Archive for the ‘Faith and Cinema 2010s’ Category

First Reformed (2018)   2 comments

Above:  The Blu-Ray Cover for First Reformed

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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FIRST REFORMED (2018)

Starring

Ethan Hawke as the Reverend Ernst Toller

Amanda Seyfried as Mary Mensana

Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles as the Reverend Joel Jeffers

Michal Gaston as Ed Balq

Written and Directed by Paul Schrader

Rated R for some violent images

One hour and fifty-three minutes long

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The desire to pray itself is a type of prayer. How often we ask for genuine experience when all we really want is emotion.

–Ernst Toller, in First Reformed

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How easily they talk about prayer, those who have never really prayed.

So writes the Reverend Ernst Toller of those, such as some Evangelical teenagers, believers in the heresy that is Prosperity Theology, in First Reformed.  One of those adolescents says,

If happiness came in pill size, it would have JC stamped on it.

Toller, in contrast, writes in his journal,

These thoughts and recollections are not so different from those I confide to God every morning. When it is possible. When He is listening. This journal is a form of speaking, of communication from one to the other. A communication which can be achieved simply and in repose without prostration or abnegation. It is a form of prayer.

He understands what St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul.  The teenager with the JC happy pills has no clue regarding spiritual maturity.

First Reformed is a staggering, thought-provoking, spiritually honest and profound work.  The movie, set in Snowbridge, New York, outside Albany, is about the spiritual struggles of Ernst Toller, a former U.S. Army chaplain.  He is 46 years old, divorced, guilt-ridden, depressed, and physically ill.  He drinks too much.  Toller blames himself for the death of his son, a casualty of the Second Iraq War; the father, following the family tradition, encouraged the son to join the military.  Toller, unwilling and unable to justify that war morally, feels very guilty for the death of his son.  The suicide of a parishioner’s husband, an environmental terrorist, sends Toller down a path potentially destructive of more than just himself.  Given that Schrader wrote both this movie and Taxi Driver (1976), the spiritual kinship of Toller and Travis Bickle is obvious.

Toller is the pastor of the First Reformed Church, a 250-year-old congregation that functions more as a tourist trap than as a church.  He has few parishioners.  First Reformed Church is a chapel of Abundant Life Church in Christ and Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational, “Spirit-filled” megachurch in town.  Joel Jeffers, the head pastor at Abundant Life, is at least as morally ambiguous as Toller, who contemplates using a suicide vest.  Whereas Toller understands the Christian obligation of environmental stewardship, Jeffers ignores the issue.  After all, the generous contributions of Ed Balq, a local industrialist and a major polluter, finance Abundant Life’s media programs and much of the community outreach.  Furthermore, Balq is paying for the repair of the organ at First Reformed Church and the reconsecration of the congregation on the occasion of its anniversary.    Jeffers does, however, care about Tollers and want him to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally well.

A pastor needs a pastor,

Jeffers advises Toller.  Furthermore, according to Jeffers, Toller is always in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The reaches its climax in an ambiguous scene, the meaning of which the director’s commentary does not explain clearly.  Schrader wants to avoid easy answers, as do the two reverends in the movie.  I still do not know of Toller emerged from his Dark Night of the Soul, or even if he was alive when the end credits rolled.  I have an idea, but no certainty.

First Reformed is a movie that shuns certainty.  Much of the best art does.  Uncertainty invites the viewer of the art to interact with that art.  My advice is not to watch First Reformed immediately before going to bed, for, if one does, one’s mind will be busy trying to make sense of the film when one should be sleeping.

The cast is excellent.  Amanda Seyfried, actually pregnant while portraying a pregnant widow, plays the character with whom Toller connects more than any other.  If anybody can lead Toller out of the Dark Night of the Soul, she can.  Ethan Hawke plays a depressive very well.  He is believable in his portrayal of a spiritually disturbed minister.  Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles proves that Joss Whedon is correct; comedians are fine dramatic actors because comedy is more difficult that drama.  Kyles portrays Jeffers as a believable, generally sympathetic character.  The only unambiguous character is Ed Balq, who professes Christianity while destroying the environment and dismissing criticisms as unfounded and politically motivated.  Michael Gaston plays him believably, without the figurative mustache-twirling.

I do have one minor criticism regarding an error.  Why are members of a Dutch Reformed church using Episcopal hymnals?  The answer, of course, is that the structure labeled “First Reformed Church” in the movie is actually that of an Episcopal congregation.  The Prayer Books are out of sight, to present the illusion that the building is for a Calvinist church, albeit one with a central altar and a pulpit on the right.

