Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Moment of Final Suspense + YOU!

I'd be remiss if I didn't at least acknowledge that I haven't posted in almost 3 months. Sorry, folks! I finished school, though! I had to sacrifice a lot of contemplative time to do it, though....sigh.

So as I sit here on the edge of my new life post-academia, I have a few thoughts about Story and our role in the world. Sit tight because the post's a tad long...but worth it!

Last night I watched Air Force One. My boss for my summer internship produced it! She seems like a remarkable woman, and I can't wait to work with her. Sadly, it was one of those classics that I'd only seen parts of on TV, but never seen fully before - much to Kris and Jeannette's chagrin.

Though the movie is a predictable action flick, it has several things going for it - a marketable concept, an astounding cast, and an incredibly tight story. While predictable, the story moves along at a chipper pace and the appropriate level of anxiety is felt at each stage. (This analysis is not meant to be comprehensive, but only to point out something I realized.)

While watching this well-written story, something dawned on me relating to my faith. I often talk about and think of life and faith as a Story. In fact one of my favorite short non-fiction books is called Epic: The Story God is Telling and the Role that is Yours to Play. It's written by evangelical John Eldredge who I sometimes agree with and sometimes don't (specifically with his views on gender roles). But nonetheless it's a great little book about how life is virtually one big Story.

I'm reading some books right now about writing good stories and screenplays for my work this summer in film development. Basically I'll be reading a lot and writing coverage (glorified book summaries with suggestions about how to/if to develop it), which is going to be AWESOME! But all these books talk about the structure of a good story. Like Air Force One, all good stories have the bare bones structure of: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement.

According to Wikipedia (very credible source here...ha!), part of the "falling action" includes a "moment of final suspense during which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt." The point of it is that you've built up so much trust and hope in these protagonists, and now to see them almost in defeat produces a lot of anxiety and really keeps you on the edge of your seat. You want them to win out, but will they? So much hangs in the balance.

This reminds me in terms of life and faith, where in my Christian faith we are right now. If you believe this Story, then you believe that Jesus came to make things right on the deepest level possible. Then when he left earth, ascending into heaven, he left 12 lowly men (a ragtag team, really) in charge of making his good Kingdom come to life on earth. A Kingdom full of LOVE, SHARING, JUSTICE and MERCY (not full of capitalism, greed, hate, divisiveness and pride).

So now we have our protagonists, which down through the years has come to mean us, the current people embodying the Way of the Kingdom. And we are certainly a ragtag bunch of protagonists. Very flawed. Interesting character study, actually. But we have this mission to bring peace to earth through love, self-sacrifice, laughter and freedom. Tall order, you know?

I feel like on a broad scale in terms of history post-ascension, we are at the "moment of final suspense" in the Story of history & faith. Will these silly humans ever get it? Will they actually love the way God wants to and embody justice, mercy and hope?

A lot of my friends don't believe in God because of what's known as the Problem of Evil. This is a whole other post/discussion that is not easily solved, though I tried in a philosophy paper once. But the basic issue is that a supposedly all-powerful and benevolent God doesn't stop pain, suffering and evil in the world. This is a contradictory statement in strict philosophy terms. But those philosophers don't always get it right. Cue Jack Johnson, "you don't always have to hold your head higher than your heart."

One big reason this Problem of Evil issue holds water for people is that the followers of Jesus aren't being what they're supposed to be. We're not becoming the hands and feet and embodiment of the God of Love. We aren't crying out for justice and making things right. This moment of final suspense is very much still in play.

Sunday at UNC's Commencement, speaker Desmond Tutu, pissed off people on the left and on the right. He also made friends on both sides by mentioning both the words "Jesus" and "orgy." (In different contexts of course.) It was fabulous! (Video link at end of post.)

But the premise of his speech and his message to us graduates is to become the HOPE in the world! Spend our lives and our efforts to make things better here and to join God in restoring the broken places of the world.

His anecdote about the field will always stick with me. A man comes upon a farmer standing by his beautiful field of corn. The man says, "Look what bounty you and God have produced!" The farmer stood there for a minute and replied, "You should have seen it when God had it to himself."

You see, my friends? God calls us to be his partners on this road of doing good, loving others, helping out, being self-sacrificial, making beauty, laughing, restoring. I hope you'll join me, no matter what your faith, in this quest!


Here's Tutu's full address: Commencement Speech + Video
Here's some fellow dreamers I've been reading lately:
- Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne
- Jon Foreman blogs about Darfur

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wisdom from Nancy & Inarritu

"I was young - 18 or so. We were sitting at a local restaurant and talking. It was one of those places that wasn't exactly a chain but kind of was; we thought it was cool at the time. Something like Applebees. So all these women were saying things that they wanted, concrete things. And I just couldn't say those same things. When someone asked me what I wanted in life, I thought. Finally, I said, 'I want to be happy.' They badgered me to say something else that was more 'real' to them, but I was strong enough at that age to stand firm. I don't know how, but I was. And it was true. It WAS real." -Nancy

"For Luis. Because we are also what we have lost." -Amores Perros

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Jesus, Justice, Nonviolence & Valentines

"After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time - the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression." -Martin Luther King, Jr. during his acceptance speech of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize

I first realized that nonviolence was a biblical imperative when I read Gareth Higgins' How Movies Helped Save My Soul some 4 years ago. Now Dr. Higgins lives nearby, and I recently found his blog through the Sojourners' blogs. The link is right here. Interesting, huh?

