Archives For Art and Theology

Alongside some of the recent words from Denzel Washington, the unapologetic resilience of Candace Cameron-Bure, Patricia Heaton, Kevin Sorbo, and even Mark Wahlberg, it’s comforting to know that not all of Hollywood is lost in a sea of ideological serfdom, sensuality, greed and opportunism.

Here’s a brief transcript of an excerpt from his speech given to The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (F.O.C.U.S), on Jan. 5th 2018.

Jim Caviezel ‘s speeches are usually deep. He’s well prepared and speaks with conviction. His talk here is no different, and it shows that Caviezel needs to step up and speak more often.

“After shooting Monte Cristo I inexplicably get a call from Mel Gibson. My agent didn’t call. My manager didn’t call. I didn’t know Mel Gibson. I wasn’t politicking for the role because nobody knew it was happening. Gibson wanted me to play Jesus Christ. He wants the guy with the initials of JC, who just happens to be 33 years of age, to play Jesus Christ. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so.
Is your life a coincidence or is it all just a chance? Some of you may be miserable right now, confused, uncertain of the future, hurting. This is not the time to back off; or to give in. When I was up there on the cross, I learned that in his suffering was our Redemption. Remember the servant is no greater than the master. Each of us must carry our own cross.
There is a price for our faith, for our freedoms. I have been literally scourged. Hit by the whips. Crucified, struck by lightning; yes, open-heart surgery – that’s what happens after five and a half months of hypothermia. One day, during this shoot, my arm was wedged under that heavy beam, when someone yanked it in the other direction. My muscles wrenched, my shoulder separated, I fell to the ground.
Dropped my head into the sand, this take now remains in the movie. In the later part of the film, Jesus experiences a shoulder separation, well I now know what that felt like. Every day I had to pick up that thing. It was like a penance. It ripped into my shoulder, tearing up my flesh, and with each passing hour, it got heavier. Had this been shot in a studio, you never would have seen that performance. The suffering made my performance; just as it makes our lives.
Some of us now (and you know them) embrace a fake Christianity, where it’s all happy talk. I call it happy Jesus and glory. Guys, there was a lot of pain and suffering before the resurrection. Your path will be no different, so embrace your cross and race toward your goal.
I want you to go out into this pagan world. I want you to have the courage to step into this pagan world, and shamelessly express your faith in public. The world needs proud warriors, animated by their faith. Warriors like Saint Paul and St. Luke, who risked their names, their reputations, to take their faith, their love for Jesus, into the world. God is calling each one of us; each one of you to do great things, but how often we failed to respond; dismissing it as some mental blurp.
It is time for our generation now, to accept that call. The call of God urging all of us to give ourselves entirely to him, to see that gentle hand, guiding your path, but you first make must make the commitment, to start praying, to fast, to meditate on the Holy Scriptures, and to take the holy sacraments seriously; for we are a culture now in decline; a people in danger of succumbing to our excesses.
Our whole world is entrenched in sin and they’re in the quiets our hearts, God is calling out to us, each one of us, to give ourselves entirely to him, and how often we ignore him; ignore that sweet call.
The great saint of Auschwitz St. Maximilian Kolbe said that, “indifference is the greatest sin of the 20th century”. Well, my brothers and sisters, it is the greatest sin of the 21st century as well.
We must shake off this indifference! This destructive tolerance of evil, only our faith in the wisdom of Christ can save us, but it requires warriors ready to risk their reputations, their names, even our very lives, to stand for the truth.
Set yourselves apart from this corrupt generation. Be saints. You weren’t made to fit in. You were born to stand out. For in our country now we are only too happy to go with the flow. We have a shrine to freedom now where all choices are equal, no matter what the consequences are. Do you honestly think this is true freedom?
Pope John Paul the great said, “Democracy cannot be sustained, without a shared commitment to certain moral truths about the human person in the human community”.
The basic question before a Democratic Society is this: how ought we to live together? Seeking an answer to this question: can society exclude moral truth and moral reasoning?
Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom exists, not to do what you like, but having the right to do what you ought. That is the freedom that I wish for you. Freedom from sin, freedom from your weaknesses; freedom from this slavery that sin makes out of all of us, that is the freedom that is worth dying for.”
(Timestamp: 5:50 – 13:31)

 

 

Broken trails and winded sails.

Sold for a pittance;

Auditioning for your pity.

Hearts to open,

White paper to be wrote upon,

Black ink and three red soaked nails.

Dirt and dust.

Words covered in rust.

The us in trust.

Negotiate whimsical notions of melancholy;

Walk alongside this precipice.

Fasten all hope.

Anchor it.