If you, O reader, seek to watch a spiritual movie that will force you to think for yourself and ponder ambiguities of faith, First Reformed is a movie to schedule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 21, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MIROCLES OF MILAN AND EPIPHANIUS OF PAVIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ALBAN ROE AND THOMAS REYNOLDS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GASPAR DEL BUFALO, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN YI YON-ON, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN KOREA

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The script is here.

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Oh Fudge! Regarding Coarseness in the Mainstream of Society   Leave a comment

pdvd_000

Above:  Ralphie and a Bar of Lifebuoy Soap, from A Christmas Story (1983)

Screen Capture Taken by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The tongue is a flame too.  Among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a whole wicked world:  it infects the whole body; catching fire itself from hell, it sets fire to the whole wheel of creation.

–James 3:6, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Coarseness in society is as old as society.  All one has to do to document this fact is to read history, regardless of one’s society or nation-state.

In 2009 the Wisconsin Tourism Federation, founded in 1979, announced that it was changing its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin, due to many bloggers and online critics behaving as they did because of the initials “WTF.”  The expression for which those letters stand has existed since at least 1985 and become increasingly commonplace via changes in technology.

I have noticed increasingly frequent coarseness in the mainstream of my society in the United States of America.  For years I have become offended at needless profanity in movies, podcasts, YouTube videos, and Facebook memes.  I recognized degrees of curse words.  “Hot damn,” for example, is an expression that does not bother me.  Likewise, Rhett Butler not giving a damn in Gone With the Wind (1939) carries the appropriate weight in that scene.  If he did not give a darn or simply did not care, that would carry too little weight.  Likewise, I can think of several things he might not have given that would have ruined the scene by being needlessly profane.  Recently, while watching X-Men:  Apocalypse (2016), I noticed young Magneto’s F-bomb when he met Apocalypse.  That word did nothing to improve the scene and actually detracted from it.  Yet, at the end of The Front (1976), when Howard Prince, the bookie who fronted for blacklisted screenwriters in the 1950s, tells a Congressional committee to do something physically impossible, that language fits the context nicely.  Those witch hunters, who trampled upon civil liberties, deserved such contempt.

My social ethics, being rooted in the Old and New Testaments, emphasize building up the common good.  I do not seek a society in which all content is G-rated, but I do desire a society in which profanity is scarce.  This is a matter of a revolution of moral values, of people thinking about others more often.

Furthermore, needlessly profanity indicates linguistic laziness.  One can make potent points using words repeatable in polite society. Doing so might even be eloquent.  Among my favorite movies is The Brothers O’Toole (1973), an underrated gem.  In one scene Michael O’Toole, portrayed by the great John Astin, wins a cussing contest he never entered.  He wins without using one curse word:

I have, in my time, visited three political conventions, four sessions of congress, and two homes for the criminally insane. I have known army generals, steam doctors, vegetarians, prohibitionists, and a female suffragette. But never, even in an Orangeman’s Day parade, have I seen such pure and stainless brainlessness as I now behold in you. The Almighty, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, has given the worm enough sense to turn with, and the barnacle can grasp whatever happens to be standing by. But you are equipped with a mental capacity smaller than you were born with. Here we are, benighted in the middle of a nowhere named Molly-Be-Damn – a dreary little rookery, Timothy, a squalid sty, a festering pustule on the face of the western slope. Bless the town and bless the people! Look at them – the rabble of this cantankerous community! Knaves and fools, louts and lardheads, the least of all God’s creatures, without enough push to pick the fleas off each other, abiding in putrefaction and inertia, curled up comfy in it like hogs in a mud hole! And while I, of all people, fret and sweat for a way to pull these Simple Simons out of the bog, you stand around making flatulent noises for the titillation of the vulgar mob. And while he’s bubbling himself, what are you doing, you pusillanimous pack of popcorn pickers? You clattered clutch of clucks? The town dilapidating around you, coasting downhill in a handcart to Hell while you stand about gaping for flies and going patty-cake with your hands!…All right, all right, all right! Fine! Keep it, and treasure it the way it is! For when all this trash has collapsed into one pile, and the howling wilderness has claimed its own again, I want you hicks to be happy, belching and spitting, laughing and singing, swinging from tree to tree, with your friend Soapy Sam here, the Uriah Heep of the hookworm belt, standing around below waiting to steal anything that falls to the ground. If a nut should drop and fall – leave it lying there. It’s probably my little brother Timothy.

