(ht to kottke)
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
This post originally appeared at Canadian Youth Worker:
The TED 2014 conference came to Vancouver, BC last month, and I've been catching up on some of the 18-minute talks. One of the most fascinating talks is from astronaut Chris Hadfield. His description of exploring space is captivating and winsome, but beyond his cosmic adventures, Hadfield goes deeper into what it means to embrace risk, move beyond fear, and step into danger for the sake of beauty (see the talk here if the embed below doesn't work):
In the Bible, the most frequent command from God to people is not “worship me” or “be kind” or even “love others.” It’s simply this: don’t be afraid.
Do not fear.
Why does this command come up so often? Because fear has to do with punishment and death. It comes from sin. Fear of disease, fear of rejection, fear of death—it all finds its roots in sin. But Jesus has conquered fear and sin and death, and offers us life and grace and unconditional love.
Here is the good news: we don’t have to be afraid any more in Christ. I have all sorts of fears and insecurities and anxiety, and those will probably always creep up in my heart. I'm afraid of what others will think of me. I'm afraid of losing my job due to making a significant programmatic change. I'm afraid of burning out. But I recall God's promises in 1 John 4: there is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear, and if I’m loved--and I am--then I don’t have to be afraid any more. Like Hadfield's reminder about spiders, we only need to do the research in order to move beyond the perceived danger and figure out what we really need to fear: God alone.
Fear not. Live courageously this week, knowing that the love of your Father means we don't have to be afraid.
Friday, April 11, 2014
I once spoke with a youth ministry friend whose job was under probation. He clearly was anxious. This evaluation was not due to sin issues, lack of ministry passion, or complaining parents or teenagers. The issue, as explained by his superiors, was this: “Attendance is down in your program, so we’re unsure about your leadership capacity. You may have reached the maximum level of your leadership."
What they meant was, “The crowds aren’t as big as they once were. The program doesn’t feel as cool or engaging. Maybe you aren’t a good leader.”
This wasn’t the healthiest means of leadership evaluation. It failed to truly evaluate my friend or position him for success. He became less focused on his personal development and growth. And he watched his fluctuating attendance like a hospital monitor plugged into his ministry. If attendance ever flat-lined, his job was over.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
As parents, we were concerned, and took him to see the doctor to be tested for celiac disease, a gluten-related condition. The blood test came back negative, leaving us with little answers (apparently, a false negative can frequently occur, and the only way to know for sure is through an intentestinal biopsy). But my tenacious wife decided to try a gluten-free diet for a few weeks, just to see if it made any difference. We changed his diet--already limited by egg and dairy allergies--and waited.
Only a few weeks later, we have a vibrantly growing little boy. His energy has returned, he never complains of stomach aches, the distended stomach has disappeared, and he eats second (and third!) helpings at dinner. Whether or not he is officially diagnosed with celiac disease, the change in his diet has changed his whole demeanor and growth.
The thing is, he loves wheat. Crackers, sandwiches, bagels, cereal--removing gluten from his life was not an easy task. It required discipline and intentionality for our entire family. But the change has made him feel so much better, so much more alive. It reminds me of my own dietary restrictions due to allergies. I've had a peanut and legume allergy since I was a child, but only a few years ago I was diagnosed with an extensive list of new allergies that had suddenly appeared--allergies to nuts, seeds, even foods like carrots and celery. Yes, celery. It's about the equivalent of a water allergy. I had to dramatically change my diet to the point where I never eat fast food and can only rarely eat out, nearly all my meals are homemade from scratch, and I eat very simple (read: boring) meals. It required discipline and intentionality too, but the change has made all the difference.
What about my spiritual life? I imagine there are activities, habits, and even relationships that are part of my routine intake, but are actually doing more harm than good. The amount of time I'm on a phone or the Internet. The relationship with a constantly draining person. The knee-jerk reaction of insecurity or anger when criticism arises. The lack of time to read good books, pray in silence, or be alone with the Lord due to an overly busy schedule of doing good things for the Lord. There are all sorts of things I frequently indulge in, yet typically lead away from the abundant life Jesus offers.
