Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Christian's Musings on the "Best Picture" Nominations- Well Seven Of Them At Least

Oscar season, as I have dubbed it is one of my favorite times of the year. What is Oscar season you ask and when does it take place? Well, it begins right after Christmas, and extends until the end of February when the Academy Awards (also known as the Oscars) air on TV. It is that time of year where I try to see as many of the films nominated for the “Best Picture” category as possible. At least, this has been the case the last three years. It truly is what gets me through those long winter months before baseball season begins!

This year, I have seen seven of the nine movies nominated, and the crop of films this year has been top notch in my opinion. All good films, and all films that pack a lot of punch when it comes to Biblical themed messages layered within their plots. What follows are my quick paragraph thoughts/reviews of the seven films, and the themes they contain.

The Help

A film about a brave young wannabe journalist named Skeeter who chooses to write a book based on the stories of African American maids in Alabama during the turbulent 1960’s is bound to be full of Christian themes, and it is! It is hard not to think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:16 where he says one day in heaven ‘the last shall be first and the first shall be last” as these brave women are sharing their stories of being treated as second class citizens by their white employers. As it is, main character and maid Viola Davis hears her Pastor talk of Moses in Exodus chapter 3 being told by God that he would never be alone for the Lord would be with him as he went to Egypt to free the Israelites, and summons the courage to share her stories in the first place. The book of course becomes a best seller, and Skeeter’s mother in recognition of her achievements states, “sometimes courage skips a generation.” Indeed God desires to see us being people of courage for his namesake and his will in our lives, and this film demonstrates what can happen when we harness that courage (Joshua 1).

The Artist

The story of this throwback to the 1920’s era of silent black and white movies is rather simple and centers around two movie stars. The first, George Valentin is at the top of his game in his career in silent movies. The second is young and beautiful Peppy, who gets her big break as an extra in one of Valentin’s movies. However, soon young Peppy’s career takes off as ‘talkies’ are introduced, while Valentin’s career plods down deeper and deeper into non-existence, mostly because he refuses to act in any ‘talkie’ on a count of his pride in being an artist who tells the story with his face and action, not words! Naturally of course it is easy to see this film as a summary of Proverbs 16:18 where Solomon writes “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

War Horse

This movie probably has the least amount of scripture illustrations of any of the seven nominated films I have seen. That is not to say though that it isn’t a wonderful story about a young man and his horse, and the journey they both take throughout England and then into combat on the battlefields of France during World War I. Both are separated during the war, yet both despite great odds seem to keep finding ways to survive, and encounter people to help them along the way. Overall, the impression I felt by watching this movie was God’s providence on both of their lives, and a great illustration of the often quoted Romans 8:28 “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”

Tree of Life

Considering this movie opens with a quote from Job 38:4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding” you would expect it to be heavily themed in biblical ideas, and that is very much the case. Though it is disjointed and at times confusing, especially the ‘creation interpretive theme’ section that lasts about 30 minutes and features a definite worldview of the theory of evolution mixed in with creation, it is an excellent movie. The theme is definitely faith in God, and moreover understanding that the reason we worship and fear God is because ‘his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways’ (Isaiah 55:8). It centers around a family growing up in the 1950’s where the father teachers his sons to be tough, and the mother teaches her sons to be gentle. Ultimately both are needed in life, and both are characteristics and attributes of God, as he is both a God of Love and a God of Wrath.

Midnight In Paris

“Say not, ‘why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) If there was a theme verse for this movie it would easy be this one from Ecclesiastes. “Midnight in Paris” is the story of a young writer (Gil) who takes a vacation to Paris, France with his fiancĂ© and her parents. During his vacation he is troubled by feeling unsure about how solid his first novel draft will be viewed in the eyes of publishers. One night he is magically whisked back to Paris circa 1925, in the height of the roaring 20’s and has the opportunity to hang out with the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. Gil is very enamored with the opportunity he has to talk with such people, and even gets advice on his novel from Ms. Gertrude Stein, a lady whom Hemmingway trusted to evaluate his work. Ultimately thought, Gil learns though a series of events that would spoil the movie if I were to tell you, that one should not believe one era of history was better than another. Every era had its share of problems, and longing for the past is not a wise way to live one’s life.


I devoted a full blog to this wonderful baseball movie based on the true story of Billy Beane, the man who stood firm in his convictions (Galatians 5:2) and helped build the 2002 Oakland Athletics into a winning team using a theory that Bill James had developed based on ‘buying runs’ by building a team of players who have a high on base percentage. Read my full blog on this film for more insight. It is in my view another film to add to my ever-growing list of ‘excellent baseball movies.’ Then again I love baseball so much I am kind of biased.