Take hold, grab onto my wrists.

Don’t abandon the shattered heart,

Before grace rescues it completely from the abyss.

(RL2018)

The film, ‘Reign Over Me’ (2007), written and directed by Mike Binder, is, without a doubt Adam Sandler’s best movie to date. I’ve seen most of his films, the most recent being ‘Sandy Wexler’ (2017) and ‘The Week Of…‘ (2018). By comparison the only other films that might come close are, ‘The Wedding Singer‘ (1998), his remake of ‘Mr. Deeds‘ (2002), ‘Bedtime Stories‘ (2008) and ‘Pixels‘ (2015); but even those don’t achieve what ‘Reign Over Me’ does, or go where it goes.

Sandler’s character, Charlie Fineman, is a widower who looks a lot like Bob Dylan in his early days. Fineman is a dentist by trade, and an apartment dwelling hermit, living in isolation within New York City, who suffers from post-traumatic stress and depression. Sandler’s signature, unpredictable outbursts, are reminiscent of  ‘Happy Gilmore‘ and ‘Anger Management’, though this behavioural similarity exists, it fits perfectly with the circumstances, making Sandler’s portrayal of the grief-stricken Fineman, not only believable, but in my opinion, Oscar worthy.

At the centre of the story-line line are events that took place during September 11, 2001.The film approaches this subject with sensitivity. Avoiding the politics the screenwriters look past conspiracy theories, however, what is glaringly absent is any discussion about Islamism or Islamic terrorism. In a lot of ways this is assumed.

On balance, the film does dedicate a scene to some news articles, albeit ones that are discussing America’s response. I have no real issue with this, for the following reason: The screenwriters are respecting their audience by not spelling out the obvious. I have huge respect for directors and writers who do this. Within the context of ‘Reign Over Me‘, the strategy is understandable. It keeps the focus of the audience on Charlie Fineman’s journey.

In addition to Sandler’s brilliant portrayal of a forgotten victim of September 11, both Don Cheadle (of Hotel Rwanda fame) and Liv Tyler, add their own style and bring to the film a warmth, juxtaposed with contrasts. Cheadle is Sandler’s college room-mate; also a dentist and extremely successful in his own right. Cheadle’s character (Alan Johnson) is aware of Fineman’s tragic past, but had lost contact with him over the years. Johnson has his own issues, which all start to come to bare, after randomly crossing paths with Fineman in the street. Johnson seeks to reconnect with Fineman.

Not completely aware of Fineman’s suffering, Johnson quickly recognises the pain his friend is suffering with. He begins to try to help Fineman. This creates tension between Johnson and his wife, and a series of misunderstandings with an ever suspicious Fineman.

Fineman wants no help, only later choosing to see Johnson’s long-term friend and pyschologist, Angela Oakhurst (played by Liv Tyler). Oakhurst works to bring Fineman to a place where he can address the past and his own brokenness, in his own time. Cheadle’s performance keeps the film moving along, perfectly complementing Sandler’s. Liv Tyler compliments Cheadle. The perfect casting circle is made complete when Donald Sutherland turns up in the role of Judge Rains.

The film comes to a close with Fineman’s in-laws trying to speak with him. Fineman breaks downs, becomes violent, and as a result is held in custody for psychological evaluation. As Rains becomes aware of Fineman’s emotional and psychological state, he sees straight through the opportunistic lawyer representing Fineman’s in-laws. With Solomon-esk wisdom Rains outmanoeuvres the lawyer, making it clear that what he has in Fineman is a forgotten victim of September 11, 2001, who deserves a chance to be heard, helped and respected.

Reign Over Me‘, does have some unnecessary language and some interesting sub plots. Those side plots wind up coming together in the end. Though they seem to detract from the film at first, as the story progress, the genius of their inclusion in the film  becomes clear. The sub plots are used to fortify the audiences cheering in the end, through their desire to see Fineman heal and overcome the obstacles forced upon him.

The film isn’t complete without the impressive soundtrack, of which the stand out song is Eddie Vedder’s cover of The Who’s, ‘Love, Reign O’er Me‘ and The Fray’s, ‘How to Save a Life’.  The live and studio versions included; Vedder’s performance, as far as I have heard, is his best vocal work in a song.

As far as art and theology goes, ‘Reign Over Me’ is rich in metaphor. What I see in ‘Reign Over Me‘ is God’s redemptive love – displayed in the film by Cheadle, Tyler and Sutherland’s characters. They fight for Fineman, yet still place an emphasis on him taking responsibility for his own actions. Fineman was empowered, but he still had to decide to respond to the love and help (salvation – grace) he was given.