What am I consuming that may seem to be substantial, but is causing spiritual malnourishment? Like gluten for my son or celery for me, there may be some facets of life that *appear* to be healthy and normal, but are actually slowly causing lethargy and weakness in my relationship with Jesus, spiritual "allergies" that are breaking down health in my system. Seeking spiritual health requires discipline and intentionality, identifying the unhealthy practices and relationships, and replacing them with a simple, life-giving diet of spiritual disciplines and gracious community.
|Copeland eating at Menchie's, the closest local fro-yo.|
What needs to change in your own diet? What habits, situations, or relationships do you need to remove from your life in order to seek health?
Monday, April 7, 2014
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.”
But Noah found favor with the Lord.
The book is nearly always better than the movie, and Darren Aronofsky's fantastic Noah is no exception. But this doesn't mean the movie isn't a worthy work of artistic merit on its own. A dream project for the filmmaker, Noah is the filmic mashup between a Narnian-like fantasy story, a Shakespearian family drama, and a Biblical morality tale, all rolled into an epic cinematic experience. More than anything, Noah raises deep spiritual questions, and invites discerning viewers into discussion and exploration of moral themes and paradoxes.
These paradoxes include God's justice and mercy, God's presence and transcendence, and humanity's beauty and depravity. Noah embraces the tension, mystery, and complexity of these realities. This is not your Sunday-school Noah, with flannel-graph happy animals gathered on a boat beneath a rainbow. Grim and gritty, Aronofsky depicts Noah (Russell Crowe) as a tortured soul, a man striving to remain faithful to the Creator and care for his family, while also embracing the difficult task of being a key figure in the destruction of humanity. In the midst of the tragic cosmic drama involving the flood over the earth, there is also the intimate familial drama in Noah's own kin. Noah's wife and sons--particularly Ham (Logan Lerman)--struggle with their father's mission to create the ark and participate in God's act of judgment, and the family conflicts arise due to Noah's decisions.
Noah asks difficult questions unspoken in the biblical narrative: What would Noah's family have thought about his decision to build an ark? What about leaving humanity behind? What were the interactions like between Noah and the rest of wicked humanity? How did the animals get on the ark and stay there? Did Noah ever doubt his mission? Did he experience survivor's guilt? How did Noah and his family actually go about building the ark? What about the Genesis 9 account, where Noah plants a vineyard and gets drunk--why include that story in Scripture? Do other biblical characters, like Tubal-Cain, Lamech, or Methuselah, play a role? Who or what were the Nephilim? Noah addresses many of these questions with fantastic imagination and scope, painting an image of an epic Middle Earth-like world of cinematic beauty and darkness. While many are annoyed that the filmmakers made a midrashic interpretation of the biblical narrative of Noah, looking at Jewish commentaries as source material, I found little, if anything, in Noah contrary to the truths found in Scripture. The story of Noah covers only four chapters in Genesis; Noah literally doesn't utter a word in the biblical story until Genesis 9, where he calls a curse and blessing on his sons. It's a story ripe for adaptation and expansion through the medium of film. While the third act of Noah addresses themes more akin to the Abrahamic narrative, the final message of God's justice and mercy rings true, for Christian and non-Christian viewers alike.
Despite its gritty violence--and it is quite violent, so squeamish viewers beware--Noah has wonderfully affecting moments, particularly with Noah's grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and Noah's adopted daughter, Ila (Emma Watson). While Ila isn't found in the biblical narrative, her interactions with Noah in the film are particularly profound, where the viewer is reminded of the beauty of mercy when it is offered freely to another. I wept during a conversation between Ila and Methuselah, where he reminds her that she is a gift from God and not a burden. Would that every young woman who doubted her value and beauty heard those words: you are a gift! Noah's wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connolly, who again finds herself as the spouse of an obsessive vision-seeing man portrayed by Russell Crowe), is a strong character next to Noah, offering him support and comfort from the weight of his task, while also pushing back against him in the third act, where the film takes an increasingly dark turn through Noah's decisions.
