Saturday, August 19, 2017

Four Ways Christians Can Be Be a Healing Presence in our Country (regardless of political conviction)


Four Ways Christians Can Be Be a Healing Presence in our Country (regardless of political conviction)


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      To say that the current political climate is an inhospitable environment would be a tragic understatement. In the wake of the tumultuous 2016 election cycle constructive dialogue with people on the other side of the aisle appears next to impossible. Those on the right watch in terror as they see the values they believe set our country apart being disregarded and replaced, and those on the left tactlessly label their fears as "digressive" and sometimes, "oppressive." Those on the left are afraid of and angry at what they understand to be a dangerous administration, and those on the right push forward anyway, dismissing their leftist counterparts as "snowflakes" and "idiots." And those in the middle, who believe it is dangerous it is to view the world in such simplistic and duelist lenses, are shamed and accused of complicity and inaction. We don't listen to each other. We don't see each other. We don't care for each other. We only want the other one to get on board or go away. To be some one who loves and values the perspectives of their friends and family on both sides of the arena is to be heartbroken consistently, but to be a Christian who sees other Christians shamelessly engaging in such behavior is devastating on an entirely different level.

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      The biblical story of God and humanity doesn't permit such divisive behavior. In fact, I'm certain Christ would condemn this as idolatry. The biblical story has always been God establishing a people that exists to benefit other people. When he firsts establishes a people through Abram, he tells the Father of our Faith that through this tribe, "all the nations of the world will be blessed." They were blessed to be a blessing. This idea was, and still is, revolutionary because it demonstrates that a tribe that follows God doesn't exist for self preservation, it exists to benefit other tribes. Fast forward to the incarnation, and we see Jesus modeling this same principal. Christ saves and establishes his people to be a healing presence in our world, blessed to be a blessing.

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      It is hard for me to see how one can be fully committed to a political ideology while simultaneously being fully committed to living as a healing, Christ focused presence in our land. In the wake of the officer who shot Philando Castile being found not guilty, in the wake of a Sanders supporter shooting at conservative politicians during soft ball practice, in the wake of the 500+ person protest that consisted of Neo Nazi's, KKK members and people okay associating with such types, the dark influence of the bi-partisan talking heads threatens to steal our commitment to the Kingdom of God.  If it were up to me all Christians would surrender their political allegiances on the altar and leave it there. However, I know this isn't likely to happen, though maybe it really should. So, how do we as a people in covenant with God, a covenant that is sealed by Divine blood, take up our calling to be a blessing to the world in the face of such destructive political behavior? Here are four things that I think can help.





1. Examine Your Allegiances

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A good friend of mine often says to me, "Tony, do you know what would happen to our country if every person who claimed to be a Christian followed the teachings and example of Jesus?" I get goosebumps thinking about it. The harsh truth is most Christians in our country aren't exactly known for following Jesus. I am under the firm conviction that this is in large part due to our misplaced sense of identity. We have a hard time claiming a collective identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God while we cling to identities of Republican or Democrat or whatever. Instead of seeing all Christians as people on the same team as us, when they claim the opposing political identity of us, we view them suspiciously. Instead of a united and collective "us," we label ourselves, whoever we are, as "us," and we label the other as "them." Whether this is conscious or not, a lot of Christians observe the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders more than they observe the Sermon on the Mount. A lot of Christians watch Fox News more than they read their Bibles, and when they do read their Bibles, it's interpreted through the lens of what they heard Sean Hannity say, rather than the other way around. Being a Christian is not at all like adding an interesting nuance to your life that sometimes helps you make sense of the world and gives you a sense of belonging. Being a Christian is entirely like losing your life and then finding it (Matthew 10:39). When we commit to following Jesus, everything else becomes so secondary it sometimes looks like we hate everything else compared to how much we live the way of Christ (Luke 14:26); this especially includes anything that causes us to discriminate against people who disagree with us, like a misplaced sense of political affiliation. But before Christians as a people can be known for following Jesus, we have to get on the same page as to what that means.