I continued my inauguration into the topic of nonviolence at the end of high school with Derek Webb's album Mockingbird. However, it wasn't until last year that his song "My Enemies are Men Like Me" finally made sense to me. In the song there is an audio clip of the above quote. It's brilliant. Webb's subsequent work in albums like The Ringing Bell has continued to fuel this connection between my faith and the ethic of nonviolence.

Then this summer I read Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution. What stories he tells of loving "enemies" and the fusion of Jesus & justice! Recently I read this blog post of his on the Sojourner's blogs, which you should definitely check out!

Along with that post there is a recent reply by a guy, Jarrod McKenna, who lives in Australia, where Shane recently was. His blog post sums up where I want to see myself inserted into the faith equation. He talks about Rob Bell and Don Golden's recent book Jesus Wants to Save Christians, which hits the nail on the head in terms of how our faith should not be preserving an empire, but ushering in a new one. We should bend our lives around restoring our cities and our nations, creating a world that is sustainable and generous. Where people can eat, drink and earn a living without fear for their lives. Go. Read it! (Both the book & blog post.)

Although all these things might not seem connected on their face, they are in fact deeply connected. I struggle often to connect my faith beliefs with the world around me when so many of my friends don't necessarily share them. I think that is a beautiful thing that we are all so diverse and can still live and share together. But at my core, I don't feel it right to try and impose what I believe on these beautiful friends. Instead, I feel that I should live out my faith principles, and as Jarrod McKenna's post says, then people will and should be curious as to why we live so counter-culturally. These principles of restoration, social justice and nonviolence, and yes, of redemption through Jesus are not just trendy, but are founded on the deepest knowledge that something is fundamentally broken in the world, and that God is asking us to help Him put it back together. Because I believe this Jesus God is someone who cares more deeply about these things than anyone I know.

As I embark on a career in filmmaking, I am excited about the opportunities to put my faith and values into a medium I love so well. Films that speak of redemption, in any form, are moving. Movies as storytelling media give us the chance to rewrite our stories and to choose goodness in all its forms. But this is not enough.

As Rachel says in Batman Begins, "It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you." Don Miller also reiterates this in Blue Like Jazz by saying that true belief is hard; it is reflected in what you do. By this token, I don't think it is enough for me to simply create works of art about issues of justice - it is my duty to live these out.

This summer Kris and I are moving to LA along with some other amazing Chapel Hill students! We are excited about it, but are also considering what it will look like to live in a place with such disparities between wealth and poverty. We want to continue to live out our values as we move forward in life. Any ideas and thoughts would be much appreciated!

So Happy Valentines Day everyone! Kris and I are eating cheaply, making candy for our friends and neighbors in our community, and talking about these kinds of topics - the intersection of Jesus, justice, nonviolence and love. Definitely my kind of celebration! ;) Remember folks, this "love" belongs to everyone in the world - let's not hoarde it for ourselves!!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Seven Pounds

Only occasionally do I review a film on this blog. I aim to do it more - talk about the films that intersect with my life and shape me (as well as the inevitable film biz news from time to time). But Seven Pounds is certainly a film worthy of my time. (No spoilers here, don't worry!)

My delightful roommate, Amanda, wrote a blog post about this, she told me. However, I have not read it yet. You may read it though, if you like, here. I have a tendency to write in reaction to other people's ideas instead of creating my own and expressing them fully uncensored by others' thoughts. So I shall attempt that here and then compare notes with my brilliant and artistic roomie. (:

Seven Pounds was ideal.

From a business perspective, it has held its own, while not becoming a huge hit. Makes sense given its subject matter and positioning in the market. People aren't as into dreary movies with the economy, war, general state of the world.

I wouldn't call Seven Pounds "dreary" per se. More like thoughtful, heart-wrenching, satisfied, sacrificial, beautiful and tortured.

It was one of those films where you leave and you feel cleansed. Like you know the way the world is supposed to be. Or you come in contact with Truth, in its many forms, and you feel like you've sat in its presence. These are the reasons I make movies. To watch a film and get lost in the story of redemption that tells a compelling story of the way we should interact with each other.

I shan't give away too much of the plot, because that is the full experience - to enter into the film with limited knowledge and to see the story unravel and unfold before you. I loved piecing together what Will Smith's character, Ben, was doing.

His interactions with characters were exquisite as he helps an elderly woman in a nursing home, reaches out to a Latino family (speaking fluent Spanish!! yay), goes through so much to help a dying woman and child. But in the film it is obvious that he is driven by grief. Perhaps this intrigues me as well, what a man's soul will do in penance for guilt and out of desire to do something good with his remaining time on Earth.

The shots were beautiful and thoughtful - the kind of cinematography that I appreciate. The score was equally haunting and perfect, the music like a off-beat heart, rhythmic and pacing. The pace was appropriate, and the story revealed piece by piece.

It made me think of this - what would I give up in my life to truly affect someone so much? Would I let someone into my house to live? Give them the clothes off my back? "Bleed myself dry" as the Coldplay song goes. How does that kind of radical love and sacrifice look for me? For you? As Rob Bell mentions in his latest book Jesus Wants to Save Christians, redemption and love for people looks different for every person/gathering.

I want to explore this more in the coming weeks.

As for Seven Pounds, go see it! You may not like it as much as I did (I always caution people against expecting too much out of things), but I hope you will also see how brilliantly everything comes together to tell a story about tortured love.

My filmmaker self of course also loves to think about how much development the story underwent to make it so watertight, how they attached the actors, the collaboration between the different production companies that brought the financing together, etc. Such a producer! (;

Happy 2009, my friends! Here is to living and loving in our communities with commitment and strength! May you understand what that means for you and your friends.

With love.