Noah is described as a righteous man in the Bible, but does this righteousness mean Noah is sinless? Of course not. He is a good man, a faithful man, but he is also a sinful man. Noah confronts this in a scene where Noah looks at the violence and depravity of the human race doomed for destruction, and realizes he is one of them. As the ark passes through the waters and the screams of humanity hit the ears of those on board, the weight of God's justice is tangible. We have all sinned and fallen short. It's only by grace that we are saved, and Noah offers a beautiful vision of grace as the remnants of creation experience salvation through the ark. In a culture of secular humanism, where science and atheism put the spiritual realm on trial, and the human heart's intentions and motives are always deemed as "good," Noah has the courage to reveal both the depths of human depravity and the beautiful spiritual existence of a merciful God.
Is God in Noah? Absolutely. Some disagree, as He is only referred to as "the Creator" throughout the film. Yet is this title inaccurate or false? Certainly not. God is Creator, the Author of all creation, and His glory fills the whole earth. Does God speak in Noah? Some are up in arms about the apparent silence of God as characters cry out to the sky for the Creator and get no response, as if God is distant, aloof, or non-existent. But what do these viewers expect--an audible voice from the sky? Have they ever experienced an audible heavenly voice during their personal times of prayer? I certainly haven't. I, too, have screamed and cried out to the heavens in hopes of an unambiguous answer to my prayers. God's response is never quite what I expect, and it's never been an audible voice from the clouds in my experience. God speaks in stirrings, murmurs, ponderings, the stillness and quiet. I recognize that it would be much easier and more comfortable, both for the film and for our present reality, if God's voice were clearly audible every time. But it isn't. We wrestle, we listen, we wonder if we're hearing God correctly, and we try to remain faithful and obedient, even when His voice isn't perfectly clear. We go back to what we know He has said--we turn to Scripture and listen for His heart in the stories and commands. Noah does the same; he repeatedly refers to the Creator's commission to fill the earth and care for it, be fruitful and multiply, to reflect His image and glory throughout the earth. God's grace ultimately shines through, piercing through the cloudy sky with a brilliant radiance.
Some might claim that Noah is a work of environmentalist propaganda by an atheist director with an agenda to make money off of ignorant Christians flocking to a "biblical" film. Yes, the film does have an environmentalist message. So does the Bible. In the Bible, God is the good Creator who made a good creation, and invites humanity to be stewards of that goodness. The whole earth was, and is, full of God's glory, the same glory that clothed Adam and Eve and allowed them to be naked and unashamed in Eden (Sidenote: Noah is the only Bible-based story I've ever seen that takes this clothed-by-God's-glory concept literally by making Adam and Eve glow, a detail I found significant and beautiful. When the glory was lost in the Fall, so was the light that covered their nakedness.) Our sin disrupted our vocational calling, cursing the ground beneath us and our souls within us. The book of Romans says that creation groans because of our sin, and longs for the day when all will be fully redeemed in Christ. Until then, we have the same Adamic and Noahic vocation--to be good stewards of the creation God has given us, to care and not abuse, to love and not neglect. Regarding the director's faith, Darren Aronofsky may not be an evangelical Christian, but I don't believe he's a radical atheist. In many interviews surrounding Noah, he shares about his personal wrestling with the concept of God, particularly from a Jewish tradition, and comes across as thoughtful and respectful in those wrestlings, even making this claim about the Bible regarding Noah:
"...we treated Genesis as the word of God, as complete truth. We were trying to bring that story to life so we didn’t want to contradict anything. We wanted to represent everything that was there and let it inspire us to tell a dramatic story with the themes and the ideas that are in there."This adaptation of God's word brings about another question--what makes a story true? Is it the adherence to the literal words of Scripture, using the biblical text as a sort of script? Some folks in Christian circles are upset about the opening of Noah, where the words, "In the beginning, there was nothing," are the introductory words on the screen. That's not what Genesis 1:1 says! they exclaim. They changed the verse to take God out of the statement! Yet the exact same words are the opening lines to the Creation account in the wonderful children's book, The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I don't recall such a strong reaction for Lloyd-Jones' adaptation of Scripture. Is The Jesus Storybook Bible true? What about Son of God or God's Not Dead, two other recent films filled with Christian themes? What is true here? is a valid question to ask of our beloved stories. If God is the source of all truth, then anything and everything we encounter to be real and true finds its roots in God. I would contend that Noah is full of spiritual truth for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. The themes of mercy and justice are prevalent, as are realities of a spiritual realm and a divine Creator. Perhaps truth in this case goes beyond historical accuracy or literal adherence to the exact phrasing in Scripture. This isn't to say that truth is relative or only experiential or entirely language-based. It's only to say that truth cannot be limited to the words of a page, as Truth is ultimately embodied in a person, Jesus Christ. We need to read the Bible more literarily than literally, and I hope that a film like Noah inspires people to explore the redemptive story of Scripture with renewed vision and passion. If the film motivates someone to read their Bible, I'd consider that a favorable outcome.