2. Study Up!

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What exactly does it mean to follow Jesus? I think there are primarily two schools of thoughts that test a persons commitment to Christ (obviously there are many more nuances to it than this, but I think saying there are two dominant ways of thinking about the issue is fair.). For group one, they gauge a persons commitment to the Gospel based off of the things they see people abstaining from. They want to see Christians who don't drink (or drink to excess, depending on who you're talking to), don't engage in pre-marital sex, take a stand against same sex marriage policies, loudly oppose abortion, and vote conservatively because this is historically the party that stands for these same issues. In a less than appreciated summation, group one often reduces following Jesus to being the ultimate moralist. Group two, on the other hand, believes a committed Christian cares for the poor, fights poverty, fights climate change, fights racial injustice. In less than appreciated summation, group two often reduces following Jesus to being the ultimate Social Justice Warrior. Both have plenty of scriptures to back up their rational, but neither really fully represents the Jesus presented in scripture. So, how do we get on the same page?
 Read the Gospels. Study them diligently. Be a Gospel "expert." And translate it to a modern context. We don't live in 33 a.d. Jerusalem, but the principals of Christ are more relevant than ever. Jesus was the Divine with flesh and blood on who did battled against sin, death and the devil in the spiritual realm and in the physical realm, and through the Holy Spirit God is still looking to put on flesh and blood through us to continue the battle. Allow what you read to disrupt your way of thinking. Maybe fighting poverty is an effective tool in spiritual warfare. Maybe God wants his followers to abstain from things that the world wants us to embrace. Read. Study. Re-think. Follow.




3. Go Where the Hurt Is.

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Something Jesus frequently did was actively be a presence of healing in the face of pain. The greatest moments in church history have been when the church did the same thing. Christians were the first social workers. Before the Sermon on the Mount, adoption agencies and care for fellow humans were next to unheard of ideas. Democrat Christian, go to the family who lost their jobs and have fallen into poverty and believe it is because liberal policies failed them, and serve them, help them, heal them, and check your political convictions at the door. Republican Christians, come to the aid of your black neighbor who believes the conservatives running the show don't care about them and are complicit in their oppression, and meet any and all needs you possibly can, and check your political convictions at the door. See a need, meet a need. Go where the hurt is.


4. Affirm Humanity


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Jesus never told  tax collectors to quit their jobs, even though their jobs entailed doing evil things. Jesus never advocated arresting prostitutes, even though their jobs were destructive to themselves and their clients. He didn't legislate morality.  Jesus affirmed their humanity, served them, and loved them. He saw them deeply, and called out their value. I have seen political allegiances prevent us from seeing each other as people. It transforms us into beings that see people who disagree with us conquests to be conquered, not people who carry the Image of God. It doesn't always have to do this, but it often does. At the end of the day, we are all humans endowed with immeasurable value, and God has plan for us all. No matter what our political convictions, we must affirm the dignity of humanity, and fight for that dignity.



In Conclusion...

If you have been exposed to the light of Christ, you are blessed. If you have wealth, you are blessed. If you are healthy, educated, able bodied, or have influence over others you are blessed. But our blessings become sins when we just rest in them. Every blessing we receive comes with the expectation that it will be used to bless other people. If American Christians reclaim this as our heartbeat, our country will become a much brighter place.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Best movies of the 1950's.

About six months ago I did a ten part blog series in which I revealed my top one hundred favorite movies of all time. I have since grown dissatisfied with the list, not feeling that it accurately reflects my ever changing palate. I have a major problem when it comes to recency bias, the list was filled with movies that I had seen so recently. The problem with this is that as I had not given some of those movies time to marinate, and I realized they didn't measure up to some of the other movies I love so much. So, consider that first blog a first draft. As I am re-figuring my list, I would like to publish my top ten of the decades. So, here is part 2: My favorite movies from the 1950's!

So, now that introductions have been introduced and disclaimers have been disclaimed, here are my top ten movies from the 1950's.


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10. Ben Hur (1959)
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One of the most epic movies ever made. Breath-taking chariot racing, gigantic ship wrecks, compelling drama, and rich spiritual content make Ben-Hur a worthy winner of its record holding 11 Academy Awards. This is one of Hollywoods finest examples of pure entertainment.


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9. On The Waterfront (1954)
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Marlon Brando gives an electrifying performance as Terry Malloy, in the movie that earned him his first, and well deserved Academy Award. The movie stands on its own as a compelling and emotional journey towards redemption and restoration. With stunning direction from Elia Kazan, and powerful supporting performances from Eva Marie Saint, Rod Stieger and Karl Malden, On The Waterfront is one of the best acted and directed movies every made.


