One of the movies causing the biggest buzz this week at the Sundance Film Festival, one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, just happens to be a movie about Jesus–and Mel Gibson has nothing to do with it. Made in Capetown, South Africa, “Son of Man” turns the life of Christ into an African fable and takes selected events from the Bible and places them into a fictional modern-day African country filled with poverty and strife. In this film, Christ is a black child growing up in a shanty, and his mother, Mary, argues with angels. Later on, some of Christ’s 12 disciples are women.
Director Mark Domford-May, in a recent interview with Reuters, explained his choices in portraying the life of Christ this way by saying, “We wanted to look at the gospels as if they were written by spin doctors and to strip that away and look at the truth.”
While some in the religious community might not completely appreciate Domford-May’s implication that the gospels were written by a bunch of propagandists selling the latest ideology, I am excited at the discussion this film seems to be sparking. One blogger reports that the person at Sundance who introduced the film said the movie made him realize he was a “closet Christian.” CNN has also been covering the reactions to this film and did a piece on why this movie is speaking to some people in a way that “The Passion of the Christ” didn’t. Hmm… maybe that is in part because, unlike “The Passion” or even “The Last Temptation of Christ,” these filmmakers are relative unknowns and are not carrying the personal and professional “baggage” that Mel Gibson or Martin Scorsese brought with them to their projects about Christ.
Regardless, I hope that many truth seekers, as well as indie film buffs, will give this film a chance and enter into the dialogue about the Christ narrative.
One of the many reasons I enjoy watching Lost week after week is that the show can always be counted on to provide thought-provoking spiritual images that add to the fascinating mythology of the characters as well as the island. Last night’s episode centered around yet another religious image–water as a symbol of being baptized. However, unlike previous episodes, this time I was disappointed to watch the series writers give only the shallowest of treatments to a significant ritual.
Recovering addict and has-been rocker Charlie begins having surreal dreams about fellow survivor Claire’s baby, Aaron. Even as Claire continues to voice her distrust of Charlie after discovering he had been hiding a statue full of heroin, Charlie is increasingly convinced that he must stay close to Aaron because Aaron is about to be placed in some kind of danger and only Charlie can save him. Charlie also becomes fixated on something Mr. Eko said to him about having Aaron baptized. The problem is that in Charlie’s state of mind, baptism means placing Aaron in the raging ocean surf to drown.
Despite Charlie’s odd behavior , Claire does approach the “priest,” Mr. Eko, about baptizing her child in a more traditional way. To my horror, Mr. Eko then gives one of the worst explanations of baptism I have ever heard. Claire asks Eko what would happen if Aaron was baptized and she wasn’t; would Aaron go to heaven and she to hell? Eko responds by telling her that that wouldn’t happen if she simply decides to become baptized too, so she agrees. With no moment of confession, no sign that she believes in baptism as anything other than an insurance policy, Mr. Eko still performs this religious rite for both Claire and Aaron, and the ensuing montage is meant to have us believe all is well with their souls.
While baptism practices vary by religious affiliation, most baptism rituals have something in common–in a pure sense, baptism is meant to be a sign of connecting or identifying with something greater than ourselves in a way that brings significant change to our lives. It is not intended to be treated as a “get out of jail free” card or to be used as coercion to convince someone to convert to something. The fact that we don’t see Eko, a supposedly repentant man of God, explaining the true nature of baptism or encouraging any type of acknowledgment from Claire that she wishes to be spiritually connected or changed in some way before he baptizes her left me feeling that this is one time where the true spiritual meaning of an important religious rite was completely lost and no new insight for us as an audience was gained.
“End of the Spear” is the story of how Jim Elliot followed the spiritual promptings within him –and set in motion an unexpected series of events. In short, he and some buddies believed they should give their lives to reach one of the most brutal groups the world had ever known. After he and his friends were speared to death, two of the widows—and their children—followed in their footsteps, including Jim’s wife Elizabeth.
What makes the story powerful is the spirituality of a man who said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” It is a kind of spirituality that we should talk about more.
In our current culture, most spirituality is about “what works for me.” What makes me feel good? What makes me feel better? What helps me solve my problems? What gives me strength against my challenges? What is an entertaining way to engage in spirituality? What gives me a natural high? What did I get out of the book, show, movie, text, song, poem, etc.?
The musician Scott Wesley Brown, who was one of the millions who’ve had their lives transformed by the Elliots’ sacrifice, attempted to capture Jim’s sacrificial walk when he wrote:
I’ve lost track of all the Sundays
The offering plates gone by
And as I gave my hard earned dollars
I felt free to keep my life.
I talk about commitment
And the need to count the cost
But the words of a martyr show me
I don’t really know His cross.
Jim’s decision to go—and his wife’s decision to follow in his footsteps—was about a kind of spirituality that wasn’t saying “what’s in it for me?” It was about saying, “What, God, do you want me to do?” And, “please give me the strength and courage to do it.”
“End of the Spear” is worth watching, if only to direct our reflections about whether our spiritual journey is truly about discovering God, or if it’s more like a trip to the mall… looking for something that makes us feel good at a bargain price.
Resident New Yorkers have long enjoyed a love affair with a famous confectionary institution called The Magnolia Bakery, made ever-more famous by the “Sex & the City” foursome who couldn’t get enough of Magnolia’s trademark cupcakes, and more recently, by the “Saturday Night Live” skit “The Chronic of Narnia Rap” (a must see if you haven’t already watched it), which features a narrated trip to Magnolia.
But can cupcakes extend your life?
I certainly can’t get enough of Magnolia’s cupcakes (the best is when they have a daily special with cream cheese frosting), and am willing to stand in the lines that go out the door and around the corner on sunny days, but I can’t imagine going so far as to special order cupcakes made with Borba Age Defying Water. That’s right! With just a phone call and a special request, The Magnolia Bakery will make you as many Borba-Age-Defying-Cupcakes as you so desire.
Perhaps you can pre-order your honey a Borba-infused red velvet one for Valentine’s Day this year and hope for immortal love as well?