For any movie that has Christian themes or a Bible-based story, followers of Jesus have a unique opportunity to bear thoughtful witness to the God we worship. The key word here is thoughtful. So often our reactions to such films are knee-jerk and excitable--we either buy out the theatre and fashion whole sermon series in absolute praise of a film, or we boycott and decry it with religious zeal, pointing out how "unbiblical" it actually is. I'm particularly speaking about my own tribe of evangelicalism and our tendency to mindlessly consume or mindless reject particular works of art. This is a regrettable habit, but the real tragedy comes when we not only reject the work art, we also reject the people whose opinions differ from our own. To navigate the grey areas of our world with discernment, thoughtfulness, and tolerance--yes, tolerance!--from a posture of humility and love will be an incredible witness to the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. In a culture defined by division and partisanship due to humanity's obsession with self-proclaimed influence and voicing personal opinions as facts, we can stand out as beacons of gracious moderation while holding fast to our values and humbly pointing people to truth. In our conversations about Noah, both in the physical and the online realms, let us strive as evangelicals to be known as thoughtful and gracious, not reactionary or ill-informed.
In the end, Noah isn't a perfect film, but it's certainly a fantastic film, in both senses of the word--extraordinarily good and imaginative and fanciful. For those who are hesitant about Noah--particularly those who claim it isn't "biblical" enough--I would invite them to watch again with open minds and hearts, seeking truth and beauty in the flood of this tale. Noah reminds us that we are broken and beautiful, depraved and good, bearing the weight of our sin and the image of God in our souls. It calls us back to Eden, recognizing that we cannot create or enter paradise on our own--we need a Savior who looks upon us with favor, one who will carry us through the waters out of death and into life.
Links on Noah:
-My personal favourite review of Noah, from Brett McCracken at Converge, who discusses Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, and Gerhard von Rad in his review.
-Alissa Wilkinson at Christianity Today offers her man reasons why you should see Noah as a thoughtful work of art.
-Stephen Greydanus gives an extensive commentary in his review at the National Catholic Register.
-The strongest and most thoughtful negative review of Noah I've read, from Kenneth Morefield at his blog.
-Peter T. Chattaway has written the most in-depth and comprehensive write-ups on Noah from the very beginning, literally years before the film was ever made. His first and second impressions of the film, articles on why Noah isn't Gnostic, an examination of the snakeskin imagery, and an interview with Aronofsky and Ari Handel.
Monday, March 31, 2014
|The Portland 2014 team|
On our first full day in Portland, we parked at Lloyd Center and took the MAX to downtown, where we set the students loose to wander for a few hours and make at least ten observations about the city. After a trip to Voodoo Donuts and Powell's City of Books, we went back for a time of debrief and prayer. It was awesome to see students opening their eyes, ears, and hearts to the city, noticing cultural differences between Canada and the US in ways they hadn't before, and growing in their love for new places and people.