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8. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
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James Dean only did 3 movies before his tragic death. Yet, he is one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood history. He is also the only actor in Hollywood history to receive 2 Oscar nominations after his death. His success goes unprecedented to this day. Rebel Without A Cause is one of the most important depictions of youth I've ever seen. It captures the rage, depression and pressures that often came with being a youth in the idealistic 1950's, Rebel Without A Cause spoke to a generation, and continues to speak to generations, about what it's like when you don't fit the mold the world tries to force you into.



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7. Rear Window (1954)
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Alfred Hitchcock was known as the master of suspense; this is the movie that sealed the deal on that title. Featuring James Stewart playing against type as a grumpy, commitment-phobic guy bound to his apartment facing a horrific circumstance. Funny and intense, filmed with plenty of patience and craft; Hitchcock's talent is exemplified in every frame.


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6. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


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As Stan Kowalski, Marlon Brando introduced to the world a style of acting that would change the landscape of the profession forever: Method acting. These days, method acting means actors who stay in character, behaving like intolerable freaks, for their entire shoot. But that's not what it used to mean. Method acting is when you pull from personal experiences or memories or imagination to make yourself actually feel what the character might actually be feeling. Method actors don't fake the emotion behind their characters, the idea being it naturally flows out of them. Brando was the first to draw major attention to it, and movies would never be the same again. Add to it an equally impressive Vivian Leigh as the iconic Blanche DuBois, as well as Kim Hunter and Karl Malden in explosive supporting roles, and you have one of the most groundbreaking movies to ever come out of Hollywood.

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5. Touch of Evil (1958)

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Terrorism, murder, rape, heroin overdoses and crooked authority figures... No this isn't a Martin Scorsese picture, it's the film noir movie to define all film noir movies. Touch of Evil was Orson Welles message to Hollywood that his overrated but extremely successful Citizen Kane was no fluke. Featuring career best performances from both Welles and Heston (yes it is tremendous white-washing, but Heston had the sense to not attempt a Hispanic accent, and does his most natural and emotive work) Touch of Evil is breathtaking film making, and the stage is set by the most thrilling first fifteen minutes in film history.



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4. High Noon (1952)

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In the time of McCarthy era black listing,  director Fred Zinnemann responded to the abusive powers at be in the best way possible: He made art. High Noon is a western for people who don't like westerns. Gary Cooper's lone hero in a town of cowards serves as an allegory for the American cowardice to rise up against the despicable methods of Joseph McCarthy. Cooper delivers a commanding and layered performance (one that landed him an Oscar), and Fred Zinnemann directs one for the ages. This is an OG as far as protest movies are concerned, and it's magnificent.

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3. Some Like It Hot (1959)
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This Billy Wilder directed masterpiece is a broad and sophisticated comedy that has lasted the ages. Some Like it Hot has withstood the test of time, not because of poignant social consciousness or groundbreaking methods, but on the gigantic shoulders of these three legendary leads. The chemistry of Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marylin Monroe is excellent, the writing is still hysterical and the directive vision is remarkable. This is not an overrated movie, it's one of the funniest of all time.



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2. The Night of The Hunter (1955)
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A hidden gem for the decade, The Night of the Hunter is a movie unlike anything I've ever seen. Firstly, it is directed to haunting perfection by Charles Laughton, and it features the best performance of Robert Mitchum's career. Secondly, this serves as a combination of cinematic realism and German expressionism, it combines the factual and the mythical elements of love and hate. It exposes the physical and mystical components to good and evil, innocence and corruption. It is a horror movie about a psychopath, but it is also a spiritual movie about new beginnings. The Night of the Hunter is everything I look for in a movie.



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Honorable Mentions



 Harvey
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 East of Eden
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Shane
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North By Northwest
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Roman Holiday
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1. Vertigo (1958)

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Upon its initial release, Vertigo was panned as a miserable failure for Hitchcock, and is blamed for ruining the friendship and partnership between Hitch and Jimmy Stewart. However, sixty years later it is heralded as Hitchcock's masterpiece. This is a dark exploration on obsession, fear and human connection. The haunting score merely complements the master of suspense' wizardry, and while this may not be Stewart's most iconic performance, it is certainly his best. Vertigo is an impossibly good movie.