That is much better than swearing frequently and publicly, is it not?

The coarsening of the mainstream of any society is detrimental to that society.  It lowers the bar and harms the morals of people.  This coarsening degrades the sense of public and private decency.  This is reversible, fortunately.  After all, society is people.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part I   1 comment

True Grit

Above:  Mattie Ross on Blackie, Her Fine Horse, in True Grit (2010)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD and a legal DVD

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming give to all the world knowledge of your salvation;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19

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The Assigned Readings:

Malachi 3:5-12 (Thursday)

Malachi 3:13-18 (Friday)

Malachi 3:19-24/4:1-6 (Saturday)

Luke 1:68-79 (All Days)

Philippians 1:12-18a (Thursday)

Philippians 1:18b-26 (Friday)

Luke 9:1-6 (Saturday)

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NOTE REGARDING VERSIFICATION:

Malachi 4:1-6 in Protestant Bibles = Malachi 3:19-24 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles.

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Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.  The author of all things watches over me, and I have a fine horse.

–Mattie Ross in True Grit (2010)

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A person who remembers the ending of that movie should understand that Mattie’s fine horse did not prevent her from losing part of one arm.  One might also recognize the irony of the last sentence.

The author of all things watches over me

seems to indicate trust in God, but

I have a fine horse

constitutes a contradictory thought.

The instructions of Jesus to his twelve Apostles emphasize complete dependence on God, who provides via people much of the time.  In Mark 6:8 each man may carry a staff, but Matthew 10:10 and Luke 9:3 forbid that item.  The Apostles’ mission was an urgent one for which packing lightly and depending upon the hospitality of strangers were essential.  Such light packing also emphasized solidarity with the poor, who were most likely to be the ones extending hospitality, given the fact that they lived on the edges of towns.  The Apostles were to announce the Kingdom of God, not to press the issue where they were unwelcome.

The ethic of trusting God, especially during difficult times, exists in the readings from Malachi and Philippians.  Locusts (in Malachi) and incarceration (in Philippians) were the background hardships.  Yet trust in the generosity of God, the prophet wrote.  St. Paul the Apostle noted that his period of incarceration (wherever and whenever it was; scholars debate that point) aided the spread the gospel of Jesus.

Zechariah prophesied that his son, St. John the Baptist, would be the forerunner of the Messiah.  Both John and Jesus suffered and died at the hands of authorities, which we remember in their context.  Officialdom was powerless to prevent the spread of the good news of Jesus in those cases and in the case of Paul.  Mortal means can prove useful, but they pass away in time.  The faithfulness and generosity of God, however, are everlasting.  To live confidently in the latter is a wise course of action.

Of all the illusions to abandon, one of the most difficult to leave behind is the idea that one must be in control.  The illusion of control might boost one’s self-esteem, but so what?  Control remains an illusion.  On the other hand, recognizing that God is in control is liberating.  It frees one up to live as one ought to live–

in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ

–according to Philippians 1:27b (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989).

I know this struggle well.  The idol of the illusion of control was precious to me.  Then circumstances forced me to learn the reality of my powerlessness and to trust God, for I had no feasible alternative.  Sometimes dire events prove to be necessary for spiritual awakening to occur.

God has given each of us important tasks to complete.  May we lay aside all illusions and other incumbrances, pack lightly, and labor faithfully to the glory of God and for the benefit of those to whom God sends us and to those whom God sends to us.  May we trust in the faithfulness and generosity of God, not in ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 11, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THAUMATURGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NEOCAESAREA; AND SAINT ALEXANDER OF COMANA “THE CHARCOAL BURNER,” ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR AND BISHOP OF COMANA, PONTUS

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS MONTAGUE TOPLADY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLARE OF ASSISI, FOUNDER OF THE POOR CLARES

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS LOY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; AND CONRAD HERMANN LOUIS SCHUETTE, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Overnighters (2014)   1 comment

Overnighters 02

Above:  The Title Card of The Overnighters

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

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THE OVERNIGHTERS (2014)

Directed by Jesse Moss

Rated PG-13

1 Hour, 42 Minutes

The Overnighters is a powerful documentary which reminds me of George Carlin‘s critique of the American Dream:  we call it that because we must be asleep to believe it.  The setting is Williston, North Dakota, an oil boomtown which the film presents as a place dominated by residents fearful of job seekers moving into the community.  The rapid change includes the presence of more job seekers (including desperate men with criminal records) than jobs.  Where will they sleep until they find work and housing?  And what, if anything, should the city government do to extend hospitality to them or to make the town a less inviting place?