|Our observations about Portland|
On Thursday, we partnered with Shepherd's Door, a ministry of Portland Rescue Mission to mothers caught in a life of addiction and poverty. Our students did loads of gardening and yard work in the women's community garden, working so quickly that the SD staff didn't have enough for us to do. After getting showers at my former stomping grounds, Hinson Church, and exploring the weirdness of SE Hawthorne Blvd, we closed our evening by participating in Night Strike. A small group from our team went out on a prayer walk through the city while the rest were hosts under the Burnside Bridge, having conversations with the homeless guests and praying for those around us. What began as an uncomfortable and difficult experience turned into a transformative event for many of our students. Prayers were answered in the moment; deep conversations happened in unexpected ways; students overcame their fears in the name of Jesus.
|At Night Strike, under the Burnside Bridge|
During a time of reflection and debrief at the end of the trip, I wrote the following in my journal: "Portland was a trip where I saw God's uniting and gracious love at work. Where a team of students became the body of Christ through serving others and building each other up, and where our eyes were opened to bigger visions of who God is and how He is at work in the world around us. God's love is both greater and more intimate than before."
Thanks to our church family for your prayers, to the parents of students for the willingness to send your teens on a service trip, and to Jesus, whose love is gracious and patient and redemptive.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
For the past year, my primary form of transportation has been my 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle. I bought Jim the Bug (named after the original owner) from a beloved friend in Washington and drove it 300 miles north to BC, where he has been a faithful companion.
Driving Jim has been like living in a parable. I've learned so many life and ministry lessons from sitting in the busted driver seat and revving the cold engine, shifting the stiff gears and wiping down the fogged-up windows on chilly mornings.
Here are 4 lessons I've learned about ministry from my VW Beetle:
Prayer. Every time I get into Jim, I say a prayer: "God, may this engine start." Every time I get on the highway and the car starts to shake around 50 mph, I say a prayer: "God, protect me--don't let this Beetle crash." Every time the car idles at a light and the RPMs suddenly drop and the engine shutters, I say a prayer: "God, get me and this Beetle home safely." Because there really isn't much of a stereo in the Beetle (though that has recently changed, thanks to my friend Josh, who installed a CD player and speakers he found from another Super Beetle in a junkyard), I spend my commute in silent prayer, a quiet commune with the Lord. Driving the Beetle has strengthened my prayer life. Prayer is absolutely essential for life and ministry, yet so often becomes an afterthought in the busyness of serving the Lord. Driving Jim reminds me to pray first, before I do anything else.
Simplicity. There are no bells and whistles with the Beetle. The engine is simple and straightforward, and even those who aren't mechanically inclined (like me) can do routine repairs. The interior has everything one needs--seats, seatbelts, three pedals, steering wheel, manual windows and locks, etc. Our family's other car has a huge sun/moon roof, heated seats, air conditioning, an mp3 plugin, and power everything. The Beetle doesn't need all that. It's simple and clear, which is uniquely attractive. Simplicity in life and ministry are also attractive--rather than having an overly cluttered and programmed schedule filled with a wide variety of spiritual bells and whistles, a ministry of simplicity and clarity is refreshing in a congested world. I'm learning I need to cut out the ministry programs and endeavours that aren't essential to the mission.
Endurance. My Beetle is 40 years old, yet it's still going strong. Even though he's got plenty of rust, the seats and interior need changing, and the engine needs continual maintenance, Jim the Bug certainly hasn't gone out of style or given up his last breath. In whatever weather, in the craziest of circumstances, the Beetle just. Keeps. Going. The Beetle endures. I've heard so many Bug stories from people about how their car broke down--the driver's door fell off, the windshield wipers froze, the gas pedal stopped working, the wiring was fried--yet they still managed to drive it home! Due to its simplicity and classic style, the Beetle is sustainable. I want to have the discipline of endurance in my life and ministry--I want to face difficulty and obstacles with a confidence that they can be overcome, that God is faithful to the end, and that the best is still yet to come. I want to live a sustainable life.
