via screen or stage, I will not call you a pureblooder…that decision, to close eyes, ears and hands to some idea of magical purity–that’s entirely your decision. A rather pretentious one, I’ll grant, but your decision nonetheless. Everyone…

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On This, the Anniversary of the King’s Death

On This, the Anniversary of the King’s Death

“You are either a Beatles person or an Elvis person,” was a phrase I remember hearing for the first time in high school. I was in that golden age of teenage years when music changes the way you see everything and so you are compelled to have very strong opinions about it. For me, the answer has never changed over the years. I am an Elvis person. I would listen to “Love Me Tender” over the chirpy “I Want to Hold Your Hand” any day of the week. But honestly if you try to compare Elvis to anyone else, I…

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“I Must Have Done Something Good”

“I Must Have Done Something Good”

When I was a little girl, our family’s acquisition of a VCR coincided with my older sister’s debut in several small town musical productions. This meant that I could watch Annie, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and The Fiddler on the Roof to my heart’s content, when not elbowing my brother out of the way when he wanted to watch Star Wars. I watched the Fiddler on the Roof on VHS so many times that the tapes warped. We also had vinyl records of musical soundtracks, and hearing a needle hit the vinyl still makes my throat catch before I…

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The Seven Sacraments of Harry Potter

The Seven Sacraments of Harry Potter

In honor of the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, here is another essay from our new anthology of movie essays, Mockingbird at the Movies, available in print here and on Kindle here. 

Before anyone calls bluff on a Harry Potter essay found in a book about movies, let us first consider a fact about the Harry Potter movie franchise. As of July 2015, total movie sales for the eight Harry Potter films had almost surpassed total Harry Potter book sales, a ridiculous feat when you consider how much money that is (over $7 billion). And when you consider…

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Flannel Antinomians and a Satisfaction Guaranteed

Flannel Antinomians and a Satisfaction Guaranteed

If the pattern keeps going, we’re going to need Ethan Richardson to write volume two of This American Gospel. Ira Glass and crew at This American Life have given us some of our favorite stories and sermon illustration over the years, and episode 591’s exploration of LL Bean’s return policy joins the ranks. If you need a frank discussion about the role of antinomians in 2016, look no further.

Check the glossary for a fuller treatment, but the short spiritual definition of an antinomian is someone who, after encountering the Gospel of love and forgiven sins, “goes rogue” with the “un-Christian…

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