Thursday, March 25, 2010

At the Movies...

If you have ever read my blog then you know that I am an unabashed lover of film.  I especially love writing film reviews and encouraging everyone, especially Christians, to engage the movies they watch with a critical mind and to interact with movies as art.  Art speaks and we must converse with it.  I was excited to see that my brothers and sisters at Mars Hill Church Seattle are doing a similar thing.  Check it out here.

Tangent: I would love to see folks redeem the dinner & a movie date.  Not as a first date, mind you, but how cool would it be to catch a flick (maybe a matinee, even) and then discuss it over dinner after?  Anyone, anyone?  C'mon!


Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Documentary Hypothesis": A Spoiler-Free (TM) Review of "The New Sudan" (2010, dir. by Coury Deeb)

The cliche is that truth is stranger than fiction.  Perhaps that explains the proliferation of documentary movies over recent years.  Who would write a script in which a French acrobat tight-rope walks between the World Trade towers?  Who would think to chronicle the story of one man's dances with grizzlies in Alaska?  Who would think to take a small camera into the woods of New England, seeking a legendary witch?  [Wait for it.] Crafty guerrilla films not withstanding, I can't help but postulate that a few things need to be said about the genre of the documentary.

One, it is indeed a genre of film, which is itself, a hybrid artistic medium.  Documentaries are artistic conveyances of an issue - they are not true "news" reporting.  Some strive for objectivity more than others, yes, but in the end, you are seeing this situation through the eyes of the auteur - namely the director.  Having made the movie, the director can precede to screen it at art house theaters or film festivals, thus "raising awareness" for the topic.  In other words, you now know that it exists.  Contra this conceit, Coury Deeb and his small band of filmmakers, have not created a movie to wow you with its artistry or give you a new conversation point at the coffee house, (although it is gorgeous in its artistry, especially William Wallace II's direction of photography, and yes, it can and should spawn many conversations).  They have made a movie that literally demands that you respond.  Even more dangerous - Deeb does not give you his artistic interpretation of the situation in Southern.  In stead, he gives you his passion and beckons you to enter the story in a very real and tangible way.

The New Sudan opens as children's drawings flash across the screen, accentuated by a touch of animation.  They're drawings of violent war, though.  Bombs drop from planes and onto houses.  Soldiers shoot women and children.  These are real drawings, drawn by real Sudanese children, responding to a request to sketch their memories of the war.  From there, stock footage takes us to the real deal, flashing visuals from the bloody 20 plus year civil war between the ruling Islamic government in the north and the mostly Christian residents of the south.  Starting there, we begin to hear from Southern Sudanese leaders themselves, including video footage of the late Dr. John Garang and his surviving widow.  Garang led the Sudan People's Liberation Army during the war, and after striking peace with the north, became 1st Vice President of Sudan, responsible for the south.  Having related the story thus far, Deeb now takes us to meet "normal" citizens, profiling the huge needs regarding clean water, education, health, and the church.

Without a doubt, the movie is unsettling and haunting, which, is a very good thing.  I was surprised to see how little Deeb employed celeb narrator William "Ethan from Lost" Mapother, whose lines are sparse and unobtrusive.  But, the more I reflected on this, the more I realized that by shunning heavy-handed narration, the subjects of the film are able to do ALOT more talking.  A rhythm emerges, as each Sudanese shares about the overwhelming need for education, clean water, etc.  Nadus Films is not telling you what they think about the situation, they are conveying the situation to you.  "One day, we will be a third-world country," shares one Sudanese.  Until then, Sudan sits at least one development rung below the lowest of the low.  Without a doubt, the reality of a maternity ward at one of the country's few hospitals is the most powerful scene of the film.  Accompanied by Alex O'Nan's (of Interstates) dark ambient score, the sequence is harrowing.

As this is a small, independent film, you, my dear reader, have the chance to get in on this action.  There will be two showings next Wednesday at Baxter Avenue Theaters here in Louisville, but, Nadus is hoping to take the show on the road, so if anyone has contacts at a church/college/whatever, hit up Nadus's website:  Perhaps this is a good time to disclaim that Coury Deeb is a friend of mine, so perhaps you might see by positive review as a good back scratching.  Trust me when I say that I don't recommend movies that don't move me in some way.  The New Sudan is a bold conveyance of horror and hope.  See this movie.

Rating: 91 out of 100.

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Friday, March 19, 2010


I flood my bed with tears,
All my fears,
Give me no rest.
My sorrow saps my strength,
For your love's sake,
Snatch me from death!

My tears in your bottle keep!
My God, I weep!
Count each toss and turn in bed,
Lift up my head!

O river, crystal bright,
Your streams make glad
Sweet 'Salem's land.
On either bank grow
Trees of life,
With fruit in kind.

Oh let me take a sip!
Or one drop drip,
Onto my tongue.
What do you say?
This stream swells up,
Inside my broken heart?