Maintenance. The reason the Beetle can endure is due to routine maintenance. A Beetle left to itself for long enough will ultimately fall apart. It needs oil changes, new filters and spark plugs, and a constant supply of fuses, lightbulbs, and various mechanical necessities packed into the glove compartment. My car is filled with manuals and tools meant to make a repair on the run. I'm continually opening up the engine compartment and looking inside, checking belts and bolts and wires. It's easier and cheaper to do small ongoing repairs that come with maintenance rather the costly repairs that come with an engine failure and breakdown. The same goes for life and ministry: regular evaluation, maintenance, and accountability will keep me from burnout and moral failure. I need to be making constant repairs and adjustments in order to keep my gauges full and my life running on all cylinders.
I'm grateful for my Beetle, not only for getting me from point A to point B, but for the instruction it gives me as we travel through life together.
Which Beetle lesson resonates with you the most? Got a Beetle story? Share it in the comments!
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
For the past year, my church has been taking a deep look at the way we do ministry to young adults. Helping young adults connect with the church body is an ongoing dilemma, one that doesn't have easy answers. With the onset of emerging adulthood, young adults ministry is strongly connected to youth ministry, yet has to remain distinct if we want to see emerging adults fully transition into adulthood.
The present solution I've seen for many churches is, "create a really attractive college group program." This draws in plenty of young adults from all around, who are thirsty for a place to gather and belong. Yet after many of these programs explode in numbers, they begin to dissipate as the young adults in the program get older and feel like they don't fit with all the incoming college students. Essentially, these programs only delayed the drop-off that occurs post-high school by a few years; the young adults were still connected to a program, not a community of believers as the church.
In this season of questioning and dreaming and evaluating and praying, I'm hoping that we can create a church culture--not just a college program--that allows for young adults to grow and thrive in their spiritual journey. Beyond a program or a college group gathering, I've tried to boil it down to what young adults really need. I don't have all the answers, but here's what I've got so far:
Three elements every young adult needs in a church:
1. Mentoring: Every young adult needs a sounding-board and spiritual guide. Mentors are wise and Christ-following adults who meet young adults where they're at and walk with them further towards the person of Jesus. This requires pacing-then-leading, being with and for a young adult.
2. Community: Every young adult needs a sense of belonging and connection with peers. Community is best found in smaller groups, where a young adult can connect in a deeper way with people who are striving to love, learn from, and become like Jesus. Finding community requires fostering environments of belonging for young adults, both in the church services and in small group contexts.
3. Serving: Every young adult needs to steward their gifts for kingdom purposes. Serving requires getting our hands dirty and entering into the mess of life with a team of other people; whether in the walls of a church building or out in our neighbourhoods, serving others is vital to putting faith into practice for young adults.
If every emerging adult in the church had an older mentor discipling them, was connected to a group of Jesus-following friends, and had a place to actively serve others, I'd count that as success.
Which element resonates with you most? What would you change or add to the list?
Thursday, March 13, 2014
I'll be sharing some content from Leading Up at Rebuild 6.0, an online Catholic youth ministry conference hosted by a new friend I met at Open Seattle, Tony Vasinda. Here's what Rebuild 6.0 is all about:
We wanted to create and online, free, and participatory experience. We wanted to make sure that they drew from a wide and diverse cross section of voices, skills, and histories for speakers and presenters. We wanted the presentations to be something that could be accessible for professionals or volunteers, as well as challenging veterans and newcomers alike. We looked at other resources, conferences, and training projects like TED, The Nines, and many more to help the clarify the goals, focus, and format for our event.The wave of the future for youth ministry conventions and networking will be through localized regional gatherings, cohort-style holistic training, and online conferences. Thus, I'm stoked for Rebuild and encouraging my Catholic youth ministry friends.
Sidenote: I'll share more in the near future about some local regional youth ministry gatherings coming to the Vancouver area this year!
Check out my little promo video below, and if you know a Catholic youth worker--or just want to hear more about leading up in youth ministry--check out Rebuild 6.0 on March 20.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
What are the movies teenagers should be watching? Most modern movies marketed to high schoolers aren't particularly enriching or well-crafted, and often placate to the basest of impulses and tastes. So what are some better options? What are films that young people can and should consume, films that inspire and enrich and expand horizons, films that high school teens would truly love if they only knew they were worthwhile?