The biblical commandment to extend hospitality is an order to save lives.  Violations of that command reside at the heart of Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah) and Matthew 25:31-46.  The Good Samaritan–an oxymoron in the opinions of many people in the original audience for the parable–extended hospitality to the brutalized traveler in Luke 10:25-37.  In that parable the main question is, who acted as a neighbor to the man on the road to Jericho?  The conclusion is that the Good Samaritan was that neighbor, and that we who encounter that story have a mandate from God to go and do likewise.

Overnighters 01

Above:  Jay Reinke Being Introspective

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Pastor Jay Reinke of Concordia Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) went and did likewise.  During the period of about two years (until the City of Williston shut down the Overnighters program) more than a thousand people slept in the church building and hundreds more slept in their cars, which they parked in the church’s parking lot.  The Overnighters program prompted much hostility in the community, opposition in the church, an exodus of members from the congregation, strained Reinke’s marriage, and filled much time he would have spent with this family otherwise.

The members of the Reinke family–all of them remarkable, generous, compassionate, and Christian people–made themselves vulnerable.  They did the right thing at the right time at the right place–even taking some of the Overnighters into their home.  Jay Reinke, the main figure in the documentary, admits to being a broken person (all people are broken, he says accurately) and questions his motives.  He also makes difficult decisions–sometimes making the wrong decisions–and finds that former allies have become bitter enemies.  Reinke is a mere mortal, for better and for worse–more of the former than the latter.  Who of us always makes good decisions, especially in difficult circumstances?  And who of us acts consistently out of pure motives?  I am not Reinke’s judge.  I conclude, in fact, that his greatest strength as a minister is his awareness of his weaknesses, for that helps him to recognize the potential in people and to reach out to assist them.  His cracks let the light in.

The documentary takes a dramatic turn in the final minutes, after the Overnighters program has ceased.  Reinke’s wife, who has known for years that he struggles with same-sex attraction, learns of a fairly recent infidelity which has led to extortion.  This revelation leads to Reinke’s public confession and the termination of his time as pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church, for The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is officially homophobic.  The documentary informs us that Reinke is seeking work in the oil fields.  He has, in fact, found work as a salesman in that industry.  He can support his family, but he is not using his greatest gifts to do so.

The recent decline in oil and gasoline prices, which constitute good news for many of us, constitutes bad news for the oil industry in North Dakota.  I wonder how this reality will affect Reinke and many others working in that industry there.  I also hope that he will find a professional position which will permit him to support his family and to utilize his ministerial vocation, for that is where he belongs.  His story deserves a happy conclusion.

The Overnighters challenges me to ask myself if I would have acted hospitably in the context of the events of the documentary or if I would have acted out of fear.  Then it challenges me to look around where I am and ask myself if I am acting hospitably in the city where I reside.  Affirming pious principles is easier than acting according to them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 26, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EMILY MALBONE MORGAN, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

THE FEAST OF FRED ROGERS, EDUCATOR AND U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER

Seeking the Peace of God   1 comment

lamb-of-god

Above:  Lamb of God

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THE FIRST READING

Acts 5:27-32 (New Revised Standard Version):

When the temple police had brought the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying,

We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.

But Peter and the apostles answered,

We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.

THE RESPONSE:  OPTION #1

Psalm 118:14-29 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

14  The LORD is my strength and my song,

and he has become my salvation.

15  There is a sound of exultation and victory

in the tents of the righteous:

16  ”The right hand of the LORD has triumphed!

the right hand of the LORD is exalted!

the right hand of the LORD has triumphed!”

17  I shall not die, but live,

and declare the works of the LORD.

18  The LORD has punished me sorely,

but he did not hand me over to death.

19  Open for me the gates of righteousness;

I will enter them;

I will offer thanks to the LORD.

20  ”This is the gate of the LORD;

he who is righteous may enter.”

21  I will give thanks to you, for you answered me

and have become my salvation.

22  The same stone which the builders rejected

has become the chief cornerstone.

23  This is the LORD’s doing,

and it is marvelous in our eyes.

24  On this day the LORD has acted;

we will rejoice and be glad in it.

25  Hosanna, LORD, hosanna!

LORD, send us now success.

26  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;

we bless you from the house of the LORD.

27  God is the LORD; he has shined upon us;

form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

28  ”You are my God, and I will thank you;

you are my God, and I will exalt you.”