Since the theme of God’s redemptive love is part of a lot of current discussion, the metaphors are worth noting. The freedom we find in God’s redemptive love is not a “freedom” that is said to be found in human love. For Fineman, human love was not to be trusted. Such love is at best optimism, at worst morbid existential navel gazing and/or veiled self-centred ambition. God’s love draws us out of ourselves in the form of His gracious Word spoken to humanity, which is both invitation and command (Jesus Christ and Covenant). We are drawn out of ourselves to be free for God and our neighbour. Such freedom comes with limitations.

I seem to be on a roll with recommending and reviewing art that, to me, is written, for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. ‘Reign Over Me‘, in my opinion, fits this category like no other film I’ve seen.  It hits at our grief, the lies we tell ourselves and the traps we fall into because we fall under the radar of complacent and dismissive family members, who, in overlooking the complexities of our brokenness, can seem to demand more than we are ready to give; simply because we don’t know how, or don’t yet have the strength to give it. ‘Reign Over Me‘ is an honest prayer-filled, heart-wrenching scream that meets with what Lacey Strum wrote, when summing up her reasons for screaming in songs:

‘Like ‘emotional vomit’, lyrics about ‘horrible abuse, if sung honestly, must be screamed…Screaming was my natural response to injustice… When I started writing music with screaming in it, the point was to hit someone back… After God rescued me, however, I found a purpose for my screaming: to speak truth over the lies in people’s hearts. Lies like the ones I believed about myself when I wanted to die.’ – (Lacey Sturm, 2014 The Reason, pp.77-82)

Let there be light. Inhaled grace ignites.

 


Disclaimer:

I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

Twenty years ago Michael W. Smith released (what I regard to be) his best album. Before the release of Live the Life, if I’d have been asked about MWS, I would have fired back with mockery. I didn’t give him the credit that he deserved.

I never liked ‘Friends[i]’, and outside the song ’Breakdown[ii]’ I couldn’t have told you (off by heart) a whole lot about any of his albums prior to 1995.For me, his music was dated, far too “early 90’s Christian”, and too in line with mainstream C.C.M (Christian Contemporary Music).

In 1998 this all changed. ‘Live the Life’ entered the MWS discography. While retaining Smith’s reliance on keyboards, keys don’t feature in every song. Each song on ‘Live the life’ is unique.

The set list is carefully ordered. The artwork design is free from cliché colours and formatting. It’s sober, fresh, somewhat steam-punk inspired and is absent of the 1980’s pop gloss.

As a work of art and theology, ‘Live the Life’, gave MWS a seat at the table of the mid to late ‘90s Jesus music revival. Easily putting him in the same line-up as (post-Jesus Freak) D.C Talk, Third Day, Newsboys, and Jars of Clay.

Dealing with loss and tragedy permeates ‘Live the Life’. ‘Hello, Goodbye’ (T12) was written for friends who lost their new born child, Noah. The‘Song for Rich’ (T11) was an instrumental written in response to the tragic passing of Rich Mullins; and ‘In My Arms Again’ (T10) was written for the movie Titanic.

The remaining songs encourage faith in the midst of doubt, despair and brokenness. ‘Missing Person’ (T 1) and ‘Don’t Give Up’ (T6), speaks to the emptiness of routine; numbness in the face of the mundane. ‘Love me Good’ (T2), ‘Never Been Unloved’ (T4) and ‘I Know Your Name’ (T8) speak about fear, rejection and the danger of basing the truth of Christianity on feelings or achievements, instead of God’s love. ‘Matter of time’ (T9) celebrates the hope of reunion. ‘Let me Show you the Way’ (T7) and ‘Live the Life’ (T3) speak of inviting God into our decisions; that the Christian faith is to be lived, not left on a shelf – reminiscent of Swiss theologian, Karl Barth’s statement that ‘grace must be lived out, or it is not grace’[iii].

Live the Life’ was not a creative safe space, it was a sigh offered up as both prayer and witness. The album illustrates what it means to pray through existential cracks that appear in the armour of human pretence.

Breaking the chains of super-spiritual and superficial, positive-optimism, Smith carried us along as he broke free from his CCM roots, reached through the fog of conformity, doubt and loss; past Christian culture, and entered into the gutsy, joy drenched glory of the redemptive light of Christ.

Few could legitimately argue that ‘Live the Life’ was not a watershed moment for Michael W. Smith. Most albums since 1998, share a similar gravitas, they show a breakaway artist, who, by the grace of God had his faith and art reinvent him. Smith hasn’t had to fade from the limelight quietly, lean on gimmicks or acquire cheap tunes to prove that he is what he’s always been: a talented musician with an authentic heart for Jesus Christ.