In 2005, the British Film Institute created a list of the 50 films you should see by age 14. Inspired by this list, and a conversation thread at Arts and Faith, I've listed 25 films that every movie-loving high school student should see before graduation. Some of these films could be viewed in the earlier teenage years (e.g. The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Singing in the Rain). Some should only be viewed by more mature and discerning viewers who can handle the content, including The Godfather, Amelie, Schindler's List, The Kid with a Bike, and The Thin Red Line. With any film, teens need to use wisdom, discernment, and caution before consuming it, looking at movies through the lens of Scripture and prudence. Be a sieve, not a sponge or a funnel.
Here are 25 films every high school student should see before graduation:
The Classics: Some films stand the test of time. These seminal works continue to inspire and capture imaginations, and discerning teens should have a movie-watching foundation built upon some of these filmic masterpieces. Check out Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Singin' in the Rain for starters. And if you haven't seen the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope by the time you graduate from high school, what are you waiting for?
Foreign Wonders: World cinema is filled with great films, many of which go unnoticed by youthful viewers who may be uninterested in a film with subtitles. Yet many of the greatest on-screen stories come from beyond the North American continent. Bicycle Thieves is an Italian morality tale of a father and son searching for a missing bike. Babette's Feast is a Danish parable of grace. Spirited Away is a Japanese animated film of fantastic wonder from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki. One of my personal favorites is Amelie, a French film filled with whimsy and joy that explores both the great city of Paris and the endeavors of a romantic dreamer. I'd recommend at least one film from the work of Akira Kurosawa from Japan (Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Ikiru are all great films for teen viewers) and the Dardennes brothers from Belgium (I highly recommend The Kid with a Bike or The Son; other Dardennes films contain nudity/sexuality that would be too graphic for young viewers).
Great Directors: It was difficult to decide which film to pick from these great directors, so I cheated by listing a few of their bests that high school students can access. Watch at least one film from Buster Keaton (The General, Sherlock Jr), Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Rear Window), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line, The New World), and Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park). On the essential list, I've posted the film I think captures the essence of the director, as well as the strongest potential for capturing a high school student's imagination.
Coming-of-Age: Movies can capture the years of adolescence and identity formation with pathos and humor. While there are hundreds of "high school movies" in existence, here are a few particularly great films about the coming-of-age experience: Rebel Without a Cause, The 400 Blows and Moonrise Kingdom are all great films *and* great portrayals of the teen years. Other films on this list (Hoop Dreams, Spirited Away, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, The Iron Giant) could also be considered coming-of-age journeys.
Faith and Spirituality: I'm convinced that movie-watching can be a transcendent experience, that young people can begin the movement from seeing film as entertainment to art. Films like The Night of the Hunter, Sullivan's Travels, The Truman Show, It's a Wonderful Life, and The Iron Giant all offer spiritual insights as they invite the viewer to search and contemplate deeper truths, all while being entertained by the moving images and stories on the screen (they've all been included on an Arts and Faith Top list). Other films I've already listed, like Babette's Feast and The Kid with a Bike, would fall squarely into this category of spiritually enriching films.
One Documentary: Watch at least *one* documentary, perhaps something from Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) or Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie). Avoid the documentaries that are heavy-handed didactic political films (i.e. An Inconvenient Truth, anything by Michael Moore, etc.), and choose documentaries that are story-driven, cinematic, and balanced in their approach. If I could pick one for high schoolers to view, it'd be Steve James' Hoop Dreams, the chronicle of two inner-city Chicago high school basketball players and their hopes for joining the NBA.
The essential list, in alphabetical order, including date and director:
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
- The 400 Blows (1959, Francois Truffaut)
- Amelie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
- Babette's Feast (1987, Gabriel Axel)
- Bicycle Thieves (1948, Vittorio De Sica)
- Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
- The General (1926, Buster Keaton)
- The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
- Hoop Dreams (1994, Steve James)
- The Iron Giant (1999, Brad Bird)
- It's a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)
- The Kid with a Bike (2011, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
- Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)
- The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)
- Rashomon (1950, Akira Kurosawa)
- Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray)
- Singin' in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly)
- Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)
- Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977, George Lucas)
- Sullivan's Travels (1941, Preston Sturges)
- The Tree of Life (2011, Terrence Malick)
- The Truman Show (1998, Peter Weir)
- Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
- The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming)
The years of adolescence are marked by change, uncertainty, exploration, emotion, and risk. Sounds like the making of a great movie plot.
