A Christmas Carol and the Power of Art

Art has the ability to inspire us and captivate our imaginations like nothing else can. You experience this when seeing a particularly powerful film, where the story and characters take you to a different emotional place. Whether viewing a classic like Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life or a current movie such as Martin Scorsese’s Silence, you are affected viscerally in a way only art can prompt. A painting can be transcendent as well. Henri Nouwen was so moved by Rembrandt’s visual interpretation of The Return of the Prodigal Son that he wrote a book based on the impressions he saw in the work.

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Trayvon Martin as Shape Shifter: Why Truth Matters

I wrote this last year when the Martin tragedy first came to light. Today, it's still important.  

In literature and mythology, Shape Shifters are deceptive characters who cross boundaries at will, moving between worlds to confuse the sacred and the profane. Sometimes a character even finds its shape changed by someone else through a curse or spell. The transformation may or may not be voluntary. 

And so goes the tragic story of Trayvon Martin, the newest Shape Shifter in a long history of American journalism. 

In this world, some things are pure and innocent while other things are evil. Racism and bigotry are transcendent evils, while defending the innocent is universally just. But Trayvon’s tragic death--and its chaotic aftermath--teaches us that perception is often a Shape Shifter. Under the spell of one version, Trayvon teaches us that trigger-happy racial profilers are alive and well. Under the spell of another version, Trayvon teaches us that young black men often contribute to their own violent downfall. 

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Jesus met me at Starbucks this morning

Originally posted 3 years ago, here is a Christmas season repeat of hope, justice, Jesus and latte's. 

 

I broke routine this morning. I interrupted my morning commute to work with a pit stop at Starbucks and a book in hand. It’s been a very long time since I have sat and read over a latte and to my surprise, Jesus was there.  

 

I ordered a sinful Caramel Brulee Latte and took a seat along the perimeter so that I could watch the subtle rain drops collide with the ground outside. I opened my book in hand, Just Courage by Gary Haugen and reached for my latte. But before I could take in my first sip of that delightful little beverage, I was met by Jesus who had appeared somehow on my Christmas themed cup.

 
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Augustine’s Confessions

In book ten (specifically chapters twenty-seven through forty-three) of Confessions, Bishop Augustine reveals a connection to the first nine books. Although Augustine speaks frequently of hope, towards to the future, he also recollects the memory of sin and struggle between options. Thirteen years have now passed since the death of his mother, Monica, which he recorded in book nine. Now as Bishop of the Catholic Church in North Africa, Augustine shepherds and teaches the community whom he is writing. Book ten is a transition, but as Carl Vaught writes, “Augustine has still not reached the end of his journey.”[1]

The Bishop recollects willfulness and the dissipation into many things. His remorse is that he not only missed out on being filled with God, and God filling him, but that he sought finite things that lead to nothingness. Augustine’s hope is turned to the one and only true mediator, who is both man and God, Jesus Christ. Though Augustine received Christ’s forgiveness in book eight, Augustine looks to the future in hope to be filled with him, healed by him, and continually praise him.

Augustine begins chapter twenty-seven, “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you! Behold, you were within me, while I was outside: it was there that I sought you, and a deformed creature, rushed headlong upon these things of beauty which you have made. They kept me far from you, those fair things which, if they were not in you, would not exist at all. ”[2] 
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A Story of Forgiveness

Earlier this week I read an article on CNN's belief blog that threw me into a stewing pot of thoughts. At the core is one simple word that seems so complex to live out, even in the shallowest of circumstances.

Forgiveness.

Celebrity Portrait Photographer Jeremy Cowart set out on a mission with filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson (As We Forgive) to produce a photo series project called "Voices of Reconciliation." Cowart and Hinson went to Rwanda. They wanted to give Rwandans the opportunity to make their own statements to the world about the 1994 mass killings and uprooting that took place in their backyards.

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Tiger's Opportunity

Ever wonder how to start a conversation about God with someone who, you know, doesn't believe? It used to be known as "witnessing" or "sharing your faith." These activities seem so 20th century, so Campus Crusade-ish. Nowadays most Christians prefer to talk about God in a way that is more about water cool conversation than door-to-door proselytizing.

We're fine with that. In fact, we think it's a much better way to go. Sure worked for Jesus. When people like Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the rich young ruler asked him questions, Jesus didn't twist any arms. He conversed, asked questions, left them wanting more.

The thing with this preferred method is to find those cultural touch points that most people can identify with or at least know about, and then develop the art of asking really good questions with the intention of engaging in conversations about the bigger spiritual issues at stake.

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Hume and Tiger: Good or Bad?