Without ‘Live the Life’, the same depth of presence, which is found in all the albums which descend from it, wouldn’t exist. ‘Live the Life’ testifies not just to Smith’s renewed commitment to Christ in the midst of darkness, but to the instructive love of God, free from the constrictive routine of empty ritual.

Live the Life’ is written for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. Twenty years on, I still cannot walk away from this album, without being challenged, or moved by it.

‘It is asked, whether anyone can be a servant of Christ, that has not been tried with so many evils, perils, and vexations? I answer, that all these things are not indispensably required, but where these things are seen, there is, undoubtedly, a greater and more illustrious testimony afforded. That man, therefore, who is signalised by so many marks of distinction, will not despise those who are less illustrious, and less thoroughly tried, nor will he on that account be elated with pride; but still, whenever there is occasion for it, will be prepared, after Paul’s example, to exult with a holy triumph, in opposition to pretenders, provided he has an eye to Christ, not to himself. For the main thing is – that we serve Christ with a pure conscience. All others things are, as it were, additional.’
(John Calvin)[iv]

de Vivre Selon Dieu.


References:

[i] I still don’t.

[ii] From his 1995 album, ‘I’ll Lead You Home’.

[iii] CD. 2/2 p.695

[iv] Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:25

Notes from my recent brief exegetical summary of 2 Corinthians 1:1-11. May it be of some encouragement for you today:

Not all affliction is of God, but God, in His freedom, through His love, works His salvation out through all affliction; in such a way as to remind us that we are to rely on Him. 

By affliction what is meant is, burden, trouble, pressure, oppression. Also connected here is the word suffering; pathayma. Pathayma [i] means feeling, inward torment, or to be affected, or vexed. In verse 10, Paul infers pathayma to mean ‘deadly peril’, ‘ utterly burdened beyond Timothy and his own strength’, ‘despairing of life itself, feeling that he was faced with a death sentence’ (vv. 8 & 9).

In this affliction God brought paraklesis: comfort; consolation, solace, nearness, stirring motivation, encouragement, (loosely: teaching, to urge on). My favourites from this list are nearness and consolation. God ‘draws near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit’ (Psalm 34:18).

How does He does this? In Jesus Christ, through paraklesis.

The Greek word paraklesis is also linked with the Holy Spirit [paraklete] . What we can then say is that God brings Himself into the trouble, oppression and works His salvation out through it. Comfort does not translate to mean a life of wealth, ease and prosperity. It means that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ (Psalm, 46:1, ESV)

God ‘rules the raging of the sea; when it’s waves rise, He stills them. He crushed Egypt (Rahab) like a carcass; scattered His enemies with His mighty arm.’ (Psalm 89:9-10, ESV)

According to Romans 8:26-28 ‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness.The Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God  all things work together for good, for those who are called [those in Christ Jesus] according to His purpose.’

Likewise, in 2 Corinthians 1:1-11, the most unlikely of all Apostles, Paul, once again testifies to the decisive willingness, presence and power of God:

‘He delivered us…from deadly peril; He will deliver us…; He will deliver us again…(v.10)

‘On Him we have set our hope!’.

On Who is it that we set our hope? On Who is it that we rely upon?

‘On God who raises the dead (v.9); is ‘the Father of mercies’; ‘Father of Jesus Christ’; and ‘God of all comfort/consolation’ (v.3)


Notes:

[i] Goodrick. E.W & Kohlenberger III, J.R 1990 NIV Strongs’s Exhaustive Concordance Zondervan Publishers

Artwork by John Martin, 1840. ‘The Destruction of Tyre‘, which is said to have been destroyed by Alexander the Great and be part of biblical prophecy.

Come Alive‘ by the Foo Fighters is over ten years old, yet it remains an example of Christ alive in contemporary culture.

“…Nothing more to give I can finally live
Come alive
Your life into me I can finally breathe
Come alive
I lay there in the dark
Open my eyes

You saved me the day that you came alive.”

(Foo Fighters, 2007)

‘Come Alive’ was part of the 2007, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace album.

Viewed through the eyes of a child, teenager, husband or wife the words could easily reflect the sentiment of gratitude for an abusive/self-abusive person who has changed and is in the process of recovery.

The repetitive  “come alive” is about the solemn gratitude that comes from an awakening. Within it is the mixture of a cautious relief, recognition and acknowledgement that when “good turns to bad”, “good can come from bad”. Accompanying this theme of thankfulness is the apparent rescue, and the author’s proclamation that rescue from the abyss is possible.