29  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

his mercy endures for ever.

THE RESPONSE:  OPTION #2

Psalm 150 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

Praise God in his holy temple;

praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts;

praise him for his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the blast of the ram’s-horn;

Praise him with lyre and harp.

Praise him with timbrel and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe.

Praise him with resounding cymbals;

praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.

Let everything that has breath

praise the LORD.

Hallelujah!

THE SECOND READING

Revelation 1:4-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:  Grace to you and peace from him who is and was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.

Look!  He is coming with the clouds;

every eye will see him,

even those who pierced him;

and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wait.

So it is to be.   Amen.

I am the Alpha and the Omega,

says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

THE GOSPEL READING

John 20:19-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said,

Peace be with you.

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again,

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,

Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him,

We have seen the Lord.

But he said to them,

Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said,

Peace be with you.

Then he said to Thomas,

Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.

Thomas answered him,

My Lord and my God!

Jesus said to him,

Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Eighth Day of Easter:  Second Sunday of Easter, Year A:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/eighth-day-of-easter-second-sunday-of-easter-year-a/

Eighth Day of Easter:  Second Sunday of Easter, Year B:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/eighth-day-of-easter-second-sunday-of-easter-year-b/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-second-sunday-of-easter/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-second-sunday-of-easter/

Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/prayer-for-the-second-sunday-of-easter/

Acts 5:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/twelfth-day-of-easter/

Revelation 1:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-13-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/proper-29-year-b/

John 20:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/eighth-day-of-easter-second-sunday-of-easter-year-b/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/feast-of-st-thomas-apostle-and-martyr-december-21/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/eighth-day-of-easter-second-sunday-of-easter-year-a/

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Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

–John 20:22b-23, New Revised Standard Version 

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Jesus had returned from the dead, a death which human authorities had ordered.  So, in Acts 5:27, St. Simon Peter could defy human authority in good conscience.  (That adds a wrinkle to an argument I made here:  http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/devotion-for-the-seventh-day-of-easter-saturday-in-easter-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/.)  Back in time, closer to the Resurrection, Jesus comforted his surviving eleven Apostles, saying

Peace be with you.

The Apostles’ task was to spread that peace to others.

What, then, does John 20:22b-23 mean?  In other words, who retains unforgiven sins?

Recently I watched The Twenty (2010), an independent movie which deals with that question.  The three main characters loathe themselves.  The recovering alcoholic who has been sober for just a few weeks before resuming drinking detests himself.  The pedophile who has apologized to his victims and lived as a recluse for twenty-two years is ashamed of himself.  Two of his three victims have forgiven him.  The third victim, now a bar waitress and a devout person, has yet to find a way to live with herself either.  The lack of forgiveness of others and of self causes problems for all three characters.  And all these lives intersect because of a message on a twenty-dollar bill, hence the title of the movie.

The film ends ambiguously.  Will the self-exiled pedophile confess his sins in public?  Will the bar waitress force him to do so?  Will the recovering alcoholic save his fragile marriage?  Will anybody forgive himself or herself and find a way to live with the person in the mirror?  And will anybody forgive anybody else?

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,

have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,

have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,

grant us your peace.

A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989), page 426

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/eighth-day-of-easter-second-sunday-of-easter-year-c/

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Of Gods and Men (2010)   2 comments

The Algerian Helicopter Gunship and the Monastic Chapel

(All images in this post are screen captures I took via the PowerDVD program and a rented disc.)

OF GODS AND MEN (2010)

Starring

Lambert Wilson as Christian

Michael Lonsdale as Luc

Olivier Rabourdin as Christophe

Philippe Laudenbach as Celestin

Jacques Herlin as Amedee

Loic Pichon as Jean-Pierre

Xavier Maly as Michel

Jean-Marie Frin as Paul

Olivier Perrier as Bruno

Directed by Xavier Beauvois

French with English Subtitles

Rated PG-13 in the United States

2 hours, 2 minutes long

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In 1996, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists kidnapped a group of French Trappist monks in Algeria.  The precise circumstances of these men’s death remains uncertain, but their demise apparently involved beheading.  The terrorists did not abduct all members of the religious community.  This fact, I presume, explains how we know what happened until the kidnapping.  Of Gods and Men is the story of the Trappist monks.

Early Morning Prayer

The movie opens in 1995.  The monks form a community in and of themselves.  They support each other, pray and worship together, and even argue among themselves.  But they do more than pray and garden, not that those are bad activities.