What do you think? What movies would you add or change on this list?
What do you think? What movies would you add or change on this list?
Friday, March 7, 2014
A children's book our family has enjoyed is Oliver Jeffers' Stuck. When Floyd's kite becomes stuck in a tree, he is determined to get it out.
So he throws his shoe at it to knock it loose. The shoe gets stuck.
He throws his other shoe at it. That gets stuck too.
So Floyd fetches his cat, Mitch.
Mitch, of course, gets stuck.
This drives Floyd to finally go to get a ladder, which he promptly throws up into the tree.
Then comes a bucket of paint, a duck, a rhino, a lighthouse, a whale, a firetruck, an orangutan, and all sorts of other objects Floyd throws into the tree in order to get his kite to come down.
Finally, Floyd has an idea. Why didn't he think of this before? He runs to get a saw.
And throws it up into the tree.
Due to the enormity of the mess in the tree, the kite is finally loosened and falls to earth. Floyd happily grabs his kite and runs away, leaving behind a bigger problem than when he began.
Stuck is funny because it's true. We throw all sorts of things at our problems in an effort to solve them, only to find ourselves with a bigger predicament than when we began. It's making me ask a few questions:
Are you throwing all sorts of "solutions" to your problems that only make a bigger mess?
What is the simple, practical, obvious solution to your present dilemma? What is your saw?
Thursday, March 6, 2014
|Photo Credit: Reza Vaziri (Creative Commons)|
The longer I am a pastor, the more I appreciate the position's origins. Pastor means "shepherd." God gave some to be pastors for the church, to equip the people for service and ministry so the body of Christ would be built up and have unity (Ephesians 4:11-13). Shepherds take care of the sheep, the people God has entrusted to their spiritual care. While the metaphor of people being "sheep" isn't particularly kind, the image is nonetheless fitting. Sheep are slow to move, skittish, easily given to wandering into danger and going along with the crowd. We all act like sheep at times. It's why we need a Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd calls others to be fellow pastors over the flock of His church, little shepherds who walk in the ways of the best Shepherd.
Here are four ways being a pastor in ministry is akin to the role of a shepherd:
Shepherds guide. Shepherds lead the way into good pastures. When the flock doesn't seem to want to move from their comfortable position into more fertile ground--"We've always been here! We don't want to change! What's wrong with the way things are?"--the shepherd patiently and loving guides the flock to where they don't want to go, but where they need to go. They have good intuition, and are willing to make the tough decisions that others won't. Good shepherds--and leaders--guide people into pastures and postures where they wouldn't otherwise go.
Shepherds protect. A good shepherd goes ahead of the flock, wading through deep and dark waters, through overgrown brush, and checks open fields to make sure it's safe enough to cross without attack. If conflict or danger approaches, most sheep are skittish and react impulsively, often causing more harm. The shepherd is the one who courageously confronts the conflict and protects the sheep, both from the danger and from themselves.
Shepherds are present. Good shepherds are with the sheep. They aren't running far ahead or avoiding the flock, though they are leading and guiding the flock where they need to go. Shepherds are present; they know the sheep, and are known by the sheep.
Shepherds sacrifice. In their protecting and guiding, shepherds are prone to injury. Being a shepherd is a fairly thankless and tiring vocation. The sheep need care and love and guidance and protection, regardless of how the shepherd may feel in a given moment. The good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine other sheep to crawl down craggy cliff walls to bring back the stray sheep who has fallen.
Being a shepherd is a tough vocation. It is often exhausting and heartbreaking and uncomfortable and frustrating. It's also a beautiful and worthy calling, partnering in the gospel with the Good Shepherd as He guides the flock into life-giving pastures and quiet waters, restoring our collective souls.
Who are the shepherds in your own life? Send them a word of thanks and encouragement today!