"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). The heavens declare. The stars speak. They bear witness to the glory of God. But what do they say? Our gaze is naturally drawn upward. We are curious about what's up there. Beyond us. Both discoverable and undiscoverable. Our frontier longing beckons us to the telescope. To search the vast heavens. To know what we can know, but maybe moreso to know what we cannot know.
Inspired by the New York Times' recent list of the "25 Best Films of the 21st Century," and because it's always fun to draw attention to masterpieces of cinema that everyone should see, I decided to compile my own list of the best films of the century so far. I limited my picks to 17, since we are 17% of the way through the century thus far. There were three main criteria for me as I considered which films to include in my top 17.
My new book, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christianity Community, is being published in September by Crossway. The book is about the comforting gospel of Jesus Christ that leads us to live uncomfortable lives for him. It’s about recovering a willingness to do hard things, to embrace hard truths, to do life with hard people for the sake and glory of the One who did the hardest thing. Each chapter of the book explores some “uncomfortable” aspect of becoming the church Jesus wants us to be.
I’m a theologically conservative evangelical Christian who is ardently pro-life, pro-family, pro-traditional marriage. I’m also ardently pro-environment. All of these positions are connected and stem from my faith more than my politics, particularly a glad acceptance of and respect for God’s created order. Here are my arguments for why care for the environment should be a concern for conservative Christians.
Growing up in the Midwestern plains, I loved a good thunderstorm. I loved the way a hot, humid day would give way to billowing thunderclouds: towering Cumulonimbus puffs that morphed into ominous UFOs in the darkening sky. I loved the way a cold front brought in a line of foreboding gray, intruding upon sunny days with sheets of rain, hail, lightening and thunder that shook the whole house and flickered the lights.
I used to think people who raised their hands in worship were weird. I grew up in Baptist churches in the Midwest, where the two or three people who occasionally raised their hands while singing a hymn or worship song were looked upon with some suspicion.But a few years ago when I started to attend a Reformed Charismatic church in Southern California, things started to change.
I've been thinking a lot about the Lord's Supper recently, and why I find it increasingly crucial and comforting amidst the manifold discomforts of 21st century life. It has struck me that the Lord's Supper is a bit like time-travel. The weekly eucharistic ritual, enacted by millions of Christians every Sunday, transports us simultaneously to the past, present and future. And each of these modes is beautiful and nourishing.
Taylor's observations suggest that by perpetuating the "seeker/consumer" paradigms of expressive individualism, today's churches are setting the stage for their own spiritual demise. When churchgoing becomes mostly about a person finding the church that best supports their own subjective "spiritual path," it will eventually become an impossible task, more frustrating and draining than it's worth.
I sometimes imagine that in heaven, one of the joys of living in eternity will be that we'll have the ability to re-live the best days and best memories from our earthly lives. But I know that in heaven, all these transient things (such as 24-hour periods we once called "days") will be quaint memories compared to the "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" we will be experiencing.
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)