Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Unprofessional Oscar Picks

Original Screenplay - The King's Speech

Adapted Screenplay - True Grit

Visual Effects - Inception

Sound* - Inception

Original Song - Tangled, "I See The Light"

Music* - Inception

Documentary - Exit Through the Gift Shop

Directing - David Fincher, The Social Network

Costumes - True Grit

Cinematography - True Grit

Animated Film** - How to Train Your Dragon

Supporting Actress - ??

Actress*** - Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit (write-in)

Supporting Actor - Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

Actor - Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Picture - The Social Network

From my early picks one might conclude I favored True Grit as best of the year, but ultimately The Social Network held together as the movie which excelled as more than the sum of its parts while tapping into something essential about the digital revolution of social interaction.  Even with its apparent fabrications.  If Exit Through the Gift Shop could be nominated for the lead category, I would pick it over all of them.

*Both categories, 'cause I don't understand the difference.  Inception won the year as host to the most spectacular sights and sounds available in theaters.  It's score at first seemed ominous, then laughable, then perfect--after somebody slowed down that Edith Piaf song and put it up on YouTube to show how the score tied into the film's web of interlacing dreams.

**Yes, Toy Story 3 was a strong three-quel and yes, I generally love Pixar.  But I thought Dragon excelled as a smart, exciting and gently heartwarming film.  Pixar knows how to be touching, and TS3 was no exception--strangely enough, however, after last year's heart-wrenching Up I was ready for a more uneven combination of style and substance.

***As usual, the lead actress nominations go to indie/art films with strong female leads but I haven't seen any of them.  I've written in Steinfeld because she was the true lead performance of True Grit, not the superb Bridges, and the studio campaigned for the Supporting Actress award because there was no chance she would win vis-a-vis Hollywood heavy's like Natalie Portman, Annette Bening & Nicole Kidman.

Addition - BTW, I still would like to see The Fighter,  Winter's Bone & 127 Hours.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


You can click these to enlarge them.

A contemporary world population cartogram:

A contemporary world GDP cartogram:  

No comment.

Monday, February 7, 2011

God, Darwin & Poverty

The following is a transcript of my homily preached Monday morning, 2/7/2011, during chapel at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. It is based on the office reading from Isaiah 58:1-12.

Some Christians spend a lot of energy debunking Darwin. It’s not surprising—the debate between the theory of evolution and the biblical account of creation often plays out as a struggle between competing origin stories both making tacit claims to the ultimate source of human knowledge. It makes ripe fodder for the apologists, the New Atheists, the Veritas Forum; for those looking for to draw clear boundary lines in the Culture War. This morning I suggest, however, that we lay aside Darwin’s black box, the language of God, questions of inerrancy and genre, and whether we might one day find the frog whose DNA will allow me the pet velociraptor I’ve always wanted. This morning I want to suggest that Evangelicals ought to admit that Darwin got it right. At least on the issue of competition. 

Here’s what I’m thinking. Human history is not a happy story. It’s not a list of great men’s exploits, as some would have it, but rather an ancient and all-encompassing narrative of people behaving badly. Pessimistic? Maybe. But I think the biblical witness to original sin suggests otherwise. “There is no one who does good,” quoth the psalmist. And, if you remember your Romans Road to Salvation from Sunday School, you know that Paul once declared, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” 

Darwin’s postulation of the “survival of the fittest” accords with this little theo-historical construction. The strong prosper, the weak suffer, and every man does what is right in his own eyes. It’s a dog eat dog world, as they say. Darwin made his observations based on the world as he found it. That majestic circle of life where Simba eats us and we have the privelege of eating the grass growing on his grave. That enlightened post-industrial society where the boss is comfortable and the worker chokes down coal dust. The world where, as Thomas Hobbes put it, “Life in a state of nature is poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Darwin was right. And in the pyramid scheme of human ecology, the majority of humans who have ever lived or are currently living have been poor. 

Our reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah issues a clarion call to the people of God: “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.” And what was their sin? Mistreating the poor. Not only the “poor in spirit,” but the materially poor—the worker, the hungry, the afflicted. God calls special attention to this problem, giving Isaiah the added charge not to hold back on this point. So forgive me this morning if I don’t mince words. 

“You only seem to be a nation who does what is right,” God says to Israel. They’re praying—even fasting—yet things aren’t going well. God seems distant. Their prayers are not being answered. “Look,” God says, “you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress al your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.” It’s tantamount to saying, “If you’re not loving and serving the poor, I’m not listening to you.”

Why is it that the evangelical church has been bleeding numbers, as people such as Bishop Todd Hunter have reported? We might suggest any number of reasons. Hostile culture. Bad economy. There’s a war on. And so on. But the timely reason for us this morning is the need for a socially and economically uncomfortable stewardship for the weak and marginalized.

God says that the fast he has chosen is to loose the bonds of injustice, to break yokes, feed the hungry, “to bring the homeless into your house,” to clothe the naked (If we start bringing the homeless into our homes, I promise, we will be uncomfortable). God is in effect saying, “You want to honor me with your piety? Serve the poor!” We can no longer delude ourselves into thinking that we’ll dedicate our ministries to proclaiming “evangelical truth” while we leave the so-called “social gospel” up to the liberals. We ought not to leave the serving of tables to others whilst we dedicate ourselves to the word and prayer. We must bring all together in a holistic expression of right thought and right action. A gospel of word and deed. 