This isn’t an optimist speaking about a positivism detached from reality. ‘Come Alive’ is a proclamation and an invitation. Sentences like, “you saved me the day you came alive” could be taken to be a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection as the point of our conversion – our being saved;the reconciliation with God made possible by the free decision of God to dwell among us, showing us our freedom to reject or accept that state of reconciliation.

The message speaks of promise for the broken, from the broken, to the broken.The message speaks to the recovering and those still stuck in a cycle of abuse, reminding them that Inhaled Grace Ignites.

The song starts with clear lines of remorse, empathy and remembrance.

“Seems like only yesterday
Life belonged to runaways
Nothing here to see,
No looking back

Every sound monotone
Every color monocrome
Life begin to fade into the black
Such a simple animal
Steralized with alcohol I could hardly feel me anymore

Desperate, meaningless
All filled up with emptiness
Felt like everything was said and done I lay there in the dark,
I close my eyes…”

From a theological  perspective, the voice of proclamation and victory (one I would confidently say is empowered by the Holy Spirit) is to be heard moving out from behind the pain, and the silent groans which rest in what the author is reflecting on.

This is Jesus Christ alive in contemporary culture.

Within the song there is an active, raw acknowledgement of grace, and the gratitude given within it is a recognition of an awakening, a personal apocalypse, now very real, and very present to the author.

Dave Grohl confirms as much, stating that ‘Come Alive’ is ‘about reawakening after becoming a father. Anyone who’s a father understands how the world becomes a different place when your child is born. I just feel and see everything differently now.’ (Fooarchive)

Although the song is in the end about fatherhood.The overall weight, tone and presence of the song, even with its lack of a clear object, is worship.

It’s the intensity of these kinds of songs, which are created outside the ”Contemporary Christian Music Machine”, that make statements like the made by Kevin Davis, all the more intriguing:

“art and artists are vital for teaching us how to live. And, therefore, art is part of the gospel, whether or not the artist is fully aware.”  (Kevin Davis, ‘The Grace of Holly Williams‘) 

Jesus is Victor.

‘How precious is your steadfast love O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Oh continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.’  (Psalm 36:7-11, ESV)

 

 


(Updated from a post originally published on 5th May 2014)

The Flower Of The Holy Night

December 16, 2017 — 2 Comments

December 12 is National Poinsettia Day in the United States.

Running with a few ideas for the remaining weeks of term 4, I settled on one which contributed to our encounters with cultures different to our own.

Combining craft, theology and horticulture, we looked at, painted, cut and pasted together the Poinsettia; otherwise known as the ‘Mexican Fire plant’ or the ‘Flower of the Holy Night’.

Poinsettia Collage 1_0

The resources included ‘Christmas around the World Scrapbook {Supplement}’ from Sarah Cooley, a TpT contributor, and a video presentation of Tomie dePaola’s book,  The Legend of the Poinsettia’. (Both worth checking out).

I didn’t have the room to advance beyond this activity supplement and launch into the scrapbook. I was, however, able to merge the activity into a hands-on discussion surrounding the history, theology and tradition.

Poinsettia Collage 1_solo 1

According to the official website for Poinsettia Day[i], the plant was renamed after American Statesman and botanist, Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851), who brought the ‘red-leafed plant into the United States’[ii] from Mexico.

‘Mexico’s relationship to the plant begins with The Aztecs, who called the plant “Cuitlaxochitl” meaning “star flower” and used it to produce a red dye. The sap was also used to control fevers. Mexico’s use of the plant to celebrate Christmas dates back to the 17th century.’ (Source)

Mexican tradition speaks about how the Poinsettia came to be an important part of Christmas celebrations there.

‘The flower connects to the legend of a young girl, distraught about not having anything with which to honour the Baby Jesus in a Christmas procession. An angel tells her that any gift given with love is a wonderful gift. Later the weeds she gathers by the roadside to place around the manger miraculously transform into the beautiful red star flower we think of as Poinsettia.’ (Source)

The Smithsonian Institute is also loosely connected to the Poinsettia with Joel Poinsett being a founding member of its progenitor, ‘The National Institute for the Promotion of Science’. An organisation later renamed the Smithsonian after James Smithson, its primary benefactor. ’[iii]

Should you receive or see a Poinsettia this Christmas, its history and tradition are good conversation starters.

As far as facilitating a homeschool lesson that includes horticulture, history, tradition and theology. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Related reading:

Poinsettia care tips


References (not otherwise linked)

[i] http://www.poinsettiaday.com/

[ii] Smithsonian Institute, A Smithsonian Holiday Story: Joel Poinsett and the Poinsettia sourced 13th December 2014

[iii] Ibid.

This post was originally posted on the 13th December 2014.