How do you ignite a firestorm of conversation about God? These days the best spark is a controversial statement, such as the one delivered by news pundit Britt Hume about Tiger Woods.

Of course, it helps that Hume is fairly well-known as a former national news anchor who is in "retirement" but still does occasional news analysis for Fox News. If you or I had made a plea for Tiger to embrace Christianity as Hume did on Fox News Sunday this week, few would have noticed or cared. But Hume made his remarks on a national stage about an already famous person whose bizarre encounter with a tree and a golf club--and whose subsequent submersion into a strange kind of Howard Hughesian privacy--has everyone talking.

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Lazarus, baseball, and the pregnant pause.

I’ve been watching a lot of baseball this fall, enjoying the simple beauty of the bat vs. the ball. A friend told me once that during a typical game, the baseball is actually in play for only seven minutes. The rest of the time is made up of pitching adjustments, beer commercials, and spitting.

I was watching the Yankees play the Phillies in game six of the recent World Series, as Yankee reliever Marte faced the heart of the defending World Champions’ lineup. What struck me was the drama of the pause, the excruciating moment between wind up and swing that happens every inning. Some pauses are easy to face, like when Mariano Rivera is pitching. Some are incredibly tense, as everyone watching waits to see if disaster or salvation comes from the result of the pitch. It’s what makes baseball so much like life.

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How Michael Vick-haters and backers can usher in a new culture

The media can definitely be guilty of playing devil’s advocate when it comes to hot-button issues. There’s been nothing hotter the last couple weeks than Michael Vick’s reinstatement into football. Sports radio, primetime TV, blogs, etc., have been inundated with opinionated people, most of whom fall under two categories: Vick haters and Vick backers.  

 

Vick backers (and I use the word backer loosely) fall under the premise that Vick served his time so let him have a second chance. Vick haters believe strongly that his despicable actions against dogs are unforgivable.

PETA, dog lovers and spokespeople from every anti-cruelty animal organization have come out of the woodwork to not only share their strong dissent on the NFL’s decision to reinstate Vick, but how deplorable it is of the Philadelphia Eagles organization to allow him to suit up. Just the other morning, I was listening to a caller on a New York radio station blast the Eagles for welcoming Vick onto their team, saying in a much-less articulate term, “Vick is a piece of crap and deserves to be treated like his dogs.”

If you have time, read some of the comments on numerous forums everywhere, and you’ll feel the vitriol against Vick. Let me quickly sum up the range of comments you’ll read from the anti-Vick to the pro-Vick:

-    I’m a dog lover and Vick’s act is unforgivable.

-    Vick did his time for the crime.

-    Someone who can murder and mutilate dogs like that is crazy in the head.

-    Vick is a thug and always will be.

-    Everyone deserves a second chance.

-    The dogs never had a second chance.

-    He’s a human being, not a dog.

-    Boycott the Eagles.

-    Support the Eagles and Vick.

-    This is a cultural and racial issue.

-    Don’t bring race into this, this is an ethical/moral issue.

A valid point people have made is that Vick didn’t come to his senses until he got caught, declared bankruptcy and was left with no one who believed in him. Actually, the more doubtful person will say Vick is crawling back to the NFL because he needs money.

Here is the thing that hardly anyone talks about: what does the Vick-reaction tell you about our society’s idea about redemption?

One of the better movies of the last 20 years is a prison film titled, “The Shawshank Redemption.” Based on a Stephen King book, this film illustrated corruption at its very worst, but fortunately, the protagonist of the story (Andy Dufresne), never gave up the one thing that prison can so easily steal: hope. In a conversation in the prison courtyard between Dufresne and his best friend in prison (Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding), Dufresne is sharing his hope of one day getting out and living in Mexico.

Dufresne: You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?
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Wrestling with Redemption - A Review of "The Wrestler"

Some cultural phenomena are popular for reasons that seem inexplicable. Somehow, though, certain trends in Americana end up surviving – for better or for worse. These trends have the ability to both interpret the cultural psyche or to challenge it. The latest aspect of pop culture to be held at a closer look is the world of pro wrestling, in Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, “The Wrestler”.


“The Wrestler” tells the story of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a wrestler past his prime. A hero in the 1980’s, he now struggles to make a living. Instead of packed arenas, he now competes in community gymnasiums. Meanwhile, Randy sees his own personal life in shambles. A dysfunctional relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and an attempt at romance with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) are just the beginning of his personal issues.
The essential plot of this film has been seen countless times before. “An aging athlete desperately tries to make a comeback confronts his personal demons”. While the story could have been plucked from any number of films, “The Wrestler” distinguishes itself in a number of ways. This, ladies and gentlemen, is cinematic art at its best.

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