I'm thrilled to announce that on September 30, 2017, I will release my third book: Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community. Crossway is publishing the book, and the wonderful Russell Moore (!) has kindly written a foreword. I'll be sharing a lot about Uncomfortable in coming months, but here's a bit about it to give you a sense for the general concept...
What does it mean that when Jesus entered Jerusalem the week he was crucified, the crowd "took branches of palm trees" (John 12:13) to welcome him? What do we make of the moment when Jesus curses the fig tree? What does it mean that the Bible begins with a “Tree of Life" in Eden (Gen. 2:9) and ends with a "Tree of Life" at the end, a tree whose leaves "were for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2, 14, 19)?
I've been thinking about Personal Shopper a lot since I saw it last month. The film, the latest from talented French director Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, The Clouds of Sils Maria), is haunting in multiple senses. It's haunting not primarily because it is a ghost story (literally... the opening scene is a haunted house sequence more chilling than anything in the Paranormal Activity films).
A collection of my publications from recent months
Song to Song is Cinematic Wisdom Literature (March 16, 2017, Christianity Today)
My review, for Christianity Today, of Terrence Malick's latest film, Song to Song
Holy Spirit, Lead us into the wilderness: away from the sounds and furies, away from our fidgety fingers and swipe/tap temptations, away from the allures of power and pleasure and "likes" and winning. Help us to walk in the way of weakness, the way of the cross, the way of ashes and hunger and weeping for the world.
If history is any indication, it's unlikely that Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony will end with the most deserving nominee going home with the "best picture" Oscar. This is common sense for anyone who cares about cinema and has been paying attention in recent years. How did The Artist beat out The Tree of Life in 2011? How did Argo beat out Zero Dark Thirty in 2012? How did Birdman beat out Boyhood in 2014? When will Hollywood stop its self-congratulatory streak of crowning showy movies simply because they are meta commentaries about show business? (A trend that looks like it will continue with La La Land.)
We live in a time in America when everything is politicized. Everything is viewed through an us vs. them lens of political partisanship. And it is tragic and toxic. Why is it such a politically partisan thing to state that one is "pro life," for example? Step back from the years of abortion debates along partisan lines and ask yourself that question. You'd think that people from all political parties, all backgrounds and walks of life could unite around the conviction that all human lives, from embryos to the elderly, are imbued with a God-given dignity that must be protected. You'd think we could unite around protecting precious lives against abortion, torture, sexual violence, war crimes, police brutality, gun violence and the like. All because we believe in the sanctity of life. But alas.
I woke up on the first day of 2017 in Rome, the "Eternal City," feeling the weight of a world where even the most enduring things are laughably far from "eternal." I was in Rome on a trip with Kira and six young adults from our church. It was a trip we designed around early church history. For six days we led our group to the many sacred Christian sites of Rome: the prison where Peter and Paul were held captive; the churches where Peter and Paul are buried; the early Christian catacombs; the Vatican; churches from the 4th century; churches on top of older churches on top pagan temples.
My top 10 list this year contains a 45-minute IMAX film and an 8-hour ESPN documentary. My list also includes films from some of my favorite directors: Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, Kelly Reichardt, Andrea Arnold, Denis Villeneuve, Jeff Nichols, Jim Jarmusch. It was a year in which established directors took risks and up-and-coming directors reached new heights. It was a year which saw a first in the history of cinema: two films by Terrence Malick released in one calendar year. It was a year that gave us not one but two nostalgic musicals (Sing Street and La La Land)
One of the truisms that has guided me in my writing life and which I am more and more convinced of is this: good writers are good readers. Any creative person who hopes to produce something meaningful simply must be regularly filled, provoked, challenged and inspired by the works of others. For me this takes many forms (see my favorite music of the year here, and next week my favorite movies)
A few months ago I noticed that every hipster bar, coffeeshop and eatery I entered was playing a very specific type of music: songs that were good between 1995-2010. Hipster music and pop hits of the recent past. Early Arcade Fire. TLC's "No Scrubs." The Fugees. "Ghetto Superstar." Radiohead's "In Rainbows." I never heard any current music being played. It's as if the proliferation of good music in the Spotify Age has rendered it exhausting to even try to filter through the glut
A collection of links to my publications from August-November, 2016. Includes film reviews of 'Hacksaw Ridge,' 'Arrival,' 'Ben-Hur' and 'Voyage of Time,' as well as articles on religious liberty, Christian higher education's impact on the common good, California Senate Bill 1146, uncomfortable church and a review of 'Good Faith' by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman.
I believe in journalism. I'm thankful for its truth-telling, spot-lighting potential (see last year's Oscar-winning film Spotlight, for example). But I sometimes fear for its future. As the media landscape continues to morph, what role can real journalism play? Donald Trump becoming president is certainly huge "news," but it's a headline that signals something foreboding rather than electrifying about the state of the news industry. Here's my attempt to make sense of how we got here. 1960s:
The following 21 challenges are in no particular order and are by no means exhaustive, and they are largely (but not exclusively) reflective of an American evangelical context. I also should note that each of them represents not only a challenge but also an opportunity. The church has historically thrived when she is tested rather than comfortable.
If you're lucky enough to live in one of the few places where Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is playing, do yourself a favor and go see it. Take your kids, your church small group, your fellow lovers of cinema and nature and awe-inspiring beauty. The 45-minute film (a 90-minute, non-IMAX version is set to release in 2017) is a perfect example of the sort of liturgical cinema Malick has mastered
We're now less than a month away from the 2016 U.S. election on November 8. While the presidential race continues its dumpster fire downward spiral and very few people are excited at the prospect of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump occupying the White House, the fact is the election is still happening and it will decide a lot more things than just the presidency. When it comes to our options for president, I'm with Russell Moore when he says: "I’m pro-life, pro-family, pro-racial reconciliation, pro-immigrant and pro-character in office, so no matter what happens in November, I lose."
This week Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted a photo of an ad that compared the “Syrian Refugee Problem” to a bowl of Skittles. The ad suggested that we can best understand the worst humanitarian crisis of our time by thinking about refugees not as embodied, suffering people but as poisonous rainbow-colored candy that could kill us. Let’s set aside for a minute the politics of this and the admitted complexity of immigration and national security.
You can't watch Sully without thinking about Sept. 11. Not just because Clint Eastwood's film was released the weekend of the 15th anniversary of 9/11/01, and not just because it's a film about a plane crash in New York City (including dream sequences of planes crashing into skyscrapers). Sully brings to mind 9/11 mostly in its somberly humane celebration of people united by survival and heroism in the midst of trauma.
Richard Tanne's Southside With You, a compelling cinematic depiction of the first date of Barack and Michelle Obama (played brilliantly by Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter), is on one hand a smart romance in the vein of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise trilogy or James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now. It's a quiet, simple love story that captures the innocence, awkwardness and impermanence of the early days of relationships. Southside is a snapshot of a couple of lawyers in 1989 Chicago who two decades later would be ruling the free world in the White House. That's the obvious hindsight angle that makes the film interesting as narration of a particular m