My tears in your bottle keep!
My God, I weep!
Count each toss and turn in bed,
Lift up my head!

I long to sit and rest,
In pastures best,
Close by your side,
But yea, this vale of death,
Shall prove still, yet
Your grace and might,

To think, I'll see your face,
Swap faith for eyes,
My hope, realized.
The curse will break,
And we shall reign,
A kingdom without end.

My tears in your bottle keep!
My God, I weep!
Count each toss and turn in bed,
Lift up my head!

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Friday, March 12, 2010

The Gospel Is An Invitation to Community - Come to the Table

I'm working through Matthew for the second time this year.  It's kind of an accidental thing.  I spent the majority of last year in the Old Testament, along with much of my church family as our pastors led us through the book thematically, covering Creation, Sacrifice, Temple, and the Messiah.  Having spent the past two months hitting the primary points of Psalms and Proverbs, they are now going to give the New Testament the same treatment.  Consequently, there is a reading plan to take us through.  I was already feeling a serious deficiency of Vitamin NT so I picked up in Matthew on Jan. 1 and began reading at my leisure.  I'm a big fan of our Sojourn Devotional, though, especially Deacon Michael Morgan's thoughtful, Gospel-centered musings on the texts; so, I figured, "Why not?" Re-reading has a way of bringing out nuances.  I was struck and strengthened by such an aspect in Matthew 8-9.

Jesus enters Capernaum, where a centurion meets him with an appeal.  One of his dear servants is paralyzed and suffering.  Jesus takes the initiative and offers to go to his home and extend what would presumably be a healing touch.  The centurion refuses, though, and states his unworthiness.  However, as a soldier, he understands what authority means.  As a centurion, he is commander over a 100 men, all of whom must obey whatever he tells them.  As a centurion, though, he is subject to the tribunes over him.  If Jesus will but give the word, he too can exercise his authority from a distance, and the servant will be healed.

Jesus marvels at the faith exhibited by this Gentile.  After he had preached the sermon on the mount, the Jewish crowds had been shocked at his authoritative words (7:28-29).  Now, this centurion embraces the authority that only the Messianic Son of David could have.  Jesus exclaims "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.  I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (8:10b-12).  Jesus gives the word and the centurion receives what he had believed possible.

Shortly thereafter, Jesus is passing on through another town and comes upon Matthew, who is collecting taxes for Rome.  Such collaboration was reprehensible to the Jews, but Jesus reaches out to this man on the fringe of society.  "Follow me," he says.  Matthew gets up and leaves his job (and life) behind, following Jesus.  He throws a banquet for his new rabbi and he invites his friends - fellow tax collectors and assorted "sinners."  (A broad category, use your imagination.)  With these folks, who had previously been so far from God,  Jesus sits and eats.  He reclines at table with them.  Reclining at table was the cultural form of banqueting around the table - lying on a couch, torso towards the table.

What a picture of salvation and heaven!  Eating a meal with someone is a tender act of community.  Jesus does not just come to complete a transaction - picking up the tab for our sins, if you will.  He comes so that many might join him at the table in fellowship, intimacy, and community.  It's not just for the righteous forbearers like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, (who were not actually all that righteous - see Rom. 4:1-8, Jos. 24:2-3), it's for me, it's for you, it's for anyone who has no claim on salvation in Christ.

"There remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called 'the uncircumcision' by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands - remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope  and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. ... For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no loner strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints members of the household of God." (Eph. 2:11-13, 18-19)

What a joy this is!  We're not just made right -  we are loved and we are family.  At the end of all things, we shall rest at the table with all of God's people, rejoicing and communing, for our God is good and has reconciled us to himself.  Let us proclaim this message to our friends and neighbors who do not know Christ.  The Gospel is about their eternal joy and eternal fellowship.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not as the World

I do not mourn has the world mourns.  I have hope in Jesus Christ.  Come quickly, Lord.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Details at Eleven

Good news: I'm alive.  The Lord has been kind in bringing healing to my body.  I feel like I've been walking around at 95-100% capacity these past few days and am quite thankful.  I even got my money back from the course!

The bad news: The American education system seems to be failing faster than an electric fence in Jurassic Park.  I know this as I have re-entered the world of education, this time as a Garrett Fellow (sort of a grading-heavy academic assistant) to Dr. Bruce Carlton at Boyce College.  Grading papers for his intro classes has been a hoot.  It's a good sign, after all, when the first paper begins with a sentence which is not a sentence but in fact, is a dependent clause.  I have all the more sympathy for my brothers and sisters who are attempting to do some good as teachers.  Teach these kids to write!  

That said, that's all the time I have for this installation of the eleven o'clock news.  Now that Jay Leno has taken back over at the helm of the Titanic, I have even less reason to stay up late. If you're wanting to stay up, though, check out one of my new favorite blogs.  The name says it all - click the link to visit  Do it now.