The Descendants

Imagine your wife was injured so bad in a boating accident she is now comatose, your oldest daughter is in rebellion away at her freshman year of college, and you are in the middle of a huge business deal involving the planning to sell property that has been in your family’s possession for generations. Then imagine you find out your wife has been unfaithful to you and there is no way to discuss with her why she would cheat on you to begin with. All this we come to find out is what Matt King is facing within the first thirty minutes of this incredibly powerful drama, that teaches us deep lessons about ‘turning the other cheek’ (Matthew 5:38-39) and a powerful illustration of Paul’s command in Romans 12:15 to ‘mourn with those who mourn.” King is surrounded by he and his wife’s family and friends throughout this grueling process of both saying goodbye to his terminally injured wife, and his attempt to come to grips with his wife’s infidelity. He even begins to bond with his rebellious daughter again. Overall a common theme of this wonderful picture is the importance dealing with our own mortality, much like Solomon wrote about in Ecclesiastes 7:2-3 where he teaches that the house of mourning is the end of all mankind and the living should “lay it to heart.”(V2b). There is also a theme of everything having its time in life, which echoes the famous Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 which inspired Pete Seeger to write his often covered classic “Turn, Turn, Turn.” So I don’t reveal too much more of the plot I will stop here, but you can probably guess that this is my favorite of the seven nominated films I’ve seen, and thus my hope for receiving the coveted “Best Picture” award!

Okay friends, there you have it I hope you enjoyed this slightly more disjointed blog post. We will get back to my more typical in-depth critics of secular movies, music and books next time around.

Peace out!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Come On Let Your Colors Burst"

The 4th of July is my favorite holiday. It has been for quite some time. That may sound kind of strange and almost shallow coming from someone like me, because if you know me you would probably think my favorite holiday would be one that has a very large Christian significance to it, such as Easter or Christmas, but truth be told the 4th of July is my all time favorite. I think it is because it takes place right in the middle of summer and because I have grown up in Cleveland, OH and summer is really are only time of the year to enjoy the outdoor weather on a consistent basis. It also is a time of year for cookouts and community parades and picnics, which bring communities together. There is also generally a baseball game to attend, and what would the 4th of July be without fireworks!

That is probably why I initially was drawn to the song I will be putting under the microscope today, “Firework’ by Katy Perry. Now, as many may know, Katy Perry’s real name is Katy Hudson and she in fact did release one album under that name in 2001, on a Christian label. Yes, Miss Perry was raised in a Christian home and grew up singing songs in her church in California. However, she no longer considers herself a Believer and many songs certainly seem to reflect that (“Last Friday Night” is one blatant example!). However, “Firework” has several messages that in my view are important to us as Christians.

Let us begin by looking at the first stanza:

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag drifting through the wind
Wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin like a house of cards
One blow from caving in?

So often in life, we feel fragile and somewhat aimless, not sure what God is trying to do, whether it be with our careers or a relationship or any number of different things. David felt this way to, as he often cried out to the Lord many times in the Psalms. One example is Psalm 88:3-4 that says: “For my soul is full of troubles and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength” (ESV)

It is not wrong to feel this way, and it is completely okay to bring God into the uncertainty and fears that we all have from time to time. However, scripture is full of encouragement in these areas as well, as we will see here soon. But now back to the song lyrics:

“Do you ever feel already buried deep six feet under scream
But no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you?
'Cause there's a spark in you
You just gotta ignite
The light and let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July”

I love that line where Perry states, “there’s still a chance for you/Cause there’s a spark in you.” I believe as Christians, God desires to communicate that to us. In Joshua 1:5 God promises the nation of Israel that he will never leave or forsake them. The author of Hebrews re-iterates this fact in Hebrews 13:5 adding a quote from Psalm 118:6 where David states: “The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

God also sees the potential (or the ‘spark’) in us and rejoices ‘over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exalt over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17 ESV). He plants desires and dreams within us and will not abandon us when we are walking them out! We also bring the Lord joy when we honor him and follow those dreams and desires that He gives us.

Thus the chorus of the song fits right in with God desiring for us to use the gifts he has given us to work toward fulfilling our dreams:

“Cause, baby, you're a firework
Come on show 'em what you're worth
Make em go oh, oh, oh
As you shoot across the sky
Baby, you're a firework
Come on; let your colors burst
Make em go oh, oh, oh
You're gonna leave em fallin down oh oh”

Particularly the line about letting ‘your colors burst’ stands out to me here. God has saved us for a purpose and we each have different gifts to accomplish the purpose of bringing His hope to a world that so desperately needs it! However, Paul tells us that we all have different gifts that when we work together as a Church body brings about the work of the Lord in the world (1 Corinthians 12). Thus these different gifts could almost because ‘colors’ in a sense that are all unique and beautiful in there individual ways, but ultimately truly form a masterpiece when they are all used collectively in a piece of art, in this sense the art of bringing about transformation in the lives of the people and places around us!

One other part of the song that is important to highlight is the third verse were Perry sings:

“Maybe you're reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to a perfect road”

Friends we don’t see the completed picture of our lives the way God does, so we are often going to have unanswered questions about why God did or did not allow certain things to happen, however, sometimes in time we can see that the reason one door was closed in our life is in fact so He could guide us to the right path that is part of His big plan for our life! Psalm 16:7 says “I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me.” (NLT). You see, God does guide us, and if we are willing to submit to Him and trust that He knows what is best for us, he will lead us to the right path for what we should do or go next!

Therefore, it is important to have the confidence that by spending time in prayer on a regular basis seeking God, He will reveal to our hearts what we are to do. Then we need to take action and do it, which will lead to us bringing glory to Him. As Paul wrote at the conclusion of his first letter to the church of Corinth, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain”(1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV). Thus, when the Enemy tries to make us believe we are worthless and that our work is in vain, we can have the confidence to use our gifts from God anyway, and ‘let our colors burst’ so the world may see Christ in us!