Brother Luc, the Doctor

Brother Luc, a doctor, tends to patients most days.  Some days, he sees up to 150 people from the adjacent village, in fact.  He cannot get out much, due to physical infirmity, so the patients come to him.

Brother Luc, the Counselor

Luc also functions as a counselor.

Community Counseling

The monks’ Muslim neighbors turn to them for prayer and advice, which the gentle monks are glad to offer.  Militant, violent fundamentalists have become active in the area, much to the disapproval of the villagers.  The monks are, in fact, integral to the village, for they also attend family functions and other social events there.   Here we see Brother Christian, abbot of the monastery, and a fellow monk speaking with some village elders.

Turning to God and Each Other

The monks are in great danger from both the terrorists and the Algerian military.  The monastics have a way out, for they can transfer to another monastery.  But, if they do this, what will become of the impoverished villagers next door? And, if they stay, the monks risk martyrdom.

Inner Peace

We already know how the story ends.  So the real drama lies in the journey.  How do the monks make peace with the real possibility of violent death for their faith?  And by which paths do those who initially supported leaving come to agree to remain in harm’s way?

The journey of faith can be a difficult one, depending on circumstances.  One IMDb reviewer, while praising the movie, wrote that the monks were not saints, as if saints are perfect.  I propose that the monks were saints, warts and all.  They struggled, some more than others, but concluded that, if the path of following Christ leads to their martyrdom, so be it.  I harbor serious doubts whether I would have made the same decision.

Brother Christian, who died, left behind a written final testimony.  Here is the English translation:

Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.

I invite you, O reader, to spend two quality hours with this movie.  May it deepen your faith, or perhaps help you find it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EARL WARREN, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Adapted from this post:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/of-gods-and-men-2010/

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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Cinema 2010s, Islam

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True Grit (2010)   1 comment

Above:  A Screen Capture of Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn

TRUE GRIT (2010)

Starring

Jeff Bridges as Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn

Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf

Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross

Based on the novel by Charles Portis

Music by Carter Burwell

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Rated PG-13

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True Grit is a powerful tale of justice, revenge, and mercy, and of the high cost the quest for vengeance exacts on the one who undertakes it.  Along the way the viewer encounters disturbing and unglamourous acts of violence (with the consequences being obvious), a dark cinematographic palate, excellent acting, a soundtrack replete with hymn tunes, and formal and intriguing dialogue almost entirely lacking in contractions.

Mattie Ross, the fourteen-year-old female protagonist, seeks revenge against Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father and fled Arkansas.  Steeped in the Bible and “an eye for an eye” notions of justice, she believes that one must pay for everything in this world; the only free thing is grace.  Mattie hires Rooster Cogburn, a frequently drunk U.S. Marshal known for being mean, to pursue Chaney.  That much constitutes seeking justice through legal means.  But Mattie really seeks revenge.  Convinced that God is looking out for her and noting that she has “a good horse,” Mattie dons her father’s coat and hat, carries his gun, and joins Cogburn and LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger, on the manhunt.  The lawmen try to dissuade her, but Mattie’s true grit convinces them otherwise and wins their respect for her.

Mattie does not know, however, that her bloodlust will cost her a forearm, alter her personality, and transform her into a cranky spinster.  The decisions we make matter.  Mattie would have done well to leave law enforcement to legal officials.  And she should have left revenge to God.  That is also in the Old Testament.

The actors are wonderful.  Jeff Bridges portrays Cogburn as a gruff yet caring man, the individual who risks all to save Mattie’s life, if not her arm and personality.  Matt Damon’s preening Texas Ranger is the perfect foil to the frequently inarticulate Cogburn.  And Hailee Steinfeld, thirteen years old at the time of filming, spouts complex dialogue convincingly and makes her character the most formidable of all these three.

Carter Burwell’s score quotes old hymns, including “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  This is especially appropriate for the movie, given that the arms of Rooster Cogburn save her life.  Yet there is more to it than that.  Justice and mercy balance each other.  Mattie’s problem is that she does not understand mercy.  So she acts in such a way that she loses an arm.  In a sense, she had only one arm all along.

I recommend True Grit as a worthwhile meditation on the high cost of violence and revenge.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 3, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF NICHOLAS KASATKIN, ORTHODOX ARCHBISHOP OF ALL JAPAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSKAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF HAMBURG-BREMEN

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF MILLARD FULLER, FOUNDER OF HABITAT FOR HUMANITY

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Adapted from this post:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/true-grit-2010/

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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Cinema 2010s

Tagged with