James asks, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” God’s heart beats for poor of the earth, and when Christians ignore their fundamental calling to love and serve the weak we cause him anguish. When Christians love those from whom they can gain no gold or glory from in return, we bring him delight. God practically gushes at the thought of it: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom will be like the noonday.” It’s virtually the key to his heart, it would seem. God loves the vast mass of humanity, and most of them are poor. 

In conclusion, let us consider verse 12 of Isaiah 58: “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt: you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” This suggests to me that the people who both “delight to draw near to God” and “offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted” will be key architects for the city of God. They will build and shape kingdom communities that sanctify the name of the one God as well as thrive as extended spiritual families able to serve as the basis for a spiritually vital Christian society. They will by their word and deed, by their love and grace, by their healing and holiness proclaim that “survival of the fittest” has died, long live the king of glory, Jesus Christ. 

Let us follow him, proclaiming his truth and emulating his socially transgressive love. Amen.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Be ye transfigured"

The following is a transcript of my homily preached Friday morning, 2/4/2011, at Shepherd's Heart Fellowship in Pittsburgh, PA. It is based on the lectionary gospel reading from Mark 9:1-13.

In our gospel reading this morning, we’re exposed to an unusual and unique moment in the life of Christ. Jesus’s closest disciples—-Peter, James and John—-witness a startling revelation of the glory of God in the physical person of Jesus. It’s called the transfiguration and is a surprising and shocking moment in the gospel story, especially in the book of Mark. Over and over again Mark’s gospel sees Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons yet strongly commanding others not to tell anyone who he is. As if his true identity is hidden—-a secret, an unknown.

Because as far as anyone could tell, he was a powerful miracle worker, but not necessarily more than that. Undeniable miracles would have been impressive and unusual to the people of Jesus’s day, no doubt, but it would not have occurred to them to call him a god. Let alone a cosmic judge or eternal king of glory. Jesus managed to confuse even his closest followers on this point.

Simon Peter figured it out, saying, “You’re the Messiah—the divinely appointed king who has come to set things right.” He must have been excited. Life in his world was hard, cruel, confusing. Painful. How excited he must have been when the holy revelation struck him—-“This man is the Messiah—-the king who was promised. Yes! Hallelujah!”

But Jesus yet confounded him. The Son of Man had to suffer, he said. Be rejected by Israel—the people of God. “This can’t be, Lord!” Peter cried in protest. But, shockingly, his protest turned out to be the words of Satan, in direct opposition to the will of God. Indeed, the whole gospel of Mark is a headlong rush to the cross. A few short chapters filled with healings and brisk teachings and then the Son of God is hanging and bleeding on the Roman cross.

So as our story begins today, and Jesus is leading Peter, James and John up a high mountain, it is actually a moment of confusion for his close followers. The ones who thought they knew him well might have been questioning themselves, questioning Jesus. Because the problem of a dead Messiah struck right at the heart of their deepest hopes and fears.

Jessu reassures them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” That might have sounded to them something like me saying to you all in the room this morning: “Some of you here will live to see a day when humans live in peace and prosperity with one another. When suffering, poverty and sickness have ended. When human beings have been freed from sin and stopped treating each other terribly. When no one has to worry about where their next meal will come from, or where they will sleep on a cold night.”

But Jesus brought a different message. He didn’t proclaim an immediate end to human suffering, but of the soon beginning of a time when humans might be restored to their true potential. And—WHAM—he let the disciples have it with a disply of divine glory. Jesus is shining with an intensely bright light. Moses and Elijah show up. It shocks the disciples senseless. Mark even notes that Peter began talking about building tents because he’s simply confused as to what to say. Then the voice of God himself declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

This startling event is called the transfiguration of Jesus. It was when Jesus gave a select three men a sneak peek at the resurrection, at what lay in store for him and for all of humanity. They beheld a transformed human being, filled with they glory of God. After seeing Jesus shine with blinding white light, surely Peter, James and John could lay any doubt to rest. Surely this man was the Son of God.

But as they’re coming down the mountain afterwards, Jesus returns to that pesky prediction that he will suffer and die. “He is to go through many sufferings and he is to be treated with contempt.” The man filled with the glory of God is the one rejected and killed by the people of God.

Jesus came not only as a conqueror, but also as a sufferer. He demonstrated through his death and resurrection that he can bring life from death, health from sickness, freedom and peace from demonic bondage. He went right into the middle of humanity’s mess and caught the business end of a nail for his efforts. Jesus’s transfiguration would help its witnesses hold onto hope through that dark hour. It reminds us that, though he died in shame, he purchased the right of every person to be filled with the glory of God.

God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Each one of us here has the potential to be filled with God’s glory. To have the life of God flowing in our lives, even in the midst of pain and suffering. So I exhort you all now as I exhort myself: Jesus is God’s Son, listen to him! Pay attention to his actions, his words, his love for the hurting and the lost. That is what it looks like to be filled with God’s glory. That’s what it looks like to be truly human. Jesus shows us what God’s original intention for human beings was. Being saved by Christ is more than the hope of initiation into paradise. Jesus is calling all of us to join him in living heavenly lives on this often dark and messy earth. He is God’s Son, the Beloved; listen to him!